Opinion

New York Times and CNN miss critical analysis of overhyped Muslim counter-radicalization video

The New York Times, CNN, and other “mainstream media outlets” recently reported on a video that was put out by the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) on July 15, 2010.  According to MPAC, it was “compiled with the assistance of ISNA (Islamic Society of North America).” The organization says that the video is “part of MPAC’s broader effort to work with a diversity of respected leaders and communities to tackle the issue of violent extremism head on.”

The video was dished up by both the Times and CNN with virtually no critical assessment or investigation. Neither organization explored the ideological context of MPAC’s “broader effort.” It did not even seem relevant to these respected news organizations whether the video and MPAC’s strategy will really do what its producers claim it will do.

At the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), we are Muslims who are firmly dedicated to genuine reforms against the root causes of Islamist terror. Real reformists are not afraid to identify the ideas that need modernization to stop the spread of terrorism. Apologists, like those featured in this video who refuse genuine reforms against political Islam, however, live in denial and deception.

We prepared a comprehensive brief that touches on many of our concerns with the video (full transcript). The MPAC and ISNA imams hopelessly use only non-committal terms like “violent extremism.” That renders them entirely impotent against core ideologies of global jihad and Muslim radicalization. Real counterterrorism needs real reform. Real reform cannot happen without identifying up front what interpretations of Islam these imams are in fact reforming. Their overhyped video does none of that, and the Times and CNN recklessly give them a pass and give their audiences a false sense of hope.

A video of imams speaking only against “violent” means while conveniently ignoring the ends of the Islamic state, jihad, and the ummah will have no impact on the war of ideas within the House of Islam.

We must confront the ideas that create the violence and not continue to fight just the symptom of terrorism. As with any disease, fighting its symptoms alone will not work.

In a recent letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal, Salam Al-Maryati, MPAC’s president, stated that,

Avoiding religious terminology in America’s efforts to counter violent extremism denies Al Qaeda and its affiliates the religious legitimacy they severely lack and so desperately seek . . . Muslims around the world know who their enemy is and have consistently and vocally spoken out against Al Qaeda; they do not need the U.S. to afford Al Qaeda any Islamic legitimacy. By removing religious labels from descriptions of the terrorists, we empower and embolden mainstream Muslim voices and deny the terrorists from making a religious claim, furthering a strategic American interest.

In fact, the nine imams in this new video never mention the name of Al Qaeda or any Muslim terror group. They never use any of the specific terms common to Muslims and central in the war of ideas, like “jihad” or “shariah.” The dangerously simplistic approach of these groups to the problem demonstrates how compromised, apologetic, and deeply Islamist they truly are.

They claim that religious labels empower the enemy. Yet their use of our Quranic scripture and Islamic gravitas in the video to make an appeal to Muslims against “violence” is an obvious admission that they are speaking to other Muslims about “Islamic” issues. But don’t let anyone else refer to them as “Muslims” or “Jihadists;” it would give them too much legitimacy. If that’s not denial, then what is?

Only MPAC and their imams can determine who is and who is not a “Muslim” or “Islamic” based on their own oversimplified paradigm of “violent extremism” — a paradigm that flatly denies any need for reform. Their binary paradigm of violent vs. non-violent has no practical application in countering the slippery slope of political Islam and its continuum of radicalization.

So how much praise do these imams deserve for this video? Is this really ground-breaking? Was it worth the nine-year wait? Or has this actually just been done to placate the American public and allow these organizations to place a check mark on the task of fighting extremism, while putting a band-aid over the deeper wound of political Islam? Many Muslims and non-Muslims alike will be anesthetized by this video since it hits the one note of anti-violence. But once the anesthesia dissipates they will realize that violent Islamism is the end of a long continuum of political Islam that will never be diminished until the continuum is addressed as a whole.

The importance of these questions cannot be overstated. This video (supposedly the first of many) makes dangerous assumptions and overgeneralizations about what a truly effective strategy should be against the ideology of Islamist terror. The problem of homegrown Islamist terror, as a recent RAND study points out, is only increasing and the worst we can do is invest our hopes in a treatment that not only misses the diagnosis but is part of the problem.

Laurie Goodstein does point out in her Times story, “a recent spate of arrests of Muslims accused of terrorism in the United States has revealed that many of them were radicalized by militant preaching they found on the Internet.” The media’s endorsement of the MPAC video implies that this intellectual jujitsu by MPAC and ISNA is just what the doctor ordered. No analysis provided.

Interestingly, this video does represent a relatively new public salvo in a long-realized internecine conflict between Islamist groups. The non-violent pseudo-modern branches of American and Western political Islam (MPAC, ISNA, et.al) are basically Islamism 4.0. They are simply trying to teach the violent branches of global political Islam (Al Qaeda, HAMAS, Hezbullah, the Taliban, et.al) (Islamism 3.0) a lesson about a better “jihad” and a better strategy for political Islam. These internecine Islamist feuds will do nothing to counter radicalization because they are built on the same core ideologies of political Islam that threaten us.

The Times and CNN were careless to ignore genuine Muslim reformers (anti-Islamists) not steeped in the ideologies of the Muslim Brotherhood like all nine of these so-called moderate imams are. Moderation is not about violence; it is about political Islam versus classical liberalism. The media and government approach to Muslim radicalization is too often skin-deep — violent Muslims bad; non-violent Muslims good.

They should not accept these shortcut videos at face value, but rather look toward a more thoughtful review of the tactics and long term goals of Islamist organizations like MPAC and ISNA with respect to Islamic supremacy, shariah, political Islam and reform.

MPAC is banking on the fact that no one is going to press them or their imams for specifics that would expose their adherence to political Islam. They know that the majority of Americans view Islamist terror as simply a problem of “violence” and not a deeper ideological continuum between political Islam and classical liberalism.

The entire cause of political Islam will ultimately need to be intellectually defeated. Political Islam is a theocratic system of shariah law that is anathema to Western secular liberal democracies and an impediment to the genuine practice of a spiritual Islam. The Muslim consciousness needs a separation of mosque and state, which these Islamist imams will deeply fight.

Don’t be deceived with this video. It appears to be against terrorism but is also still pro-Islamism. Internecine disputes between Islamists about the means they use will do nothing for American security.

Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser is the founder and president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, which is based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a physician in private practice and a former U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander.