Muslim Silence... and Muslim Noise
by Stephen Schwartz
I had intended to follow my last TCS column, on the growing crisis of American Islam -- i.e. on the problem of extremist domination of the American Muslim community -- with some long-developed reflections on the silence of the American Muslim community about the extremist threat to America's security, and to the situation of American Muslims. Unquestionably, the continued extremist dominance of Islamic discourse within the U.S. and globally -- and Muslim passivity in the face of it -- threatens American Muslims even more, in some respects, than it does non-Muslim Americans.
Non-Muslim Americans simply cannot be blamed for interpreting Muslim community silence at the atrocities of Wahhabi and other Islamist extremists as acquiescence, if not support for such horrifyingly brutal acts as the videotaped decapitation of Nick Berg, whose case is now so well-known it needs no further description or elaboration.
Of course, I cannot deny that when actions like the Berg murder occur, "official" Islamist groups in the U.S. and elsewhere often condemn them, in pro forma statements. There are, of course, exceptions. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), for example, has apparently never gotten around to condemning its former representative, Randall Todd Royer, for his extremist activities, which resulted in a 20-year federal prison sentence. "Muslim silence" is not, however, defined by formal declarations, but by community action, and the awareness, on the part of non-Muslim Americans, that effective Muslim mobilization in defense of America, of democracy, of pluralism within Islam, and of interfaith civility, and in real opposition to extremist terror, remains absent.
But before proceeding with a discussion of Muslim silence -- and its counterpart, Muslim radical noise -- I want to thank a reader, who shall remain nameless, for pointing out a gap in my previous column, wherein I discussed the phenomenon of "new Muslims," or American converts to Islam, who willingly participate in terrorist conspiracies. I failed to mention the infamous Mark Fidel Kools, the soldier who murdered an officer and injured 15 more members of his U.S. Army unit at Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait, at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Kools had also been a member of the Saudi/Wahhabi-controlled Muslim Students Association and attended a Saudi-run mosque in Los Angeles. I reported on his case at the time.
But my topic now is Muslim discourse, not Muslim action.
Muslim silence in the face of extremist atrocities is not difficult to understand. First, immigrant Muslims in the U.S., until very recently, seldom expected to find American Islam operating under the thumb of the "Wahhabi lobby." Indeed, most Arab and Indo-Pakistani-Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants to the U.S. came for normal and rational reasons -- to gain economic success, as well as better educational and other opportunities for their children. Saudis excepted, they came from Muslim societies where, notwithstanding corrupt political rule and extremist religious influence, the battle for the future of Islam had yet to be decided. Most of them knew an Islam in which Saudi-backed Wahhabism sought to make inroads, but encountered considerable resistance from traditional Islam.
When they got to America, they discovered a fact that I have mentioned on television and radio countless times -- that Islam is completely dominated by Wahhabism in only two major countries in the world: Saudi Arabia and the U.S. (Qatar, a minor country, officially adheres to Wahhabism but its rulers have domesticated its Wahhabi clerics to a considerable degree, although it remains the headquarters of al-Jazeera television and the residence of the obnoxious Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of the worst agitators in the Islamic world.)
Finding that 80 percent of the main mosques in America are controlled by Saudi-Wahhabis is a pretty big shock to the average Muslim immigrant. The first reaction is: how did the CIA or FBI, which "the Arab street" believes to be omniscient and omnipotent, allow this to happen? The second is: how did I go from bad to worse, in religious terms? Back home, from Morocco to Malaysia, the ordinary Muslim could attend a normal mosque and avoid Wahhabism. Here in the U.S., Wahhabism and its variants seemed to be shoved down the believers' throats.
Then, in times of crisis, the Muslim immigrant watched television, and what was shown there? Islam after September 11 has been represented almost exclusively by extremists and apologists for extremists, ranging from Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to the grotesque Hussein Ibish of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). Ibish himself is a radical leftist who hates all religion, yet is regularly invited on to American talk shows to represent Muslims. Some of the worst Arab advocates seen on our airwaves, defending extremist violence, are not even Muslims, but are Arab Christians. American Shia Muslims who support the Coalition in Iraq are almost never interviewed by the major networks; nor do their names appear in the newspapers. Bosnian and Kosovar Albanian Muslim clerics who feel deep gratitude to America are unknown to the U.S. media public. And the non-Arab, non-Muslim academics, privileged to comment to mainstream media audiences on Islam, in most cases are strident supporters of Arab extremism.
In such a situation, the pro-American Muslim immigrant, who wants his religion to live up to the claim that it is a religion of peace, feels lost and lonely. If one speaks up in a Wahhabi-controlled mosque, dire consequences may result -- including even death. Some major American mosques were built decades ago by immigrants from Pakistan and India, who hated Wahhabism. But after the passage of a generation, they have been taken over by Saudi-funded Wahhabis. When anti-Wahhabi factions organize to take their mosques back, violence or the threat of it is often the result. Few Muslim immigrants want their children to come home and tell them the other kids' parents have denounced them as "Zionist stooges." And finally, Arab governments, led by the world's worst liars, who rule Saudi Arabia, avoid condemning extremism, as was so despicably demonstrated in the wake of the Berg murder.
The only remedies for Muslim silence in the U.S. are, first, to empower and defend those Muslims willing to publicly declare their adherence to the classic, and long-established Islamic principle of obedience to any government that "does not interfere with the call to prayer;" i.e. does not prevent Muslims from reading Qur'an, praying, or teaching their religion. On this basis, Muslims owe allegiance to the government of the U.S., which has never prevented them from observing their faith.
