A blueprint for how the West can counter Islamist tyranny.
By M. Zuhdi Jasser — December 16, 2015
How much more slaughter of innocents in the name of Islam do we need to endure before the free nations of the world wake up and admit that we are at war with the ideology of Islamism? We are in a global struggle of a magnitude we have not seen since the end of the Cold War — and this time we are fighting an enemy whose natural constituency includes almost one-fourth of the world’s population.
The steady drumbeat of Islamist violence around the world has now reached a climax with the horrific atrocities in Paris and San Bernardino. No longer can pseudo-experts, apologists, and the media hide behind excuses, platitudes, and clichés. Enough is enough.
America’s military, intelligence, and security agencies will continue to operate a sophisticated and expensive whack-a-mole program as long as they look only at the final stages of radicalization. Before an individual takes a turn toward violence and dons the military vest and weaponry of an Islamist soldier, he spends years wearing the jersey of the Islamist team. As long as we focus only on the weaponized Islamist, and not all Islamists, we are in a state of unmitigated surrender. Our current approach surrenders the Western values of liberty embodied in our constitutional republic to the strangulation of political Islam and the massive Islamist movements across the planet.
Imagine if the Cold War had been fought by monitoring and countering only acts of Soviet-inspired violence rather than their enormous ideological domestic and global precursors? The West would have lost the war.
The same is true in the struggle against Islamism, also known as theocratic or political Islam. The West desperately needs a broad-based anti-Islamist strategy to combat the global reach of this deadly ideology that threatens freedom and liberty everywhere. The “Evil Empire” of today is the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), comprising 56 Muslim-majority nations that are the cauldrons of political Islam.
Taking the side of reform-minded Muslims who champion liberty and eschew Islamism must be the centerpiece of the strategy. American Muslims, living in this unparalleled laboratory of freedom, have a unique moral obligation to lead the way. For too long we have allowed the grievance narratives of Islamist groups to dominate, deflect responsibility, and radicalize. As American Muslims, we need to own the problem and address the root causes of Islamist radicalization.
To that end, freedom-loving Muslims need their own declaration of principles. Such a Muslim declaration can not only chart a course for reform but also become the centerpiece of thinking on almost every other policy question on which Muslim leaders, mosques, and organizations are working for the protection of universal human rights, versus those antagonists or apologists who are working against us.
Earlier this month our American Islamic Forum for Democracy held a foundational Summit of Western Muslim Reformists against the Islamic State and Islamism, held on December 2–4. This summit was a decade in the making, as our diverse anti-Islamist Muslim coalition from the U.S., Canada, and Europe slowly came together. But fate would have it that our planned summit convened only weeks after the second horrific ISIS-inspired attacks in Paris and the same day as the San Bernardino attack.
We concluded the summit proclaiming the co-founding of the Muslim Reform Movement and presenting to the world our Declaration, in which for the first time we put the Islamist movement and its insurgent ideas on the defensive. Our declaration lays down an ideological firewall inside the House of Islam between our Movement and the Islamists. Watch the press conference and get to know these courageous leaders, whom I’m proud to call friends and colleagues: Tahir Gora, Tawfik Hamid, Usama Hasan, Arif Humayun, Farahnaz Ispahani, Naser Khader, Hasan Mahmud, Courtney Lonergan, Asra Nomani, Raheel Raza, Sohail Raza, and Salma Siddiqui. Other Muslims will choose sides, and we pray that thought leaders and policy-makers choose the side of religious liberty in a war of ideas known all too well by our Founding Fathers.
The Muslim Reform Movement is united in our common opposition to theocracy and tyranny. Many more Muslims who dissent from Islamism have already come forward to join us in just the past week, gathering strength from our resolve and from the clarity of the platform we are creating.
