Fighting for Victory Against Islamism: A Muslim Blueprint for the West
(Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, September 8, 2016)
Transcript available below
The West desperately needs a broad-based anti-Islamist strategy to combat the global reach of this deadly ideology that threatens freedom and liberty everywhere. Dr. Jasser says that, “American Muslims, living in this unparalleled laboratory of freedom, have a unique moral obligation to lead the way. For too long we have allowed the grievance narratives of Islamist groups to dominate, deflect responsibility, and radicalize. As American Muslims, we need to own the problem and address the root causes of Islamist radicalization.”
About the speaker
Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser is the president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), an American think tank built on the premise of advocating for the principles of the U.S. Constitution, liberty and freedom through the separation of mosque and state. He is an ardent activist for universal human rights and against the global movement of political Islam (Islamism) that holds Muslims around the world under the thumb of theocratic regimes.
He routinely briefs members of Congress on the threat to the United States and has testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security; the Constitution Sub-Committee of the House Judiciary Committee; and the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations. He is regularly on national and international media as an expert on Islamist extremism.
Dr. Jasser is a former Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy who served 11 years as a medical officer including a tour as the Staff Internist to the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court. Currently, Jasser is a well-respected internist and nuclear cardiologist in Phoenix, Arizona.
He is the author of the acclaimed book, A Battle for the Soul of Islam: An American Muslim Patriot’s Fight to Save His Faith. In the book, Jasser offers a way for Muslims to dismantle the ideology of Islamism and reclaim their faith. It is a must read for the millions of people who want to understand how Muslims can defeat radical Islam and create Middle Eastern governments devoted to the principles of liberty and human rights.
Robert R. Reilly:
Our guest tonight as you know is Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, who is the President and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), an American think tank built on the premise of advocating for the principles of the U.S Constitution, liberty, and freedom through the separation of mosque and state. Remember that famous letter from Jefferson? The separation – oh, that was church and state, okay, so Zuhdi is promoting the separation of mosque and state, which is very Jeffersonian.
He is a devout Muslim. He served recently as a commissioner on the congressionally appointed U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). He is an ardent activist for universal human rights and against the global movement of political Islam or Islamism. He has appeared many times to testify before various committees in Congress and he has spoken very forcefully and very courageously, and for so doing he has also taken the heat from some Islamist organizations who do not understand the distinctions that he espouses.
Dr. Jasser is a former Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy who served eleven years as a U.S. medical officer, including a tour as staff internist to the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court. Sometimes I wish he had done his job less well than he did. Currently, he is serving as a well respected internist and nuclear cardiologist in Phoenix, Arizona.
Dr. Jasser is author of The Battle for the Soul of Islam: An American Muslim Patriot’s Fight to Save His Faith. We have copies of the book for sale out there. We have replaced the microscopic yellow post it note that said $20 so now it can be seen in a larger envelope and Dr. Jasser will be available to sign these books after his lecture which is on the subject of, Fighting for Victory Against Islamism: A Muslim Blueprint for the West. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Jasser.
Thank you, Bob. It is a pleasure and an honor to be here at the Westminster Institute. And you know, I have to open by saying many years ago I read The Closing of the Muslim Mind, and I recommend it to a lot of the Muslims in our liberty project. And I am here to tell you that hopefully my mind is open and not closed, and that is really what the challenge is. I do believe Bob was right that the Muslim mind has closed for the most part, at least the folks running our faith and running our communities, and the challenge is really to open those minds.
You know we always struggle with where we are and how to contextualize the subject matter if you will, and it almost seems like every one of my talks opens with an apology for the recent attack that happened, be it Orlando all the way back to Ft. Hood and now fifteen years ago, 9/11. And the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11 is only a few days away, and I am sure every one of you can remember where you were as those four planes attacked the United States, and one was not too far from here at the Pentagon.
At that time, and that is where my book opens with, it opens with me talking about how angry I was and how I almost wanted to reenlist and get those bastards. And now you look where we are today. You realize that Al Qaeda was an extremely small problem compared to the problem that we have and for those of us who formed the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), nobody understood why our mission statement was to preserve the U.S. Constitution and freedom and liberty through the separation of mosque and state.
They are like, wait a minute, the problem is terrorism. That does not make sense. Come along twelve years later, ISIS starts forming in Syria and all of a sudden, this terror group called the Islamic State forms and people start to understand, oh, there is an Islamic State terror group. And I am still, fifteen years later, trying to explain to people that ISIS is even but a small symptom of a bigger, global cancer that a quarter of the world’s population has within it.
So when we look at this problem fifteen years after 9/11 and hundreds of thousands of troops that have deployed into the Middle East since then – and we can talk about for good or whether we made things better. I think we did. I think Iraq would be Syria today had we not happened to have gone in there and gotten rid of Saddam.
As a Syrian I can tell you that the Ba’ath regime of Iraq was not much different. It was just a different mafia family, running a much larger country, and I think if you think the Syrian civil war is bad, Iraq would have been much worse. As chaotic as it looks today, the Arab Spring did not go through Iraq because the dictatorship had been removed by our sons and daughters from the United States.
What I want to do today – and I know next week you may hear a little bit about diagnosis. I read books like Bob’s and I say wow, there is a lot of scholarship in these books. And you know there is a lot to be said about the deep academia and intellectual rigor of true, deep reform intellectually in Islam that needs to happen as schools of thought and Sharia and other things. But I have to tell you, that is going to take generations, but what can happen in this generation is the defeat militarily but also mostly intellectually of political Islamist movements.
