With the United States battling Islamist extremists, making America's case to Muslims around the world has never been more of a priority for policymakers. Unfortunately, the State Department continues to take a counterproductive approach: serving as a veritable infomercial promoting Islamist organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) while giving the back of the hand to the very anti-jihadist Muslims that Washington should be cultivating.
The latest example is a State Department booklet issued in March titled "Being Muslim in America." The 64-page booklet seeks to arm consular officers and diplomats with information they can take to Muslims around the world to rebut slanders about US "persecution" of Muslims. The booklet deluges readers with color pictures, statistical tables and individual profiles in an effort to show the world that American Muslims are a success story, noting that they have become entrepreneurs, professional athletes, entertainers, doctors, soldiers, firefighters, politicians, fashion designers and pianists.
The booklet aims "to disabuse people of wildly false myths of the United States - that 'Muslims are repressed, marginalized,' fill in the blanks," said Michael Friedman, division chief of print publications with the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs.
The government has not produced similar booklets for any other faith, Friedman said. With limited funding available, the decision to produce a publication on American Muslims came because "the struggle against Islamic terrorism is a struggle for hearts and minds in the Muslim world."
Unfortunately, the booklet perpetuates the mythology that American Muslims are united in the belief that law enforcement and the public are willing to flout innocent Muslims' civil rights post-September 11, describing American Muslim reactions to the attacks as follows: "A new, truly American Islam is emerging, shaped by American freedoms, but also by the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks - planned and executed by non-Americans - [which] raised suspicions among other Americans whose immediate responses, racial profiling among them, triggered in return a measure of Muslim-American alienation."
This is an extremely tendentious, even intellectually dishonest, description. From reading it, one would have no idea that there have been numerous convictions and guilty pleas on terrorism-related charges since September 11 that involved Muslims living in the United States. This includes terrorist plots to attack the military base at Fort Dix, New Jersey, to create a terrorist training camp in Bly, Oregon and to attack US military and Jewish targets in California.
THE BOOKLET makes no mention of the fact that organizations like CAIR and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) were listed by the government as unindicted coconspirators in the successful Hamas-support prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF). But from reading this passage in "Being Muslim in America," one would get the impression that public concern about Islamist terror has no basis in reality and is merely the result of backward Americans' "discrimination and resentment."
Zuhdi Jasser, an Arizona doctor who heads the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, likened the booklet's depiction of Muslim life in the US to Cold War-era propaganda falsely portraying communist dictatorships as "worker's paradises" in which everyone was working toward a common goal. American Muslims are divided between Islamists seeking to establish a caliphate and non-Islamists who want to live under the American Constitution on equal terms with non-Muslims, Jasser said. And similar divisions exist in the Middle East between non-Islamists and Islamists.
"In some ways, it's insulting to Muslims in the Middle East - if we need to portray Muslims as being 'normal' in America," Jasser said. "It's almost as if we have something to be sorry for in America." Jasser would prefer that the State Department not be in the business of distributing a booklet about Islam in this country. "But if it decides to get into it, it needs to talk about the ideological differences" among Muslims in the US, he said.
Non-Islamist Muslim organizations like Jasser's AIFD and Muslims Against Shari'a were ignored in "Being Muslim in America." The State Department's Friedman dismissed concerns about the pro-Islamist bias of the material. "The US government is not endorsing any of these people or organizations," he said. "Our audience is more likely to be an Indonesian schoolchild who is not likely to be Googling the names of the organizations" like CAIR, MPAC or ISNA, Friedman said.
The government's intent in publishing the booklet is to help a "young foreign service officer who is going into a room in Indonesia or Nigeria, and those kids are looking at him and saying: 'Don't they hate Muslims in America?'"
"Being Muslim in America" is "essentially a picture book intended on disabusing people of the horrible myths of what goes on here. To get into [philosophical debates about the direction of Islam] in the context of a lighter essay detracts from the particular, narrow context of this publication," he added.
NON-ISLAMIST MUSLIMS who have read the document strongly disagree.
Khalim Massoud, president of Muslims Against Shari'a, said the State Department booklet "absolutely" legitimates Muslim Brotherhood-type organizations and undermines non-Islamists like him. "It boggles my mind how people who are supposed to protect us [the government] are advancing our enemies' agenda," he told IPT News.
According to AIFD's Jasser, by quoting Islamists like ISNA president Ingrid Mattson, the State Department is "reinforcing continued denial from Muslims that we have any role to play in a counter-jihad within Islam." When the State Department gives a platform to members of organizations like CAIR and ISNA (while ignoring the other side), "it sets things back, telling Muslims they don't have to reform their own house," Jasser said. "You tell Muslims these [Islamists] are the people we need to deal with."
In short, the State Department continues to send foolish - even dangerous - messages to both friends and enemies of freedom in the Muslim world.
The writer is the executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, a nonprofit research institute that investigates the threat of radical Islam in the United States and abroad. He is also the author of six books and one documentary, called Jihad in America.