"We want to be Americans. Religion is a private issue. We ran away from Political Islam in Iran, but it has followed us…. CAIR [the Council on American-Islamic Relations] has created this image that all 3 million Muslims in America are the same and CAIR represents them - which is not true.… Bin Laden and Political Islam have been created because [Islamists] have felt that they are being dragged into the 21st century from the 6th century."
--- Excerpts of remarks by Manda Ervin, an American Muslim who fled Iran following the 1979 revolution, to a conference of Muslim moderates on Capitol Hill.
Ervin was part of an unusual hearing featuring American Muslims on Capitol Hill Sept. 24 that was led by Rep. Sue Myrick, a North Carolina Republican and head of the Congressional Anti-Terrorism Caucus. In addition to Ervin, participants included Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy; Hedieh Mirahmadi, president of the World Organization for Resource Development & Education (WORDE); Shadi Osier, head of the Islamic Supreme Council of America; and Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, a former radical Islamist who has become a vocal critic of the Ground Zero mosque.
Nor do any of them receive federal contracts, get special briefings from Cabinet agencies about federal efforts to "fight" radicalization, or get invited to official dinners at the White House and government agencies. None have an entrenched coterie of congressional supporters like MPAC or CAIR.
But these men and women had very important stories to tell about how Islamist radicalism has affected their lives and the dangers it poses to the United States. They emphasized the importance of educating members of Congress about the link between nonviolent political Islam and a totalitarian, violent strain.
Muhammad said that after converting to Islam about 25 years ago he joined "the more radical wing of the Islamic movement in America." Only after 9/11 did he realize that form of Islam was destructive and harmful, and concluded it is critical to expose "the stealth elements of radicalism" that permeate Islam in the United States.
Muhammad describes Political Islam as a system of governance in which Muslims are "given superiority over non-Muslims in society" and "that superiority is codified in the laws and its presided over by a ruler with arbitrary and unchecked powers…with a class of clergy who interpret the law and impose that law." In that political system "there's no freedom of speech to combat those interpretations or any type of pluralism in the society, where other religions are suppressed," according to Muhammad.
Muhammad said he knows numerous American Islamists who are currently serving long prison sentences for their involvement in terrorism, among them Ali al-Tamimi, currently serving life plus 70 years for his role in the Virginia-based "Paintball Jihad" terror cell. He also knew Abrurrahman Alamoudi, currently serving a 23-year sentence on terrorism-related charges. Before his arrest in 2003, Alamoudi had depicted himself as a "moderate Muslim" even though he was financing al-Qaida.
According to Muhammad, claims by Imam Feisal Abdul-Rauf that building the Ground Zero Mosque (GZM) will benefit moderate Muslims are absurd. "That mosque is going to be seen as a triumph for bin Laden," he said. Islamists, Muhammad said, will see the location there "as a miracle." They will say: "Look at this. We could take down the symbol of their power and their economic dominance and their cultural hegemony. We can take it down, and Allah will give us a mosque in its place. Let's do it again."
Jasser contrasted Rauf's moderate-sounding rhetoric with his statements suggesting violence would result if the mosque were moved to a different location. "They let the violent streak of Islam dictate what they do and whether they should move the mosque," Jasser said of Rauf and like-minded GZM supporters.
Mirahmadi said Muslim supporters of the Ground Zero location need to understand that the great majority of Americans oppose it. "As members of the community, we want to be accepted…as equal members of the community," she said. "We should listen to the American people and we should move [the mosque]. That's the proper response of a community that is really invested in what it means to be American."
"Islamophobia" and Terrorists on Capitol Hill
In an effort to silence critics of political Islam, advocates needed to come up with terminology that would enable them to portray themselves as victims. Muhammad said he was present when his then- allies, meeting at the offices of the International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIIT) in Northern Virginia years ago, coined the term "Islamophobia."
Muhammad said the Islamists decided to emulate the homosexual activists who used the term "homophobia" to silence critics. He said the group meeting at IIIT saw "Islamophobia" as a way to "beat up their critics."
Muhammad, who is African-American, said he is offended by the charge. He argues that if America were genuinely Islamophobic, Muslims would have been rounded up after 9/11 and put into camps. No such thing occurred. Instead, Muslims complained about increased scrutiny at the airport.
"You had Muslims saying, 'she looked at me at the airport, they looked funny at me. I was oppressed,' Muhammad said. "No, this country just got hit by our people - by Muslims. And they're acting like all of this anxiety over Islams and Muslims is happening in some type of vacuum, like 9/11 didn't happen, like Fort Hood didn't happen, like Abdulmutallab trying to put a bomb on a plane didn't happen – like none of this is happening."
The claim is that wary Americans "are just evil, rotten people that hate Muslims. That's the narrative," he added. The same people who put forward this sort of argument disseminate public service announcements denouncing terrorism in vague, cryptic, abstract ways without mentioning actual terrorist perpetrators like Anwar al-Awlaki, Osama bin Laden or Hamas, Muhammad said.
He emphasized the importance of the U.S. government moving to "stop legitimizing groups" like CAIR, MPAC, and ISNA, which he described as a "fifth column" in the United States. "It's got to get to the point where these groups are seen as pariahs on Capitol Hill," Muhammad said.
But Congress and the executive branch have taken actions that legitimize the Islamist groups that epitomize the problem.
Muhammad observed that shortly after 9/11, the Congressional Muslim Staffers Association invited Anwar al- Awlaki, then an imam at Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, to lead a prayer service on the Hill. A 2002 PBS documentary entitled "Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet" shows Awlaki (today a senior al-Qaida terrorist operative) leading the service. Muhammad noted that those praying that day included CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad and former CAIR Communications Director Randall Royer, now serving a 20-year prison for participating in a plot to train with the terrorist group Lashkar-e Tayyiba.
Mirhamadi, whose organization does much of its work in Afghanistan and Pakistan, said U.S. policymakers spend too much of their time trying to negotiate with "the most radical elements" like the Taliban.
And the non-radicals in these communities believe this approach undercuts their efforts to provide an alternative to the radicals. She said that when U.S. policymakers negotiate directly with such groups they are empowering the radicals, many villagers believe Washington is "providing incentives for militant recruitment." Mirhamadi expressed concern that much of the Western money sent to assist flood-relief efforts in Pakistan is falling into the hands of radical, anti-Western forces.
The West needs to "start reaching out to our friends instead of negotiating only with our enemies," she said.
Ervin said that back in 2003, her organization, the Alliance of Iranian Women, persuaded lawmakers to to allocate $3 million to organizations promote democracy and human rights in Iran. But the State Department diverted the money to something else, and the program never got off the ground. While this occurs, "the grants are given to the radicals –to Imam Rauf or his wife or everybody else," she said.
Jasser said Islam needs to have its own Reformation similar to the one in Catholicism which began centuries ago and separated church and state:
"Our faith has not gone through that process. So as much as Imam Rauf wants to say…that the Constitution is just like sharia law, it may be so in his brain. But wherever sharia gets implemented, it oppresses the rights of minorities and moderate Muslims and Christians and all those who don't follow the rules of the mullahs."