The major threats to Muslims around the world don't stem from U.S. or Israeli military actions or civil- liberties violations by Western governments in countering the jihadist threat. Instead, Salim Mansur, a professor of political science at the University of Western Ontario, identifies Muslim-on-Muslim violence as the cause of more death and destruction than anything else.
In a recent interview with the Investigative Project on Terrorism, Mansur, a Muslim born in India, made a powerful case that the U.S. government and Western mainstream media ignore the real danger to Muslims around the world: terror, intimidation, repression and genocide committed by their fellow Muslims.
An example came last Wednesday, when 40 people died at their wedding party in Kandahar that was attacked by a suicide bomber.
Like his anti-Islamist counterparts in the United States, Mansur is waging a fierce intellectual struggle against established Islamist organizations claiming to speak for the country's Muslims. A prolific writer on subjects including Islamic history, interfaith relations and international politics – he has a column in the Toronto Sun and has written about Muslims in America. He has traveled widely in the Muslim world and has experienced such violence firsthand. As a teenager, he narrowly missed becoming a victim himself.
Like millions of other Muslims in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Mansur's family moved from India to East Pakistan (now called Bangladesh). In March 1971, the Pakistani military invaded East Pakistan to suppress a popular independence movement there. By December of that year, hundreds of thousands of people were dead and almost one-fifth of the population (close to 10 million people including Mansur and his family) had become refugees. Mansur's family moved back to India and he emigrated to Canada in 1973.
"For the Jews, the issue of genocide is not an abstract discussion. Jews and Israelis bear the imprint of the Holocaust. It's an everyday, living issue in the sense of what you're contending with the forces in the world. So, for me, the question about Muslim-on-Muslim violence is not some remote historical discussion," Mansur said. "This crime has been an ongoing thing in Muslim history and Muslim politics. I am a personal witness to that."
He points to a more recent example taking place right now in Darfur in Western Sudan. Janjaweed militias linked with Sudan's Islamist government are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Muslims. Yet major American Muslim organizations and Muslim governments around the world have been largely silent about the Darfur genocide, instead aiming most of their fire at targets like the FBI, the Transportation Security Administration and Israel.
The U.S. government and the media help facilitate this skewing of priorities, Mansur said, one which benefits Islamists at the expense of ordinary Muslims.
The Obama Administration is sending "a confused message," by courting Islamist groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) while shutting out non-Islamist Muslims.
According to Mansur, these groups, frequently quoted in the media as representatives of American Muslims, are often linked with radical organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood. As a result, Americans haven't heard "clear, unambiguous, categorical" denunciations of suicide bombings from U.S. Muslim organizations attacks since September 11. These Muslim groups have also failed to speak out clearly against Sharia and the repression of women in the Islamic world.
"Neither CAIR nor ISNA – nor any of the other [Islamist] organizations, as far as I know, have come out and said that we as Muslims in the West have a different perspective on the question of Sharia…and we're going to revise it," he said.
A better idea, Mansur said, would be to "unload" Sharia:
"What relevance have the views and opinions of the 8th-, 9th- and 10th-century men got to do with my life as a Muslim in the 21st century?"
These organizations operate as "PR operatives for the Middle Eastern states with which we have problems," Mansur said.
The biggest problems Muslims currently face are not with the United States or Israel, but "with their own governments," Mansur said. Groups like the Organization of the Islamic Conference(OIC) serve to deflect internal anger by manufacturing foreign policy grievances with non-Muslims on issues like Kashmir and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Mansur regards Islamist advocate Tariq Ramadan, grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna, as a representative of the dark forces in the Muslim world.
In April, Ramadan made a largely triumphal visit to the United States after the Obama Administration lifted a ban imposed in 2004 after he contributed money to an organization supporting Hamas. In Mansur's view, the celebratory tone of Ramadan's supporters during his visit serves to illustrate the naiveté of American elites' approach to Islamists. Mansur said he was "surprised, shocked and dismayed" when he learned Ramadan was invited to speak at Cooper Union, a New York City landmark where Abraham Lincoln denounced slavery in 1860.
American organizations "were inviting Tariq Ramadan, grandson of Hasan al-Banna, associated in the deepest sense with the ideals that came together" in the 9/11 attack on the United States, Mansur said. Noting that Cooper Union is located just a few miles away from Ground Zero, Mansur likened the Ramadan invitation to inviting the grandson of Japanese strongman Hideki Tojo to speak at a location near Pearl Harbor.
