How Reliable Were Rep. King’s Muslim Witnesses?

How Reliable Were Rep. King’s Muslim Witnesses?

by Sheila Musaji


Asra Nomani posted an article about what she planned to testify about at yesterdays hearing. 

In that article she says

Already, instead of dealing with the substance of the issue, Muslim organizations such as the Muslim Public Affairs Council has [sic] adopted a strategy of deflecting attention, by launching personal attacks against me and the other witnesses, Dr Zuhdi Jasser and Dr Qanta Ahmed, as illegitimate voices because we “are not representative of any mainstream sentiment in the American Muslim community”.

A Muslim blogger called us “astroturf Muslims”, engaging in the politics of “takfir”, or Muslims declaring other Muslims “bad Muslims”.

In my testimony, I will argue that, inside much of our Muslim communities, we have departed from our very clear sense of holding ourselves accountable, symbolically – for example, saying “salam” at the end of prayer to figurative angels sitting on our shoulders, recording our deeds, good and bad. I will argue that many in our Muslim society have adopted a culture as “wound collectors”, a term coined by former FBI agent Joe Navarro to describe terrorists of all identities, holding onto grievances and responding to scrutiny with a strategy characterized by four distinct elements: denial, deflection, demonization, and defensiveness.

The Muslim community’s response to the hearings on radicalization within our community – much like the response of many communities to internal problems – hasn’t been one of taking ownership of our problems, but rather engaging in a strategy of deflection. This strategy has expressed itself in our wider response to radicalization, terrorism, and the presence of an intolerant interpretation of Islam in our world today.

She links to my article on “astroturf Muslims” - but calling anything that I said “takfir” is an example of the level of her Islamic knowledge, and of her honesty and integrity.  Takfir is to declare another Muslim to be an unbeliever - to say that they are not really a Muslim, or are an apostate.  I did not in the article she refers to, or in any other article or even private conversation ever call her, or the other witnesses unbelievers. 

This is a serious charge she is making against me personally, and serious charges she is making against the Muslim community in the United States.

What I DID SAY (my words from the article referenced by Nomani above) was

I can’t imagine what expertise these particular Muslim witnesses would have that would shed any light on examining “the impact” King’s previous hearings “have had in the Muslim Community’s ability to address this issue.”  According to the title of this hearing - it is a hearing to ascertain the Muslim communities response to his previous hearings.  These witnesses are disconnected from the mainstream community, and won’t be able to provide much information on that question.  However, all three of these Muslim witnesses are in agreement as to their personal views on lots of issues of concern to the American Muslim community.  For example, Qanta Ahmed expressed strong support for the NYPD spying program, as did Asra Nomani and Zuhdi Jasser. 

In the article Asra Nomani, Tarek Fatah and Zuhdi Jasser: ‘Please! Pretty Please Spy on Me!’ about a rally of about 20 people in support of NYPD spying, Garibaldi of Loonwatch noted:

The loons’ rally attracted 20 or so supporters and…*gasp*…Rep.Peter King. Whodathunkit? The fact that IRA supporting Peter King would stand with the very same non-expert neo-Con witness he called at his McCarthyesque witch-hunt trials and declare, “you are the real face of Islam in America” is so shocking (note: thinly-veiled sarcasm).

Oh yes, Sheikh Peter King is now pontificating on who the “real” Muslims are. You are a real Muslim if you align yourself with the right-wing, agree with your community being spied on, (thereby undermining every citizens civil liberties), agree with the over-exaggerated “homegrown terrorism” threat, agree with entrapment, agree with the Greater Islamophobia of “bombing, invading and occupying” Muslim majority nations.

...  The sparse number of pro-surveillance and pro-anti-Muslim indoctrination ralliers indicates that most American Muslims are overwhelmingly opposed to the NYPD’s bigoted indoctrination of its officers as well as the warrantless surveillance of Muslims. An opposition that is born not just out of their recent plight, being cast as “today’s enemy,” but out of a consistency of principal; no one should be profiled based simply on religion or race, no group should endure warrantless surveillance.