And if you think the Cold War was a major threat, that pales in comparison to the constituency. I mean for all of the threat that the Cold War was, the communists only had a small percent of the Russian population, and ultimately that imploded from within without us ever directly going to war with the Soviets.
Islamism, which is the problem, which is political Islam, but as much as Islamism is probably the best word to define it, what I define as the real problem is Islamo-nationalism, which is the marriage of Islamic identity with national identity because right now what ISIS is finally starting to educate America about is the reason ISIS is spreading a lot faster than Al Qaeda.
Remember Al Qaeda’s mission for all of the world, as much as bin Laden was a caliphist if you will, who believed in a caliphate, for all the world their mission was really just to get the United States out of the Middle East. That was sort of their mission. They did not really have this mission of establishing Islamic states even though they believed in that and they believed in a caliphate.
Really it was more of an anti-Saudi regime, anti-Western (that is why they committed acts like the USS Cole Bombing), and then Al Qaeda was to get us and our relationship out so that the royal family in Saudi Arabia could be displaced by an Islamist radical group like Al Qaeda.
But then came the Arab Awakening. For the most part the Arab Awakening was I believe more of an economic revolution for free markets, for more autonomy and liberation because as many of us who are secularists know and believe – and I say secularists with caution and tell you that I am a devout Muslim, I believe in my faith, but I believe government should be secular and based in reason, not based on theocracy, but the secularists inherently are disorganized.
So take UNRUFA, a government from the Middle East, take away a dictatorship and the secularists divided as you all saw in the Arab Awakening be it in Egypt, Tunisia or elsewhere into hundreds of different parties and groups, so the Islamists inherently are united and usually just divided into two groups, the Salafi fundamentalists and then the Islamists, the more core political Islamists. Really the only difference between the Salafists of the more right-wing if you will or the fundamentalists – they all believe in the Islamo-nationalist state concept.
The best definition I heard was from a Brotherhood member. When I was on the Commission on Religious Freedom, we went to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and a number of countries. When we were in Egypt somebody defined it to me the best. They said the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist parties, used religion to get political control. The Salafis used politics to get religious control. But at the end of the day, they are doing the same thing, which is they are drinking from the same trough of Islamo-nationalism. They want the state to have an Islamic identity.
So over the next thirty-five minutes what I want to do with you is give you three things that I would like you to leave here with as we look at solutions. Fifteen years after 9/11 and we are still not even into the diagnosis stage of America understanding where we are, so imagine the Cold War after World War II. Fifteen years later we were into the Kennedy administration and we were beginning to understand what the Cold War was.
Now, we have a much bigger threat with fifty-six countries that belong to this cartel of Islamist theocracies. Some are obviously not technical theocracies, but for the most part they all use [Islamic law], they are all Sharia states, and fifteen years later we still cannot say radical Islam. And the reason the terminology is important is not because it is a talking point, but because you cannot treat a disease that you cannot define.
Now, certainly, if you overshoot and say all of Islam, then you are alienating a quarter of the world’s population, but if you do not recognize the Islamic community, the Islamic faith has an inherent theocratic cancer within it, then you are going to completely miss the problem and end up with this whack-a-mole problem where right now domestically our whack-a-mole problem is we go from one incident to the next where our largest homeland security agency is sort of like this minority report program where they are trying to figure out where the next act of violence is going to happen like that old movie. And that is impossible because some of these guys, other than posting a few things on the internet, usually will not have any records until they finally decide they want to [attack]. They think they are going to go to heaven and do their jihad, and do their act of violence.
But that is it. It is a whack-a-mole program from the individual. Then globally we have the movement whack-a-mole where we say Al Qaeda is the problem, and then we have a mission accomplished sign and we go up and we say that Al Qaeda is done and in 2007, 2008 President Bush was basically right, Al Qaeda had pretty much been decimated.
But we had not had a solution, we did not figure out what we were going to do once we got in there and we decimated the radical, militant entity that had used Islamism to come into power violently because the underbelly of that is huge political movements that, as we have seen in the Arab Awakening, can get thirty, forty percent of the vote.
Now, you may see that as a major problem. I see it as an opportunity. When they get 30, 40 percent of the vote, it means 60 percent of the people do not want the Islamists. The problem is we have to get those sixty percent to work together rather than as forty different parties that are not Islamists.
So how do we turn our global foreign policy, which is a whack-a-mole that goes from Jemaah Islamiyah in Pakistan, to al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya in Egypt, to the Muslim Brotherhood, to Hamas, to Al Qaeda, to the Khomeinists in Iran, to their movements? How do we do that? I think Secretary Rice had it right in Egypt in 2005 where she said, “For too long our country has exchanged stability for security, and we have gotten neither.”
And she is right. For too long our paradigm in the twentieth century was that we are just going to work with the dictators that have common enemies with us and keep them stable because they will keep these countries at bay, and they will not threaten us. And I will tell you, even families like mine did not mind that when we had a common enemy with the Soviets, but then the Cold War ended.
I mean, listen, one of the reasons my family is as patriotic as we are, and my parents felt American the moment they escaped Syria as political refugees in 1967, was because of how anti-Soviet they were growing up in Syria. The population mechanisms of genocidal operations that you are seeing Assad use today are Soviet methods of controlling populations. And my father was put under arrest at sixteen years old simply for asking the question to his schoolteacher, as the jeeps were not working, “I heard the American jeeps work pretty well in the winter.” And the next thing he knew he was under house arrest for two weeks.
