V. A Clash of Civilizations?
|"It really became impossible for me to
even listen to the news or to read the news because of all the horrible
things that were being said about Islam, about Muslims, all the generalizations,
all the stereotpying, and all the distorted information."
-- Mara Ahmed
|"This whole anti-Shari'a hysteria. What
does that have to do with 9/11?"
-- Saqib Ali
From the first days after
9/11, U.S. national leaders consistently declared that the war on terror was
not a war on Islam, and that Muslims were not America's enemy. Just
six days after the attacks, President George W. Bush demonstratively went
to the Islamic Center of Washington to deliver a seven-minute speech declaring
that just as Americans were appalled and outraged, "so were Muslims all
across the world," and that violent terror does not represent Muslim
beliefs. To the contrary, Bush went on, "these acts of violence against
innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith. And it's important
for my fellow Americans to understand that." Through his administration
and Barack Obama's, that view has remained a basic premise of stated American
policy, international and domestic. But the years after 9/11 also saw continuing
flareups of anti-Islamic rhetoric. Particularly after President Bush left
office, the anti-Islamic message was taken up by a number of nationally prominent
conservative politicians, including several contestants for the 2012 Republican
Four years later, anti-Muslim attitudes reappeared in more inflammatory form. By then, the touchstone was no longer the 9/11 attack but the emergence of the violent Islamic State movement in the Middle East and the gruesome terror attacks it organized in Europe, and particularly the December, 2015, slaughter of 14 Americans in San Bernardino, California, by husband-and-wife shooters who were apparently inspired by the Islamic State, though not directly connected with it. (The husband was the American-born son of Pakistani immigrants; his wife was born in Pakistan but lived for much of her life in Saudi Arabia before coming to the United States to marry.)
In the aftermath of the San Bernardino shooting, Donald Trump, the leading Republican presidential candidate, proposed banning nearly all Muslims from entering the United States. A number of Republican governors demanded that federal authorities stop resettling any Syrian refugees in their states, while several of Trump's rivals in the presidential campaign called for accepting only Christian refugees, not Muslims, from wars in the Middle East. A couple of months later, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, by then Trump's strongest competitor, announced a "national security team" of advisers that included prominent activists in the Islamophobia network. One name on Cruz's list was retired Lt. Gen. William "Jerry" Boykin, who holds that "Islam is not a religion and does not deserve First Amendment protections." Boykin, an active evangelical Christian, has called on Christians to "go on the offensive" to prevent Muslims in America from building any more mosques. He also once preached a sermon declaring that when Jesus returns, he will be carrying an AR-15 assault rifle. Another member of Cruz's team was Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, who charges that President Obama shares "a common dream" with America's Islamist enemies. (In his 2014 book Faithless Execution, McCarthy included "an ill-conceived policy of appeasing Islamists" in a 60-page list of possible "articles of impeachment" against Obama.) 
An early starting point in the new anti-Muslim phase was the somewhat manufactured controversy over a proposed mosque and Islamic community center a couple of blocks away from the site of the destroyed World Trade Center in New York. Some of the more lathered comments on the so-called "Ground Zero mosque" came from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who likened the mosque's proponents to Nazis or Japanese aggressors in World War II. "The folks who want to build this mosque," he said in a television interview, "are really radical Islamists who want to triumphally prove that they can build a mosque right next to a place where 3,000 Americans were killed by radical Islamists.... Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington," Gingrich went on. "We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor. There's no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center."
Gingrich was also an early and vociferous adherent in the campaign to ban the "infiltration" of Shari'a law into the U.S. justice system. In one speech, he called Shari'a "a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States." He and other conservatives regularly made Shari'a a virtual synonym for violent terrorism, as when former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum declared that "Shari'a and its violent iteration jihadism" are the "new existential threat to America." In an earlier speech, Santorum lamented the growing Muslim population in Europe, which he warned is a model for what America will become if it loses the "long war" against its Muslim enemies: "Europe is on the way to losing. The most popular male name in Belgium -- Mohammad. It’s the fifth most popular name in France among boys. They" -- that is, secular Europeans -- "are losing because they are not having children, they have no faith, they have nothing to counteract it.... And they’re creating an opportunity for the creation of Eurabia, or Euristan in the future." In the same speech Santorum linked the present-day conflict to a thousand years of warfare between Muslims and Christians. America's enemies today are Muslims who want to continue that battle. "They want to reconquer the world. They want to establish a new Kalifat," he told his audience. "...We are in a war, and theology is its basis. Just like we were in a war against Communism, and ideology was its basis."
