In an April 2004 speech at a Muslim American Society (MAS) conference in Overland Park, Kansas, Dr. Esam Omeish stated that either Islam will "become the dominant religion of the next century" or "we may be forcibly rejected from the West because of forces of intolerance, racism, and bigotry."
In 2006, the Muslim American Society made a bold statement at their regional conference in Los Angeles, California, encouraging Muslims to redirect their traditional career paths as doctors, lawyers, and engineers to taking on key roles in media and politics. Speakers hailed media and the political arena as the new battlegrounds where power could be united to forge a Muslim agenda for the United States. One such speaker was Dr. Esam Omeish.
Present at this conference, I found it interesting that while several speakers from the Muslim American Society spoke of a dual identity, being American and Muslim, Omeish's charged rhetoric was distinctly Islamist. Islamists believe Islam is not merely a private faith, but a religious-political movement that should be the basis for governing society.
Fast forward to 2009. Omeish is now a candidate for the 35th district of the Virginia House of Delegates. Omeish's candidacy draws across-the-board scrutiny on the difference between American Muslims and Islamists.
In the United States, many Islamists are mistakenly considered moderates because they work to lawfully indoctrinate Islamic ideology "by persuasion" rather than force. Such "progressive" Islamists denounce the violence of groups like al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but not the ideology behind them.
Omeish now brings this rhetoric to the voters of Virginia's 35th district, who, on June 9, will decide whether Omeish should represent them as the Democratic Party candidate. It is critical that Virginians examine Omeish's previous public statements and question his allegiances to determine whether they are in conflict with the duties he will assume should he be elected.
Islamism was founded by Egyptian Hasan al-Banna and the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928. President Barack Obama has called this desire for a global caliphate "repressive." Omeish, it seems, feels otherwise. In a 2004 letter from Omeish while president of MAS to the Washington Post, he stated that "the influence of Muslim Brotherhood ideas has been instrumental in defining our understanding of Islam within the American and Western context."
An online video captured Omeish calling for "the jihad way" at a 2000 rally. He was subsequently forced to resign from his appointment to a Virginia immigration commission in 2007.
Recently, on April 11, 2009, in Oakton, Virginia, Omeish held a "meet the voters" rally, where he publicly stated Sharia is "wonderful" for the rest of the world. Sharia, or Islamic law, though differing in specifics from Muslim country to Muslim country, has consistently raised human rights issues regarding women's, minority, and gay rights. In the U.S., such extreme humanitarian violations are not likely.
Islamism is considered dangerous by its critics because it does not hold the U.S. Constitution as the supreme law of the land. Islamists who do not wield a sword or strap on a bomb are more dangerous than violent Islamists because they take advantage of "soft" political language like minority rights rhetoric in secular democracies to turn those principles on their head once in political power. By encroaching in the public sphere with individual innocuous challenges to separation of church and state, Islamists impose their religious beliefs on the rest of society.
Some examples include cab drivers refusing to give rides to individuals carrying alcohol in Minnesota, public schools using taxpayer money to provide footbaths in Michigan, and attempts to enforce hijab on Muslims who do not wish to wear them in the UK.
One critic of Islamism is the Responsible for Equality and Liberty (R.E.A.L.) in Virginia. R.E.A.L. focuses on protecting human rights in the U.S. and has denounced Islamist supremacism as a threat to Western universal principles of equality.
Spearheading R.E.A.L., Jeffrey Imm stresses the group is "focused on tactical issues to educate 35th Virginia district voters on Esam Omeish" so voters can make an informed voting decision in June. Imm believes that a candidate for office should encompass democratic values rather than a supremacist worldview. He stresses that "we must recognize that supremacist organizations have been leveraging these freedoms to gain institutional support within America by disguising their supremacist goals with 'religious' identities."
R.E.A.L. is planning a rally at the U.S. Capitol challenging Islamist supremacism on May 17. Readers wishing to support or question Esam Omeish's candidacy are encouraged to participate.
Shireen Qudosi is a writer on Islam in the 21st century and editor-in-chief of The Qudosi Chronicles. She is also a regular contributor to Islamist Watch, with a special focus on Southern California. To contact her directly, email Shireen.Qudosi@hotmail.com.