Tufts Fletcher School of Diplomacy held a forum on April 27, 2007 on "Islam in Democratic Societies: The Struggle Between Radical and Moderate Islam and the Future of Islam in the West." The forum was sponsored by The Jebsen Center for Counter-Terrorism Studies and The Hudson Institute. I attended the second panel, How Moderate Muslims Can Counter Fundamentalism and How Governments Can Help Them In Their Effort, and it was excellent. Solomonia was there too, and he has a terrific write-up of both panels.
Zuhdi Jasser of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy spoke in the second forum, and he was truly inspiring. What a straight-up guy! He has a compelling story and message, and he's a staunch supporter of our country and its freedoms and opportunities. Jasser is critical of many Muslim organizations (CAIR, MPAC, ISNA) which are very vocal and which claim to represent American Muslims, but which actually represent a minority of Muslims. These organizations are pushing a Wahabi/Salafi agenda that mixes politics, foreign policy and religion. They're basically political movements working under the cover of religion. Jasser is equally critical of the American government and media for assuming that the "low hanging fruit" organizations speak for all Muslims (Hello, President Bush! Hello Senator Kerry! Yoo-hoo, Mayor Menino and Boston Globe!). (That's akin to assuming that Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson speak for all Black Americans, which not even close. Yet Sharpton, Jackson and CAIR get massive coverage in the media.) Jasser is well-known for his criticism of the Six Flying Imams episode, and of CAIR, which has brought a lawuit against US Airlines, the Metropolitan Airports Commission, and six "John and Jane Does," people on the flight who conveyed their concerns to the flight staff.
I'm working on a transcript of Jasser's presentation, and will post that later on (today, I hope!).
Among all the speakers - Jasser, Nasar Khader of Denmark and Mateen Siddiqui of the Vice President of the Islamic Supreme Council of America - there was unabashed criticism of the dangerous mix of Islamic religion with politics. They want to see Islamic faith as a private matter for people, with lots of questioning allowed. There was also agreement that major funding of American Islamic organizations comes from Wahabi groups in Saudi Arabia, and that funding comes with strings attached. (Note to Islamic Society of Boston, why won't you disclose who are the donors from the KSA that are funding your mosque?) Siddiqui notes that it's a little sad that this conference was taking place at Tufts, and not in a mosque. "Muslims refuse to talk about these things in most mosques."
There is a question of how many Muslims these speakers represent, and I don't know the answer. I hope it's a lot! How can they successfully wage a war of ideas against the very well-funded, well-coordinated Islamic power elite (CAIR, MAS, MPAC, ISNA, ISB)? These reformist speakers have superior ideas on their side, including the support of universal human rights, separation of religion and government, personal freedom and liberty, and respect for questioning authority. We can support these reformers by helping to create new institutions, delegitimizing CAIR-type groups, and being careful to criticize Islamists, not Islam.
I stole Sol's photo from the event, and I'm stealing his conclusion too:
"All in all it was an inspiring evening. I think it's good for people to know that there are Muslims out there like this -- real reformers who do not repeat bromides and denials but who understand that there's a deep ideological war that needs to be fought."
"At base, what's required overall is that we remain true to our own values. Setting aside those values for the sake of convenience here at home is not only a betrayal of ourselves, but also of real reformers like these. When we ignore the statements of Saudis like Walid Fitaihi (the Jews are the rapists of the sons of Allah...) and continue to engage the ISB as though they speak for Boston's Muslims, we are complicit in empowering the radicals and betraying our well-meaning friends -- friends we may not have met yet -- standing quietly in the shadows. The evening left me more convinced than ever that the ISB needs to lose this suit, and not just lose it, but pay damages. I'm more convinced than ever of the wrong-headedness of engaging and empowering Hamas, dealing with Hizballah, and white-washing the Iranian Mullahs and the Muslim Brotherhood. Those who do so are traitors to friends and are selling the rope with which we shall be hung."
Kudos to Brigadier General (ret.) Russell D. Howard, the Founding Director of the Jebsen Center for Counter-Terrorism studies at The Fletcher School, for bringing this forum to Tufts.