Before the rise of the Islamic State, the New York mosque controversy and other anti-Islamic eruptions were often described as a backlash after the 9/11 attacks. But Saqib Ali, a Pakistani American software engineer who served in the Maryland House of Delegates for one term in 2006-2010, thinks they arose from an ugly turn in American politics, not the experience of 9/11 or the threat of terrorism.
"I think those things have settled down," Ali said about post-9/11 issues. "Now what it's about is being Muslim in a post-Obama world.... Because of Obama's election, there's a huge industry of racists and bigots who target him and slander him as being Muslim. My own personal opinion is there's a lot of racists and because you can't be openly racist in this country against African Americans, they say well, he's a Muslim and they use that as a proxy. In the past three or four years, there's been a huge rise in America of this nasty, anti-Muslim bigotry, this whole industry, and I think it has nothing to do with 9/11, and I think that defines the American Muslim experience more than 9/11." Rather than fear of terrorism, Ali said, the anti-Muslim movement plays on anti-immigrant sentiment and widespread unease about an increasingly multiracial and multicultural American society. An example is "this whole anti-Shari'a hysteria," he added. "What does that have to do with 9/11?"
"The extreme Christian right in America has been trying for decades to inscribe its view of America as a 'Christian nation' into our laws. They have repeatedly failed in a country in which more than three-quarters of people identify as Christians. It’s extremely unlikely that an extreme faction of American Muslims, a faith community that constitutes approximately 1 percent of the U.S. population, would have more success."
-- Wajahat Ali and Matthew Duss, "Understanding Sharia Law"
campaign, presenting a vision of Shari'a that would be unrecognizable to the
great majority of American Muslims, was one of the odder anti-Islamic movements
-- odd, in the first place, because the idea that Muslims could overturn the
U.S. constitution, take over American courts and institute Shari'a law is
so utterly implausible. As one commentator noted, even if Shari'a were as
sinister as its opponents say it is, "the extreme Christian right in
America has been trying for decades to inscribe its view of America as a 'Christian
nation' into our laws. They have repeatedly failed in a country in which more
than three-quarters of people identify as Christians. It’s extremely unlikely
that an extreme faction of American Muslims, a faith community that constitutes
approximately 1 percent of the U.S. population, would have more success."
Yet much of the material generated by anti-Shari'a and anti-Islamist activists
presents a Muslim takeover of America as a serious threat.
In a film called "The Third Jihad," for example, the principal narrator, a Syrian American doctor from Arizona named Zuhdi Jasser, proclaims that "the true agenda of much of the Muslim leadership here in America" is "a strategy to infiltrate and dominate America." To drive home the point, the film shows an image of the White House with a flag inscribed with Allah's name flying over it. Jasser goes on to ask, in deeply earnest tones, if his viewers have "ever stopped to think about what would happen if the Islamists won and their version of Shari'a law was put into place? All you need to do is look at countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, and places like the Gaza Strip." Following that statement are images of a burned-out church in Indonesia, women in Iran being dragged away for not dressing modestly enough, men publicly beating women with clubs in Afghanistan, a Saudi sheikh advocating the execution of homosexuals, and other scenes of horrendous repression, with the clear suggestion that the same scenes could become reality in America if the Islamists' plans are carried out.
