Will the Extreme Right Succeed?
Turning the War on Terror into a War on Islam
By Louay Safi
Milli Gazette Online
3 January 2006
The Extreme Right has finally found a clever way to arrest America’s march towards asserting its foundational principles of equality, religious freedom, and the rule of law. Their strategy is to transform the war on terror into a war against Islam and use security needs to subvert constitutional protection.
The Extreme Right draws its ranks from the fringes of the Christian Right and the neoconservatives, particularly those who see in the indigenization of Islam and the presence of authentic Muslim voices in the United States a direct threat to their ability to manipulate the public and promote their narrow religious and foreign policy agenda.
9/11 tragedy has given a new impetus to the campaign against Islam and Muslims, as the Extreme Right discovered that the climate of heightened fear and uncertainty provides an exceptional opportunity to advance their bigoted and racist agenda under the guise of patriotism. They have focused in the last four years on turning Islam into an enemy. In their efforts to demonize Islam and Muslims, they have persistently advanced two themes: (1) that Islam is intolerant, violent, and anti-western, and must not, therefore, be allowed a legitimate place in American society, and (2) that American Muslims who assert their Islamic identity, and express positive views of Islam cannot be trusted, and must be chastised and marginalized.
Although their fanatical views were initially rejected by mainstream America, the post 9/11 environment of confusion and fear provided them with a unique opportunity to advance their racist agenda. Their views and arguments have steadily gained more receptive ears among key agencies and leaders in the Bush administration. Not only have they succeeded in creating doubts in the White House and the Congress about mainstream American Muslim organizations and leaders, but they, evidently, have succeeded in injecting their language into the political discourse of public institutions and government agencies.
Top administration figures have moved from calling the current war against groups involved in indiscriminate killing of civilians a war on “terrorism” to a war on “Islamic terrorism,” “Islamist terrorism,” and “radical Islam.” Most recently, top leaders in the Bush administration, including George Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Donald Rumsfeld have accepted the argument, popular among the Extreme Right, that the war on terror aims at preventing Muslim extremists from establishing an “Islamic Caliphate” and an “Islamic Empire.”
Have the Extreme Right succeeded in pushing their extremist views on Islam and Muslim into mainstream political discourse? Are those who want to turn the war on terror into a war on Islam getting the ears of government agencies and political leaders? And what can we do to expose the Extreme Right’s deceptions and bring peace to a world that continues to drift toward turmoil and upheaval?
Demonizing Islam and Marginalizing American Muslims
Ever since George Bush described Islam as “a religion of peace,” the Extreme Right sprung to action to challenge the administration position and to generate ill-will toward Islam and Muslims in the United States and Europe. The anti-Islam fanatics have been working hard to demonize Islam and marginalize American Muslims. Using their propaganda machinery, and occasionally likeminded individuals in key governmental agencies, the Extreme Right have been able to confuse the public about Islam and Muslims, by using half-truth, innuendo, and sheer fabrications and lies.
Their tactics of confusing the public, painting all Muslims as potential terrorists, and presenting Islam as the source of hate and violence have brought them limited successes, including profiling Muslims in airport, smearing the good name of mainstream American Muslim organizations, and intimidating Muslim leaders and activists through repeated interviews by security agencies.
The anti-Islam fanatics have made it known that they are not be happy with their limited success, and continue to drive at a complete crackdown by law enforcement agencies on all forms of Muslim organizations. They seem to have made a break through if a recent report by Paul Perry, an anti-Islam writer, turns to be correct. Perry, the author of recent book entitled Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives have penetrated Washington, reported recently that a Pentagon’s intelligence agency, the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), has embarked on project to understand Islam by studying the Quran and the life of Prophet Muhammad.
Citing an internal document he claims to have obtained from CIFA, Perry contends that the CIFA’s document “notes that unlike Judaism and Christianity, Islam advocates expansion by force. The final command of jihad, as revealed to Muhammad in the Quran, is to conquer the world in the name of Islam. The defense briefing adds that Islam is also unique in classifying unbelievers as "standing enemies against whom it is legitimate to wage war."
"Muhammad's behaviors today would be defined as radical," Perry quotes the document, “and Muslims today are commanded by their ‘militant’ holy book to follow his example. It adds: Western leaders can no longer afford to overlook the ‘cult characteristics of Islam.’"
Perry further contends that the CIFA’s document “ties Muslim charity to war. Zakat, the alms-giving pillar of Islam, is described in the briefing as ‘an asymmetrical war-fighting funding mechanism,’ which in English translates to: combat support under the guise of tithing.”
It is shocking to learn that a public agency can sink to this level unless it is fed by the anti-Islam campaign. While Perry’s words cannot be trusted, Americans worried about abuse of public agencies for turning the war on terror into a war on Islam cannot afford to take chances. The Extreme Right has already succeeded in persuading the Bush administration to appoint a war monger to the United State Institute of Peace (USIP), and it took a great effort to make the divisive agenda of Pipes clear to the USIP board, leading to his demise as a USIP director.
