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Published in the 16-30 Apr 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Neocon Muslims: nuisance or threat

By Kaleem Kawaja

The Milli Gazette Online 

In post 9/11 America the American-Muslim community is faced with several challenges to its future wellbeing. Challenges are both from outside the community and from within. It is no secret that the neocons in the American power structure are a source of much of the vilification that the community has suffered in the last three and half years.

Acting systematically they are undermining reputed American Muslim institutions. Both print and electronic media are continuing to sow doubts in the minds of the American public about the integrity of major Muslim charities and organizations, e. g. Islamic Society of North America, Islamic Circle of North America, Council on American Islamic Relations, Muslim Students Association, Muslim Alliance of North America, American Muslim Taskforce etal. The initiatives of these groups to become part of America’s mainstream civic life, e. g. civil rights and political campaigns are ignored.

America’s necon masters are also busy stigmatizing the distinct identity of the Muslims. Pejorative comments and suspicions are constantly lobbed on the distinct way of life, cultural practices, mode of dress etc of Muslims and they are painted as misfits. For instance, Muslim women wearing hijab, Muslims’ preference for halal food are favorite targets of ridicule and suspicion.

The core values and beliefs of Muslims are being constantly vilified by the necons, as symbols of lack of tolerance and Muslims are being painted as oppressive towards others. Examples are Muslims’ distinct practice of congregational worship, and their desire to follow Sharia principles in their daily lives.

Major American newspapers and electronic media networks do not hesitate to indulge in stereotyping and caricaturing that shows the Muslim community in a bad light, often associating them with violence.

Some instances are glaring indeed. Recently, Freedom House a reputed think-tank in New York published a study which concluded that mosques in US carry literature that preaches hate towards Jews and Christians. Upon enquiry it was found that Freedom House made their judgment, by sampling a handful of publications in a total of 15 mosques out of a total of 2500 mosques in US. Similarly major media outlets like New York Times and Fox TV frequently state that about 90 percent of the 2500 mosques in US are under the control of extremist Muslims.

An overwhelming number of Muslim-Americans, who are moderate, family oriented, peaceful individuals, find this situation very disturbing. This constant barrage is putting a lot of strain on the unity of the ethnically diverse Muslim-American community. With fully one-third of the US Muslim population of 6 million being indigenous African-Americans, the sustained efforts of neocons to create strain along the fault line of indigenous versus immigrant Muslims, is causing much unease and consternation in the community.

In this background America’s newcon power structure has found an unusual ally in the Muslim community itself. These are the few Muslims who in an attempt to gain quick publicity, visibility, and positions of importance, are willing to play spoilsport at the behest of the neocon adversaries of the Muslims. Under the cover of campaigns called “modernizing Muslims”, neocon Muslims have become quite active in the last few years in showering blows on the community.

About a year ago, utilizing websites and e-mail lists, neocon Muslims launched a sustained campaign against the above mentioned major American-Muslim organizations, branding them as lacking credibility and support in the Muslim community. One of them used home-made data to claim that the credibility of the said major Muslim organizations in the community is much lower than even a single police precinct in New York City. Even though the annual conventions of these Muslim organizations routinely draw attendance in the 30,000 to 40,000 range.

Neocon Muslims are also busy making baseless and divisive allegations that major American Muslim organizations and Islamic Centers discriminate against African-American Muslims and women.

Last year when the American Muslim Taskforce (AMT), an umbrella political organization of the nations’ top 12 Muslim organizations, made a qualified endorsement of “John Kerry for President”, on behalf of the 6 million strong Muslim-Americans, one set of neocon Muslims raised hue and cry; calling the AMT endorsement harmful for the community’s future, not representing the wishes of the community, and disdainful of African-American and women Muslim voters.

Some neocon Muslims said that the AMT statement that, they had reached their Presidential endorsement decision from feedback obtained in about 50 townhall meetings in various cities, is false. When AMT released public data listing the dates and venues of these meetings, the said neocon Muslims still pooh-poohed the AMT statement and demanded that AMT produce photographs to substantiate their statement.

Never mind that major American media like New York Times, Associated Press, CNN, Zogby Poll – a reputed electoral polling organization, and BBC reaffirmed that about 93 percent Muslim-American voters followed the AMT endorsement in voting for John Kerry.

In the last one year the neocon Muslim groups have also been quite busy publicizing the irrational allegation that 90 percent of about 2500 mosques in US are under the control of extremist Muslims, and that women worshippers are mistreated there. That could result in much legal problems for the mosques and harm the Muslim community as a whole.

Necon Muslims have also become quite busy criticizing the 1400 year old system of congregational prayers, which was taught to Muslims by Prophet Mohammad, as oppressive towards women. Some of them went so far as to organize protest rallies at mosques. In actuality these rallies were trendy media events to sensationalize a non-issue.

In March this year, a New York city based necon Muslim group organized a publicity stunt there, where a woman violating the basic Islamic system, led a Friday congregational prayer of about one hundred Muslim men and women, in mixed seating, rather than men and women seating themselves in separate groups located adjacent to each other in the prayer hall, as the Islamic custom specifies. With support from American media they heralded this event as, “undoing injustice to women in Islam for 1400 years”. However despite such claims for reform in worship, none of these worshippers held another such mixed, woman-led congregational prayer. One wonders why not?

In yet another bizarre proclamation, some neocon Muslim groups are emphasizing for some time that to be a Muslim one does not have to follow the five basic pillars of Islam; and that all one has to do is say that he/she is a Muslim. According to them a person can indulge in all kinds of immoral and unethical practices, follow none of the guidelines of Islam, and yet claim to be a Muslim and represent them in the public arena.

In normal conditions, the above outlandish behaviour of necon Muslims will generally be ignored. But in this instance mysterious unlimited funding sources, much vocal support from the neocon-controlled US media, and other necon power centers in US, is keeping the subversive campaign of the neocon Muslims in high gear, and is giving it much publicity. It is also misleading many Muslim youth.

One does not have to be a rocket scientist to understand that by playing this very strange game, the neocon-Muslims are contributing to the attempts of the Muslims’ necon adversaries to vilify the community, thereby threatening the community itself. In the name of modernizing Islam, they are trying to create conflict within the community, and are helping those who want to dilute the very structure of Islam and Muslims.

The writer is an activist in the Muslim community in Washington DC.

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