So we understood that the world at the time as divided by two superpowers, and at times America is just going to work with the dictators and monarchs that it knew. And my grandfather ended up dying here in America. He came to America and had abandoned his Syrian nationalism. I do not know if it is mentioned or who said it, but somebody said every people deserve the government they have. And he said, you know, the Syrians deserve this dictatorship. They are not rising up. They are not having a revolution.
And I have to tell you, I wish my father and grandfather were alive today because they would realize as much as right now you see the death and destruction of over half a million [people], ten million displaced, most Syrians I talk to still say it is worth it because they are alive. Syria was a prison for sixty years, a complete prison just like North Korea. They had great buildings that were growing and maybe music and things like that, but to say that the Assad regime was somehow a place [to praise is wrong]. Yes, they look back and say gosh, is this worth it? And they never thought they would be abandoned by the West.
And we can talk about Syria in the Q&A, but again, I still think Syria is a symptom of the deeper problem. The secularists, some of us worked in a democracy coalition. I talk about that in my book, which was published in 2012, and we had at that time been hopeful that the secular liberals, which then became the Free Syrian Army, which now are dominated by Islamists, [would triumph]. Why [are they dominated by Islamists]? Because the Saudis, and the Qataris, and the Turks basically were the only ones funding the rebellion. The initial intent was to fight the Assad regime before the Islamists also hijacked that revolution as they did in every other one.
But the cauldron that brewed that, [going] back to Condoleeza Rice’s statement, for too long stability was a mirage. These countries are not stable. Just because there is no kinetic war in Yemen right now or in other Muslim majority countries does not mean they are stable because the dictatorships use Sharia as the opium of the masses. And what that does is it gives us the illusion that somehow, they are stable because there is no civil war, and yet they are infusing an ideology that is supremacist.
And then, just as the Saudi royal family will, they will sit back and say, well, if you look for example at Twitter activity in Saudi Arabia right now, 80 to 90 percent of social media activity is Salafi-Wahhabi, Salafi-Jihadi activity. So the Saudis get that data, and they say look if we let the Arab awakening come through, our country will be overrun by Wahhabis, and they will not be friendly to America. You need us. You need us, the royal family, to help you. Meanwhile, refugees are coming into Europe. They do not want to let them into Saudi Arabia.
They say we will help you build two thousand mosques and Islamic schools to help indoctrinate them into spreading da’wah and Islamism into the West, so this is no different than the Soviet imperial hegemony ideology, which is that they will export while they continue to maintain internal dominance of their ideas and their politburos.
So at the end of the day, we have to somehow look at the long game. As long as we continue on the short game, we are going to lose because these countries will continue to prop up illusions of new problems that we then send and say, oh we are going to get a military to decimate ISIS, and then the problem will be over. It is the same thing as the alcoholic. We think that somehow the drunk driver is the problem when it is the alcoholism. I will give you another medical analogy. It is like if I treated lung cancer and said oh, I am just going to suppress the cough and treat my patient’s symptoms and not treat the cancer.
So there are three things that I want you to leave with here. One is understanding where Islam is in its history. The second is we have whittled down to [the point where] when I talk to groups, the key is free speech. We can sit and argue all you want, and I would be happy to talk to you, and the last chapter of my book is about how to reinterpret Qur’anic passages, how I was raised to believe both in the authenticity of the Arabic script of the Qur’an, but also to say okay, well, here it says cut the hands of those who steal, and yet that is barbaric, so what do you do?
So there are ways to take literal script interpretations and modernize them, and say, well, it says sever, which could mean sever a relationship, which could mean put somebody in prison versus actually cutting their hand. So there are modern ways to interpret it, but we can talk about that. But at the end of the day, they cannot even have these conversations in our so-called ally countries because by suppressing open thought, by suppressing open debate and discussion, they prevent the very tool to modernize the religion that is stuck in the 12th and 13th centuries.
And that is by design because then just as Assad, if you look at the bombing operations that he is running, the bombing operations against ISIS are not in neighborhoods where ISIS is, they are bombing our families in Aleppo and the bigger threat. The secular liberals, the moderates if you will, and however you want to define that, but the bottom-line is nonviolent, secular liberals who do not believe in Islamic states, and also are not secular fascists like the Ba’athists, those are the ones that they are bombing with some occasional few operations in the northeast where the ISIS guys really are.
But their mission is not to put an end completely to the radical groups because it serves as a tool just as the Wahhabis serve as a tool in Saudi Arabia. And it is not surprise that the royal family has handed the judiciary and the educational and literary systems in Saudi Arabia to the Wahhabis while the royal family maintains the military and the government. That is an arrangement they have had since ’79 when the mosque was taken over. But at the end of the day, it is a mutually symbiotic parasitism if you will between two fascist movements, if you will.
But there has to be a third path, and the way to get that is free speech. [I am going to talk about] where Islam is in its history, the utility of free speech to let that quarter of the world’s population have that debate that we need to have, and last is reform, the r word, as I call it, because it is amazing that in many of the mosques across the country, reform is just an anathema. They look upon it like you are somehow changing the religion or pretending to be God when in fact all we are doing is taking a faith that we love, giving it tough love, and saying these are the ideas that need to be changed and modernized.
So in those three things, first of all, I want to start with sort of the concept, if you will, of free speech. And you know, the terror attacks are coming closer. The most amazing one I think that really brings home the point is the one in Paris and then in Belgium. The reason that is impressive for all of you who are heaped in studying this, you had the same terror cell commit two acts of terror four months apart, so that tells you that you have a major problem, not only with the terror groups themselves forming, but with communities that are shielding and hiding these groups.