Cooper Union is a "sacred place" in American history "and you open it up to the people who want to subvert and destroy America; destroy freedom; destroy what America represents, " Mansur said. "It's a very serious problem."
He added that Ramadan's visit is symptomatic of a larger problem. American elites, including the White House, academia, the New York Times and Washington Post and the major television networks, are "preoccupied" with the views of a narrow, segment of the Islamic world that does not represent the interests of most Muslims.
Close to 80 percent of the world's Muslims are non-Arabs who are much more interested in bread-and- butter economic issues than in issues on the Islamist agenda like the Arab-Israeli conflict. "I think there is a profound distortion taking place, and we are getting a very narrow view of what is a Muslim perspective on history and politics," Mansur told the IPT.
"Underlying Grievances" and Blaming the West
Mansur was scathingly critical of comments by President Obama suggesting a connection between poverty and the attempted Christmas Day bombing near Detroit, and by White House senior adviser John Brennan, who suggested that dealing with "underlying grievances" is critical to defeating Islamist terror.
"I would say it's a totally disingenuous argument. The fact that it is being said from the highest pulpit in a free society, a political pulpit of the President of the United States, is very troubling. The Christmas bomber was not a man who was living on a dollar a day; he was the son of a millionaire. Faisal Shahzad, who tried to blow up Times Square, was not some poor peasant from Pakistan; he was the son of a two- or three-star general in the air force," Mansur said. "Most of…the people who did 9/11 came from Saudi Arabia, and they were not people working in the field barely scratching out a living."
If poverty were the cause of terrorism, "why don't we hear about Indian Muslims strapping on bombs" and carrying out suicide attacks? Mansur asked.
A wide variety of Islamists ranging from Tariq Ramadan and the Muslim Brotherhood to Al Qaeda are making the same false argument "to further their own causes," he said. They "are using the poverty argument to create a smokescreen, to pass the blame, to make the West in that sense responsible" for producing the conditions that cause terrorism, Mansur said.
Mansur finds these arguments objectionable because they absolve Muslims of responsibility for their actions. They enable Muslims to blame the United States and the West instead of taking a careful look at the role of their co-religionists in making 9/11 possible.
Few Americans realize that the most victims of Islamism have been Muslims, Mansur argues. As an example, the Algerian civil war that began in 1992, killed more than 150,000 people in a fight pitting the nation's military regime against Islamist radicals. In Darfur, estimates range from 200,000 to 500,000 dead and millions more driven from their homes.
In East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), an estimated 500,000 to 1 million people were slaughtered in 1971 by the rampaging Pakistani Army. Mansur refers to it as "one of the great genocides that Muslims committed against Muslims."
In this case, "the Pakistani military was killing their own citizens, and none of these people, by the way, have been brought to [judgment.]" The perpetrators of these crimes are "still running around in the West," Mansur said. "So you see the barbarity…the savagery, with which a Muslim state treats its own population."
In Mansur's view, The East Pakistan genocide bears disturbing similarities to today's events in Darfur. "Half a million or more people have been killed in western Sudan, and there is not a peep about that," Mansur said. "There's a preoccupation, whenever the issue of violence or ethnic cleansing and war crimes…are talked about - the West is focused on the Arab-Israeli conflict."
But groups like CAIR show little interest in discussing the mass murder of Muslims in Darfur, Pakistan or anywhere else. According to Mansur, when the topic is raised, Islamists typically assert that the figures have been "inflated" by "enemies of the Muslims" such as Hindus or Zionists.
"In all of these cases, there is not a whit of taking responsibility, " Mansur said. Instead of using the Arab-Israeli conflict as a way to put pressure on Israel, the international community should take action to bring to justice "these criminals who were responsible for the genocide, whether it is in Darfur or Pakistan."
"There is no statute of limitation…for crimes against humanity," he noted.
Mansur said he sees some signs of positive change in Islamabad's response to the recent wave of terrorist attacks by the Taliban. The reality of suicide bombings in Pakistan's major cities is making it increasingly difficult for government officials and intellectuals to argue that terrorism results from India's machinations or "blowback" from the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Pakistani elites are coming to the realization that their jihadist terror problem is homegrown. A growing number of voices are acknowledging "that we have to take responsibility, that [jihadism] is what we have nurtured and created," Mansur said. "I see that as a hopeful sign. I think that if Pakistan is going to be saved from its own tendency to self-destruction, that these voices have to be reinforced and given support, which means the building of a civil society and the downgrading of the military side."