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- The U.S. government should clearly and publicly define the ideology of al-Qa’ida that we seek to “defeat” (page 2), and realistically acknowledge its intimate links with Islamist ideology and political movements in general. Ignorance and/or lack of honesty in this arena is no virtue. This necessarily entails discussing, and addressing, the manner in which theocratic regimes in Iran and Saudi Arabia export their Khomeinist and Wahhabi/Salafi ideologies worldwide, thereby fueling the spread of Islamist terrorism, and strengthening other Islamist groups such as the Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood’s global da‘wa (proselytism) movement.
- The U.S. government should distinguish between the religion of Islam and Islamist ideology (“a distorted interpretation of Islam”), whose adherents seek to conflate their own political agenda with the religion of Islam itself. Reverence and respect for the religion of Islam does not and should not entail submission to the dictates of an ambitious minority of Muslims who seek to instrumentalize religion for the acquisition of worldly power.
- The U.S. government should acknowledge the diversity of American Muslims, and recognize that genuinely pluralistic, tolerant and spiritual Muslim leaders possess the theological legitimacy, authority and credibility required to counter Islamist ideology and movements from within Islam, and should be encouraged and supported in their efforts to do so.
- The U.S. government should engage non-Islamist Muslim groups to help develop and implement effective counter-radicalization programs, which affirm the principles of liberty and individual rights, within an Islamic narrative.
- This engagement should facilitate the production of compelling content (“narratives”) and their distribution, through proactive use of the internet, which is one of al-Qa’ida’s primary means of ideological indoctrination and recruitment.
- The U.S. government should support the development of robust, on-the-ground efforts to expose the brutal reality of Islamist oppression, violence and terror, and broadcast the message of Love, Mercy and Compassion—which fosters respect for human dignity and individual rights—to Muslims throughout the world, couched within the narratives of Islam, and the specific cultural and historical framework of the various linguistic regions to which these messages are disseminated.
The latest National Strategy for Counterterrorism should be commended for acknowledging that ideology (“a distorted understanding of Islam”) is a critical factor enabling al-Qa’ida-style terrorism. For if we truly hope to defeat al-Qa’ida and its affiliates, we must recognize that the struggle against terrorism is first and foremost ideological, rather than “kinetic,” as Ayman al-Zawahiri himself has repeatedly stated (e.g., “The majority of this war takes place in the information terrain”). We must also recognize the diversity of Muslim populations in the U.S. and abroad, and carefully select our counterterrorism partners on the basis of their principled rejection of al-Qa’ida (i.e., Islamist) ideology, rather than on the basis of tactical differences they may have with al-Qa’ida, when the ultimate objective they hope to achieve (the establishment of a theocratic state, and/or caliphate) is virtually identical. And we must develop a comprehensive, proactive strategy of our own, which demonstrates to Muslims around the world that their faith is more secure in an environment that promotes and protects the freedom of each individual.
The American Islamic Leadership Coalition was formed in order to provide a platform and an alternative voice for Muslims in North America. We offer the above thoughts to our government, and our fellow citizens, in the hope of fostering a more serious and mature national conversation about Islam, in order to resolve our current “institutional paralysis” in the face of extremism; defend our nation; and help “to restore the majesty of Islamic teachings as rahmatan lil ‘alamin—a blessing for all creation—which represents a vital key to building a peaceful world” (Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid, writing in The Illusion of an Islamic State).
AILC Coalition Signatories:
Golam Akhter, Bangladesh-USA Human Rights Coalition Inc., Washington, DC
Bahman Batmanghelidj, Founding Member, Alliance for Democracy in Iran, Virginia, USA
Khurshed Chowdhury, Ph.D., Maryland, USA
Manda Zand Ervin, President, Alliance of Iranian Women, Maryland, USA
Tarek Fatah, Founder, Muslim Canadian Congress, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Farid Ghadry, President, Reform Party of Syria, Washington, DC
Jamal Hasan, Council for Democracy and Tolerance, Baltimore, MD
Farzana Hassan, Ed.D., Past President, Muslim Canadian Congress, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
M. Zuhdi Jasser, M.D., President, American Islamic Forum for Democracy, Phoenix, AZ
Hasan Mahmud, Member, Advisory Board, World Muslim Congress, Dallas, TX
Kamal Nawash, President, Free Muslims Coalition, Washington, DC
C. Holland Taylor, Chairman & CEO, LibForAll Foundation, Winston-Salem, NC
Jalal Zuberi, MD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA
1. Wahid, Abdurrahman, ed. (2011). The Illusion of an Islamic State: How an Alliance of Moderates Launched a Successful Jihad Against Radicalization and Terrorism in the World’s Largest Muslim-Majority Country (translated from Ilusi Negara Islam: Expansi Gerakan Islam Transnasional di Indonesia), p. 35. Jakarta: Wahid Institute, Maarif Institute and LibForAll Foundation Press.
2. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” The Constitution of the United States, Amendment I.