Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (which describes its mission as advocating for "the preservation of the founding principles of the United States Constitution, liberty and freedom"), may be the most important American Muslim you never heard of. He doesn't, as leaders of groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations do, spend his time accusing his fellow citizens of Islamophobia. He doesn't serve as a mouthpiece for the Palestinian Authority. (Instead he describes himself as "pro-Israel.") And he certainly doesn't buy the idea that radical Islam is irrelevant to the war on terror. Moreover, he heads an organization dedicated to "confronting the ideologies of political Islam and openly countering the common belief that the Muslim faith is inextricably rooted to the concept of the Islamic State (Islamism)." For all these reasons he may also be the most vilified American Muslim.
As I reported, he appeared Wednesday on a panel at the Heritage Foundation discussing the battle he thinks needs to go on within Islam, not with guns but with reason. Zuhdi is laboring to reaffirm the separation of mosque and state and to push back against a cult of victimology that perceives every security measure or public debate (whether about how Muslims get radicalized or whether to put a mosque near Ground Zero) as Islamophobia. I found his message so at odds with what we hear daily from self-appointed representatives of the Muslim community I wanted to hear more about his own story and his effort to reclaim liberty as a principal value for Muslim youth.