Opinion

Censoring Moderate Muslims

Last month, the Aurora Sentinel published a letter to the editor titled “Islamism in Aurora?” by PK Kaiser, a candidate for Aurora City Council and a Muslim of Pakistani origin. Kaiser highlighted his concerns over a number of imams at prominent mosques and Islamic centers in the Denver area preaching extremism behind closed doors.

Once published, it wasn’t long before the article received a slew of comments accusing Kaiser of “Islamophobia” and of smearing leaders of Muslim communities in Colorado.

Some commenters suggested that Kaiser penned the article to further his own political campaign at the expense of Muslim communities, while others went much further by harassing and sending threats to Kaiser and his family.

Three days later, the Aurora Sentinel decided to remove the article, claiming that Kaiser had made “unsubstantiated allegations.” The newspaper apologized to its readers and members of the Muslim community for publishing Kaiser’s “unedited opinion.”

In his letter, Kaiser had named a local Salafi imam, Karim Abuzaid, as an extremist, who had:
…gathered his group of rigid viewers and founded the Colorado Muslim Community Center. … Due to Zaid’s extremist Islamic views, he didn’t get much appreciation from educated Muslims, which made him turn his entire focus on immature young minds, molding them with his hardcore religious philosophy.

His style and approach reminded me of the old stories of Anwar al-Awlaki’s (a young American hardcore Muslim who tried to tempt youth against American values and was finally killed in a drone attack in Yemen) youth motivation and Abu Turki’s (a Saudi Scholar who attempted to establish an Islamic publication house in Aurora) use of publications with foreign and local funding — both of whom also had stories here in Denver.

Zaid has ties with Muslim communities in Michigan and New Jersey, allowing him to air his views of the Salafi cult of middle eastern origin, and allowing him to spread his philosophy around the country.

In light of this allegation, some commenters came to Abuzaid’s defense, including Imam Umair Ibrahim from the South Denver Islamic Center who maintained that the Colorado Imam Council has a zero-tolerance policy for extremism.

However, if Imam Ibrahim and all of the people who were so quick to accuse Kaiser of being an “Islamophobe” had taken just a moment to take a look at the facts for themselves, they would see – first, that Kaiser is a Muslim – but also that Abuzaid is everything Kaiser accuses him of being.

Kaiser’s allegations were not unsubstantiated at all. He was right to name Abuzaid as a radical cleric who, behind closed doors, preaches the same hardline and puritanical form of Salafist Islam that is practiced by extremist groups across the world.
Abuzaid’s extreme rhetoric is readily accessible. On his YouTube channel which has over 17,000 subscribers, he regularly uploads videos advocating Salafism, and openly calls for Muslims to persuade Americans to accept sharia law. Abuzaid is also a professor at the notorious Miskah University in Tampa whose board members were discovered to have ties with Hamas and Al Qaeda between 2000 and 2003.

In one particularly ugly lecture, Abuzaid discusses the Islamic punishment for fornication: “Here is the verse that will turn some Muslims off,” he warns before claiming that adulterers should be “flogged, each one of them, 100 lashes.”

Abuzaid claims he is not calling for these punishments to be applied in America, but then denounces Muslims who ignore parts of the Quran they find unsavoury: “I don’t want you to be polluted by [the] Western thought and analysis of this,” he scolds, reminding Muslims that these instructions come from the “same Quran that tells us to pray five times a day.”

He then adds, without a further caveat, that a married adulterer is a “dead man walking,” and that the punishment is “stoning to death.” These punishments, Abuzaid stresses, are to be publicly administered. He urges Muslims to take their sons to watch.

In the same lecture, Abuzaid claims that God “inflicts diseases on the community”, including HIV, as a punishment for “homosexuality and adultery.”

In another lecture from 2011 on how to raise Muslim children in the West, Abuzaid condemns Muslims marrying outside of Islam and denounces married interfaith couples who give their children the freedom to choose their religion.

All of this information is available through a Google search. But the Aurora Sentinel decided to remove Kaiser’s article nonetheless.

After the article was removed, Kaiser offered his “sincerest and unconditional apologies to everyone” and has since declined to offer any further comments on the subject. The media successfully silenced a moderate Muslim.

It appears the Aurora Sentinel decided that it was better to kowtow to Islamists. At the very least, a newspaper should be willing to investigate the accusations of extremism. Instead, by censoring a moderate Muslim voice, these journalists have legitimized extremists such as Abuzaid as representative of Colorado’s Muslim communities. They have enabled the extremists, and betrayed the moderates.

Ahnaf Kalam is a writer for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.