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classical pianist and composer was selected for an Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee award; but the honor was withdrawn when the honoree refused to change song selections in deference to demands that Syrian freedom lyrics were provocative.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.