The Islamist front is clearly on a broad charm offensive. The results are impressive. We have the Foreign Affairs piece, op-eds in both the Boston Globe and Wall Street Journal, the friendly forum for 4.5 hours of undisputed discourse from Tariq Ramadan at Georgetown University and the upcoming "What Does it Mean to Be Muslim in America" forum, again at Georgetown's Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (funded by an endowment from the Saudi prince who had difficulty discerning 9-11 as a terrorist attack). The last includes the president of ISNA and the national head of the Muslim Student Association, ISNA's precursor as the first Muslim Brotherhood entity in the United States.
Given the scope and success of this push for a new acceptance of Islamists as politically representative of Islam writ large, and the efforts to reframe the debate in this country away from what Islamists believe toward what they are willing to say in public, it is an important move.
The debate is now to be framed over whether Islam is compatible with democracy and how "moderate" groups like the Brotherhood are, despite their continued support of jihad and an Islamic world government. (For a good look at the fallacies of this argument, see today's Frontpage piece by Patrick Poole.)
It is interesting that Georgetown University chose to allow Europe's leading Islamist, Tariq Ramadan, a friendly forum from which to espouse his views, virtually uncontested. Ramadan has been banned from the United States and France for his defense of the Islamist agenda and long-standing associations with violent Islamist jihadists.
I do not believe talking to Ramadan and those like him is necessarily a bad thing. But allowing him to set the definitions, the parameters of the debate and underlying assumptions, is wrong.
These underlying assumptions are nicely laid out by Lydia Kahlil for the Jamestown Foundation, where she explains the problem with this thinking:
"The Muslim Brotherhood has not relinquished the goal of Islamic governance, although their methods to achieve it may have changed. Nor have the Ikhwan embraced the United States. For the Muslim Brotherhood, Islam cannot be separated from governance or political life. According to their slogan, "Allah is our goal; the Messenger is our model; the Quran is our constitution; jihad is our means; and martyrdom in the way of Allah is our aspiration." Although the Muslim Brotherhood has moderated its rhetoric, tactics and approach over the years, its overarching goal of Islamic governance has not wavered despite its efforts to publicly de-emphasize this fact."
"The crux of the debate between al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood is not over the ends, but rather the means by which to realize the greater goal of Islamic governance throughout the Muslim world… The debate is not resolved, but the Ikhwan are aware and careful not to make their election strategy a cause of schism among salafist activists, despite occasional public disagreements."
This is the crux of the matter. The Italian, Irish, Swedish, Syrian and other immigrant groups that came to the United States did not come with the idea of turning the United States into a part of the Holy Roman Empire, or the Ottoman Empire, or the Coptic Empire. They (and most Muslims) came with the idea living in a nation that affords political freedom and freedom from oppression.
The Islamists in the Brotherhood and elsewhere have an entirely different agenda from the traditional immigrant narrative. They want (and I believe them because they have stated it repeatedly) to turn this country into an Islamic nation under sharia law. Ramadan, ISNA, CAIR, ICNA, NAIT, etc., all hold this as a fundamental precept. And that is why their version of Islam is completely incompatible with democracy, and would subvert the constitutional order.
We rightly ostracize the Aryan Nation, David Duke and other groups and individuals who have advocated a separation of races, a withdrawal to religious enclaves and the right of small groups to live outside the accepted laws of society.
But that is exactly what Ramadan and the Islamists here preach, as articulated by Muslim Brotherhood theologian Yousef al Qaradawi and others: building enclaves that demand special privileges for Muslims, create a political agenda that embraces that goal, and move from town to county to state to national government.
The only way to do this is to present it all as a rational progression in defending the rights of minorities. But this is not the civil rights movement. It is a movement of religious domination.
What I find fascinating is that, even in such setting like a friendly Georgetown audience, Ramadan cannot deviate far from his true agenda, just as those hosting him seem willfully blind to what he is really saying. I am working off the Washington Post version of events in which he asserts that any attempt to "impose" secularism on Muslim-majority societies and "avoid the religious reference" in public life "will fail."
So, once a Muslim majority is created, sharia law is imposed. I would bet my life (and that is in part what this debate is about) that there would be no further elections after that, regardless of changing demographics or the will of the majority.
These are serious issues that must be addressed in these forums. Have the forums. Debate at length. But don't start from the premise that Islamists share any of the same definitions of things like democracy, free speech, women's rights, and an independent judiciary that Americans are used to. They can use the words effectively, but have given them a whole different meaning.