At the core of the post-9/11 "war of ideas" is the battle over terminology. It would seem that Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser struck a nerve with the powers that be at CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) when he took the Obama administration to task for its abandonment of the phrase "war on terror" and its myopic focus on al-Qaeda, rather than the broader ideology behind it. In that criticism Dr. Jasser states:
Acts of terror are rooted in the aspirations of Islamists to create an Islamic state and impose their version of Shariah law. …
Al-Qaeda had nothing to do with the string of radical Islamists arrested across the country — from North Carolina to New York, Oregon, and New Jersey (to name but a few) — in the last year alone. The only thing these radicals have in common is their belief in a militant version of political Islam. …
It certainly is not the role of any administration to determine who are "good" and "bad" jihadists. Not calling them exactly what they call themselves makes the White House the arbiter of who is and who is not a Muslim. This avoidance behavior allows American Islamists, like the Muslim Brotherhood's front groups in Washington, to continue to deny their responsibility to lead the Islamic reform effort against Islamism and its role in radicalization — the real existential threat to the West.
The last administration used a term far too vague, labeling the tactic of terror as the enemy rather than the ideology of militant Islamism. Now we have swung the other way, targeting a single group that is but one manifestation of a global movement. The movement radicalizes Muslims and remains an ever-present danger to our citizenry and it should be identified as such.
The last administration had similar, albeit less flagrant, avoidance behaviors. In a January 2008 memorandum, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security cautioned against using words such as "jihadist" and "Islamist," supposedly so that government officials would not upset Muslims. With this, however, our ability to diagnose, let alone recommend, solutions becomes impossible. The U.S. government has been more worried about how it "looks" in the public arena and thus unreasonably fears the convenient "word traps" Islamists place before it, rather than dealing with the facts of those who threaten us and providing an appropriate response challenging them.
Hussam Ayloush of the Los Angeles chapter of CAIR offers a prime example. He again proved in his response to Dr. Jasser in the Washington Times that Islamists (the Muslim Brotherhood front groups) in America will always avoid debating the ideas of Islamism, preferring to take aim at the messenger — courageous Muslims who criticize their Islamist platform. Mr. Ayloush states:
I am not surprised to read that Zuhdi Jasser, a longtime darling of the neoconservatives, is unhappy with the Obama administration's decision to retire the neocons' fear-mongering rhetoric and terminologies. Extremists on both sides — the neocons and al-Qaeda — need each other's rhetoric of fear in order to justify their views and raison d'être. However, the rest of us are tired of both sides' destructive behavior.
It speaks volumes that Mr. Ayloush takes the time to submit a letter to the newspaper, but conspicuously ignores any of the substantive arguments Dr. Jasser presents. Dr. Jasser mentions "Muslim Brotherhood front groups" and CAIR responds with avoidance. Dr. Jasser refers to political Islam and its desire to impose Sharia as a root cause of Islamist terror and CAIR avoids a direct response again.
Instead, Mr. Ayloush relies on the anti-Bush sentiment still prevalent in the U.S. to counter with ad hominem diatribes. He glibly dismisses the anti-Islamist ideas of AIFD with references to "neoconservatives," equating the Bush administration with al-Qaeda, and disingenuous dismissals about "extremists on both sides."
But Dr. Jasser offers detail. In response to Dr. Jasser's comment on homegrown terrorism, Mr. Ayloush implies Dr. Jasser's work is "destructive behavior" and part of a broader "rhetoric of fear." Such extreme denial, even by CAIR, is surprising because Attorney General Eric Holder recently identified the homegrown threat as very "real."
Yet Mr. Ayloush's comments do make sense if you believe that everything is a conspiracy. In November 2008, after the guilty verdict in the Holy Land Foundation trial, CAIR stated: "We believe this case was based more on fear-mongering than on the facts." Such is the Islamist response to everything and anything critical of political Islam. As Dr. Jasser points out, it is not the acts but rather the ideology that unites radical extremists and Islamists.
Mr. Ayloush's response again shows how CAIR uses its self-appointed artificial "position" in the Muslim community to advance its Islamist platform. It will always deflect at all costs any substantive discussion on the harm of political Islam and the real need to separate mosque and state — because, alternatively, in attempting to address the real issues, CAIR would surely reveal its own transparent platform of full-throated Islamism.
Interestingly, CAIR has yet to genuinely and publicly engage AIFD in this "contest of ideas." It has gone to extreme lengths to avoid any debate on the ideas of political Islam with anti-Islamist Muslims whom it cannot dismiss as "Islamophobes," including an invitation to debate AIFD at the premiere of The Third Jihad at the National Press Club earlier this summer.
Sid Shahid is the director of research and publications for the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD). He can be reached at email@example.com.