One can imagine that in a not too distant future, these very same self-hating loons, eager to be profiled and spied on, will also be saying, “please, please intern me, somebody, please intern me!”

Update I:

Make sure to check out Danios’s article on the same topic: Zuhdi Jasser’s Astroturf Muslim Groups Behind Rally to Support NYPD Spying.

In one of my many articles on Peter King and his hearings, Zuhdi Jasser-AIFD/AILC - Identified by Rep. King as Ideal American Muslim Leadership I discuss King’s selection of individuals like Jasser at length.  That article has a great deal of detailed information (with references) about Jasser and his activities, associations, controversies and organizations.  The section relating to King’s hearings includes this

During the first of Peter King’s planned hearings “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response”, Zuhdi Jasser was the star witness.  Why was he put in this position as the face of American Muslims?  He is not a scholar of Islam.  He is not part of the leadership of any national Muslim organization. 

TAM has had a number of articles over the years about a neo-con strategy called Religion Building and on the devious process of labeling and identifying “moderate” Muslims.  (type religion building or moderate Muslims in the TAM search for many of these articles)  It seems as if this religion building strategy has entered a new phase - actively attempting to set up an individual and/or organization as the authorized spokesman for the American Muslim community.  Enter Zuhdi Jasser and AIFD.

...  Jasser has been positioning himself as THE moderate Muslim for many years, and his testimony was almost an appeal to consider AIFD as the new organizational face of American Muslims and to help them financially (that sounds like using our tax dollars) - which Jasser thinks wouldn’t be in conflict with the first amendment.  The champion of freedom wants to tear down the wall of separation between church and state and have the government support and encourage particular Muslim voices.  This is both surprising and not surprising from Jasser.  It is surprising that someone who has been such an outspoken critic of the dangers of Sharia to want to tear down this wall of separation.  (More on the anti-Sharia craze here) This is not surprising since Jasser’s understanding of the Constitution and the rights it gives to American citizens seems limited.  During the hearing, Jasser made a remarkable statement that encouraging Muslims to have an attorney present when they speak to law enforcement is enabling “political Islam”.  This showed the level of his expertise.  Fortunately Rep. Sanchez corrected him about this important right of all citizens.

...  And, here is where it gets really scary.   King said during the hearings “Responsible Muslim American leaders must reject discredited groups such as CAIR.” 

This phrase was repeated on King’s Congressional website where he posted a justification for these hearings which included this paragraph “This means that responsible Muslim-American leaders must reject discredited groups such as CAIR — The Committee on Islamic-American Relations which was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the terrorist financing case involving the Holyland Foundation. “

And, then he delivered the double whammy.  As Michelle Boorstein reports

Standing before a throng of cameras after his high-profile hearing on Muslim radicalization, Rep. Peter T, King (R-N.Y.) once again attacked major Muslim American organizations and their leaders, whom King described as soft on extremism.

Asked to identify better leaders, the Long Island Republican pointed to the wavy-haired man beside him, Arizona physician Zuhdi Jasser. Jasser, the head of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, had just been his star witness atThursday’s hearing.

“To me, a group like Dr. Jasser’s would be ideal,” King said, calling the forum “the most compatible” with American values”**

  Boorstein also notes ... an organization that until a few years ago had an annual budget of less than $20,000 and a few volunteers.  ...  In 2007, a major GOP donor,Foster Friess, gave it $100,000, which Jasser developed by last year into a $400,000 operation with four staff members.   More on Friess and Jasser here.

...  Summing up:

—   A GOP backer has pumped a great deal of money into Jasser’s organization. 
—   Jasser has a seal of approval from Glenn Beck, Frank Gaffney, David Horowitz, Brigitte Gabriel, Daniel Pipes and lots of other Islamophobes.
—   Newt Gingrich (who may run for President of the U.S.) included Jasser in his anti-Muslim film and identified Jasser as a “courageous, moderate Muslim”. 
—   Rep. Peter King thinks that AIFD (Jasser’s organization) would be an ideal organization to “better” represent the American Muslim Community. 