By any realistic standard, the vision of a Muslim flag flying over the White House and women being beaten in American streets for violating Muslim dress codes is a lunatic fantasy, not a real danger. But "The Third Jihad" was taken seriously enough to be shown over a period of months to nearly 1,500 New York City police officers, while the imaginary threat of Islamic law displacing American law led legislators in more than a dozen states to propose laws banning Shari'a in their states. The most extreme was a proposal in the Tennessee legislature that would have made following Shari'a a felony, which one sponsor declared would give state and local law enforcement officials "a powerful counterterrorism tool." Like most of the anti-Shari'a statutes, the Tennessee bill was not written by lawmakers in that state, but by an outside activist -- in this case, an Arizona lawyer named David Yerushalmi who, in addition to being a leading voice in the anti-Shari'a crusade, has also written disparagingly about African Americans. If -- as was the case with many who jumped on the anti-Shari'a bandwagon -- the Tennessee legislators' understanding came entirely from Yerushalmi's and similar writings, they would not have known that Shari'a to most Muslims is principally a guide to proper religious practice, so that their bill would effectively (and unconstitutionally) prohibit Muslims from practicing their religion in Tennessee.
Explosive comments like Gingrich's and Santorum's and inflammatory statements emanating from the anti-Shari'a movement, the New York mosque debate and other public controversies drew plenty of criticism from both Muslim and non-Muslim organizations and individuals. Donald Trump's call for banning Muslims from visiting the country, and proposals from other 2016 candidates to impose a religious test on refugee resettlement, accepting Christian refugees but turning away Muslims, were widely criticized too. But Muslims were painfully aware that anti-Islamic views were being expressed in ways that would have unquestionably been out of bounds in American discourse if they had been aimed at any other minority. Activists such as Pamela Geller, who touched off the mosque firestorm in New York, and former Defense Department official Frank Gaffney have regular access to mainstream platforms for their views. Gaffney, who once declared that President Obama's pledge to deal "with respect" with Muslim countries was "code" for the message "that we will submit to Shari'a,"; is a regular contributor to the Washington Times, the host of a Washington radio program and periodically a guest on national talk shows. (Gaffney was also one of Ted Cruz's team of national security advisers.) It is difficult to imagine that anyone expressing similar ideas in similar language about Jews or African Americans, say, would be given the same standing as legitimate, if not uncriticized, participants in the national debate.
It is even harder to imagine that the kind of anti-Islamic material that has been widely used in military and law enforcement anti-terror training programs would ever have been tolerated if it were directed at any other minority. Long after 9/11, the armed forces, the FBI, and the New York Police Department were all embarrassed by disclosures of anti-Islamic content, some of it quite rabid, in training programs. Despite stated policy at the top, a small army of self-declared expert instructors and training consultants regularly presents the Muslim world's most violent and repressive forces -- the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Saudi Arabian wahabism -- as representing the true character of all believing Muslims. A startling example was an elective course on "Perspectives on Islam and Islamic Radicalism" taught until the spring of 2011 at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia, by an army lieutenant colonel named Matthew Dooley. In Dooley's presentations, Islam is described as a "barbaric ideology" and in another passage, as "an ideology and system of governance that demands the extermination of anyone who does not subscribe to each and every one of its tenants (sic)."
Other outlandish statements declare that "there is no such thing as 'moderate Islam,'" that "Islam has already declared war on the West, and the United States specifically," and that "destruction of Islamic capital cities and major Islamic 'holy sites'" would be justifiable acts in that war. (On that last point, Dooley's course materials explicitly suggest that "the historical precedents of Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki" would be "applicable to ... Mecca and Medina." This would be legitimate, he explains, because "due to the current common practices of Islamic terrorists," post-World War II international agreements on the conduct of war are "no longer relevant" and thus the United States and its allies would have "the option once again of taking war to a civilian population wherever necessary.") As that war is envisioned in Dooley's course documents, its long-term goal is that "Islam undergoes a fundamental transformation to something that it currently is not."
Briefings and training presentations for FBI agents and many thousands of local police officers may not have advocated obliterating Mecca and Medina with nuclear bombs or forcibly transforming the entire Muslim faith, but they carried exactly the same message about America's conflict: Islam and its teachings and its believers are the enemy. Among a trove of FBI training documents obtained by Wired.com's Danger Room blog in 2011, one declared that in Islamic doctrine, "War is a permanent condition against non-believers." Another contains a chart showing that while Christians and Jews have moved continuously toward more peaceful doctrines over the lifespans of their religions, "pious and devout" Muslims' commitment to violent beliefs has remained unchanged for the last 1,400 years.
