Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Moderate Muslim voices silenced

PBS won't show 'Islam vs. Islamists,' but you should see it, says ROD DREHER.
02:19 PM CDT on Sunday, May 13, 2007.

I've asked myself a thousand times since 9/11: Where are all the moderate Muslims? We're assured that there's a silent majority of Muslims who want nothing to do with the jumped-up jihadists. But those voices are few and far between.

Here's the good news: The makers of the PBS-commissioned documentary Islam vs. Islamists: Voices from the Center found some outspoken moderate Muslims and profiled them and their astonishing courage. The film shows these men mounting a lonely resistance against Muslim leaders in the West who are fronting a false moderate face to the public while using oil money from Gulf Arab sources to make their hard-line version of Islam the norm.

Here's the bad news: PBS refused to air the film as part of its recent "America at the Crossroads" series, even though it had been scheduled. I saw Islam vs. Islamists and concluded that it's absolutely vital to informed public debate. That PBS decided not to show, at least for now, such an important film is shocking.

Or is it? Most of the U.S. media has done a lousy job of critically covering Muslim organizations here, of asking serious questions about what their leaders believe and where they get their funding. These folks are quick to shriek "Islamophobia!" when a journalist points out their connections to radical Islam or asks straightforward questions about what they believe. The idea – and it's a successful one – is to squelch a legitimate and necessary public discussion.

As Islam vs. Islamists documents, it's a tactic they use with far less finesse on dissenting Muslims. Tarek Fatah and Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, two of several moderates featured in the film, told me that the Islamophobia canard is useless against them because they are proud, practicing Muslims. Yet they say they can't get a hearing at many mosques or Islamic institutions because those places have been taken over by Islamists – adherents to a highly politicized form of the faith.

"They've basically turned our mosques into a political party of their own," says Dr. Jasser, a Phoenix physician. "We have nowhere to go to have this debate."

He's talking about the discussion regarding their religion and its role in a pluralistic society, especially in this time of war. Dr. Jasser warns that many Muslim denunciations of terrorism are deceptive.

"Terrorism is simply a means," he says. "The Muslim community has not had a debate about whether or not they endorse the ends of the Islamists" – namely, an America that is thoroughly Islamicized and organized around sharia law.

In the film, Dr. Jasser expresses confidence that most American Muslims are not violent but advises that most accept the Islamist view of world politics – conspiratorial, self-pitying and quick to blame America for all the Muslim world's problems. We also see in the movie a leading Arizona imam denouncing the reasonable and patriotic Dr. Jasser as an "extremist liberal."

Which raises a troubling question the film does not answer: How representative of the Muslim mainstream are these Muslim moderates? The truth, as one counterterrorism investigator told me, is that the Jassers and Fatahs are probably in the minority – "but their voices need to be heard."

Indeed. Muslims, especially young ones, need exposure to competing voices from within their own traditions making the case for pluralism. And the rest of us need to take seriously the warnings these anti-Islamist Muslims are sounding: Muslim leaders' honeyed words when talking to the media and English-speaking audiences do not necessarily make them moderates or friends of peace.

Why would PBS not want to air this film defending moderate Muslims under attack – even facing death threats – from religious hardliners? An official at WETA, the Washington, D.C., public television station overseeing the "America at the Crossroads" series, has slighted the documentary as "alarmist," "unfair" and "irresponsible."

Nonsense – as any fair-minded viewer of the thoroughly professional film would attest, if only they could see it. Islam vs. Islamists would only appear alarmist and unfair to those whose cover it blows – and by useful media dupes willing to protect them. If PBS is too embarrassed to broadcast this movie, it should release the rights so someone else can, and let the American people can judge for themselves.

The West is waging a war of ideas with well-funded Islamists who far too often have the mainstream media on their side. If we ignore prophetic Muslim voices warning us that most Islamic leaders among us are not the gentle lambs they claim to be, and if we leave Muslim allies to fight the battle against these wolves alone, we only sabotage ourselves.

Rod Dreher is an editorial columnist. His e-mail address is R. Dreher.

Update: Here are some replies to this article:

Interesting e-mail responses to my Sunday column about Muslim moderates, like Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, and their courageous struggle against Islamists. This struggle is documented in the PBS-commissioned film "Islam vs. Islamists: Voices from the Center," which PBS has inexplicably declined to broadcast. This first one comes from a Muslim American former military officer:
Thank you for your opinion piece in the Sunday Dallas Morning News. What Dr. Jasser faces is not at all uncommon. For a long time, I was shunned by many in my community in [deleted] for having ideas outside the mainstream. Those ideas were completely harmless and included support for electing Republicans to office and support for the first Gulf War. My parents and sister, who still live in [deleted], have had to endure snide remarks and insults because of what I have said publicly . Groups like CAIR and MAS tend to do the heavy lifting for the Islamists in the US and this does truly pervade the mosque/school systems in many cities leaving many moderates no where to go.

Your help in our struggle is appreciated.
This one comes from a non-Muslim in Arizona:
Great and important article Rod. I happen to be a patient of Dr. Jasser's. He is a hard working, compassionate, up-to-date professional physician. He is very open to people of all faiths or no faith. I also happen to have lived and worked in Islamic cultures as a language teacher, in Afghanistan, Iran, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. I speak Persian and some Arabic. I can do the call to prayer better than lots of Muslim religious leaders. I know many Middle Eastern cultures at their best and worst. I worked 17 years in the Middle East, in 2 to 4 year blocks, between 1965 and October 2001. I have many Muslim friends here in the U.S., especially in the Phoenix area.

Let me assure you that the problem of Islamists taking over Muslim American communities, and thinking, is far worse than the American media and government bureaucrats can imagine. Their critical analysis is impaired by the fear of being tagged as "Islamophobic" for commenting on the obvious. Europe, America and open, related states are in grave danger of destruction from within by Islamists who knowingly, or out of ignorance, pave the way for terrorist acts, by individuals or groups, which will grow in frquency and in spectcular devastation.

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