We are harboring no illusions. But before the hard work of theological reform even begins to come together, we needed to first chart a destination and set our moral compass. We cannot roll up our sleeves until we know who our allies really are. We claim no ownership of the mantle of reform, but we reject Islamists who falsely label their work within the Islamist movement as “reform.” The old pseudo-reformers who simply repackage Islamism — like Tariq Ramadan and Yusuf Qaradawi — cannot breach our firewall. The Islamist clerics and leaders in the West have already done us a service by revealing themselves in their Letter to Baghdadi. Their bombastic defense of violent jihadism, caliphism, and Islamism stands in stark contrast to our simple declaration.
We have firmly made the distinction between false reformers who simply modernize the face of Islamism and anti-Islamists who want to bring the House of Islam into compatibility with universal human rights.
The nine precepts of the declaration of our Muslim Reform Movement fall into three categories: “Peace: National Security and Counterterrorism Policy,” “Human Rights,” and “Secular Governance.” We believe that Muslims who can embrace these precepts and Americans who can embrace those Muslims will be on the right side of history as we lead the global war against Islamist movements.
The full two-page declaration can be signed online by fellow Muslims and our supporting neighbors at Change.org. Help us grow at Facebook. The declaration is a full-throated defense of freedom, free speech, critical thinking, gender equality, minority rights, secular governance, democracy, and the separation of mosque and state. We also declare an unequivocal condemnation of all Islamic states, caliphism, violent jihad, institutionalized sharia, blasphemy laws, and apostasy laws. Three defining principles are worth noting here:
“We believe ideas do not have rights. Human beings do.”
“Our ummah — our community — is not just Muslims, but all humanity.”
“Muslims don’t have an exclusive right to heaven.”
In the spirit of iconic reformers, we marched after our December 4 press conference and posted our declaration on the doors of the mosque that is part of the Saudi-government-affiliated Islamic Center of Washington on Massachusetts Avenue in D.C. Officials of the Center ripped it down, and we dialogued with them. We await their formal response.
We will go on and ask our communities to present these foundational, inviolable precepts of reform to every Muslim leader, organization, and mosque that we can in our respective nations. Any who sign on will be with us in reform and counter-radicalization. Any who do not are part of the radicalization problem and obstacles to reform.
We do not seek to criminalize nonviolent Islamism, but instead to shine a bright light upon their archaic, corrupt ideology. We will compile a database of the responses to our declaration, and hope it will become a centerpiece of conversation and policy-making in the West. No longer will we need guesswork and innuendo to determine if a particular Muslim is part of the global Islamist platform and programming.
There are many antecedents for our declaration, starting with Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and going on to the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Sharon Statement, drafted by M. Stanton Evans under the aegis of William F. Buckley Jr. in 1960. Each defined a movement. The Sharon Statement, reflecting the ideological struggle of the time, said that “Communism must be defeated, not merely contained.”
American Muslim leaders must state clearly that the Islamist ideology needs to be defeated, not merely contained. For Buckley and his colleagues, the enemy was the tyranny of Soviet Communism. Today, the enemy is the global threat of Islamism.
As a Midwestern-born American Muslim, the child of Syrian political refugees fleeing the tyranny of Ba’athism, I proudly donned the uniform of the U.S. Navy for eleven years. I joined the Navy to be a part of the military forces of the nation that gave my family freedom and represented the most moral force for good under God on the planet.
Militant Islamists are bred, contrarily, in a theo-political culture where their soul, identity, and self worth are inexorably wedded to Islamo-patriotism — the assertion of the supremacy of the Islamic state. They act for the tribe, and reject even the implication that individual rights “under God” might be possible for all through a secular government. Understanding this consciousness is crucial. Freedom-loving Muslims must fight for an Islam that rejects the Islamists as the real blasphemers and enemy of mankind.
The Declaration of the Muslim Reform Movement puts the Islamists on the defensive and gives birth to a counter-Islamist offensive based in the ideas of religious liberty and universal human rights. We are ready ideological warriors for the nation. The security of the United States, Israel, and the West hangs in the balance.
— M. Zuhdi Jasser is president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and author of A Battle for the Soul of Islam: An American Muslim Patriot’s Fight to Save His Faith. He is a co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement and a former lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy. He is a physician in private practice in Phoenix, Ariz. Twitter: @DrZuhdiJasser