'Democracy and political Islam can’t coexist'

ByOREN KESSLER
March 18, 2011 03:45

President of US Islamic Forum for Democracy tells ‘Post’ American Islamic groups refuse to engage on "separation of mosque and state."

4 minute read.



Zuhdi Jasser

Zuhdi Jasser 311 (R). (photo credit:REUTERS)

Zuhdi Jasser is a respected Arizona-based doctor of internal medicine and nuclear cardiology, formerly a lieutenant-commander in the US Navy and attending physician to the US Congress.

As founder and president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, he is also one of the most controversial Muslims in the United States.

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Jasser, raised in Wisconsin by Syrian immigrant parents, describes himself as a devout Sunni Muslim, but his organization’s unyielding battle against political Islam has placed him in the crosshairs of groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Islamic Center of America, which he says have failed to adequately address the “insidious separatism” of political Islam.

In a phone interview from Phoenix with The Jerusalem Post, Jasser offers no apology for testifying in this month’s contentious House of Representatives hearing on Muslim radicalization in the US. He says the committee chairman, New York Republican Rep. Peter King, “provided an opportunity for Muslims to talk about how we are going to solve our own problems.”

Of the last 220 arrests by the US Department of Justice on terror charges, Jasser notes, more than 180 of the suspects were Muslims.

“You have 1.5 percent of the population that is over 80% of the arrests,” he says.

“And the arc has been increasing.”

Rather than remain on the defensive, Jasser says, the US and the West at large must take a muscular, offensive approach toward promoting the ideals of liberalism. Those who say democracy and political Islam can peacefully coexist, he says, are ill-informed.

“They don’t understand democracy. My devout Muslim parents and grandparents understood Sharia. They understood that Sharia, while it means God’s law, is actually man’s law – once it is implemented in any fashion, it becomes man’s law.”

Democracy, Jasser says, means more than elections; it means protection of the individual.

“We need to start having a conversation about what exactly we mean by democracy,” says Jasser, a firm proponent of what he refers to as “separation of mosque and state.”

“There’s a reason the US Constitution doesn’t have the word Christian in it,” he notes. “You can’t really have a Jew or a Christian as president of an Islamic society run by Islamic law. You don’t really have equal rights under God, but rather under Islam.”

An outspoken supporter of Israel, Jasser sits on the board of the Clarion Fund, a New York-based advocacy group that last month released the controversial film Iranium, which highlights the dangers of Iran’s nuclear program.

Jasser is convinced that if given a level playing field, his group’s ideology of secular government will emerge victorious in the Middle East.

“Not once has any of the Islamist groups in the US – the Council on American- Islamic Relations, the Islamic Center of America – engaged our organization on the idea of liberty and the separation of mosque and state. They know that if we get to that point, they’ll lose the argument,” he asserts.

“The desire of every individual before the law, before one law, and before government, is not a monopoly of the West. It’s a humanitarian principle that was embodied in the UN Declaration on Human Rights, the very UN declaration that the Cairo declaration – the Organization of the Islamic Conference countries – refused to endorse because they know that Sharia is not compatible with those ideas. But those are humanitarian principles,” he explains. “I think it’s almost racist to believe Muslims or Arabs have to be relegated to a collectivist, populist Islamist society because that’s what they are.”

This week, Syria saw the first embers of popular unrest, but Jasser says he doesn’t believe President Bashar Assad’s regime is in any immediate danger.

“People have developed a certain apathy, equaled only perhaps by that of Saudi Arabia. That apathy has been built over half a century of oppressive rule, so turning that around will be very difficult. But I think we’ve seen over the past few weeks that the Syrian people are beginning to develop a little more courage,” he says.

Jasser notes that while there was a small Islamist contingent in anti-government rallies in Egypt, the dominant sentiment there was of a hunger for freedom and progressive democracy.

“Even if it goes the other way and the [Muslim] Brotherhood gains some influence, I don’t think we made the wrong decision. Because at the end of the day if we sided with righteousness and with moral, democratic governance, I would feel much better going to sleep at night, knowing that the legacy for my children from America, Israel and the West was one of freedom and liberty.”

The West, he believes, must work to promote Arab democracy, no matter how bumpy the road from autocracy might be.

“This binary choice in the Middle East behind secular fascism and theocratic fascism has got to change... As a freedom activist and a liberty- loving Muslim who has been working against the influence of theocracy and Islamism specifically, I could never articulate a policy that the devil we know is better,” he says.

“The ‘ADD approach’ of US Mideast policy has been counterproductive,” Jasser adds. “We need to help them build institutions, get the ideas of liberty in those countries and have a more patient, pragmatic approach to the war of ideas. We may take some steps backward before we go forward.”

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