The army, the FBI, and the New York police all repudiated such teachings after they were brought to public attention, but less whole-heartedly than many Muslims and other critics hoped. The NYPD apologized for showing "The Third Jihad," but only after a good deal of stonewalling. The FBI agreed to consult with representatives of a number of Muslim organizations on revising its training documents. But Irfan Malik, who was one of the group, said that in the meetings he attended, except for some manuals that had already become public, officials refused to show them either the original or revised versions of most of the material. Nor did the bureau respond to another concern he and others raised: that "thousands of agents have been trained with older material that now everyone realizes was flawed. so what about the retraining of those thousands of agents? None of that has happened." In the army's case, after a student complained about anti-Islamic content in his course, Colonel Dooley was relieved of his teaching assignment and issued a letter of reprimand, but remained on the staff of the Joint Forces Staff College.
A common thread in anti-Islamist arguments is the claim that Islam allows Muslims to lie for their religion, so Muslims who profess moderation or opposition to extremist violence cannot be trusted. The "stated purpose" of one of the FBI documents acquired by Danger Room is to "identify the elements of verbal deception in Islam and their impacts on Law Enforcement." ("Not 'terrorism,'" the author of the blog report commented. "Not even 'Islamist extremism.' Islam.") The same argument is standard fare in presentations to local law enforcement agencies by instructors who have managed, often with thin or no credentials, to get on the gravy train of federally funded anti-terror training.
A Washington Monthly magazine profile of one such trainer described a session he conducted for about 60 police officers in Florida, telling them things like "Islam is a highly violent radical religion that mandates that all of the earth must be Muslim" and "Anyone who says that Islam is a religion of peace is either ignorant or flat out lying." At one point the trainer, a man named Sam Kharoba, asked the class, "Would Islam be tolerated if everyone knew its true message?... From a Muslim perspective, do you want non-Muslims to know the truth about Islam?" As the magazine's reporters described it, the exchange continued this way: "'No!' came the audience reply. 'So what do Muslims do?' Kharoba demanded. 'Lie!'"
As well as being self-serving for the promoters of the anti-Islamic agenda, since it discredits exactly the people who will criticize their message, the deception argument was a trap for all Muslims. If they didn't denounce religious extremism strongly enough, they were excoriated for tolerating the perpetrators of violent terror. But if they did, they were declared to be lying.
In fact, despite all the vilification directed at American Muslim organizations, not a single piece of credible evidence has ever supported the charge that they are secretly conspiring to establish Muslim dominance in the United States. Nothing in any domestic terrorism case has ever suggested such a motive, either. Faisal Shahzad, Najibullah Zazi, and other men like them dreamed of striking back at the United States for its actions in Iraq and Afghanistan and its support of Israel, not about turning America into an Islamic state and raising a Muslim flag over the White House. Neither Shahzad nor Zazi nor any other accused terrorist had any known connection with any mainstream Muslim American organization, and none of those groups has ever been connected to the commission or coverup of any terrorist act. To the contrary, there is a long list of Muslim religious and civic leaders who have helped authorities identify and protect against possible terrorist threats. One of many examples was the case of five young Muslim men, all U.S. citizens, who traveled to Pakistan in late 2009 with the apparent intention of joining a violent jihadi movement there. After the five disappeared from their homes in Fairfax County, Virginia, several of their parents informed leaders in the local mosque and then, together with mosque officials and representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), contacted the FBI, showing agents a disturbing videotape one of the men had left behind. That contact led to the men's arrest in Pakistan, where they were eventually convicted and given 10-year prison sentences for planning terrorist attacks.