So therefore, you have circles of containment of shielding the actual threat that are related to an allegiance, an insurgency. And as some of the groups, Quilliam Foundation that we work with in London, calls it, “the Salafi-jihadism, stupid,” say hey, it is “the Salafi-jihadism, stupid!” That is what it is because the Salafi-jihadi mentality is that these guys are martyrs, that they are working against the secular West, the enemies of Islam.
So at the end of the day, the reason free speech is so important is these things are all tied together and let me put them together for you just as succinct as I can. The oxygen for all of this is the Islamic State, and the reason it is the Islamic state concept is – think about it. I served in the U.S. Navy. Once I applied to serve, I committed to eight years. If halfway through that you change your mind, you cannot do that.
All of you who have served signed a contract. You cannot leave. Why is that? Why does a free country like America prevent our soldiers from leaving? If you agreed to serve four or eight years, you cannot leave at year two. It is because of unit cohesion. It is because of commitment. It is because of many things.
Our constitution, similarly, we swear to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution of the United States from enemies domestic or foreign. And if you work against that, it is sedition. If you do so violently, it is against the law. Similarly, if you have an Islamic state and the constitution is the Qur’an, if you leave that faith, it is as if you left its military, it is as if you have left its constitution, so therefore apostasy is punishable by death. Blasphemy becomes sedition.
I felt, growing up in Wisconsin, that my obligation to the United States was to serve in the military. At first, I was going to go to one of the academies, but because I love being a physician so much, I decided to go to medical school first and then serve. But there was nothing that was going to stop me if I got accepted from joining the U.S. military because I learned from my family that you have to decide what it is in your life that you are willing to die for or that you would die for.
That is what ISIS understands that we have yet to figure out as a country. Our sons and daughters get it when they sign up for the military, but we have not yet had Muslims accountable to what they would die for, because right now you can work on being anti-terrorism. But once you decide you are against the tactic of terror, okay you defeat the tactic, but then you are left with this vacuum. The mechanism, the tactic of achieving their ends might be defeated for a short time, but then you left this vacuum.
What are they for? You might be against terrorism. Right now, our entire apparatus is CVE, countering violent extremism. That is the biggest loss of money and taxes and resources that I could every think of because you are countering a tactic that we cannot even name, and it is called violent extremism. Everything is really violent extremism, and yet that is the focus because we cannot identify Islamism or Sharia-ism, Islamic State-ism, as the problem.
So therefore, when they are signing up online and working to sympathize with Islamic State movements, not just ISIS but any Islamic state movement or Sharia adherence, we cannot follow that. And yet, that should be part of security clearances, it should be part of vetting refugees, immigrants. All of these things should be part of that, and yet we can probably count on one hand that if we identified them, they would not be working next week, the people that are experts in Sharia in Washington that are actually working for the government, versus think tanks like this.
So ultimately, a blueprint for victory, I think, is to begin to look at what Muslim groups we can work with and individuals that would be willing to not only internally tell you behind the scenes what they would die for but publicly say that it is not only the American flag but liberty and freedom and a secular governance that believes that every individual is equal before the law, and has a right to be president, and that the legal system does not inspire its understanding from a cleric or an imam that tells you what the scripture says.
But you can have debate, whether it be pro-life or pro-choice, but then base it on reason, not on scriptural exegesis. That sounds esoteric to most, but at the end of the day, that is the only way to defeat this vacuum of anti-terrorism. You can defeat the tactic, but at the end of the day, until Muslims are ready to die for a country that is based in secular law, that is based in reason, versus based in Islamic state concepts or Sharia, it is not going to work.
And yet you have people like Shadi Hamid, who now is working at Brookings, wrote a book called Islamic Exceptionalism, and to me this is actually much more dangerous work because what it is doing is putting a veneer of moderation on political Islam, basically saying that, well, there are Islamists that we can work with, that are democrats with a small d, that believe in politics and elections.
And I think the Egyptians proved two things. One is the negative, which is that elections are not the solution. The purple finger is not the solution for Iraq. It was the tribalism that was the problem and a majorit-ocracy that was the problem, or mob-ocracy is really what elections became. But Egyptians also proved that one-and-a-half years of the Muslim Brotherhood running the government in Egypt did a million times more to destroy the ideas of political Islam than sixty years of Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak.
Now I know that is a tough pill to swallow because it is a lot more unstable. [We see the] same thing in Iran. The Khomeinists, if we are able to actually effectuate a policy of regime change where we work with the Green Revolution and work with secularists there, the Khomeinists will never see the light of day again in any fair election. Did you know that Iran has the largest atheism conversion rate in the world (to atheism)? And I talk to many devout Muslims there that say the Khomeinists, the theocrats, are killing our religion.
And I will tell you as a Muslim this is why I do this. This is why I, as a little doctor from Phoenix, Arizona, take the time to do this. First, it is because the West is going to be collateral damage to political Islam, our security. And I do not do this for my faith. I do not believe in clergy. I think imams are just teachers. We are a very decentralized faith.
But I do believe that one, national security will not survive a caliphate or some unification of the Islamic world that might happen if we do not help take sides within the house of Islam. And secondly, I do want my kids and my grandkids to love their faith and have a good relationship with God. And if Islam and the Qur’an is going to be that vehicle, I have got to figure out a way to give them interpretations of that that are compatible with liberty and freedom.
