In the first of its kind for an event organized by a major national Muslim organization, Kamal Nawash and the Free Muslims Coalition (FMC) recently held the Free Muslims March Against Terrorism. Not surprisingly, the leaders of every other major Muslim organization shunned the march and declined to take a public stand against terrorism and extremism.
Noticeably missing from the list of over 80 sponsors Nawash rounded up was any of the Muslim groups that claim to be moderates, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). Though these groups pay lip service to opposing terrorism, they couldn’t put their money where their mouth is and bring themselves to stand side-by-side with the Free Muslim Coalition.
The reasons for the absence of the major national Muslim groups are obvious. The empirical evidence has clearly demonstrated where the true loyalties of organizations such as CAIR and MPAC lie. In this particular case, it is anathema for many Muslim groups to identify themselves with the unambiguous message of the rally. Nawash is among the few Muslim leaders—and certainly one of the very few leaders of the overtly political Muslim groups—to explicitly confront the real threat, the real root cause of terrorism: radical Islam.
Where most prominent Muslim leaders prefer ambiguity and moral equivalence, Nawash stakes out an unmistakable position, not only opposing just violent jihad, but the doctrines of Wahhabism and political Islam, as well. Nawash is, without exception, against the creation of Islamic states—anywhere. The other major Islamic organizations simply can’t take this position. Their refusal to back even Nawash’s message exposes their true sympathies.
See No Evil
If other Muslim groups could even go as far as condemning specific acts of Islamic terror, that would be a step in Nawash’s direction. But organizations such as CAIR, for instance, have pointedly refused to condemn Islamic terrorist organizations, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, or even specific Islamic terrorist attacks. The best example of the latter occurred after the murder, burning, stoning, and mutilation of four American contractors in Fallujah, Iraq. CAIR only condemned the mutilation as contrary to Islam, but did not specifically condemn the murder, burning, or stoning of the men—a position that was also taken by a leading Fallujah cleric.
MPAC’s terror apologist agenda has also become transparent. In a June 1999 publication, MPAC argued that Hezbollah’s 1983 attack killing 241 Americans in Lebanon was not a terrorist attack. From its “Position Paper on U.S. Counterterrorism Policy”: “Yet this attack, for all the pain it caused, was not in a strict sense, a terrorist operation. It was a military operation, producing no civilian casualties—exactly the kind of attack that Americans might have lauded had it been directed against Washington’s enemies.”
Another of the major Islamic organizations, Muslim American Society (MAS), actively promotes the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has served as the theological inspiration for many leading terrorists. At a conference last month, a consultant to the group passed out an MAS paper called, “An American perspective on why the U.S. must engage the Muslim Brotherhood.”
A Deafening Silence
It is clear why Nawash poses such a great threat to groups like CAIR, MPAC, and MAS: he is a genuine moderate Muslim leader who emphatically condemns not just Islamic terror, but also any efforts to create “Islamic” states. His unflinching stances make it much more difficult for these groups to engage in verbal acrobatics by issuing vague condemnations of “terrorism” while simultaneously refusing to admit the “Islamic” influence cited by its perpetrators.
For participation in the rally, Nawash set a very low threshold: opposing terrorism. (Almost every speaker, though, was careful to condemn Islamic terrorism, and not just terrorism in the abstract.) By his own account, and by that of others, Nawash actively tried to enlist the support of other Muslim groups—but to no avail. Nawash most likely realized that no matter how low he set the bar, none of his counter-parts would endorse an event sponsored by a Muslim who unequivocally denounces Islamic terrorism and just as enthusiastically supports free societies for Muslims everywhere.
CAIR, MPAC, MAS and other Islamic leaders – shown up by the real moderate Muslims who locked arms with Nawash – were both testy and defensive. CAIR forwarded all calls to Hussein Ibish, the former Communications Director at the Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), an avowedly secular Muslim who nevertheless does the dirty work of Islamists and radical Muslims. MPAC did not return calls seeking comment, and did not appear to have given comment to any other media outlet regarding the rally.
Shooting the Messenger
Of the two Muslim leaders who shunned the rally who were willing to give comment—Ibish and MAS Executive Director Mahdi Bray—both resorted to attacking the messenger.
