Launched in 2006, Islamist Watch is a project of the Middle East Forum. We work to combat the ideas and institutions of lawful Islamism in the United States and throughout the West. Arguing that "radical Islam is the problem, moderate Islam is the solution," we seek to expose the Islamist organizations that currently dominate the debate, while identifying and promoting the work of moderate Muslims. Islamist Watch specifically does not deal with counterterrorism but works to establish that lawful Islamism is itself a threat.
The Threat of Lawful Islamism
Islamists ultimately seek hegemonic control via a worldwide caliphate that applies strict Islamic law in full. Terrorism is one method to advance this project but it is not the only approach. Indeed, the activities of lawful Islamists will arguably prove a more effective tactic in the long term. 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 lawful - or non-violent - Islamists appear less alarming and institutions do not exist to counter them.
Non-violent extremists play an important role in the radicalization of Muslim communities. Although non-violent extremists may not always directly advocate violence, they offer a worldview in which violence against non-Muslims is ultimately justified. Islamists provide young Muslims with the theological and political justifications for terrorism. This graduation of Muslims from non-violent to violent Islamism is sometimes labelled the "conveyor belt theory" of radicalization.
In America, it is important to learn from Europe's mistakes. In countries like Britain, the government once regarded non-violent Islamists as a bulwark against violent Islamism. Following a dramatic increase in extremism and terrorism, politicians now know that "engagement" with non-violent Islamists only serves to fuel the radicalization problem. When public officials work with non-violent Islamists, they legitimize these groups as community leaders - they inadvertently strengthen the extremists' grip over historically moderate Muslim communities.
Islamists currently dominate the Muslim political scene in every Western society. They control most of 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 unfettered access to politicians.
Lawful Islamists also advance their cause through lobbying politicians, deceiving the media, suppressing rational discussion of Islam (especially on campuses), 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 may seem minor but the aggregate effects fundamental change in society
Resisting Lawful Islamism
Fighting Islamism comprises two components. The first is to widen the "war on terror" from violent extremists to non-violent extremists. The battle must involve scholarship, think tank research, textbooks, campus activities, the media, press relations, philanthropy, corporate decisions, political lobbying, lawsuits, feature movies, satire 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, engaging in undercover work (for example, the work of the documentary series Undercover Mosque), 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 promoting a modern, moderate, and good-neighborly vision of Islam. It is vital we support them in this endeavor.
The creative thinking in this more subtle war must be initiated outside the government. The authorities find it difficult to do and say what is needed. Governments has a record of poor judgment and of treating Islamists as representative of ordinary Muslims. The FBI, in particular, has a dismal record -- 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, academia, and the business world about lawful Islamism. It focuses on the political, educational, cultural, and legal activities of Islamists in the United States, Western Europe, Canada, and Australia.
Islamist Watch Activities
Islamist Watch engages in a three-fold strategy of research, advocacy, and activism.
Solid research is the basis for all we do. This entails monitoring lawful Islamists via the Internet and periodicals, building databases of information to assist our allies, cultivating a range of sources, pursuing investigations, and sometimes 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, social media postings, radio and television.
The IW staff meets privately with government officials, law enforcement, editors, producers, academics, and others to explain the real nature of non-violent extremist organizations in an effort to prevent any steps that enhance the standing of Islamists. In addition, IW staff work with and advocate for genuinely moderate Muslims.
The task before us is immense. Whether you are Muslim or not, your help can be invaluable. If you have information, ideas or research, or if you would like to write for us, get in touch here.