Rep. King has said that there will be a series of these hearings for up to one and a half years.  That will certainly be plenty of time to complete the job of marginalizing the American Muslim community, demonizing 100% of the existing leadership, finding more funding, and replacing that existing leadership with Zuhdi Jasser, and whoever he deems “moderate” and appropriate spokespeople.

There are only three Muslim witnesses being called for this hearing.  None of them has expertise on the topic the hearing is supposed to address.  None of them is actively involved in any serious or ongoing way with any established or widely respected national or local American Muslim organizations.  None of them have been or are involved in any way with actual groups or think tanks involved in collecting and analyzing actual data.  The only qualification they seem to have is that they are Muslims, and that Rep. King has identified them as “good Muslims”.

This hearing is not likely to be productive, or informative, or have any result other than to further demonize and marginalize the American Muslim community.

Note:  Definition of “astroturf” from the Online Slang Dictionary:  •The term “astroturf” is a play on “grassroots”. “Grassroot movements” arise organically through the people. “Astroturfing”, then, is artificial grassroots.

As anyone can see, I repeatedly identify them as Muslim witnesses, and call nothing into question except their expertise on the topic at hand, and their actual involvement with the mainstream Muslim community. I include a definition of what I mean by “astroturf Muslims” and none of this has anything even remotely to do with “engaging in the politics of ‘takfir’”. 

What I did say in this article was not what was claimed by Asra Nomani.  Personal attacks on me as an individual are really not important, but since Ms. Nomani felt that my reaction to the witnesses Rep. King had called was somehow reflective of the general American Muslim community response, then the accuracy of her assessments does reflect directly on the question of her expertise as a witness. 

I would submit that Ms. Nomani’s statement about me personally is reflective of her level of understanding about the Muslim community generally - she is disconnected.  Does the American Muslim community (or do I personally) “respond to scrutiny with a strategy characterized by four distinct elements: denial, deflection, demonization, and defensiveness.”?  Do we “fail to take ownership of our problems” within the community?  Is it likely that I would have declared “takfir” against anyone, based on my actual positions?

Who is the “Muslim blogger” she so blithely makes such a serious charge about:

I am not an anonymous “Muslim blogger”, but one who one who is well known for my work against extremism since 1989.

The Muslim Voices Against Terrorism and Extremism resource of The American Muslim has received positive mention in the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University’s report on internet-facilitated radicalization entitled:  ”NETworked Radicalization: A Counter-Strategy”.   It is also listed as a resource on many other sites, and the new logo has been picked up numerous sites. .

As Editor of The American Muslim I have written articles defending free speech, academic freedom, encouraging interfaith - intrafaith - and civilizational dialogue,  responding to Islamophobia, speaking out against terrorism and extremism, encouraging Ijtihad, exposing extremist Qur’an translations.  I have encouraged my fellow American Muslims to sign on in support of the Amman Statement, in support of Sunni Shia unity, in support of the Common Word effort, to support Tariq Ramadan’s call for a moratorium on corporal (hudud) punishment, and to get involved to solve the Darfur crisis.

I have signed on to numerous statements including those against terrorism, against punishment for apostasy and affirming freedom of faith, in defense of freedom of speech, against torture, against land mines, against nuclear weapons, an appeal to release Christian peacemakers taken hostage in Iraq, etc.  (The texts of many of these statements are listed below).

I completed the training for the Department of Justice, Community Relations Service ARAB, MUSLIM AND SIKH CULTURAL AWARENESS TRAINING, and participated in two training programs.