Available evidence doesn't bear out claims that the majority of Muslims in the United States are religious fanatics and alienated from American or pluralistic values, either. An extensive survey by the Pew Research Center in 2011 shows an American Muslim community bearing no resemblance to the scary vision propagated by the anti-Islamists. While Muslim Americans are overwhelmingly strong believers in their faith, the Pew study found, almost two-thirds of them "see no conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society," and more than half believe that many different religions, and not just theirs, can lead to eternal life. (Those results, the Pew researchers noted, are strikingly close to the responses to the same questions from Americans who identify themselves as Christians.)
Despite believing that Muslims face significant discrimination, only 16 percent of Pew's respondents felt that ordinary Americans are unfriendly to Muslims, while a large majority agreed that the quality of life for Muslims in the United States is better than in most Muslim countries. On both those questions, incidentally, Pakistani Americans responded more positively than those from the sample as a whole. One can guess that that reflects the larger number of Pakistanis who have reached upper-middle-class status and affluence and, not surprisingly, feel more at home and secure in American life. The Pew survey also showed that on social and gender issues such as women working outside the home -- approved by 90 percent of its respondents -- and even acceptance of homosexuality, American Muslims' attitudes are much closer to those of the American public in general than they are to those in Muslim societies.
Even for those comfortably situated in the American mainstream, though, the post-9/11 climate could be painful. "It really became impossible for me to even listen to the news or to read the news because of all the horrible things that were being said about Islam, about Muslims, all the generalizations, all the stereotpying, and all the distorted information," said Mara Ahmed, a Pakistani American financial analyst turned artist who now lives in Rochester, New York.
Of all the stories I heard about 9/11 in interviews for this report, Ahmed's was the only one relating the experience essentially as it is remembered by the American majority, rather than a Muslim minority (although curiously, she is also the only person I spoke to who is not entirely certain she believes the official story about who was responsible for the attack). At the time, she and her husband lived in Hackensack, New Jersey. Her husband, a doctor, worked in Brooklyn Heights, just across the East River from New York's financial district and barely two miles from the World Trade Center. He was in his office on September 11, and like many thousands of New York area residents with family members working downtown, Ahmed spent agonizing hours dialing her husband's cell phone but could not reach him. When he finally managed to phone her from his office, she recalled, "he said there was debris even outside his office, smoke everywhere, there was debris. He told me they had sealed all of New York City basically, all the tunnels, all the bridges shut down. So I told him to stay at his boss's office, don't even think about coming back, but he said 'no, I really don't know what is going happen tomorrow, I feel this is a very uncertain time, and I want to be with you and kids.'... He rented a car and I think he drove all the way around through upstate New York. He got home at two or three in the morning."
If Ahmed experienced that day as a New Yorker rather than a Muslim or Pakistani, the post-9/11 climate pushed her into a new identity with a new label: a "moderate" Muslim. She didn't like that label, which she felt leaves all Muslims under suspicion unless they can prove they are not radical fanatics. And she was frustrated that the picture of Muslims she was getting from American news reports and political debate and popular entertainment bore so little resemblance to the Muslims she knew. That thought gave Ahmed the title for her first documentary film, "The Muslims I Know." The title is literal in that much of the film portrays her own community of Pakistani American professionals in Rochester.
Ahmed, who is the documentary's narrator as well as its director, made the film to show post-9/11 Americans a different picture of Muslims in their country -- a message that being Muslim does not make them America's enemies, or a threat to American principles and values. Instead, she and the Muslims she shows in the film chose to be Americans and identify with American ideas. And that means that it is false to speak of a conflict between irreconcilable American and Islamic civilizations. "For me," she says in the closing lines of her narration, "there can be no clash of civilizations, for that split would be within myself."
