I interviewed Dr. M Zuhdi Jasser in January 2017, July 2017, and September 2018 on a range of topics including Islamism and what he believes is its antidote, the Muslim Reform Movement. This is a follow-up interview.
You can read about the differences between Muslim Islamists and Muslim Reformers here.
Jasser is president and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement (MRM), and author of “A Battle for the Soul of Islam: An American Muslim Patriot’s Fight to Save His Faith.” He is a practicing Muslim.
He is also an active physician and former U.S. Navy officer whose parents fled Syria in the 1960s, and host of the Blaze Radio Podcast “Reform This!” and founder of TakeBackIslam.com. Jasser and I discussed Islamism in the context of Reps. Omar and Tlaib, the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim Brotherhood and developments in Sri Lanka.
Postal: You recently called Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar “Islamists.” Can you elaborate on why you think that is the case?
Jasser: Islamism is a political movement based on a common platform of ideas and worldview. Islamists are those who view domestic and foreign policy through the lens and world view of theocratic (Islamist) precepts. Reps. Tlaib’s and Omar’s positions on a host of issues are textbook Islamist. They are ideologues who see the world’s problems as caused by the West rather than by the tyrannies of Muslim countries and the theologies of the strains of Islam deeply needing reform and modernization.
Omar and Tlaib simply do not see Western interests as a force for good in the world. To that point, Omar and Tlaib have predictably defended Maduro’s Venezuela, Erdogan’s Turkey, and Qatar while reflexively demonizing Israel and the American military.
Postal: Rep. Ilhan Omar has recently been in the news for mocking how people refer to Al Qaeda and Hezbollah in a menacing tone, seemingly equating them with the U.S. military. She also callously referring to the perpetrators of 9-11 as “some people did something” at a speech to the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) where she erroneously stated that CAIR was founded “after 9-11” when in fact it was founded in 1994. Additionally, she has produced many anti-Semitic comments and has called Jewish White House Advisor Stephen Miller a “white nationalist.” An old tweet of hers recently resurfaced where she exaggerates the number of Somalis killed in a 1993 U.S. military operation, adding the hashtag “NotTodaySatan”. How should the public interpret her statements?
Jasser: These statements, in addition to Omar’s statements of trying to decrease the sentence of an Islamic State operative, rejecting the value of the U.S. government’s counterterrorism programs, denying the significance of radicalization of Somali refugees from her own district, and fundraising for leading Islamist organizations like CAIR should leave no doubt that she is in fact an Islamist. Omar is a byproduct of the Muslim Brotherhood legacy groups that coddled and developed her when she first came as a refugee from Somalia to live in Minnesota.
She, like all Islamists believes the propaganda of our enemies. In fact, she leads with it. The hashtag referring to America as Satan says it all. Having joined the USS El Paso (LKA-117) as a general medical officer during its return from Operation Restore Hope in Somalia I was particularly offended by her tweets from 2017 that grossly exaggerated the numbers of and directly blamed Americans for the deaths of innocents, referring to us Americans as Satan. I highly doubt that she has any clue about what really happened to our serviceman that simply tried to bring food to help prevent massive famine in the year after she left Somalia and became a refugee. It is just unfathomable in its hypocrisy—the level of disdain she has for the country that she supposedly loves and gives her such opportunity.
Omar’ comments on Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and 9/11 minimize if not wholesale deny the global Islamist terror threat. Omar’s anti-Semitic canards, including her support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement which calls for the destruction of Israel, and her conspiracy theories about Jewish control and monies are classic Islamist supremacism.
Postal: Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes recently met with the American Muslims for Palestine, which an Illinois lawsuit alleges is a front for Hamas. Any thoughts on this?
Jasser: The Investigative Project on Terrorism and the Daily Caller have detailed the sordid connections seen with Rep. Tlaib and American Muslims for Palestine, a Hamas front group whose leaders met at her office on April 8, 2019. Joe Catron a longtime anti-Semite and extreme anti-Israel activist has openly supported terror organizations. Tlaib proudly photographed herself with Catron who has voiced love for Hezbollah on February 8, 2019 and who urged the terrorist group to launch rockets at Israel.
Tlaib gives voice to an Islamist supremacist movement that is a synergy between the Arab-Palestinian identity movement and the Hamas Islamist identity movement, both of which seek the destruction of Israel. So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that she proudly put out a social media photo of a sticky note pasted over Israel with the word “Palestine” written over it, and that she is a vocal supporter of the BDS movement. She also has accused Jews of having dual allegiance to Israel while stating that she considers herself “more Palestinian in the halls of Congress than [she is] anywhere in the country, in the world.”