Here on The American Muslim (TAM), I have published thousands of articles, many of them discussing issues such as:

— speaking out against the repulsive customs of - child marriage  including discussion of particular cases, - and punishments for victims of rape, - and female genital mutilation, etc.
—against the views of extremist clerics like Anjem Choudary, or Sheikh Abdullah El-Faisal, or Anwar Al Awlaki, Ayman Zawahiri, etc.
— against the views of extremist groups like Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Majlis, South Africa, etc.
— against particular actions of Islamic organizations like the Canadian Shia Muslim Organization (CASMO) publishing an article by David Duke, or some British Muslims threatening Imam Usama Hasan because of his views on the compatibility of the theory of evolution with Quranic teachings regarding God’s creation of the world and human beings, or the Arab European League (AEL) publishing an offensive cartoon against the Jewish people on their website
— against individuals or organizations promoting extremist views about various issues like - Salwa Al Mutairi suggesting that sex-slaves are allowed in Islam, - or the Malaysian Catholic Herald being told that it could no longer use the word “Allah” to mean God, - or Dr. Zakir Naik saying that Muslims can’t wish Christians a Merry Christmas, - or the Darul Uloom Deoband’s divorce by phone fatwa, , - or the Saudi forced divorce case, etc. 
— about particular individuals or organizations accused of particular crimes,  - like the Florida Imams arrested for aiding the Pakistani Taliban, etc.
— publishing condemnations of particular acts of extremism and violence such as - the attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt, - or the killing of U.N. workers in Afghanistan, - or attacks on Christians in Muslim countries, - or the Fort Hood massacre, - or the deaths of 15 Saudi schoolgirls in a fire because they weren’t “properly dressed” etc.
— or publishing condemnations of extreme reactions to various current issues like the South Park cartoon, Molly Norris and “Draw Muhammad Day”, Opus cartoon
—publishing statements and articles advocating for   - protection of religious minorities and houses of worship, - and guardianship reform in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia pertaining to male control or ‘guardianship’ over women, - and confronting online radicalization of Muslim youth, - and freedom of faith and right to change one’s faith, - and freedom of speech, - and a spiritual jihad against terrorism, - and welcoming LGBT Muslims in mosques, - and a moratorium on all corporal punishment, including the death penalty, - and responsibility of Muslims to defend the Constitution of the U.S., - and condemning holocaust denial and anti-Semitism, - and promoting the value of being faithful Muslims and loyal Americans etc.
— publishing and regularly updating Muslim condemnations in statements, fatwas, articles, etc. of every form of extremism and terrorism as a major part of the work of The American Muslim

Nomani opens her article with this Qur’anic verse:  “O ye who believe!  Stand out firmly For justice, as witnesses To God, even if it may be Against Yourselves, or your parents Or your kin.  – “Al-Nisa” (The Women), Qur’an, 4:135

Her demonstrable lie about me is not “standing firmly for justice”, or being an “honest witness”.  She should be ashamed! 

Bob Pitt of Islamophobia Watch noted about Nomani’s summary of her planned testimony and this false charge

So, not only is the US Muslim community in denial about the presence of dangerous radicals in their midst, but in taking this position they themselves are adopting a terrorist world-view.

And, would you believe it, some Muslim critics have the nerve to claim that Nomani, along with her fellow collaborators Zuhdi Jasser and Qanta Ahmed, “are not representative of any mainstream sentiment in the American Muslim community”. Sheila Musaji has gone so far as to describe them as “astroturf” Muslims.  Now, that’s a phrase I must file for future use.

I’m glad that he likes the “astroturf Muslim” term, but credit should go to Danios of Loonwatch, whom I believe to have been the first to use the term.

I am grateful that at least one witness was called who actually does have expertise about the issue at hand, and who is respected in the mainsream American Muslim community — Faiza Patel. 

Garibaldi of Loonwatch reported on the hearing:

The lone voice for reason was Faiza Patel, who reverted to those pesky things called FACTS in her testimony. Relying on empirical evidence and studies Patel highlighted the basic point that we have been arguing for quite some time on Loonwatch: “The so-called Homegrown Terrorism Threat is grossly exaggerated.” She also pointed out that the hearings have overwhelmingly been received negatively by the American Muslim community.

