The Iranian Green Revolution had brave Neda Agha-Soltan, and the Pakistanis have the stubbornly courageous Malala Yousufzai. At fourteen, when the Taliban tried to assassinate Malala for promoting education for girls, she had been defying the Taliban for years. Whether these girls are catalysts for sustained revolutions may well depend on how many in the West champion their heroism.
Russian dissident Natan Sharansky tells Westerners that demonstrators would rush to the streets for minutes, risking the gulags, in hope that “at least one foreign journalist was present so that, the next day, at least one Western news source would come out with a story that could in turn elicit a chain reaction of more and greater press attention and, we hoped, a vocal Western response.” The Russian dissidents knew that a vocal response from the West would lend a megaphone to their cause. How devastating it would have been if President Reagan and Americans had failed to rally with them.
One of the insistent voices currently calling on Americans to champion liberty in the face of aggressive “Shariahites” — Shariah is hardline religious code whether pushed under Shia, Sunni, Salafist, or Wahhabist banner — is self-described devout Muslim, Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser. At a time when the West is asking how to identify and trust moderate Muslims; wondering what to do about insular Islamist communities that are burrowing into city surrounds; and, calculating how to block Islamist political infiltration, Dr. Jasser suggests that moderate Muslims can play a pivotal role in exposing and discrediting the Islamist agents.
In his first book, A Battle For The Soul Of Islam: An American Muslim Patriot’s Fight to Save His Faith, Dr. Jasser demonstrates that his devotion to preserving American ideals against aggressive Islamism has required that he pledge of his own sacred honor as did the founding-era freedom fighters. Close observers would say he has also committed much of his life-energy and fortunes to speaking, writing, and organizing for the cause of American-style individuals’ rights.
Dr. Jasser was born to immigrant Syrian parents in Canton, Ohio. His parents, taking stock of their recent flight from Hafez Assad’s oppressive regime, taught Jasser reverence for the American model of consensual government based upon the rule of law created by elected representatives of the people. He wrote that he also learned what he calls an “intense love” for the American military and the symbolism of democratic alliances that the troops represent around the world.
Jasser’s maternal grandfather was head of the Syrian Shariah Supreme Court from 1975 to 1985; and his paternal grandfather was a journalist-turned-dissident, who ultimately lost his business and his home as exaction for his outspoken criticism of Baathist fascism. Inspired by his grandfathers, Jasser spent many hours with his father re-interpreting Islamic text to provide contexts based on reason and a modern perspective.
The record shows that Jasser, in a society that offered opportunities, excelled in scholarship, and served with distinction in the US Navy. Trained as in internist, he served as a physician on a Charlie-class amphibious cargo ship. Although the Black Hawk Down debacle occurred at this time, Jasser was not singled out as a Muslim for persecution or “hate” messages. He says he comported himself as “an American officer who happened to be Muslim.”
Before entering the private sector with a medical practice in Phoenix, Arizona, Dr. Jasser’s public service culminated with his selection to the highly competitive position of Attending Physician for Congress and the Supreme Court.
Dr. Jasser’s character was most vividly revealed — they say that adversity does not create character, but simply reveals it — in 1995 when he confronted an Islamist “Muslim brotherhood legacy group” head on. After presenting a paper at a medical convention, Jasser stayed an additional day for the opening of the Islamic Society of North America’s (ISNA) annual convention to see what 15,000 Muslims — some in military uniform — had gathered to discuss. One of the headliners, Imam Siraj Wahhaj made claims about replacing the US Constitution, a suggestion that enraged Lt. Com. Jasser to the point where, in his dress whites, Jasser took to the microphone at the close of Wahhaj’s tirade to confront the sedition-like statements. Jasser encouraged military personnel who were in the audience to leave. However, even the most supportive of those who approached Jasser told him he was overreacting.
Americans ask why there are not more Zuhdi Jassers speaking out against outrageous Islamist pronouncements and plans generated by mega-conventions and mosque co-operatives. One reason, often overlooked by those impatient to see greater anti-Sharia-law activism coming from the moderate Islamic community, is the monitoring by “minders,” who threaten economic and physical retaliation against family members back in the homeland for what is said by Muslims in America.
The U.S. has been complicit in this coercion: it has created conduits between petro-dollar rich Middle Eastern power centers and American universities, publishers, media outlets, mosque developers, and community groups. With just one example, Dr. Jasser illustrates how efficiently American interests can be influenced: in 2011 a Syrian-American classical pianist and composer was selected for an Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee award; but the honor was withdrawn when the honoree refused to change song selections in deference to demands that Syrian freedom lyrics were provocative. Even though the artist was disinvited and the award cancelled, his parents in Homs, Syria, were beaten and their home was later ransacked.
Beyond these syndicate-like controls, Jasser explains, residual tribalism is an even stronger force. For many Americans this is a tough sell, as it is all but impossible to imagine a community morality so restrictive that everything familial, social, and political is judged according to generational customs. Although Dr. Jasser does not ask Westerners to accept this mentality as an excuse for passivity in the face of Islamist oppression, this real syndrome does handicap efforts to reform Islamic thinking — including Muslims who are substantially Westernized, such as Jasser’s own family.
The question is whether, in light of the Muslim reluctance to defy establishment Islamists, it is worth making overt efforts to recruit Muslims to the campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood’s brand of political activists. If Dr. Jasser calls these passive, or currently undeclared, Muslims “indispensible to countering Islamism,” then what do Americans have to lose in standing with them?
If the number of Muslims congenial to American constitutionalism does indeed constitute a sizeable majority, it makes good sense to try to understand their predicament and to engage them as allies in the cause of liberty. Complaining that there are not enough moderate Muslims to make a difference is self-defeating; this is resignation before a sound strategy has even been developed. In fact, the very assertion that a certain number is required before the effort is credible discounts the value of leaders capable of reaching this community from within and it deprecates the courageous efforts of current reformers.
Some doubt the fidelity of so-called moderate Muslims to American constitutional standards of equal rights for women, uncensored speech, freedom of religious choice, and separation of civic life from religious oversight. On these issues Dr. Jasser asks Muslims for clarity to the degree that they note and oppose politico-religious codes. Citing examples of the “lawfare” tactics — the use of subversive lawsuits to create privileged status for Muslim rights in the courts — behind stunts such as the “flying imam” demonstration and the teacher who demanded excessive time off to go on a hajj, Jasser points to extortionist campaigns to force on Americans policy that does not have popular support and he calls on liberty-minded Muslims publicly to criticize such tactics.
Modern Muslim reformers such as Irshad Manji, Dr. Tawfik Hamid, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, and now young Malala Yousufzai are looking for more dissidents to join them in the public square and they also desperately need the material aid and support that freedom-loving Westerners bring to the cause.
Dr. Jasser recently spoke for the Middle East Forum in Philadelphia where a reporter summarized that Jasser’s “American Islamic Forum for Democracy is engaged in the right kind of jihad.” This columnist said that Jasser’s organization “deserves the support of anyone worried about what kind of American Muslims emerge to lead that community.” The writer closed with this simple and prescient warning for the West: “Their jihad is our jihad.”
Originally published by the Gatestone Institute.
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