As homegrown terrorism grabbed headlines at the end of 2009, Islamist pressure groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Muslim American Society (MAS), and Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) felt the need to look as if they were responding forcefully. However, all they offered was spin and denial of the very radicalism that they themselves have helped breed.
First we witnessed the typical smokescreen that attempts to paint Muslims as victims. For example, in a November 6 press release commenting on the Fort Hood massacre, Mahdi Bray of the MAS Freedom Foundation strongly condemned the actions of Major Nidal Hasan, but quickly segued into warnings about an anti-Muslim backlash: "Let us be cautious, however, in drawing conclusions based on the ethnicity of the perpetrator of this tragic incident. ... The perpetuation of negativity in such instances often unwittingly serves as an equally unnecessary exacerbation of the atmosphere of hate, violence, and Islamophobia under which the Muslim community already exists."
Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director of CAIR, played a victim card of his own on November 15. Participating in a discussion on TV One's "Washington Watch," Hooper asked, "Why can't the killer at Fort Hood just be a crazy guy? Don't take it out on American Muslims because you're upset about another issue." He then claimed that CAIR had received death threats since the shooting. "Are those terrorist threats or is it only a terrorist threat if a Muslim does it?" he added.
More obfuscation followed the terror-related arrests of five Virginia Muslim men in Pakistan, as self-appointed Islamic spokesmen could not bring themselves to acknowledge fully the roots of radicalization taking place among America's Muslims. For example, at a December 9 press conference about the detentions, Nihad Awad, executive director of CAIR, did grant that a "problem" exists in the Muslim community, yet he remained in complete denial about its source: political Islam (Islamism). Particularly illuminating is Awad's statement that there are no "similarities or connection," ideological or otherwise, between the disappearance of the jihadist Somali youths from Minneapolis and the jihadist young men from Virginia. He was succeeded at the podium by MPAC's Haris Tarin, who did little more than pay lip service to the "problem" by calling for better Muslim community relations with law enforcement.
The Islamist stage show continued two days later. Speaking to reporters at the mosque that the young men attended, Mahdi Bray proclaimed: "We are determined not to let religious extremists exploit the vulnerability of our young children through slick propaganda on the Internet. We are sending a message loud and clear that those days are over when we don't respond. We are going to be active, proactive." However, Bray's denial -- or intentional avoidance -- of Islamism was most evident when, according to AFP, he "acknowledged that the emotions of young Muslims were stirred by 'injustices' they see unfolding in places like Iraq and Afghanistan."
Then, on December 17, barely more than a week after admitting to a vague radicalization "problem," CAIR opened up the victimology playbook once more with an e-mail blast excerpting, among other things, a Salon.com article from December 14 entitled "The Allegedly Growing Domestic Muslim Threat." The piece sarcastically minimizes the danger of radical Islam to the U.S. and instead pins the blame on American foreign policy in the Middle East.
As expected, none of these so-called leaders addressed Islamism as a real and thriving movement or recognized the fuel of anti-Americanism that perpetuates it. How could they? If they did, they would have to concede their own complicity in its spread. So they dissimulate.
Without addressing political Islam, anti-radicalization efforts like the one announced by CAIR at the December 9 press conference are mere public relations ploys. Worse, declaring that problems within Muslim-majority countries are the sole result of American policies is not only factually inaccurate, but dangerous. It should be no surprise that when such unqualified anti-Americanism is fomented by Islamists with deep pockets, some community members like Nidal Hasan crack under the pressure.
The contrast between the above groups and truly moderate Muslims was especially pronounced in the wake of the Fort Hood massacre. Moderates such as Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, founder and president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), were out front on the fact that Hasan's actions had been motivated by his Islamist ideology. Jasser and other leading anti-Islamists consistently were featured on CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and elsewhere, calling Hasan what he is: a radical Islamist.
Real anti-radicalization efforts from the Muslim community require a balanced perspective that integrates our faith with our American citizenship. One can debate U.S. foreign policy, human rights abuses abroad, and democracy-promotion without poisoning the minds of Muslims and creating a childish and artificial barrier that separates them from the Western world -- thus forcing men like Nidal Hasan to choose between being a proud American and a proud Muslim.
Of course, CAIR, MAS, and MPAC are not likely to change. That is why the time has come for true American Muslims -- along with politicians and the mainstream media -- to stop promoting and legitimizing Islamist groups in the United States as "Muslim civil rights organizations." They are anything but.
Sid Shahid is the director of research and publications for the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article was sponsored by Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.