U.S. Muslim groups jockey for clout

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Rival groups of Muslim Americans are announcing their support for the killing of Osama bin Laden.

First out of the gate at 2.20 a.m. was the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, headed by Zuhdi Jasser. “Bin Laden was but one head on the Hydra that is the Islamist movement … we will not be free of terror until we openly confront the ideology of political Islam which is the underlying fuel for the militant Islamism of groups like al Qaeda,” Jasser’s statement read.

Jasser’s group, based in Phoenix, Ariz., supports the development of a new Islam that blends Islamic ideas in the Koran with Western ideas about personal freedom. “To deliver true national security we must demonstrate the same dedication and steadfastness in creating a liberty narrative within the Muslim conscience as we did in hunting Bin Laden,” said the statement.

His group, however, is competing against Muslim revivalist groups for recognition from U.S. Muslims and inside-the-Beltway Washingtonians.

Its main rival is the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which has historical associations with the Egyptian-based Muslim Brotherhood. The brotherhood includes affiliates in many countries, including political parties in Jordan and Iraq, as well as Hamas in the Gaza strip.

The brotherhood shares the same goal as bin Laden, but differs on the strategy. Since its creation in the 1920s, the brotherhood has sought to establish a vast Islamic theocracy throughout the Arab world via a combination of violent and political measures against Arab dictators. Bin Laden’s strategy, which he outlined in 1996 and 1998, argues that the Muslim theocracy, or Caliphate, would best be created by weakening the United States’ support for Middle Eastern dictators.

“We join our fellow citizens in welcoming the announcement that Osama bin Laden has been eliminated as a threat to our nation and the world through the actions of American military personnel,” said the CAIR statement, released 35 minutes after Jasser’s statement. Bin Laden “never represented Muslims or Islam … he and Al Qaeda caused the deaths of countless Muslims worldwide,” said the statement. “We also reiterate President Obama’s clear statement tonight that the United States is not at war with Islam.”

CAIR, and allied advocacy groups in the United States, carry far more influence in Washington circles than Jasser’s group.

However, bin Laden argued repeatedly that Islam was at war with the United States. His religious and military strategy was described in his 1998 statement, titled “Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders,” and his 1996 tract, “Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,” both of which relied on quotes from the Koran to justify his attacks on U.S. military and civilian targets.

His arguments were largely endorsed by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the brotherhood’s main theologian. Qaradawi has a weekly show on the Al Jazeera TV-channel, in which he argues that Muslim men and woman have an individual religious duty to launch jihad, even if they face objections from their husband, family or government.

In a Monday statement, Hamas declared bin Laden a Muslim martyr, and the Muslim Brotherhood condemned the killing as an “assassination.” The brotherhood, according to its statement, “is against violence in general, against assassinations and in favor of fair trials.”

Neil Munro