So the blueprint is for all of you as you leave here to start to take sides within the Muslim community. Stop treating us as a monolith, as that little 1 percent minority in America, you know, it is not going to make that big of a difference. Contrary to the Islamists, who think that they can, you know, be that key vote in an election, the bottom-line is that we need to be treated as a heterogenous, diverse community with various ideas from the Ahmadiyya, to the Ismaili, to the Shia, to the Sunni.
That is sects, and then within those – so diversity, when you talk about diversity within Islam (and this is why free speech to me is such an important thing), it is not just diversity of sects. It is within the Sunni community, for example, we need to understand, and this is something I worked on very passionately on the Commission on Religious Freedom, we always talk about minority rights in Syria or in Saudi Arabia, what are the rights in Iran for the Baháʼís, absolutely, that is one barometer of religious freedom, but the bigger barometer, I think, is what are the rights for the Shia dissidents in Iran? Those are the guys for the most part lining the prisons in Iran.
What are the rights for the Sunni dissidents in Saudi Arabia, or the Sunni dissidents in Egypt? These dictators have first and foremost put in prison the majority agitators in their countries because that would be the way they would see the exit, if the majority actually started to have diverse ideas.
And America is no different.
Muslims in America can talk to you all they want about all of the different races in their mosques and the diversity of ethnicity, etc. There is very little debate or diversity of opinions in Muslim leadership in America, very little. And one of the solutions that we talk about in our blueprint for victory is our Muslim reform movement. Our Muslim reform movement is basically groups like mine and at the American Islamic Forum that formed in the belief that the bigger problem is the Islamic state and the Sharia, the concept of Sharia adherence from a theocratic perspective.
And we formed this coalition that six of us formed thanks to Sue Myrick back in 2007 when we started to look at counterterrorism groups and the minority voices. And we worked with some of the other institutes in town, including Hudson and Heritage and others, and started to get some of these quieter voices – well, not quieter, but less heard, more marginalized voices in the Muslim community together, and we formed an American Islamic Leadership Coalition. That then grew from six organizations in the U.S., Canada, and Europe to twelve [organizations].
And then last December 2015, our organization convened the first summit of anti-Islamist Muslims in the West, and there were fifteen organizations that met. It happened to happen on December 3, which was I think the day of the San Bernardino attacks. So we thought we would have a lot of attention. We had a three-day summit that then concluded with the group that actually I had called the Anti-Islamist Muslim Coalition, decided to call itself the Muslim Reform Movement, and we came up with a two-page declaration, two simple pages.
And after we met, there were two imams there and a number of us who had been working in this area for a number of years. And we decided, you know what, we can say that we are against this group, against the Muslim Brotherhood, against Hamas, against radicalism and terrorism, but we want to tell people what we are for. And we want you to have a tool that you can use, and the government can use, to say, well, this is the goalpost, this is where the endzone should be as far as trying to determine which Muslims are with us and which ones are against us.
So instead of this paradigm that we use domestically and globally which is, well, if we have a common enemy, then they must be our friends. Please stop that. That common enemy stuff is just [wrong]. Imagine if our FBI or our security apparatus domestically decided, well, when they are going to work against some gang, they work with the other gang in the inner city to work against that other gang. That would be nonsense. We do not do that.
And yet that is what we are doing when we side with Saudi Arabia against ISIS, or Erdoğan’s Turkey [against] common enemies, etc. Even though they are a NATO ally, the bottom-line is it is a Sharia-evolving Islamist state.
So at the end of the day, it is not about common enemies. It is about our two-page declaration. Take a look at it. It says three areas. One section is on free speech, another is on secular governance, and the other is on national security. And we lay out twelve or thirteen principles that say we are against blasphemy laws [and] against apostasy laws, we are for the equality of men and women, the equality of all individuals under law, the freedom to decide your own path to God. We believe Muslims do not have a monopoly on heaven. We reject violent jihad.[We embrace] things that are considered blasphemy and heresy in probably most of the Muslim countries, and yet we believe are the values. So when you look at our allies, your allies in America should be those who share our values, period. If they do not share our values, and especially probably the best barometer is not necessarily our own constitution since people may disagree in other countries about certain elements of our own, but how about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
There is a reason the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), 56 countries, signed the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights and not the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And I think Eleanor Roosevelt would be rolling over in her grave if she knew what the UN is actually doing, and what it is sponsoring. And now we know in Syria, for example, charity groups were actually run by the Assad regime.
It is just [a farce]. The UN is a farce. We need to reassemble countries that share our values and start from new because that is the coalition that should be fighting ISIS. If the Saudis want to fight ISIS, let them, but we should not do them together because at the end of the day that is going to give an illusion that somehow they share our values, when in fact they do not. And because at the end of the day, in their countries they do not have the free speech that we Muslims have in America here to have these debates that we need to have.
And some people say, well, Zuhdi, have you had death threats? You know, listen, the risks that I take pale in comparison to what Muslims in Syria, and Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere take every day in fighting this, so this is the least we should be doing. And especially, you know, so many Muslims complain that oh my gosh, I left that stuff, and I came here, and it followed me here in 9/11. I mean, please, give us a break.
The West went through a Reformation and an Enlightenment in which millions died, hundreds of thousands died in that Reformation to give us a society after many revolutions, not only in Europe but the American Revolution, to give us a society that defeated theocracy. The least Muslims can do is to go through that same thing. And I think we have an opportunity here, sitting in the lap of freedom, to demand that type of reform.
