Zuhdi Jasser and AIFD - Identified by Rep. King as the Ideal American Muslim Leadership
by Sheila Musaji
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.
Zuhdi Jasser’s biography from his AIFD (American Islamic Forum for Democracy) site ** doesn’t cite any real qualifications for his “expertise” on the American Muslim Community nationally. According to one article I found (not on his site) AIFD is claimed to have 1,500 members, of which about 15% are Muslims. He was honored in October 2007 by Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy as a “Defender of the Home Front” (an “honor” also given to Pamela Geller whose SIOA group has been designated as a hate group by the SPLC). He appears often on Glenn Beck’s program and has been called “Glenn Beck’s favorite Muslim”.
If you review Jasser’s credits, he largely inhabits the right-wing media universe: he’s appeared on Fox News and Glenn Beck, and in the pages of the Washington Times and National Review. He is a member of Podhoretz-Dechter creation, the pro-Israel and neocon Committee on the Present Danger. He has spoken before the Hudson Institute. He writes for Family Security Matters, a far-right website. Richard Silverstein
Jasser was opposed to the Park51/Cordoba House project ** (see video of Jasser & Reza Aslan on Cordoba House here. More on Cordoba House here) and is vehemently opposed to CAIR ** and MPAC and ISNA and CSID ** and every Muslim organization except his own, and calls them “Islamist”.
Actually, I have never heard him say anything positive about any existing American Muslim organization or any individual member of their leadership. All of his public statements absolutely ignore any positive contributions of the American Muslim community, and certainly ignore all of the statements against extremism and terrorism. You can find these here
He has been featured in a series of anti-Muslim films The Third Jihad and Islam v Islamists and Newt Gingrich’s 2010 documentary, America At Risk: The War With No Name. You can see Jasser in the Third Jihad movie trailer here. You can see the America at Risk trailer here. Jasser not only appeared in these “epics”, he is on the board of the Clarion Fund Group ** whose Clarion Fund was behind the films The Third Jihad and Obsession. More on Obsession here
In the film (The Third Jihad), the “good” Muslim is played to the hilt by its “star,” one M. Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. He is a “devout practicing Muslim” (and he won’t let you forget that to distinguish himself from Christian-Arab Muslim haters, Shoebat and Darwish), former Navy Lieutenant Colonel, physician, and wannabe political thinker. He seems to have no special qualifications for taking on the role of analyst of political Islam, but assume it he does and with a vengeance. Richard Silverstein
In an interview, Jasser defended his appearance in The Third Jihad saying “I think if [viewers] hadn’t seen that there’s a Muslim that’s part of the solution, it would have been worse.” **
This seems a subtle way of saying that you would be hard pressed to find other Muslims who are “part of the solution”.
Jasser is also a member of the Middle East Forum created and ran by neo-con Daniel Pipes as well as “the pro-Israel and neocon Committee on the Present Danger. He has spoken before the Hudson Institute. He writes for Family Security Matters, Middle East Quarterly, and other far-right websites.” If this doesn’t give you a hint about the agenda that drives Jasser and the purpose of this film nothing will. Loonwatch
Newt Gingrich said about Jasser Radical Islamists are people who want to impose Sharia (or Islamic law) on the entire world. In America at Risk, expert after expert describes the Radical Islamists’ determination to impose an extraordinarily different system on us. These Radical Islamists are profoundly different from moderate Muslims who want to live under the rule of Constitutional Law and have the same freedoms the rest of us cherish. In America at Risk, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, a courageous moderate Muslim, draws a sharp distinction between Muslims who want to live in America as a free country, and Radical Islamists who seek to destroy America. Radical Islamists view their struggle as a religiously inspired and approved jihad. Radical Islamists practice jihad in two forms—violent jihad and stealth jihad. They both have the same goal, which is to replace American freedom with Sharia. **
With no relevant credentials to speak of, Jasser’s authority in conservative circles as an “expert on radical Islam” seems to be derived from his willingness to frequently attack the Obama administration (whose terrorism advisor Jasser says “deserves honorary membership in the Muslim Brotherhood”) and Muslim-American civil rights groups (“front organizations” for the Muslim Brotherhood, according to Jasser).
Jasser is also conspicuous in his willingness to appear on Fox News to mitigate the effects of their pundits’ anti-Islamic rhetoric. After Fox host Bill O’Reilly went on The View and declared that “Muslims killed us on 9-11,” triggering a walk-off of the show’s hosts, he turned to Jasser, who declared that he was “absolutely not” offended by O’Reilly’s comments and actually thanked the Fox host for making them. Likewise, after NPR fired Juan Williams for his own controversial comments about Muslims, Fox hosted Jasser, who was again “absolutely not” offended.
Given these facts, it should be no surprise that Fox News’ Glenn Beck has dubbed him the “one Muslim that we were all searching for after 9-11” and said he is “a voice that I trust.” Jasser has appeared on Beck’s show to provide “expert” validation of Beck’s zany apocalyptic conspiracies in the wake of recent unrest in the Middle East. Brian Powell More here
Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy named Zuhdi Jasser as a “Defender of the Home Front”. More on Gaffney here.
David Horowitz identified Jasser as one of the few Muslims stepping forward All Muslims are not terrorists but there are also not enough Muslims coming forward to separate themselves and Islam from the radical jihad, or to condemn organizations like Hamas. Here I mentioned a Muslim, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, who had testified that day and who said, “This is our problem, and it is our responsibility to solve it.” **
He attended an ACT for America event in Florida, and you can see a video interview with him **. Brigitte Gabriel was thrilled that Jasser supported King’s hearings **. More on Gabriel and ACT for America here
Jasser is undoubtedly part of a strategy to deflect widespread criticism that King’s hearings are an attempt smear all Muslims with a broad brush. That’s an accusation that Jasser and others in the anti-Muslim agitprop stable are accustomed to averting. And they do so with a sleight of hand: that it’s not individual American Muslims who are radical, it’s their leaders—Muslim charities and civil rights groups, imams and a religious leadership that is dominated by radicals, who in turn dupe the gullible masses. Sarah Posner
Prior to the start of King’s hearings, Jasser said that Rep. King has shown “excellent courage” and that King is not “targeting Muslims or the faith of Islam.” Jasser later stated that most American Muslim organizations are “soaking up the attention with civil rights issues, victimology, and they’re not fixing the problem” of extremism. Media Matters
What Jasser may discover over time is that these Islamophobes are using him, and no amount of pandering will ever make him truly “moderate” unless he actually leaves Islam. Already, Jasser isn’t “moderate” enough for Andrew Bostom ** or Pamela Geller ** or Debbie Schlussel **
During the first hearing, Media Matters notes that “Jasser’s testimony was peppered with calls for the government to provide more “resources” to creating an “infrastructure” to reform Islam to make it more “liberty-minded.” Coincidentally, that’s the very cause that his organization, the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, seeks to undertake.” And, they ask the question: So was Jasser using his testimony to shill for federal funds for his organization? Here’s the “money” quote:
JASSER: We should be filling the Internet with new ideas, that we’re not doing. And our homeland security is at risk because those things cause a continuum of radicalization. And we need platforms to begin to do that at universities, at think tanks, at all the institutions that this government helps change the agenda of society. I hope this is a pivot point in changing the agenda so that you can help me create — and us — and other organizations — there are a lot of other organizations like mine doing this reform work and not allow just the revivalists to get the microphone but the reformists, to say that we want to modernize. ...
This whole enlightenment process needs institutions that you can help us build, help us provide the infrastructure to do that, but yet allow Muslims to do it. And I think it doesn’t cross the First Amendment because your role is to advance liberty, to advance freedom, advance and help ideas of equality, of human rights, universal human rights concepts, and then you make sure that we live to those and our Islamic institutions endorse those. And then we start engaging in al-Jazeera, in media, in Muslim media, these ideas ...
So we need your support to do that, and we can do it with the right resources, by countering that ideology. ... We can present — our strategy so far has been ‘try to break down that propaganda.’ That’s wrong. We need to have a forward strategy of liberty-minded, freedom-minded ideas into the Islamic consciousness. We can do that as Muslims, but we need your help to do that through creating websites, a social network — I mean, look what happened in Egypt and Tunisia ...
So we need to start creating platforms like this for America to see that we’re a diverse population, that we’re not all represented by the victim-mongering groups and other groups; that many of us take our responsibility as Americans seriously. So we need to create a “kitchen cabinet,” if you will, of strategy ... **
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.
Daniel Pipes in a 2004 article “Identifying Moderate Muslims” said of Jasser and AIFD Organizations are coming into existence. The American Islamic Forum for Democracy, headed by Zuhdi Jasser, is active in Phoenix, Arizona. ** More on Pipes **
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 onn 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.
