THE LEVANT EXCLUSIVE – By Farhana Qazi*–
President of the American-Islamic Forum for Democracy, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, said on The Glenn Beck Program Wednesday night that an American strategy against radical Islam is to accept the role of religion (read Islam)to prevent a “clash of civilizations” and a deeper schism between the West and the Muslim world. On the show, the Arizona doctor known as “Glenn Beck’s favorite Muslim” establishes from the outset that he has little patience for jingoistic rationales that omit the word “Islam” from a debate on counter terrorism / counter violence strategies.
First of all, this is over-rated and old bantering. Jasser and those who subscribe to his one-sided message appear bigoted and biased—some might add blind—to Muslim American sensibilities. Secondly, his black-and-white portrayal of “good” Americans versus “not-so-good” Muslims affirms the stereotype of a growing radicalization in America, and hence the need for a more robust CVE program, to curb and fight against homegrown terrorism. Undoubtedly, there is a real threat at home from Muslims-in-our-own-backyard, but this threat needs to be couched in a realistic framework to avoid the negative soundbite Jasser offers when he continues to say “danger is afoot”. This message and Beck’s nodding oversimplifies the complex realities of terrorism and the conflicts from which they arise.
Third, behind Jasser’s peddling of anti-Muslim tropes, there is an underlying assumption that Islam has something to do with Islamist and/or radical movements. Sadly, there is history in linking Islam with Islamist movements, as I witnessed first-hand in the U.S. Government. I can remember when I started my career in The Counter-Terrorism Centeras a young Muslim American—I was a 25-year old girl—and the “us or them” mindset permeated analysis, operations overseas, and targeting. Those years, before and after 9/11, helped me acknowledge what I did not want to know to be true. That the true villain is the ignorance (and for some, an abhorrence) of a faith I was born into.
Over time, details of Islam and Arab culture more generally began to challenge the day-to-day-reporting and writing of intelligence assessments for the U.S. President and his senior aides and other policymakers. A chorus of intelligent analysts and case officers surfaced after many spent time in the Islamic world or read about Islam with an objective mind and an open heart.
One woman with fair skin and sandy-brown hair in her mid-forties converted to Islam after reading the Quran at work and in a show of faith, she decided to don a bright-blue headscarf and looked for an empty conference room to offer her prayers. One tall, lanky man with glasses and thinning hair came back a Muslim after a visit to Saudi Arabia, where security officers who acted as his escorts and foreign liaison partner, gave him a tour of the holy mosques in Mecca and Medina. Another Muslim convert with dark-skin and broad shoulders who had familial ties to Ghana knew he had to honor the spirit of Juma, Friday, by giving a short sermon and leading a small group of Muslims to kneel in prayer. Surprised by his religiosity and blessed to have him as a friend, I still reminded him: “This is the CIA.”
In those early days of my career, I also joined a newly created organization, aptly called “The Islamic Working Group,” to try to prevent monochromatic moral thinking. Often, a short question—what’s Islam got to do with it—allowed for a wider debate on the diversity and divide within Islam as well as what it might mean to subscribe to an Islamic or Islamist group, or for those still ignorant, the grave consequences of being Islamophobic. Today, I suspect that many Muslims, in and outside the government, are still trying to clarify these terms and concepts.
When I quit the Center, I left behind a group of Muslim Americans, dedicated, determined and perhaps destined to serve. I know I felt that way and hoped the office I worked would find a way to recognize their struggles and sacrifices. The Muslim men and women who protected the United States as they represented their religion, including converts who were loyal and loving to both country and creed, even as they could be targeted and treated as the enemy.
If only Jasser and his ilk could see these Muslims are on the right side of America.
*Farhana Qazi is a lecturer and writer on conflicts in the Muslim world. She is the recipient of the 21st Century Leader Award by the National Committee on American Foreign Policy (NCAFP). To contact her and learn more about her work, visit her at www.farhanaqazi.com.