'Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country," said President Bush shortly after Sept. 11, noting that they are "doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads." He later added that "there are millions of good Americans who practice the Muslim faith who love their country as much as I love the country, who salute the flag as strongly as I salute the flag."
These soothing words were clearly appropriate for a moment of tension and mounting bias against Muslims living in the United States. And it is absolutely true that the number of militant Islamic operatives with plans to carry out terrorist attacks on the United States is a tiny proportion of the Muslim population as a whole.
But the situation is more complex than the president would have it. The Muslim population is not like any other, for it harbors a substantial body - one many times larger than the agents of Osama bin Laden - who have worrisome aspirations for the United States.
Although not responsible for the atrocities in September, these people share important goals with the suicide hijackers: Both despise the United States and ultimately wish to transform it into a Muslim country.
However bizarre this goal, the killing of 5,000 Americans requires that it be noted and seriously worried about.
The ambition to take over the United States is hardly a new one. The first Islamic missionaries from abroad arrived in the 1920s and unblushingly declared, "Our plan is, we are going to conquer America." Such hopes have become commonplace in recent years. Some examples:
- Omar Abdel Rahman - the blind sheikh later convicted of planning a "day of rage" by blowing up New York buildings and architecture - in 1991 called on Muslims to "conquer the land of the infidels."
- A native-born American who converted to Islam and helped fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, then proclaimed that "it is the duty of all Muslims to complete the march of jihad [holy war] until we reach America and liberate her."
- Isma'il Al-Faruqi, the first academic theorist of a United States-made-fundamentalist-Muslim, argued in 1983 that "Nothing could be greater than this youthful, vigorous, and rich continent [of North America] turning away from its past evil and marching forward under the banner of Allahu Akbar [God is great]."
- Siraj Wahaj, the first imam to deliver a Muslim prayer for the U.S. House of Representatives, holds that if Muslims unite, they could elect their own leader as president; "take my word, if 6-8 million Muslims unite in America, the country will come to us."
- Zaid Shakir, formerly the Muslim chaplain at Yale University, believes the Koran "pushes us in the exact opposite direction as the forces at work in the American political spectrum" and from this argues that Muslims cannot accept the legitimacy of the existing order.
- Masudul Alam Choudhury, a Canadian professor of business, matter-of-factly advocates the "Islamization agenda in North America." Ahmad Nawfal, a Jordanian who spoke often at American rallies a few years ago, says that if fundamentalist Muslims stand up, "it will be very easy for us to preside over this world once again."
- Shamim A. Siddiqi wrote a book on establishing "Islamic rule" in the United States, with the goal of Muslims creating "a strong lobby in Washington for the promotion of Islam in this country as well as elsewhere in the world."
Some organizations also express a hope that one day Muslims will take over in the United States. The International Institute of Islamic Thought in Herndon, Virginia, aims for nothing less than "the Islamization of the humanities and the social sciences."
Just one month after the Sept. 11 atrocities, a delegate at the American Muslim Alliance convention, held in San Jose, announced: "By the year 2020, we should have an American Muslim president of the United States."
While there is no reason to suppose that the aspiration to replace the Constitution with Islamic law will succeed, the fact that this represents a not insignificant body of opinion has major implications.
It means that the existing order - religious freedom, secularism, women's rights - can no longer be taken for granted. It now needs to be fought for.