* * *
For Boykin comments, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-7RqOwMAnM
His sermon on Jesus's return can be heard at; http://aattp.org/ex-army-general-claims-jesus-will-be-returning-to-earth-sporting-an-ar-15-audio/);
McCarthy comments are from Andrew C. McCarthy, The Grand Jihad: How Islam
and the Left Sabotage America, New York: Encounter Books, 2010, p. 17, and
Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama's Impeachment,
New York: Encounter Books, 2014, p. 151
Clips of Gingrich's interview on the New York mosque are posted on dozens of websites, among them http://gawker.com/5614016/newt-gingrich-ground-zero-mosque-like-nazis-putting-sign-next-to-holocaust-museum. His speech calling Shari'a a "mortal threat" can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-ZN1QzddRE. For Santorum's comment on Shari'a see Adam Serwer, "Santorum Winning The Coveted Gaffney Primary," http://prospect.org/article/santorum-winning-coveted-gaffney-primary, April 29, 2011. The text of his "Eurabia" speech is at http://www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org/news/2472/speech-by-senator-rick-santorum
 Wajahat Ali and Matthew Duss, Understanding Sharia Law: Conservatives’ Skewed Interpretation Needs Debunking, briefing paper, Center for American Progress, Washington, D.C., March 31, 2011, p. 6
 Excerpts of the film can be seen at an Israeli website, http://www.aish.com/jw/s/48969486.html. Jasser is a Muslim, but as a strong critic of "political Islamism," a supporter of Israel and a vocal opponent of most of the organizations that usually speak for American Muslims, he has been associated in various ways with the anti-Shari'a network.
 "Tennessee bill would make following Shariah law a felony," Washington Post, March 1, 2011; also see Amy Sullivan, "The sharia myth sweeps America," USA Today, June 13, 2011
 Spencer Ackerman, "FBI Teaches Agents: ‘Mainstream’ Muslims Are ‘Violent, Radical’" Danger Room, Sept. 14, 2011; http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/09/fbi-muslims-radical/. "War is a permanent condition" appears in a presentation titled "Strategic themes and drivers in Islamic law," http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/dangerroom/2011/09/fbi_islamic_law.pdf; p. 14
 Meg Stalcup and Joshua Craze, "How We Train Our Cops to Fear Islam," Washington Monthly, March/April 2011. Like many others who have set themselves up as expert anti-terrorism instructors, the article pointed out, Kharoba had "no professional experience in law enforcement, no academic training in terrorism or national security, and is not himself a Muslim" (he is a Jordanian-born Christian who before going into business as a counter-terrorism trainer worked as a computer programmer). Kharoba and other trainers they interviewed "have a remarkably similar worldview," the authors wrote. "It is one of total, civilizational war -- a conflict against Islam that involves everyone, without distinction between combatant and noncombatant, law enforcement and military."
 Anti-Islamist activists have made much of the fact that the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights group, was named on a list of several hundred "unindicted co-conspirators" in a criminal case against the Holy Land Foundation, which was found guilty in 2008 for charitable activities in the West Bank and Gaza that were ruled to have constituted material support for the Palestinian organization Hamas. The facts are far from justifying any suggestion of a link between CAIR and any terrorist act, however. CAIR's name arose in the case because of a much earlier association of its founder, Omar Ahmad, with the U.S. Palestine Committee, an umbrella group for the Holy Land Foundation and other organizations. Ahmad's activities took place in the early 1990s before Hamas was designated as a terrorist group, and nothing in the material prosecutors presented in the foundation's trial linked him or CAIR to any criminal act. In 2010 an appeals court ruled that the government should not have released the co-conspirator list, which it noted was "unaccompanied by any facts" indicating a possible terrorist connection. The court ordered the list sealed, but did not grant CAIR's request to be removed from it. See Case 3:04-cr-00240-P, United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division, "USA v Holy Land Foundation."
 Jerry Markon, "Pakistan arrests 5 N.Va. men, probes possible jihadist ties," Washington Post, Dec. 10, 2009 ; Jerry Markon, Karin Brulliard and Mohammed Rizwan, "Pakistan charges 5 Northern Virginia men in alleged terrorism plot," Washington Post, March 18, 2010; Shaiq Hussain and Brigid Schulte, "5 N.Va. men convicted on terrorism charges in Pakistan, given 10 years in prison," Washington Post, June 25, 2010
 "Muslim Americans: No Signs of Growth in Alienation or Support for Extremism." Washington, D.C.: Pew Research Center, Aug. 30, 2011. The full report can be seen at http://www.people-press.org/files/legacy-pdf/Muslim-American-Report.pdf