View From America: The vicissitudes of genuine Muslim moderates

The perils of ignoring moderates while allowing extremists to gain ground.

tobin 88 (photo credit: )
tobin 88
(photo credit: )
This week, federal prosecutors filed documents in a Dallas court relating to the upcoming trial of those accused of running a fundraising organization for the Hamas terrorist group. Among those listed as unindicted co-conspirators in the case of the Hamas-controlled Holy Land Foundation is the Council on American-Islamic Relations, otherwise known as CAIR. For those who have closely studied the origins of groups like CAIR, this development cannot be considered a surprise. As experts on the issue, like Steven Emerson, have long pointed out, CAIR was founded largely as a political front for Hamas fundraising in the United States. Its membership is populated with apologists for Islamist terrorism. But the public image of this group, which has received remarkably sympathetic coverage in newspapers such as The New York Times in the past year, is that of an ordinary civil-rights organization. Mainstream American politicians like Pennsylvania Democrats Gov. Ed Rendell and US Rep. Joe Sestak have even bought into their cover story, appearing at a fundraiser for the rogue group here in Philadelphia earlier this spring. Representatives of CAIR are treated as "moderates," and the legitimate spokespersons for Muslim and Arab-Americans by the media. But fortunately, theirs is not the only point of view to be found among Muslims living here in North America or even in Europe, where Islamist radicalism is on the rise. MUSLIMS WHO believe their community can and must integrate itself into liberal Western societies - who oppose the use of terrorism in the name of their faith, and who support democratic values as well as the rights of women - do exist. But where are such voices, so needed in an era when Islamists who are in a state of war with the West are working overtime to infiltrate and control Muslim communities and mosques? The answer is that, given the level of intimidation enforced by Islamist imams and their political fellow travelers, few are willing to step forward to challenge the radicals. This issue takes center spotlight in a new documentary commissioned by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting titled "Islam vs. Islamists," and slated to be shown on the national Public Broadcasting Service on its "Crossroads" series hosted by newsman Robert MacNeil. The film - written, directed and narrated by documentary filmmaker Martyn Burke, and produced by Frank J. Gaffney Jr. and Alex Alexiev of the Center for Security Policy, a Washington think tank - portrays the vicissitudes of genuine Muslim moderates who support Western freedoms and oppose terror. It also details the lengths to which radicals have gone to suppress their Muslim critics. But Americans who look for this film on their local PBS station where other "Crossroads" films in this series have been aired since April will probably search in vain. PBS SPIKED the film, with MacNeil alleging that it was "alarmist" and "one-sided." Though other entries in the series, such as MacNeil's personal production, "The Muslim Americans," which sympathetically portrayed CAIR, were aired without allowing their critics a say, the taxpayer-supported network has not broadcast a film that lets other Muslim voices be heard. The only way to view this film at the moment is via independent showings at various locales sponsored by the producers. As one of those who have viewed the film, I find it hard to understand MacNeil's objections. In its one hour, "Islam vs. Islamists" skillfully tells the tale of a few courageous Muslims who have bucked the radicals who seem to dominate Muslim institutions in the West. One is Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, a Phoenix physician who helped organize a group called Muslims Against Terror in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, and later helped found the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. Jasser grew tired of hearing people ask why Muslims were not speaking up to denounce those who murdered in the name of his faith, and took action. For his troubles, a local Muslim newspaper that shared an office with CAIR denounced him and portrayed him as a dog tearing apart the body of Islam. Imams denounced this doctor whose only sin was to claim that Islam really was a "religion of peace." A radical cleric in Tempe, Ariz., Ahmed Shqueriat, who operates from a prominent local mosque, told the filmmaker that, in fact, it was the patriotic Jasser who was an "extremist." Sheik Hisham Kabbani, a leader of the peace-oriented Sufi sect of Islam based in Washington, D.C., and Michigan, is also featured in the film. He discusses how Saudi Arabian funding has helped spread that country's fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, called Wahhabism. The Saudis, working through their embassies, have helped bankroll mosques throughout the country, including those run by the Nation of Islam. In exchange for this money, the Saudis have installed militant Wahabi imams and education at religious centers around the world, including in North America. WHILE KABBANI and Jasser are fighting for Islam's soul in America, two other subjects of the film are on far more dangerous ground. French Muslim journalist Mohammed Sifaoui and Danish legislator Naser Khader have received death threats and remain under police protection for their opposition to the violent Islamists who've spoken in the name of all Muslims. Their stories make explicit the risks that any who dissent from the Islamist line face. As a recent survey by the Pew Research Center shows, it is by no means a foregone conclusion that the radicals speak for all Muslims. Their poll of American Muslims shows that the vast majority are assimilating into society and well appreciate the benefits of living in freedom. Less encouraging are the results that show that about one-quarter of Muslim respondents were prepared to endorse terrorism in the name of Islam under some circumstances. Even worse, 60 percent either denied it or refused to answer when asked whether Arabs or Muslims had anything to do with Sept. 11, 2001. This shows that there is still room for genuine moderates like Jasser to find supporters among the majority of American Muslims. But with Saudi-funded Wahhabi imams deployed in mosques and Islamist-supporting groups like CAIR claiming the right to speak for all Muslims, the drift toward radicalism is growing by the day. What is needed is for the rest of society to reach out to the Jassers and to stop playing ball with the radicals. Indeed, Jewish leftists have embraced CAIR in the same way that misguided politicians such as Rendell and Sestak have done. The stakes involved in this issue are enormous, as the Holy Land Foundation prosecution demonstrates. But so long as networks such as PBS are heeding the radicals and allowing the voices of moderates to be drowned out, the terrifying drift toward radicalism among Muslims in the West will continue. The writer is executive editor of the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia.