Can Islam the religion be separated from Islam the system of governance? And is that the key to enlisting peaceful pluralists Muslims in the fight against radical Islamic terrorism? Dan Proft & Amy Jacobson discuss these questions with a hopeful voice, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, Founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy.
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Dan Proft: Good morning; Dan and Amy. So, President Obama still in Cuba when the Brussels bombings occurred, but I’ll tell you what, to his credit, in between getting some snacks for his good friend bloodthirsty, communist dictator Raúl Castro, and doing the wave with his brother from another mother, he took the time to sit down with Karl Ravech, from ESPN, and offer his reflections on the bombings. Karl Ravech: It’s a pleasure to have you here, and I think before we even get into the baseball and the experience, this has been a very difficult day for the country, for Belgium, and I think that this would be an opportunity for you to address the many millions that are watching. Barrack Obama: Well, I appreciate that, I had a chance to talk to the Belgium Prime-Minister early this morning, right after the explosion had happened, and this is just one more example of why the entire world has to unite against these terrorists. The notion that any political agenda would justify the killing of innocent people like this is something that’s beyond the pale. We are going to continue with the over sixty nations that are pounding ISIL, wanting to go after them. In the meantime, obviously, our thoughts and prayers are with those who’ve been lost, and hoping for a speedy recovery for those who’ve been injured. Amy Jacobson: Oh my God… Dan Proft: I think it was nice of him to take the time out. He’s trying to enjoy the game with his wife and with his friend Raúl. Amy Jacobson: And Susan Rice is right behind them, I mean they stood up at the same time. But it didn’t stop there, because Michelle Obama, right after the game, she quickly addressed reporters. Michelle Obama: We are outraged and heartbroken over the horrific attacks today in Belgium. Amy Jacobson: How could she say that? Moments before she was up there cheering, smiling, having a good old time. Nine Americans were seriously injured. Dan Proft: They both changed their Facebook pictures too, to the Belgium flag, so that’s a nice touch as well. Amy Jacobson: And flags have been ordered to half-staff until Saturday. Dan Proft: It’s not like he’s the President of the United States, he could do something about the JV team, as he likes the term ISIS; that is contained, by the way, that he’s got contained. Charles Krauthammer had a different impression of the President’s remarks yesterday. The couple of seconds he offered before addressing the nature of his trip to Cuba, to the Assembled International Press, as well as at the ball game. Charles Krauthammer: Where Obama gave the terror bombing 51 seconds of his speech today in Havana. I thought the whole story of his presidency and his foreign policy was seen in a split-screen. On one side you had the video footage of the attack in Belgium – this is the real world – and on the other side is Obama in the fantasy world he inhabits where Cuba is of some geopolitical significance in his mind, but none in the real world. Dan Proft: I think that is a nice tidy summation. Now we also got reaction from CARE, the Council on American Islamic Relations, to the call for Muslims to denounce the Brussels bombers. Amy Jacobson: They said there’s outrage and condemnation, and they really do care what happens. Speaker: Even the mere question, do Muslims condemn this, to me is an affront to our humanity. It goes without saying. You look on Facebook, Muslims are only talking about this. They’re angry, they’re upset. Dan Proft: Is that an affront? Is that denigrating Muslims, to call for leadership from the Muslim community, not just for denunciation, but also for partnership with law enforcement and political leaders to help quell radical Islamic terrorist activity. Let’s put that to our friend, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, who is the founder and president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. Dr. Jasser, thanks for joining us again, appreciate it. Dr. Zuhdi Jasser: Oh, it’s great to be with you again, thank you. Dan Proft: So what about your response to the response from CARE that it is offensive to even ask the question, or call on Muslim leaders to denounce the Brussels bombers? Dr. Zuhdi Jasser: Well, I think again, they’ve proven that they’re tone deaf to the reality. They’re proving that to them denouncing an act is simply denouncing the act itself, rather than participating in reforms that need to happen to stop the violence from ever happening. And they’re also tone deaf to the fact that this is one of the first cells in the recent history that has committed 2 acts four months apart, and the reason they did that was you had a large Muslim neighborhood in Mozambique that was concealing these individuals from the entire EU apparatus, so we Muslims have a lot of work to do in order to basically prove that we are part of the solution, and not part of the problem, and yes, Muslims need to be part of – will be part of the solution, but for an organization that, by the way, CARE Chicago, on its website has a much longer piece, a diatribe that says why American Muslims should fear Zuhdi Jasser, which they post three years ago, rather than dealing with the reforms against the true radicals, so when people say “Where are the moderate voices?”, CARE Chicago is too busy demonizing Muslims that love our faith, that want to do reforms, rather than actually demonizing the militants and their ideas, and listen, I love my faith – I’m orthodox in my practice, and do this because I don’t want to see my faith destroyed by the militants that get their ideas from Saudi Arabia, from the Wahabis, from ISIS, and those interpret our Qu’ran in a militant way, but you know, enough is enough. They need to stop this sort of self-righteous indignation and actually roll up their sleeves and start to figure out what’s going on. Amy Jacobson: Well Doctor, does the Qu’ran say “conform or die”? Dr. Zuhdi Jasser: Not the way I interpret it, not at all, but certainly we have to recognize that there are a few millions, hundreds of millions who believe that the inspiration of the state should be theocratic, that the Qu’ran as interpreted by the Wahabis is the only interpretation, the literalist interpretation, and there are many of us who are beginning to say “That interpretation you just gave not only exists, is a dominate one in the theological arenas that we need to begin to dissect”, and no, I don’t believe, just like every religion