Racist Outlook Dressed in Patriot Language
The terrorist attacks that shook the United States on 9/11 represent a watershed for the anti-Islam campaign. The brutality of these attacks, and the indiscriminate terror unleashed by Muslim fanatics, has raised many questions in the mind of Americans about the connection between Islam and terrorism. Americans’ interest in understanding Islam and deciphering the connection between the act of terrorism and the Islamic faith led to a sharp increase in the number of books published on the Islam. While few of the books published since 9/11 provide a balanced views of Islam’s teachings and history, most aim at demonizing Islam and Muslims.
Of the 30 bestsellers by Amazon.com, by far the largest online distributor,
19 promote views that range between the negative and abusive, while 8 advance more favorable views of Islam. Three books offer neutral views on Islam. The eight positive books include two translations of the Quran and two on the renowned Muslim mystic Al Rumi.
The anti-Islam books dominate the Amazon bestsellers. They include books by well known hate mongers and Muslim bashers who made careers out of demonizing Islam and attacking Muslims, including Robert Spencer, David Horowitz, Tony Blankley, and Steven Emerson. At the heart of the writings of these four, and other collaborators, is a racist strategy whose aim is to persuade American leaders, and the public at large, that Islam is the enemy and that Muslims cannot be trusted.
The authors of anti-Islam books are not scholars who are objectively interested in understanding Islam and Muslims, but a group of activists who deeply committed to promoting an expansionist foreign policy. They perceive world politics as a zero-sum game that requires the United States to use its military power against present and future competitors. They have consistently presented Muslim countries as incapable of democratic rule, and Islamic values as antithetical to world peace and religious diversity.
To ensure that their views are not challenged by the academic community, the Extreme Right has been working hard to undermine academic freedom and intimidate scholars with balanced views of the Middle East. Martin Kramer’s Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America, a diatribe against Middle East Studies in US universities, and Daniel Pipes’s Campus Watch, an organization devoted to smearing professors critical of US foreign policy and Israeli’s treatment of Palestinians, have initiated a new campaign that aims at intimidating free thinking on the Middle East and silencing any views that challenge the Extreme Right’s propaganda.
The Concerted Effort to misrepresent Islam
The anti-Islam campaign is carried by self-appointed experts who have little understanding of Islam and Muslims, yet are bent on depicting the faith of
1/5 of humanity as intolerant, violent, and anti-western. Having little insight into Muslim societies and Islamic faith and history, they often rely on the crude and faulty logic of generalization about Muslims from the experiences of fringe Muslim groups, and of reading Islamic texts out of context, both the socio-political and the discursive.
Robert Spencer, a prolific anti-Islam writer and a leading Islamophobe who is bent on distorting Islam and demonizing Muslims, has persistently argued that violence and terrorism employed by Muslim extremists is rooted in the Quran and its message. Spencer calls the Quran, a book sacred to Muslim, “the jihadists’ Mein Kampf,” in reference to Hitler’s memoir. He openly blames the Quran for giving impetus to the terrorist open war against the West. “So is the Qur'an the Mein Kampf of the totalitarian, supremacist movement that is the global Islamic jihad? If we take seriously the words of the book itself and how they are used by jihadists, then it clearly is their inspiration and justification.”
Spencer insists that the Quran is the source of the violence perpetrated by Muslim extremists against civilians. “Nor are these jihadists misrepresenting, twisting, or hijacking what the Quran says,” Spencer contends. “There are over a hundred verses in the Qur’an that exhort believers to wage jihad against unbelievers. ‘O Prophet! Strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites, and be firm against them. Their abode is Hell, an evil refuge indeed’ (Sura 9:73). ‘Strive hard’ in Arabic is jahidi, a verbal form of the noun jihad. This striving was to be on the battlefield: “When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield, strike off their heads and, when you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly” (Qur’an 47:4). This is emphasized repeatedly: ‘O ye who believe! Fight the unbelievers who gird you about, and let them find firmness in you: and know that Allah is with those who fear Him.’ (Qur’an 9:123).”
Spencer cherry picks few out of the hundreds verses that deal with issues of peace and war, and misrepresents Islam by arguing that the Quran directs Muslims to fight non-Muslims on the account of having different faith. He does that by obscuring both the textual and historical contexts of the verses he cites. The Quran is unequivocal that fighting is a last resort and is permitted to repulse aggression and stop oppression and abuse: “A declaration of disavowal from God and His Messenger to those of the polytheists (Arab pagans) with whom you contracted a Mutual alliance.” (9:1) The reason for this war against the pagans was their continuous fight and conspiracy against the Muslims to turn them out of Medina as they had been turned out of Makkah, and their infidelity to and disregard for the covenant they had made with the Muslims: “Why you not fight people who violated their oaths, plotted to expel the Messenger, and attacked you first.”(9:13)
Out of the hundreds of the Quran’s verses left out of Spencer’s discussion are those that direct Muslims to initiate fighting only to repel aggression while urging them to seek peace when the other party seeks peace: “Fight in the way of God those who fight you, but do not commit aggression, for God loves not aggressors. And fight them wherever you meet them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for persecution is worse than slaughter. But if they cease, God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. And fight them on until there is no oppression and the religion is only for God, but if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression.” (2:190-193)
The Specter of Islamic Empire
The Extreme Right has repeatedly exaggerated the size of Muslim extremists, and obscured their identity and the political conditions leading to their emergence, in an effort to link them to the larger Muslim communities and organizations. In order to instill fear of Islam in the heart of Americans and Europeans, the Extreme Right contends that mainstream Muslim communities and organizations in the West are part of a global movement with wild aspirations and grandeur design to control the world and impose institutions and laws borrowed from 7th century Muslim society.