So the three points: history, Islam is in that time in history – there are a lot of books out there, Robert’s book, Bernard Lewis’ book on What Went Wrong? (2002) [and] The Crisis of Islam (2004). A lot of these books talk about the arc in Islam initially. If Islam’s recipe was bad, I think from the beginning it would have been a war-based faith, and there were hundreds of years.
Now, call this an apologetic [claim], call it what you will, but the bottom-line is I think your allies are going to be Muslims that – whether it is mythology or whatever it is, it is Muslims that believe that we can get our faith of Islam to believe passionately in countries like America and our constitution.
And I have a podcast on Blaze Radio Network that is called Reform This!, and this week I talk about how embarrassing to me it was to see the Secretary of Homeland Security go to the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) this week and give a speech comparing the plight of Muslims in America to the plight of the African American community in America, and the civil war, and the Jim Crow laws, and other things. And it is just absurd. It is this bigotry of low expectations, that somehow this group that he is speaking to [should be pandered to].
I can tell you in my book, I talk about how in 1995 I went to one meeting at ISNA. In that meeting, I showed up. It was after the Islamic Medical Association, which me and the chairman of endocrinology from Bethesda Naval Hospital at the time, who was also Muslim, and went to present a paper there. And the Islamic Society of North America’s keynote speaker was Siraj Wahaj, who is now still on the board of CAIR and has other things. Through his speech, he holds up a Qur’an and says we as Muslims have an obligation to make this the constitution of the United States of America. And he said this country is suffering the cancers that it does because it does not use this holy book as its constitution. And he talked about Bill Clinton and his support for abortion and other things.
And I talked in my book about how lightheaded I got and how ill. I was in uniform. And they had microphones in the aisles. There were about twenty thousand people there. I went to one of the microphones. They had a time for people to announce gatherings they had [scheduled], like you would at any large convention, and I got to a microphone and said listen, I do not know most of you. This is the first time I have come to an ISNA meeting. But the bottom-line is I am here to publicly disavow any association with this organization.
I should have learned when I spent six months with the Muslim Student Association in college, and then realized what political Islam was, but I thought I would come and listen. And I said what your keynote speaker just did was [what] I would consider sedition. You can disagree with policy, but talking about wholesale change of the Constitution is an insurgency and it is sedition.
And my wife, who I did not know at the time was going to be my wife, but I met her four years later, and her dad was there. And he looks at me and says, you look familiar. And then we figured out that that was when we had met, when I was exiting stage left at the Islamic Society of North America.
But the sad thing is that now those conventions are fifty thousand people, not twenty thousand. The Secretary of Homeland Insecurity – I mean, Security – is speaking to them, catering to their victimology rather than telling them that they need to step up and reform the ideas that are causing, that they are part of the root cause problem. I believe they are the first three or four steps of radicalization, which is victimization, a sense of alienation against the West, the division of America and the world into the land of Islam, Dar al-Islam, and Dar al-Harb.
None of these ideas have been reformed by the Islamic Society of North America. They still hand out the Reliance of the Traveller as a book, which is a Sharia book that calls for all of the things you see in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. One of the projects at our organization is reform. Six months ago, the Parliament of World Religions, which I am sure many of you have heard of, [it] is sort of the Olympics of interfaith activity globally, met in Utah, in America.
And guess who is the chairman of their board of the Parliament of World Religions? Imam [Abdul Malik] Mujahid from Chicago from Sound Vision. What is Sound Vision? It is a Saudi operation that is funded not significantly, but a lot of their money comes from Saudis. It is a propaganda operation for distributing Saudi literature in the West.
Now they have billboards that recently local media in Phoenix asked me about. It says on the billboards, you know, ‘ISIS, you suck, you are not Muslim,’ or something like that. And people see this and say wow, this is very moderate. Who are these people? And it says sponsored by Sound Vision, etc. And then we say, well, listen, wait a minute, the Saudis hate ISIS, too. This might look moderate, but you have to look at who these groups are. So we took a press release to the Parliament. Courtney Lonergan, who is our Community Outreach Director at the American Islamic Forum, went to the Parliament.
And the keynote speaker was the Sharia court head from Mecca. He was the keynote speaker at the Parliament of World Religions. She was supposed to sit at the table, and they ended up moving her chair and pretending that she was not supposed to be sitting at that table. She then handed him our press release calling for condemning the Parliament for inviting a group that really disavows all of the principles of the Parliament, and yet is participating in a so-called interfaith activity. And it is just mindboggling, the contradictions that you see happen. And you wonder why we do not have a blueprint for victory.
So when it comes to free speech, I think, you know, if we have learned anything, even in America we have blasphemy laws. How can we reform our faith to these ideas if we cannot even talk about them, if we have people giving keynote addresses that are apologists for misogyny, honor violence, [and] honor abuse against women? And the litany of laws done in the name of Islam go on and on, and yet we cannot even talk about it.
You know, it is interesting. In the elections, we talk about the establishment, and we want the non-establishment candidates. As a Muslim, I am looking for the folks that are against the establishment globally, right, not only domestically but globally because that is what is killing us, the establishment globally that is what I call petro-Islam, [which] has destroyed our faith. And it will continue to destroy it over and over like Groundhog Day until there are regime changes there.
So free speech is not going to happen without democratization. The patients may get sicker before they get better. Egypt got sicker, but it was on its way to getting better, and now has gone back to a dictatorship. And one of the examples I was going to tell you about is about a lady who had been imprisoned in Egypt. Why? Because she questioned the sacrifice that was done to lambs and animals for Eid al-Adha.