Postal: CAIR was recently in the news for the recently uncovered anti-Semitic statements of its leaders including National Executive Director Nihad Awad, CAIR Minnesota's Government Affairs Coordinator Abubakar Osman, and CAIR Minnesota Board member Abdul Basit. Meanwhile, CAIR openly opposes the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act (S. 852) currently in the Senate. What are your thoughts on these developments?
Jasser: Not only is CAIR a byproduct of Hamas activists in the US from the 1990s, but it is also one of the most prominent Muslim Brotherhood legacy groups in the United States. Inherent in the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as its Palestinian branch, Hamas is a deep-seeded, toxic mixture of Jew hatred from Salafi-jihadi interpretations of scripture. Examples include the Hamas Charter that calls for Muslims to fight Jews to the death to bring about the Day of Judgement, and that “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it.” Arab racial fascism dehumanizes all non-Arabs, especially Jews. Those at the AIFD and the MRM seek to provide a Western, modern reform-minded alternative to this hatred.
Postal: CAIR also refers to an “Islamophobia Network” on its website that includes individuals and organizations. Included on the list is you, a practicing Muslim, and your organization AIFD, as well as ex-Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Nonie Darwish. This list seems like Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC’s) 2016 publication A Journalist’s Manual: Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists, which included Majid Nawaz, a practicing Muslim, and his reform-minded organization the Quilliam Foundation. The Atlantic stated that the inclusion of Nawaz and Quilliam resembled “more like an attempt to police the discourse on Islam than a true inventory of anti-Muslim extremists.” Majid Nawaz sued SPLC, and won a multi-million dollar settlement. Do you see any similarities here?
Jasser: Very much so. John Rossomando with the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) connected the dots. IPT notes that the SPLC report was compiled with input from ReThink Media, the Center for New Community and MediaMatters. ReThink Media employed Corey Saylor, CAIR’s former national legislative affairs director and Director of their Department to Monitor and Combat Islamophobia. Saylor has literally spearheaded attempts to have me removed from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a federal commission. His Islamophobia Network could easily be considered by more radical, militant Islamists around the world to be a “hit list” of anti-Islam activists. Its grotesque libelous presentation is cut from the very same mold as the one his associates at ReThink Media would make for SPLC. Another common writer between SPLC and CAIR is Zainab Chaudary, a former civil rights coordinator for CAIR’s New Jersey chapter who was also part of ReThink Media’s Security and Rights Collaborative in 2016 when Nawaz was added to the SPLC’s list according to IPT. She openly acknowledges her work with SPLC.
It is very important here to note that this past few weeks, American Islamists like CAIR along with some in the American Left have been trying to suppress free speech criticism of Omar’s radical Islamist positions by claiming, hysterically, that such legitimate criticism is de facto incitement. Yet, they have through both SPLC and CAIR been leading purveyors of what militants often interpret as “hit” lists of individuals and groups they smear with the label “hate groups” and “bigots.” A few years after CAIR listed me as one of the American “Islamophobes,” the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) informed me that my name was listed in a detailed posting on an Syrian Arabic Jihadi Forum for Al Qaeda militants which was rife with material distributed by CAIR online. If a Muslim is found to have committed “Islamophobia,” this person is a “munafiq” (hypocrite) or “murtad” (apostate) committing the crime of “riddah” (apostasy, treason), which carries the death penalty under Sharia law as interpreted in Saudi Arabia and most Muslim majority countries.
There is no doubt the Atlantic was correct that this list by the SPLC or CAIR was an attempt to stifle criticism of Islam and control the discourse. There’s nothing more revealing than their inclusion of devout Muslims in this list. The world’s worst theocracies and Arab dictatorships will often imprison torture and kill citizens in the name of blasphemy and apostasy laws.
The SPLC deserved the settlement they had to provide Nawaz. It should be noted that their sister group in Britain, the so-called “Hope not Hate” had me and other Muslims also labeled in a list of “anti-Muslim extremists.” That list was also removed after rational activists began demanding answers.
Postal: How is the Muslim Reform Movement and its allies combatting Omar, Tlaib and CAIR on issues of anti-Semitism and Islamism more broadly?
Jasser: We at the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and our greater coalition the Muslim Reform Movement consistently educate Americans about the threat of Islamism and the anti-Semitism of Islamists. We seek to confront the Islamist establishment on every issue and every battlefront possible. The rest of America cannot effectively confront the demagogic identity politics of these Islamists without us. We love our faith and what our chosen country America stands for at home and abroad. We also believe in the legitimacy and protection of the sovereignty of the democracy that is Israel and reject anti-Semitic canards and conspiracy theories. Opposing the Islamist establishment, we are a counter movement that is pro-American, pro-liberty, pro-freedom, pro-Israel and pro-Western.