Second, Americans of all faiths must pressure the media to abandon its addiction to the black-white versions of the Muslim story, both the liberal version, which depicts hegemonic America and victimized Muslims, and the conservative version, which portrays Islam as demonic. Real journalists need to get the real facts about Islam.
But then there is the problem of Muslim noise. While pro-American Muslims remain silent, radical Muslims and their Arab enablers fill the media void. An especially egregious example came recently, between the uproar over prison abuses by U.S. personnel in Iraq and the horror of the Berg case.
Hussein Ibish's ADC and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) issued a statement on the Iraqi prison investigation that was a model of mendacity. As previously noted, ADC has no standing as a religious body. And both ADC and MPAC would protest loudly at being associated with Wahhabism. But ADC and MPAC did not hesitate to act together, and radically: they told America they had found the source of the Iraq prison crisis. According to them, it wasn't a matter of imperfect discipline and training, or bad orders from above, or wartime confusion, or the pressure of working in a prison in a torrid, foreign country, subjected to constant rocket attacks. Rather, the incidents at Abu Ghraib were caused by a "culture of hate" in America. The culprits: Hollywood, Islam expert Daniel Pipes, and such periodicals as The Weekly Standard!
The first thing that has to be said bluntly is that for any Arab group to complain of a "culture of hate" allegedly existing in the U.S. represents nerve almost beyond description. Arabs, both Muslim and Christian, flourish in America -- indeed, Arabs live much better in the U.S. than in, for example, France, which now issues oceans of crocodile tears over America's so-called "dirty war" in Iraq. The perpetrators of abuse at Abu Ghraib are about to go on trial, while most of the French officers responsible for torture in Algeria more than forty years ago have yet even to be publicly criticized! Muslims also live better in America than in Britain or Germany, where they are typically crowded together in ghettoes.
But if there is anyplace in the world known for a "culture of hate" it is the core of the Arab world, from whence such practices as videotaped beheadings of utter innocents originate. Videotaped beheadings were first seen, in the recent era, during the Bosnian war, when Arab "volunteers" produced some, showing the execution of Serb and Croat Christians. Bosnian Muslims, to their credit, stopped the practice from continuing. But the war in Chechnya, which has been infiltrated by Saudi-Wahhabis, has produced some 400 separate videos of the beheading of Russian soldiers, which remain on sale right here in the U.S.
So before ADC, MPAC, or its counterparts in the "Wahhabi lobby," such as CAIR, complain of a "culture of hate," they should act to clean up their own environment.
If it weren't for the hideous hypocrisy of their arguments, and their lies, the ADC-MPAC line would be laughable. The ludicrous claim that "America hates Arabs because Popeye cartoons and antiterrorist movies show 'reel bad Arabs'" -- an argument put forward by Jack Shaheen, an otherwise obscure academic -- is nothing more than a second-rate exercise in behaviorist psychology. Lots of Americans who as kids watched camel-riding Arabs swinging scimitars in cartoons, or who sat through movies featuring Arab villains, had the opposite reaction. That's how real human beings are.
But even more ridiculous is the claim that the incidents in Abu Ghraib were caused by Dan Pipes' exposure of Islamist extremism, or articles in conservative journals and websites. Of course, there are commentators biased against all Arabs, or who blame Islam as a whole for the threat of a "clash of civilizations." I don't put Pipes or The Weekly Standard, for which I write regularly, in either class. But the probability that the guards in an Iraqi prison took their cues from Arab-baiting or anti-Islamic commentators in America is almost nonexistent.
ADC and MPAC tried to exploit the real disgust and disappointment of ordinary Americans at the problems in Iraqi prisons to advance their own agenda. That roster of demands includes calling on the federal authorities to blacklist from "faith based" charity spending Christian groups which, for better or worse, have a theology of their own to defend, and which, rightly or wrongly, see Islam as counterposed to their faith. Pushing to exclude such organizations from federal programs is a lot more un-American than some individual, no matter how high in responsibility or widely heard on talk radio, popping off about Islam.
ADC and MPAC actually want debate about Islam ended altogether in the media. Their version of the religion is the only suitable one for dissemination, according to them. This naked attempt at censorship is also un-American.
ADC and MPAC further, with supreme arrogance, poor grammar, and a touch of cognitive dissonance, want the U.S. authorities to "stop making comments that suggest that the [Iraq prison investigation] demonstrates the virtue of the American democracy." According to these agitators, "any lauding of our democratic systems... in the context of this scandal, taints our democracy and will only foster greater resentment and anti-American sentiment." Oh, and they also want the U.S. to get out of Iraq in a hurry.
ADC, MPAC, CAIR and the rest of the extremist enablers live in an upside-down world where America represents a culture of hatred and the Arab world a culture of virtue. Such nonsense is no more legitimate or valuable than the ignorant comments and claims they supposedly wish to oppose; it mirrors them. ADC and MPAC have no standing to order the U.S. authorities how to handle the Iraq prison situation. Those who did wrong at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere will be punished, which is to the credit of our culture, traditions, laws, and military, and we will continue to take pride in that fact.
In Qur'an, the Islamic scripture, we read: "truth stands forth from falsehood." In this context, the same may be said. America will cleanse itself of the stain of prison abuse in Iraq, because America's culture rejects hatred and cruelty. Let ADC, MPAC, CAIR, and the rest work on cleansing their culture of the stain of Nick Berg's blood -- to name but one victim. Otherwise, at the present time, Muslim silence might be preferable to Muslim noise.