Actually, it is interesting. It was supposed to be Sunday, 9/11, and the Saudis said it was 9/12 this year. And I do not believe in conspiracy theories, but I do not think it is a coincidence that they sort of decided, well, maybe this lunar month will be one day longer because we do not want to have it land on 9/11, which was technically where we thought it was going to be. But the holiday this year, our biggest holiday of the year, is on Monday.
And this lady, Al-Sisi put in prison because of her postings against the ritual sacrifice that was done. So to think that somehow these dictators that might say the right things, talk about reform, yes, Al-Sisi said the right thing to Al Azhar, but he has not followed it with action. He has not followed it with liberalization. He has not followed it with magazines and newspapers that allow free speech and debate in the public in Cairo and elsewhere.
Their societies are not changing. They are still cauldrons of radicalization. He told them to stop the violence, to stop the ISISs of the world, but he never used words like freedom and democracy. So I do not care what a dictator says. He might say the rights things of what he wants to end in that vacuum, but unless they use terms like freedom, and democracy, and debate, and critical thinking, and reason, those terms, unless they use those terms, it is a facade.
Asra Nomani, who is one of the leaders in our reform movement, has talked about the honor brigade, so that is part of the establishment, that there are so many groups out there that are trying to preserve the honor of Islam, the honor of leaders who do not want you to start to critically think about what is happening within the Islamic leadership.
ISIS is working despite all of the things we are doing because their means is disruption. And I think the blueprint for victory is disruption. We need to disrupt the establishment, disrupt the regimes, and yes, still work to make sure the really bad guys, the militants, do not get their hands on nuclear weapons, do not get their hands on things that can really be used in a fashion to short-circuit the long-term plan. But we need a long-term vision.
We need a liberty doctrine, and I still have not heard from any candidates that remain what their doctrine would be. And unfortunately, we need a bigger doctrine than that blueprint. Our Muslim reform movement provides a two-page menu for that, if you will, and it can be used to vet. On my last podcast, I did a mock interview with Abdul, who is supposed to be a sort of a fake refugee. And what are some of the questions you would ask him? Because they say oh, well, they can lie in it.
If you read the questions right, and as many of you may have done intelligence or other things, there are ways to interview folks. The Israelis are great at this. There are ways to interview them for half an hour, an hour, and figure out exactly whether they are lying or not. The pieces of the puzzle have to fit together, so ask him questions like, should the government make laws to protect the image of Muhammad? Should the government make laws to prevent things said at sermons or to protect Jesus’ image?
So you can find ways to find out what their beliefs are on blasphemy laws or on women’s rights by not asking them directly. So at the end of the day, I think as Voltaire said, ‘I might disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,’ or at least that is what his biographer said that he said. And I do believe that you need to find Muslims that will fight to the death your right to disagree with Islam, to criticize Islam, to criticize Muhammad and all of these aspects of what are the core nature of our faith that need reform.
And I think ultimately, we need to find new leadership. We are not going to be able to fill convention halls with ten thousand, twenty thousand Muslims because the secular community has not organized. But even having said that, ISNA, the last poll said 3-4 percent of Muslims identify with ISNA [and] 7 percent with CAIR, so that leaves 90 some percent of Muslims in America that do not identify with any Islamic organization.
But that is going to take a campaign. It is going to take a change in culture. It is going to take Hollywood, and media, and mainstream media to begin to acknowledge [this]. I mean, once we start getting sports figures, the Kim Kardashians of the world and others who might not understand any of this, but to begin in pop culture to work with the right Muslims versus the problematic ones, you will start to see massive changes, I think, in what people believe. Thanks for your time, and I would love to take your questions.
Dr. Jasser, how large a contingent of imams and clerics are there would you say in this country who are working with you for reform openly or covertly?
I wish I could give you an answer of a large number. If you ask me what my business plan is, our business plan is in the next five to ten years is to get the business community behind what we are doing. We have a few imams that are reformists that are out there that are working with us.
But just to give you a little sense of what the right answer to your question is, in February and in March and April we mailed out five thousand mailers to three thousand mosques and then two thousand celebrity-type, publicly known Muslims that we identified as leading voices in the Muslim community nationally. We got about a quarter of those back because of the addresses or whatever. We then resent them out in May and June. And now over the last six to eight weeks, I have had two interns calling and doing sort of the investigative journalism thing.
And what we did is we have a one-page letter. It says we are the Muslim reform movement. Here are our fifteen names. Here is our declaration. We ask you to look at it. Please do one of two things. Either sign it and join us, and we will add your name to our ongoing list and our website. Hopefully, it will be done in the next month or so to list these folks. Or send us a reason why you refuse to participate.
We had one imam that participated with us in the conference I told you about, that then went back, and his board nearly fired him. They then sent us a letter explaining why he was misguided in joining us. And I felt sorry for the guy in one way, but on the other hand I was a little upset that he abandoned our project. But he had received a lot of pressure, and he is from Canada. But the rest are still on board, the fifteen that started this.
We have gotten a couple of phone calls, folks that said do not ever call our mosque again. If you call, we will come out there. And I have one of the voicemails I recorded, and we posted it on YouTube, that says we will come and tell you personally if you keep calling us to sign your declaration.
There were a couple of interviews nationally where media have taken our declaration and taken it to mosques. We pasted it on the mosque, the Saudi mosque here. We walked, and after our meeting and conference, seven or eight of us walked to the mosque and taped it, the Martin Luther thing, on their door. And some media paid attention to that. But the bottom-line is 95 percent or so have been silent. The others have been rejections.