We educate Americans through media, government testimony, university engagements, social media and publications that there is real ideological diversity thriving among American Muslims. Our leaders include Asra Nomani, Raheel Raza, Soraya Deen, Courtney Lonergan, and Shireen Qudosi among many others.
We also refuse to use the term “Islamophobia” because it is a term created to impose an anti-blasphemy consciousness in the West. Bigotry against Muslims that exists is not Islamophobia but anti-Muslim bigotry. Islam is an idea and it has no rights. Only human beings do. The word Islamophobia is a mechanism for suppressing criticisms of Islamists and their theocracy. We ask all politicians left and right to hold Muslims accountable to the same principles that they do all citizens regarding hate speech such as anti-Semitism, rather to the lesser standard of bigotry of low expectations.
Postal: President Trump is mulling declaring the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization. What are your thoughts on this?
Jasser: We at AIFD support the designation of the Egyptian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO). This is a group that has been responsible for the targeting of Christians, Jews, and dissidents, the persecution of minority Muslims, and the abuse, torture, and murder of women, gay people, and other marginalized groups. It has also made significant efforts to export its radical Islamist and Sharia supremacist ideology internationally. Its logo contains swords and the motto “Be ready...The Prophet is our leader, Qur’an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of God is our highest hope.” Those that believe that the Muslim Brotherhood is a non-violent and moderate organization are delusional.
With the recent calls by the Trump administration for making the MB an FTO, our AIFD renewed our call to make the Egyptian MB an FTO, as well as the MB in other nations such as Syria, Yemen, and Kuwait.
However, we need to be strategic with regards to the global “Ikhawni” or Brotherhood movement. I would compare it in the Cold War to fighting the militant version of communism as embodied in the Soviet threat, versus other versions of communism. Odds were that there were deep links between communist parties and global Soviet sympathies. But outlawing “communist parties” would have made counter-ideology and monitoring far more difficult and would have raised serious concerns regarding free speech protections of our Constitution. Turkey’s AKP, Tunisia’s Ennahda, and many other Islamist parties are part of the “Ikhwani” movement but are not as designatable as the branches in Egypt, Syria, Kuwait or Yemen. We will never defeat Islamism by declaring all these groups FTOs. Authoritarian regimes in the Middle East have proven that such designations often serve as arson to the Islamist fire.
People who equate my position with anti-Muslim bigotry are being dishonest. There is nothing more pro-Muslim than to begin making radical Islamist groups radioactive for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
The Global Fight Against Islamism
Postal: What lessons, if any, can Americans, Muslim Reformers and their allies learn from the attacks in Sri Lanka?
Jasser: The lessons are sadly many of the same ones AIFD has preached since our formation in 2003. All we have ever had since 9-11 is at best a robust defense against whatever radical jihadist cell, group, movement or state arises to threaten us and our allies. We need an offense addressing what AIFD calls the “3 i’s” of Identity, Ijtihad, and Inspiration. Until we figure out a comprehensive approach against both violent and non-violent Islamism, we are doomed to defeat.
First, we need to begin fighting against the Islamist “Identity” and for each nation’s secular national identity. Jihadists get young Muslims to identify with armed jihad and theocracy early. We need to counter that with a muscular liberalism of secular nation states. Second, we need to begin empowering Muslims who are fighting against backward interpretations of Islam and for modern reform-minded “ijtihad” (modern critical interpretation of Islamic scripture). And last, we need to begin “inspiring” Muslims to be fearless dissidents for freedom, liberty, democracy and universal human rights. It is no accident that Al Qaeda has called its magazines and sermons often by the name “Inspire.”
The small Sri Lankan cell not only engaged the Islamic State, but got training from them. They also apparently had contact with leading clerics across the Middle East like Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi in Qatar. This should remind everyone of the direct connection between the Muslim Brotherhood and radical Islamist groups.
The Islamic State has shifted focus to outside the Levant to Saudi Arabia (recent terror attempts), Afghanistan (recent Kabul terror attack), Congo, and now Sri Lanka. The fact that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi released a video after five years of silence is another sign that he is trying to reestablish his presence, dominance, and his brand globally. The Islamic State may have been removed from Iraq and Syria, but it is still ideologically, financially, and operationally stronger than ever.
The author would like to thank Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser for participating in this interview.