In two rambling smear jobs at MuslimWakeUp.com, Ibish labeled Nawash’s FMC as “the ugly” among leading Muslim groups, and called Nawash’s invitation for other Muslim leaders to denounce radicalism a “crude ploy.” Ibish went so far as to say that Nawash’s contention that other Muslim leaders don’t denounce radical Islam is an “odious lie.” While Ibish find Nawash’s message “odious,” it’s flat-out wrong to say it is a “lie”—especially when applied to Ibish himself.
Appearing on CNN in August 2002, Mr. Ibish was asked about a 1991 fund-raising letter from suspected (and now indicted) terrorist Sami al-Arian that read, in part, “Jihad is our path! Victory to Islam! Death to Israel and victory to Islam! Revolution, revolution until victory! Rolling, rolling to Jerusalem!”
Rather than criticize those plainly radical—and violent—words, Ibish played defense. “‘Death to Israel’ does not necessarily mean violence. Jihad can mean a lot of things,” he explained. Ibish then abruptly switched the topic. “I’ll tell you who is advocating violence. It is Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, who advocated torturing people.”
Ibish, of course, was not alone among Muslim leaders defending al-Arian—despite a substantial body of evidence that had already been in the public record since the mid-90's. MPAC, which had nothing to say regarding Nawash and the rally, said after al-Arian’s arrest, “Dr. Al-Arian is being punished for the non-crime of sparking dissent.”
After al-Arian was suspended in 2002 from his job as a University of South Florida professor—but before his February 2003 arrest—CAIR expressed outrage because he was “a respected leader in the community and a committed civil rights advocate.” Even after the 50-count indictment laid out a comprehensive case that included as evidence documents and wiretaps, CAIR wasted no time reflexively defending the alleged Islamic terrorist, calling the arrest “a fishing expedition by federal authorities using McCarthy-like tactics in a search for evidence of wrongdoing that does not exist.”
Perhaps the biggest defenders of al-Arian, though, were the folks at MAS. Immediately following the arrest, MAS official Shaker Elsayed bellowed, “This is becoming a war on Muslim institutions.” Perhaps to stress that Elsayed’s comment was no isolated outburst, MAS sent out a press release that proclaimed: “The arrest of Professor Sami Al-Arian today conforms to a pattern of political intimidation by an attorney general who seems to be targeting the American Muslim community's leaders and institutions in a drive to erode Americans' civil liberties.”
When asked about Nawash and his rally, MAS leader Bray said, “It is absolutely the right message, but Kamal is just the wrong messenger.” But if it’s “absolutely the right message,” why isn't MAS congratulating the government for prosecuting the likes of al-Arian instead of castigating it?
The game of claiming to have condemned Islamic terrorism or even radical Islam without actually doing so is one that has been mastered by many Muslim leaders. Ibish mocks the idea that Nawash is the first leader of a Muslim political organization to condemn Islamic terrorism and radical Islam, but when he was given the chance to do just that on CNN regarding al-Arian’s call to jihad, Ibish actually defended the accused terrorist. To date, Ibish has devoted more ink to attacking Nawash than all radical Muslims—combined.
Nawash has clearly taken his lumps from the supposed moderate Muslim leaders, but that’s not to say he’s without a following. But think in the mode of the “silent majority,” although in Nawash’s case, sadly, it’s almost certainly the “silent plurality”—for now.
Common are e-mails and phone calls to Nawash where Muslims tell him how important his message is, and how glad they are to finally have a Muslim leader delivering it. But most still won’t side with Nawash publicly, which partly helps explain the rally’s modest turnout of roughly 150-200. Yet the rally was attended by several respected Muslim leaders, who gained a much wider audience with the rally’s repeated airings on C-SPAN.
If there’s one thing that Nawash hopes to accomplish, it is to encourage other Muslims to speak up just as he has. Notes Nawash, “People who might want to speak out want somebody else to go first. Nobody wants to be a lone voice.” Though not exactly a lone voice, Nawash must feel like one some days—especially when he looks at his colleagues at the other national Muslim organizations.