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Defeat the ideology and claim majority victory
By M. Zuhdi Jasser
August 4, 2006
Islamists fear any real ideological battle within Islam against Islamism and its clerics. To that end, they seek the removal of American and Western involvement from Muslim majority countries. Americanism is founded upon an anti-theocratic ideology that is a global ideological threat to Islamism. “Jeffersonian” Muslims who depart from Islamism are similarly the greatest threat to the influence of Islamists within the Muslim community.
Disengage Islamism from Muslims and Americanism will flourish among Muslims. With the deconstruction of Islamism (the ends), Islamist terror (the means) has no cause.
Muslim activists should find it commonplace to address the central ideological issue of this war -Islamism vs. Islam vs. anti-Islamism. Islamist moderation, vis-a-vis anti-terrorism and anti-autocracy, should not dismiss the remaining overriding Islamist philosophy. This philosophy is what needs to be understood.
The issue is not one of patriotism. Islamists can be intensely patriotic while having a differing vision for America. It is the ideology of political Islam that needs to be engaged. The following questions may begin to help opinion leaders discern an Islamist from an anti-Islamist: Do you believe in the strict separation of religion and politics? Do you support the development of religious (Islamic) political parties and movements? Should the imam’s “mimbar” (pulpit) be the place for the advocacy of domestic and foreign policy opinions? Should clerics be politicians or legislators?
Also: Would you prefer (if Muslims were a majority) to see legislatures argue interpretation of scripture and religious law over secular non-theological argumentation? Do you believe in a movement at any time to return a global Caliphate into existence? Where do you stand in regards to the stated global goals of the Muslim Brotherhood or the Wahhabi Movement? Is the American system of government and the Constitution inferior to the basis used for an “Islamic” state? What is the role in local and global society of the Muslim “ummah” (community)? Of the mosque? Do you believe individuals who leave Islam should be a legal concern of society? In the hereafter, by your theology, do you believe that God will only judge individuals or will He collectively judge entire communities overriding the individual?
Moderate Islamists are not an ideological threat to the radicals of al Qaeda, Hamas or Hezbollah because they generally seek similar “Islamic” governance, albeit a more moderated, non-violent, even democratic playing field in the end. Moderate Islamists will usually also avoid identifying radical Islamists by name as the enemy.
We are five years behind and only just beginning to delve into the intellectual debate we should already be having with the Muslim world domestically and abroad. This debate needs to be at the forefront of our mass media and our “public diplomacy programs.”
Our public diplomacy leaders must no longer avoid these central questions when meeting with Muslims all over the world. Engagement involves real dialogue and debate where ideas conflict, not superficial photo-ops and sporadic ineffectual comments. Such superficial discourse actually makes the work of anti-Islamist Muslims much more difficult, for it publicly mainstreams Islamist ideology.
President Reagan did not defeat communism by creating photo-ops and a few verbal exchanges with non-Soviet communist nations during the height of the Cold War. Our leaders need to emphasize the ideological chasm between Islamism and Americanism and begin to methodically deconstruct Islamism. Our officials should also find and engage Muslims who are on the same wavelength against political Islam.
In the meantime, the United Arab Emirates just announced the provision of a very disturbing endowment to the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) of reportedly upwards of $50 million. Not only is this unprecedented foreign interference, but these monies are also unlikely to be used to deconstruct the ideological basis for Islamism, Wahhabism or the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah or other enemies of the United States. They will rather be used to continue the focus on apologetics, non-Muslim “education” and political empowerment (Islamism) with very little attention to internal renewal (ijtihad), anti-terror work and the ideological incompatibilities between Islamism and Americanism.
All civil human beings and their organizations condemn terrorist acts. The real question is what separates Islamists from “Americanists”? In order to fight an ideological battle against the Islamist enemy, we must not only seek to understand them, but we must make sure that we understand ourselves. If we remain unclear about America’s ideology, then we will never understand what drives the ends of our Islamist enemies.
Our forefathers understood what was needed to extricate the oppressive influence of theocrats in England. Muslims have yet to articulate this understanding about Islamists. We must quickly embrace the openness and pluralism of our American religious heritage.
At our nation’s 230th birthday this July, we can no longer afford to dismiss the Islamist threat. Just as Islamism is a threat to the essence of the America we love, it is also a threat to the essence of my personal faith of Islam which I love. Many pious Muslims can engage in this debate to defeat Islamism. Defeat Islamism and its political ideology, and we have achieved a major victory for our nation’s security.
M. Zuhdi Jasser is chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and a former Navy lieutenant commander.