A Project of the Middle East Forum
Summary: Launched April 21, 2006, Islamist Watch combats the ideas and institutions of nonviolent, radical Islam in the United States and other Western countries. It exposes the far-reaching goals of Islamists, works to reduce their power, and seeks to strengthen moderate Muslims.
Introduction: The Threat of Lawful Islamism
Islamists ultimately seek hegemonic control via a worldwide caliphate that applies the Islamic law in full. Afghanistan under the Taliban offers one model of what they would establish globally.
Terrorism is one method to advance these projects but it is not the only one. Indeed, the activities of nonviolent Islamists arguably will prove a more effective tactic in the long term. For while the public intuitively understands the threat of terrorism and is mobilized by it, and while states have well-developed institutions (law enforcement, intelligence agencies, the military, the justice system) to protect and fight against it, the activities of nonviolent extremists are not alarming and institutions do not exist to deal with this problem. And how can terrorists impose their will on whole societies?
The Progress of Lawful Islamism
Quietly, lawfully, peacefully, Islamists do their work throughout the West to impose aspects of Islamic law, win special privileges for themselves, shut down criticism of Islam, create Muslim-only zones, and deprive women and non-Muslims of their full civil rights.
Lawful Islamists advance their cause through lobbying politicians, intimidating the media, threatening international boycotts, making predatory use of the legal system, advancing novel legislation, influencing the contents of school textbooks, and in other ways exploiting the freedoms of an open society. They advance their agenda in incremental steps, each of which in itself is minor but in the aggregate point to fundamental changes in society. Here is a sampling of such steps taken by non-Muslims to accommodate Islamists:
Perhaps most alarming is how the Islamists currently dominate the Muslim political scene in every Western society, without exception. They control the mosques, publish the weeklies, host the Internet sites, run the schools, write the op-eds, appear on talk shows, engage in ecumenical activities, and enjoy access to politicians.
Resisting Lawful Islamism
The fight against invidious Islamism has two components. The first is to widen the "war on terror" from violent enemies to political enemies. The war needs to be understood to involve scholarship, think tank research, textbooks, campus activities, the media, press relations, philanthropy, corporate decisions, political lobbying, lawsuits, feature movies, toys, computer games, and much else.
The second is to identify and encourage the work of truly moderate Muslims who, working with non-Muslims, can help reduce the power of the Islamists. Moderate Muslims have several key roles: fighting the application of Islamic law (as in Ontario), engaging in undercover work (for example, the work of journalist Mazher Mahmood), gathering materials (such as those used in the Freedom House report on mosque literature), exposing Islamist writings (such as the work of Zuhdi Jasser), strengthening anti-Islamist efforts (for example, Ahmed Subhy Mansour's criticisms of the Islamic Society of Boston). Ultimately, anti-Islamist Muslims have the burden of coming up with a modern, moderate, and good-neighborly vision of Islam.
The creative thinking in this more subtle war must be initiated outside the government. Due to the demands of political correctness, state authorities find it difficult to do and say what is needed. Governments have a record of bad judgments and of welcoming Islamists. The FBI, in particular, has a dismal record and law enforcement has not been immune to infiltration by Islamists. Even when it does the right thing, such as funding moderate Islamic institutions, government's hands are often tied.
Islamist Watch (IW) exists to educate the government, media, religious institutions, the academy, and the business world about lawful Islamism. It focuses on the political, educational, cultural, and legal activities of Islamists in the United States and (to a lesser degree) in other historically non-Muslim countries, especially Western Europe, Canada, and Australia.
IW is not about counterterrorism; and it touches only glancingly on Islamism in traditional Muslim countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.
Islamist Watch Activities
Islamist Watch engages in a three-fold effort of research, advocacy, and activism.
Solid research is the basis for all we do. This entails monitoring lawful Islamists via the Internet and periodicals, cultivating a range of sources, pursuing investigations, and perhaps engaging in undercover work.
IW alerts the public of our results in various formats – articles in newspapers, Internet sites (including Islamist Watch's own), Congressional testimony, and perhaps books and documentary movies. Particularly dramatic findings will be conveyed via radio and television.
The IW staff meets privately with government officials, editors, producers, academics, and others to explain the real nature of such Islamist organizations as the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of North America in an effort to prevent any steps that enhance the standing of Islamists. In addition, IW staff identifies genuinely moderate Muslims and explains the need to work with them.
Conclusion: The Need for Islamist Watch
There is much speculation about why no major terrorist attack has taken place in the United States since 9/11. In part, this may be due to improved police work, better immigration controls, and other preventative measures. But there may be another factor: the realization by Islamists that violence is counterproductive. The devastation of 9/11 (as well as that in Bali, Madrid, Beslan, and London) led to a heightened public awareness of Islamism and slowed down the hitherto easy penetration by lawful Islamists into Western countries. To the extent that Islamists recognize the value of lawful methods, they will rely increasingly on legal and political means rather than on violent and terrorist ones. This implies that the work of Islamist Watch will likely become increasingly central to the preservation of Western values.