As occurred in the past there were courageous Congressmen and women who spoke out strongly against the hearings as casting a pall of suspicion over the whole American Muslim community, singling out Muslims and feeding Islamophobia while not serving any practical benefit at all.

The fighters for justice in this regard are the same as in the first hearing: Rep. Sheila J. Lee, Rep. Al Green, Rep. Laura Richardson, Rep. Clarke, Rep. Sanchez and more.

Highlights:

-Faiza Patel sounding off on the panelists’ interest in theologically debating Islam, pointing out that “debating Islam is not the Government’s business.”

-Rep. Green asking when we are going to have a hearing on radicalization amongst Christian Americans?

-Rep. Richardson pointing out that “this is not a talk show, this isn’t Oprah, this is a US Congressional Hearing; panelists should be professionals.”

-The strange attempt to link giving up of smoking/drinking, ”hip hop clothing”, and going to the mosque more often with the process of radicalization. Something tells me these are not indicators of “radicalization.”

You can see videos and full transcripts of the testimony at the hearing HERE.  Transcript of Zuhdi Jasser’s testimony here, transcript of Asra Nomani’s testimony here, transcript of Qanta Ahmed’s testimony here, transcript of Faiza Patel’s testimony here.

Reading those transcripts it is clear that only one of the Muslim witnesses has any understanding of or connection with the American Muslim community.

On TAM we have published a number of articles on Rep. Peter King’s Hearings and related U.S. government and military hearings and training that most American Muslims consider to be Islamophobic:

TAM has an article The American Muslim Community and Rep. Peter King’s “Islamic” Radicalization Hearings which has a great deal of background on Peter King and these hearings, which includes an extensive article collection.  We also have a series of articles breaking down various aspects of the hearings.
-   Peter King’s Hearing: What Was the Point? discussing the content of the hearings, with a collection of articles written after the hearing ended. 
Peter King’s Civics Lesson for American Muslims which has a collection of anti-Muslim statements by elected representatives and government officials made during and before the hearings.  
Existing reports and studies on radicalization in the American Muslim Community and Polls, Surveys, and Statistics Relating to Islam and Muslims  with actual hard evidence so lacking in the hearing.  
Response of Civic Organizations and Interfaith Community to “Muslim Radicalization” Hearings  
Elected Representatives & Government Officials Who HAVE Questioned Islamophobia with quotes from elected representives and government officials attempting to counter the bias of this hearing both during and before the hearing.  
- Peter King’s hearing: witness testimonies - allegations but no facts
- Peter King’s Fourth Hearing Targets Muslims in the Military - Zuhdi Jasser and AIFD - Identified by Rep. King as the Ideal American Muslim Leadership
- Does Rep. King’s IRA/Terrorist Connection Matter?
Answers to Peter King’s Claims About the American Muslim Community which lays out all of his claims and allegations and provides detailed answers to each.  (e.g. Do Muslims cooperate with law enforcement?  Do Muslims speak out against terrorism and extremism?  Are most Muslims terrorists?  Are 80 to 85% of mosques run by radicals?  Have American Muslim organizations responded to the issue of radicalization?  Are mosques the source of radicalization?  etc.)
- The scope of Rep. Kings Hearings Creates Homeland “in"Security
- National Faith Leaders to Protest Anti-Muslim Hearings  -  Rep. Peter King’s Muslim Phobia - Claim that all terrorists are Muslims ignores history - The NYPD, the CIA, and “The Third Jihad” - Islamophobia no longer questioned - even by our elected representatives - GOP Anti-Muslim Limbo:  They’ve Lowered the Bar Again!The GOP Anti-Muslim Limbo:  How Low Can They Go? - White House Releases “New” Counter-terrorism Strategy:  Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United StatesWhere is the U.S. Government Getting It’s Information on Islam and Muslims?
All of these articles will be updated as further information comes in, and there will be more articles in this series.

 


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