There was an imam in North Dakota that we have a clip of. The local anchor had our declaration, and the imam did not know he was going to be asked about it, and he went through the declaration. I think it was Fargo or one of the cities in North Dakota. He ended up agreeing with all of it, so tacitly he ended up agreeing because he realized he had to.
So to me, that is a great example of how when you publicly do these things, you can pressure them into saying the right [thing] or at least taking the right stance even if they do not believe it. The bottom-line is at least they are publicly held accountable. Then if they reverse it publicly later, you can show that they are lying and they are doing the dissimulation thing.
But I wish I could tell you we have had a great response. We have not. And some may say – and I bet you if you were to ask these organizations, they would say oh, we did not get the letter or whatever. After Orlando, within four days these organizations posted three hundred imams that signed a letter, an Orlando statement, after the shooting in Orlando. There is a website called Letter to Baghdadi dot com signed by five hundred mosques in Europe and America. Basically, it is a who’s who list of Muslim Brotherhood leaders in the West.
And right now, we are almost done preparing a position paper against that Letter to Baghdadi because if you want a definition of the difference between what I have been telling you and what the Islamist apologists that are anti-terror that are part of this CVE movement would tell you, it is that letter. The letter says, for example, ISIS does not know what it is doing, they are anti-woman. But the word equality is not used in their page on women.
On jihad, it says Baghdadi is not qualified to declare jihad, there are certain ways to declare jihad, you have to do X, Y, and Z. So they basically still agree with the ends but not the means, and on and on. It is basically an apologetic for an Islamic state instead of against.
The fact that they got all of those people to sign this very intricate theological document against Baghdadi shows you A., they know they have a problem, but B., they can gather and sign signatures when they want to, so they have been ignoring [us]. I will tell you that the one of the problems we have [is] who do I go to? The 70-80 percent of Muslims that agree with us are not organized. They do not have [a place to go]. If I google them, they are not going to show up with organizations called Islamic, you know, they are going to be very hard to find, and that is our problem, and that is why we need your help.
Studies have shown that most Americans who are Muslim do not attend mosque and are relatively secularized. They are also a very successful group in America as a whole. They have more graduate degrees. They have more professional degrees. [They have] higher household income than the national average. So, is it possible to encourage within the professions or businesses, secular or reform Muslim organizations to counter the professional groups associated with the Muslim Brotherhood that are also in America, like Muslim Advocates, for example, or the Association of Muslim Social Scientists?
That is a great question, and that is why when people say, well, Zuhdi, you are not an imam, I will tell you I think if you look at the Christian Reformation and what happened in the West, I do not think the initial seeds were done by the clerics, by the priests. I think it was done by the business community. And I might be wrong, but the bottom-line is the revolutions against theocrats were done by the affluent, the community that did not want the men in robes controlling their governments.
And you know, I was talking on national television a couple of weeks ago. There was a report that the British Home Secretary came out with that blamed all of the radicalization on the internet, blamed it on YouTube, social media companies, basically. And they came out with this ten-page report, saying social media needs to do a better job of stopping the portals that are radicalizing Muslims, etc.
Now, I will give them some credit. There is some problem there in that you could be anti-Israel and all of this other hate stuff gets put on, nobody says anything, but then the Islamists are given a pass, and the radicalized website are given a pass, so there is some problem there. But I think we need to engage the business community, [like] Google ideas. You see all of these projects happening in social media or elsewhere that are devoid of this lens of looking through it through advocating liberty.
The Islamists through petro-Islam evangelized political Islam. I would tell you just as in the Cold War, we did not only counter Soviet war theory, but we were evangelically promoting capitalism. We were promoting through Radio Free Europe and other aspects, the ideas that we believed in.
And right now, we have somehow gotten into our DNA that we need to apologize for American ideas, that somehow everything bad that happens – if we try to help groups in Syria or even Libya, not to upset some of you, but even Libya, somehow that, well, Qaddafhi must have been better because if we did something – now, I am not saying that this is not apologetic for what Hillary did because she was working with Islamists very often.
But the bottom-line is if you are against dictatorships, it does not mean that if you try to work with some groups that you might get some arms into the wrong groups or some ideas or money into institutes that might end up not being the best, but at the end of the day the majority, if they agree with your values, is a better movement than saying that, well, handing all of jets and other things to governments like Saudi [Arabia’s] is somehow better.
I do not see how that makes sense, so we need to work in the grassroots level by putting fire under the feet of Muslims in northern Virginia, in Arizona, in California, in New York, every Muslim that you meet in medical groups, Bar Associations. I mean, it is interesting. A judge was just appointed this week. When I went to speak in New York two years ago, one of the groups in New York City that tried to have me stopped from speaking was the Muslim Bar Association in New York.
And I was trying to figure out what work they came out of, and I was wondering where the Muslim lawyers and judges were that agreed with me, and there are many. I have spoken to law schools before where many law students get it because they are going to study American law, but they do not want to take on this mantle because of how they get targeted by other Muslims in our community.
And I think we need to empower them [and] protect them. I can tell you many stories of Muslim women that go to Homeland Security or universities and say I have been attacked and condemned by an imam. I tried to [report] violence, domestic abuse, and they ignore me. And our Homeland Security, our academia and professors, ignore them, also, so we have to develop institutes that protect them, and institutions that will defend their free speech.