NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland — Speaking on a panel discussion at the 2020 Conservative Political Action Conference, Muslim reformer Asra Nomani offered her thoughts on the similarities between “communism” and “Islamism” as both ideologies try to squash religious freedom.
“So when you think of communism, it's an ideology, right?” Nomani asked. “And so, from my vantage point, there is another ideology that we call ‘Islamism,’ which is the ideology of political Islam.”
“So what that means is many of you might have heard of organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood or a lot of the theocracies like in Iran that are running the state. Those are all not just about a religion of Islam, which my parents taught me was how to practice. [It] is about control over people. And that's where I think communism and Islamism are very similar.”
Nomani, a founder of the Muslim Reform Movement who made headlines in 2016 when she announced she voted for Republican President Donald Trump despite being a liberal Muslim, was among several panelists who participated in a CPAC breakout session in late February titled “Without Religious Freedom, What’s Left?”
Joining her on the panel were U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, conservative commentator Todd Starnes, Epoch Times Senior Editor Jan Jekielek and Sander Gerber, a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
With “America vs. Socialism” being the theme of CPAC 2020, much of the discussion focused on the threat to freedoms posed by communist China as the government has pushed the idea of “social transformation” to restrict the freedoms of different religious minority groups over the last several decades.
“It is deeply disturbing and I think the Chinese are probably the very best in the world at it,” Brownback, the former governor of Kansas, said. “They have started it in several places. In Christianity, for instance, in China, they want to rewrite the Bible to make it with Chinese characters.”
“They're also taking crosses down on the front of churches, taking down a picture of Jesus and putting up a picture of Xi Jinping, taking down Scripture from the wall and putting up statements for the Communist Party. And then you gotta sing patriotic songs and not hymns,” he added. “That sounds like trying to change thinking behavior.”
Brownback contended that China’s war on faith “won’t work” because “these sorts of things have been tried throughout human history.”
“The Kingdom of man has often tried to take over the kingdom of God,” he said. “It’s never worked. It may be successful for a little while: tanks are stronger than somebody’s human flesh standing there. But ultimately the Roman Empire switched when they were killing Christians earlier.”
Nomani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter born to Sunni Muslim parents in India, said that what Brownback described happening in China is one of the “fundamental reasons we shouldn't allow a man to use God to govern our laws of our states.”
What is being branded as “transformation” in China — the ideology of communism — “is the law in too many countries,” she contended.
“For example, if you leave the religion, people can have faith or not have faith in a real free society,” she said. “But what we face in countries like Bangladesh is attacks on people who leave the faith. The UAE … is now finally making breakthroughs and having relationships with even the State of Israel. But there was a point when all the countries would not even allow a conversation to be had with somebody from Israel because that violated their idea of what the kingdom of God sanctioned them to do as human beings.
“To me, that is the most inhumane way to be practicing your faith because you're essentially saying, ‘This human being who is from a nation that you oppose, you will not even give that person the simple respect of recognizing their humanity.’
“That's fundamentally flawed and that's where I think we can really use our critical thinking to evaluate whether something is transformation or tyranny.”
Nomani stated that any “transformation” that demands people think the same way as ruling leaders is really “tyranny.”
“I think that is how we can tell the difference,” Nomani explained.
Starnes, a former Fox News columnist who often writes about domestic religious freedom issues, warned the panel that people also “need to keep a pretty close eye on what's happening here [in the U.S.] when it comes to attacks on religious liberty.”
“You know, just a few days ago, there was a CNN town hall meeting. And Don Lemon asked Mayor Pete Buttigieg about whether or not religious organizations like Christian colleges and charities should lose all federal funding if they discriminate against LGBT Americans,” Starnes said.
“And Mayor Pete said, ‘Absolutely.’ You also had former Congressman Robert O’Rourke from Texas say just last year that churches that discriminate against LGBT should lose all their tax-exempt status.”
Starnes stressed that there could be an effort if Democrats were to reclaim control in 2020 “to dictate what churches believe in their church houses.”
“That is absolutely unacceptable here in the United States of America, where we are free to practice our religion without government intrusion and interference,” Starnes contended.
He also objected to an effort from Democrats in California to “dictate what Christian colleges and universities [teach] regarding doctrine on their campuses.”
“They wanted to dictate the kinds of people Christian colleges and universities could employ on their campuses,” Starnes said.
“This is, quite frankly, unconstitutional. The lawmakers, under pressure, brought back that legislation. But, again, when we're looking at what's happening across the world, we need to pay very close attention to what's happening here in this country because religious liberty is under attack. And we have to be diligent.”
Gerber told those in attendance about the dangers of the spread of the BDS movement — a Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel — in the U.S.
“It's spreading like wildfire,” Gerber said. “And the BDS movement is denying the existence of the Jewish state.”
Gerber said the BDS movement “misportrays” Israel is “racist and apartheid.”
“At [New York University], 51 student groups signed a letter banning two pro-Israel groups from having anything to do with the other student groups,” he said. “At the University of California, there are Jewish students being excluded from certain activities because they're pro-Israel. It's happening actually across the country.”
“All of this has been propagated by political Islamic movements that are pushing these falsehoods. So when it comes to the liberal college campuses, it's ended up restricting Jewish students’ freedoms on those campuses. And that's why President Trump signed the Title VI executive order to force protection.”
Although the BDS movement is based in Palestine, Nomani warned that the BDS movement has hubs at American universities like Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where Nomani used to teach.
“Money has flowed in from Islamist movements that want to ultimately deny people their fundamental rights and deny Israel's right to exist,” Nomani said. “They use political issues in America, then claim Islamophobia and then oppress others in their own tyranny.”