It is true that fringe groups within Muslim societies espouse literalist views of Islamic sources and history, and are devoted to resuscitate historical practices such as the caliphate and the application of traditional fiqh. Yet the Extreme Right not only fails in identifying these groups as the exception to the rule, but they have erroneously presented them as the only voice in Muslim communities.
Similarly, mainstream Muslim organizations are depicted as supportive of global terrorism and American Muslim leaders and activists as fifth column. These organizations have been the target of a smear campaigns in which innuendo, half-truth, and guilt by association have been employed to undermine and disrupt the efforts of these organizations to integrate the American Muslim community into mainstream American society.
In the last three years, mainstream Muslim organizations have been the subject of rough treatment by law enforcement agencies under the urging of the Extreme Right. In 2002 the offices of the Fiqh Council of North America
(FCNA), the highest Muslim religious authority in the North America, and the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences (GSSIS), a major Muslim institution of higher learning for training Muslim chaplains, were raided by federal agents, led by an agent of the custom service who apparently relied heavily on information provided by the Steven Emerson’s Investigative Project and his former assistant Rita Katz’s SITE Institute.
Although the raids were publicized as an important operation in the war on terrorism, three years after the offices of these, and other Muslim institutions, were searched and hundreds of document confiscated, no criminal charges were returned, and the Justice and Homeland Security Departments made no apology.
In June 2003, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism and Government Information held a series of hearings on radicalization of Muslim inmates. Several Extreme Right spokesmen accused Muslim chaplains of promoting radical views. Indeed, the anti-Islam pressure groups succeeded in persuading Senator Schumer that the Graduate School of Islamic Social Sciences (GSISS) and the Islamic society of North America (ISNA) have been promoting “Wahhabi Islam” and demanded that the Justice Department conducts an investigation to uncover radical Islamic activities in federal prisons.
A year later, the Office of Inspector General (OIJ) of the Justice Department issued a report that showed that, contrary to earlier claims, Muslim chaplains made a positive impact and brought a balanced and moderate teaching to Muslim inmates, and that radicalization was more likely in prisons where inmates did not have Muslim chaplains. Federal correction facilities officials further testified that, contrary to the claims of the self-proclaimed experts who provided Senator Schumer with erroneous information, “ISNA is a moderate, mainstream, non-Wahhabist, Islamic organization that encompasses Muslims from several Islamic sects.”
In December 2003, the Finance Committee listed Muslim organizations and charities on a suspect list, and asked the IRS to provide financial records to uncover alleged support for global terrorism. Last month, Senator Charles Crassley stated in an interview with the Indianapolis Star that his committee “did not find anything alarming enough that required additional follow-up beyond what law enforcement is already doing.” A week later, the Finance Committee, apparently under pressure from the Extreme Right, issued a press release, reversing Crassley’s statements, and contending that the fact that Committee’s conclusion of reviewing the information it received from the IRS “does not mean that these groups have been cleared by the committee."
Rethinking the War on Terrorism
The war on terror has not contributed so far to isolating the terrorists, but seems to have led to increasing anti-American sentiments. The Bush administration has been ill-advised by individuals and groups driven by anti-Islam agenda that made an already difficult war even more complicated. By listening to prejudiced and bigoted voices who have shown little respect to the followers of the Islamic faith, and who have urged the administration to exceed established moral and legal limitations, the Bush administration has made several blunders that undermined the credibility of the United States.
From Guantanamo’s and Abu Ghuraibs’ abuses, to massive detention and deportation of Muslim immigrants, to profiling the predominantly law abiding America Muslims, to letting off the hook high ranking officials in the administration who were caught making derogatory and bigoted remarks about Islam and its followers, to denying visas and turning back from US airports moderate Muslim leaders who have been working hard to build bridges between Islam and the West, to supporting authoritarian regimes implicated in human rights violations, the Bush administration has adopted the wrong approach and gave the wrong impression that the war on terror is gradually shifting from targeting individuals implicated in terrorism and indiscriminate violence to targeting mainstream Muslim communities and organizations.
The Bush administration should reject the racist strategy of the Extreme Right and become more discreet in executing the war and terrorism, making a clear distinction between fringe groups driven by hatred and fanaticism, and the overwhelming majority of law abiding Muslims who aspire for just peace. The administration should also enlist the help and the crucial resources that the American Muslim community, and mainstream Muslim organizations and leaders, can bring to bear on the war on terrorism and extremism.
Dr. Louay M. Safi serves as the executive director of ISNA Leadership Development Center, an Indiana based organization. He writes and lectures on issues relating to Islam, American Muslims, democracy, human rights, leadership, and world peace. His commentaries are available at his Blog: http://blog.lsinsight.org. He may be contacted at