At a Capitol Hill forum Thursday afternoon, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) demonstrated how Islamists use slander and distortion in an effort to silence Muslim reformers. Ellison delivered a tirade in which he falsely accused Dr. Zuhdi Jasser - one of the United States' most prominent Muslim reformers - of encouraging anti-Muslim bigotry and attempting to censor Islamists.
Jasser, a Phoenix, AZ doctor who heads the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, came to Washington to brief members of Congress and their staffs about the dangers posed by "political Islam" as practiced by groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). He also invited Ellison to discuss the issue of Islamism after Ellison spoke at two recent CAIR fundraisers in Arizona and California. U.S. Rep. Trent Franks and other members of the Arizona congressional delegation wrote to Ellison urging him not to go to the CAIR function. The letter cited damning evidence linking CAIR's founders to a Hamas-support network and the FBI's decision to cut off communication with CAIR.
Franks then hosted the talk with Jasser and Ellison. In it, Jasser emphasized that Islamist terror cannot be defeated without addressing political Islam: "We've avoided talking about the fact that there is … a radical ideology behind a faith that I love" which "has been hijacked, exploited, used as a platform for radicalism."
Criticizing policymakers in the White House and elsewhere who claim that "our enemy is simply Al Qaeda," Jasser noted the falsity of that argument. A series of recent arrests and convictions of in terror-related cases in Colorado, North Carolina, New Jersey and elsewhere demonstrate that precisely the opposite is true.
"None of these individuals are related to Al Qaeda. The only unifying principle that we see them related to is violent jihadism or the concept of holy war that they pick up through the Internet, through communications in what has been demed the cyber-jihad," he noted.
Islamist groups such as CAIR have repeatedly sought to obfuscate this by discrediting reports noting the connection between radical Salafism and support for jihad, Jasser said. The jihadists will not be defeated until Muslims "start to recognize" that they are on a "slippery slope" toward radicalism.
"The Islam my family taught me is one that that doesn't say that ours is supreme to any other faith, that feels we are equal before God," he said. "We separate mosque and state and do not feel that we have to impose unification as an ummah."
But all too often, government policies appear to send a very different message -- that organizations like CAIR speak for all American Muslims. And until Islam is brought through "an enlightenment, a reformation process just like Christianity separated the Church of England in Europe, we are not going to solve the problem of terrorism," Jasser said. "The FBI and Homeland Security are going to continue chasing their tails for years so long as we do not separate mosque and state."
"I think if Muslims want credibility and we want to be respected equally, we need to stand for reform within our faith of laws that are still in the 15th and 16th century," Jasser said. "I think Muslims need to also stop collectivizing our community as one unit."
Responding to Jasser's call for reform, Ellison launched into a tirade. "I think you give people license for bigotry," Ellison told Jasser. "I think people who want to engage in nothing less than Muslim-hating really love you a lot because you give them freedom to do that. You say, 'yeah, go get after them.' "
Ellison all but called Jasser an Islamic "Uncle Tom." Blacks, he said, are "familiar with people who would seek to ingratiate themselves with powerful people in the white community and would there turn them on the rest of us and give license to attack us all. Arguing 'African-Americans are criminally inclined, they're all in gangs, they're all on welfare.' Black people who say stuff like this. But what they're really trying to do is win themselves individual benefit at the expense of everyone else."
"I don't know you well enough to know that's what you're doing," Ellison told Jasser. "But I must admit that when I heard you speaking, that's what I thought of."
Muslims must "stand against" extremist members of their faith, Ellison said. But he seemed more threatened by Jasser. "Now is somebody going to snatch my 13-year-old daughter's hijab off, call her a horrible name, spit on her because of something that you said, Dr. Jasser, I worry about that," he added.
Pointing to the examples of Jewish terrorists like Baruch Goldstein, who massacred Palestinians in Hebron in 1994 and to Hindus who kill Muslims, Ellison claimed that Islam was no different from any other religion. He falsely accused Jasser of seeking to "suppress the way people believe in a country dedicated to the idea of freedom of expression."
In response, Jasser said that Ellison is in denial about the level of violence being committed in the name of Islam. Muslims, he added should not be comparing an endemic problem in their community to "once in a decade" attacks committed by terrorists of other faiths.
Ellison had to leave for a vote on the House floor and wasn't there to hear Jasser label the Congressman's remarks as an "apologetic."
"I'm tired of apologists speaking on behalf of our community," Jasser said, adding that Ellison should travel to Egypt or Saudi Arabia to see for himself the mistreatment of women living under sharia. He called on Muslims to oppose persons like Muslim Brotherhood-linked cleric Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi who says it is permissible to kill apostates and Jamal Badawi of the Islamic Society of North America who says apostates should be "punished."
Jasser also criticized the Assembly of Muslim Jurists for posting on its website a paper by a student (since taken down) that Muslims should not recite the Pledge of Allegiance because it is only permissible to pledge allegiance to a caliph or God.
As repugnant as such Islamist speech is, Jasser said, the worst thing the government can do is to try to censor it. He attributed Europe's more serious problems with hate crimes to the fact that most European nations have laws criminalizing such speech.
"The antidote for the speech you don't like is not squashing the speech. It's introducing your own perspective and letting the American people sort it out in the marketplace of ideas," Jasser said. In the end, "religious freedom is intimately tied with freedom of speech. That's why you have to separate mosque and state."
Highlights of Jasser and Ellison's remarks appear at the top of this story.