has gone through some reforms, we have to begin to say, wait a minute, the passages that are literally being interpreted that way, what do they mean? How can we reinterpret them in ways that conform with modernity, the equality of men and women, the equality of those who are not Muslim, with those who are Muslim, what do we believe? We have a declaration of the Muslim reform movement put out, two pages, simple declaration, and we’ve sent it to Muslim organizations across the country, we’re waiting to hear back from them because we believe that that declaration can begin to answer the question you just asked me. Are you with us in believing in American principles and the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights, or are they with the radicals who say, “Well, the only way to interpret God’s word is in a very black and white literalist way. Dan Proft: We’re talking to Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, the founder and president of the American Islamic Form for Democracy; so, Dr. Jasser, where does this reform occur? Is it in the mosques? Dr. Zuhdi Jasser: It happens on every front. Certainly the mosques are part of it, but I would tell you, if you look at reforms from the time of Martin Luther on, most of that happens at the grassroots, and then eventually you push and pull the leaders to do it. It’s not going to happen top-down. Many have lauded Al-Sisi’s call for reform at the Belly of the Beast, in [inaudible 00:08:03], in Cairo, and I would tell you that what was missing from his speech is talk or the use of the word liberty, democracy, freedom. Yes, he condemned the al-Qaedas and the ISISes of the world, but he didn’t use terms like freedom and democracy, liberty, and since that speech, over a year ago, he has imprisoned and tortured many of the moderates that are seeking reform in Egypt, so this is why that reform, if it’s going to happen anywhere,, it’s going to happen in America, and this is why America is to begin to forget about political correctness, but also not forget about being correct. While political correctness has shielded groups like CARE and others in having to deal with the tough questions about our faith, sometimes, by demonizing the entire faith we have prevented the ability to take sides within the House of Islam with those who love our faith but are all about reform. Amy Jacobson: What was your reaction when you heard Senator Ted Cruz yesterday? He suggested that American-Muslim neighborhoods, there is some activity going on, that they should be policed heavier than other neighborhoods. Dr. Zuhdi Jasser: Well, I think that if you expand his comments; listen, none of us are willing to turn over any of our civil rights, so let’s put that out there and be clear that I don’t give up any of my 1st Amendment Rights to the practice of religion, but I will say that the current security apparatus in America has been hamstrung, the NYPD program who was shut down by groups like CARE, and other media that have exposed supposedly that they were targeting Muslims, when in fact we know they did not do any illegal wire taps; there have been no commentaries in cases that were thrown out of court because of any type of illegal monitoring, but they needed to map neighborhoods, they needed to understand no different than the cops and the beat, know where drugs are sold, where other crimes are committed by knowing the community. They try to get to know the communities by mapping them and monitoring them, and that was shut down as being profiling and un-American. But that’s absurd, being Muslim is not a race. It is an ideology, and we have to understand, no different than the Nazi Party, or the Communist Party that works in America; they are Islamic groups that are going to use the Islamic religion as a political movement, and the police need to have the capacity and the ability to monitor those groups, and do so legally. I don’t think it violates any of our civil rights to do that. Dan Proft: What’s your sense of the several million Muslims in America? I mean if you can make a generalization about this, in terms of yes, it’s a small percentage that are going to act violently, but is there a larger percentage that has antipathy towards the West, including America? That’s certainly the case in Muslim nations in North Africa and the Middle East. Do you think that’s the case with Muslims in America as well? Amy Jacobson: Well, I believe the silent majority of American Muslims are here like my family, who escaped prosecution in Syria and other authoritarian regimes and came to America for religious freedom, and I believe that’s a majority. The problem is there’s a plurality of those who believe – who are not terrorists or violent – but yet believe in the Islamic State, not only ISIS, but any Islamic State sort of being better than the Western Secular State, and elections in the Middle East have born this out. Egyptian Brotherhood won 20-30% of the vote, and ultimately won by a runoff. You see large Islamic movements winning elections, and I think Americans Muslims, while those percentages might be smaller, maybe closer to 20-30%, have not been studies yet, and I think PEW and others should study this very closely to understand what is the prioritization of American Muslim groups, and communities, as far as political Islamic Parties are concerned, but I will tell you in our work, if you look at most of the organized Muslim communities, they come from the Muslim Brotherhood Legacy groups from the 60’ and 70’, the Muslim Suni Association and other that were funded by the Saudis initially, and really are organized by using Muslim community ideas as in identity group, rather than a broad diverse community, and I think the reason we don’t address Islamism and political Islam is because they don’t want to make that connection between radical – militant Islam and moderate Islamism, because once we do, we’ll begin to fight it and reform against those ideas, and sort of like saying if the meth addict connected to the gateway drugs of marijuana and alcoholism, etcetera, they don’t want to make that connection between the terrorist and political Islam. I mean, British People Mosque in Chicago was part of the Holy Land Foundation Exposure, there was a whole piece in Chicago Tribune from 2004 about the underbelly of the secret brotherhood movement that the Muslim American Society was part of that entire network; there’s been very little follow up work on that, because of political correctness. Dan Proft: Alright, you’re looking for thoughtful leadership from the Muslim community; you get it from Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, who’s the founder and president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. Dr. Jasser, thanks for joining us, appreciate it. Dr. Zuhdi Jasser: Any time.