And, Alex Kane in an article “U.S. funded Israeli-linked security company pushes anti-Muslim ideology” discusses a very worrisome report that sheds light on the network of private security firms tapping into public funds that push an anti-Muslim agenda to law enforcement agencies. An organization called Security Solutions International (SSI) is one focus of the Political Research Associates’ report (pdf) , titled “Manufacturing the Muslim Menace: Private Firms, Public Servants, & the Threat to Rights and Security.” ** You can read this report **
This PRA report includes this paragraph The Counter Terrorist’s coverage [an SSI publication,] includes infrastructure protection, school shooting threat assessments, intelligence gathering and what SSI calls “the Radical Islamic Threat.” Articles like “U.S. Prison Recruitment for Jihad”—a piece by M. Zuhdi Jasser and Raphael Shore, founder of the Clarion Fund, a nonprofit organization “that aims to alert Americans about the real threat of Radical Islam”—reinforce an image of Muslims as menacing militant fundamentalists. The magazine’s regular inclusion of such articles allows the publication to function as a credentialed law enforcement outlet for authors who exaggerate and distort terrorist threats.
Since, Rep. King has already stated that his next hearing will be about Islam in Prisons, we can be assured that Jasser will be there.
— 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.
UPDATE 3/27/2011 Jasser has another organization called the American Islamic Leadership Coalition (AILC). According to their website they had their first meeting September 30, 2010. There are a few photographs from that meeting but no further information. The about page has only this short statement As American Muslim leaders, we come together to defend the US Constitution, uphold religious pluralism, protect American security and cherish genuine diversity in the practice of our faith of Islam. There is no other information on the site. From the photographs it looks as if there were no more than 10 people in attendance.
Abdur-Rahman Muhammad who has a site called A Singular Voice did post an extremely brief statement about this meeting. He was one of the attendees as was Rep. Sue Myrick.
The Charlotte Observer also has an article saying that Rep. Myrick is backing this group. This article also listed another member of the AILC, Hedieh Mirhamadi, a lawyer and founder of WORDE, World Organization for Resource Development and Education, in Washington. This article was from September of 2010 and included a section that seems to make it even more crystal clear that there is an effort underway to select and put in place individuals like Jasser, and that this attempt to sideline existing American Muslim leadership has been going on for quite some time.
Myrick hosted a roundtable Friday morning on Capitol Hill with Jasser and a handful of other Muslims who have been critical of Muslim civil rights groups and say they worry about radicalism among some mosques.
“We need to make distinctions. And our failure to make distinctions is confusing Americans,” said Hedieh Mirhamadi, a lawyer and founder of WORDE, World Organization for Resource Development and Education, in Washington. She and the others in the coalition call themselves moderate Muslims.
Myrick had invited every other member of Congress to the event. Just three showed up: U.S. Rep. William Thornberry of Texas, and U.S. Reps. Trent Franks and John Shadegg of Arizona. All are Republicans who have worked with Myrick on the issue.
At the event, Franks asked the coalition to guide Congress on where to put funding.
A recent article by Kari Huus on private Muslim schools in the U.S. contained this statement: The idea of private Islamic schools is troubling to Zudhi Jasser, an American born Muslim who is an outspoken critic of what he calls Islamic separatism in America. “It creates a very ghettoized society…” said Jasser, who argues that American Muslim religious communities often embrace a belief in Islamist supremacy. “I worry that parochial schools are going to become incubators for separatism.”
It is very difficult to understand how Islamic schools are different from Jewish schools, Catholic schools, Lutheran schools, or all of the other parochial schools in the U.S. Unless you are opposed to all parochial schools, this is a clear statement that only Islamic schools are a problem.
Omar Sacirbey has published an article about Zuhdi Jasser and his organization Muslims battle to be official voice of U.S. Islam which gives a lot of interesting background on the man and his beliefs. Of particular interest is Jasser’s relationship with his father in law, Ahmed Banna, who is a a CAIR chapter president in Cleveland. His father in law is quoted as saying: “His group is not really well-known among American Muslims, and the reason is himself, when he’s standing up in the media and attacking Muslim organizations,” Banna said of his son-in-law. “It’s not making him popular among the Muslim community.”
Jasser published an interesting article this week Herman Cain’s Muslim comments are misguided which may mean that he is beginning to realize that there actually is something called Islamophobia, and that it affects all Muslims, himself included.
John Banzhaf, a Law School professor at George Washington University has filed a complaint supposedly on behalf of Muslim students at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. His complaint says that their human rights have been violated. This immediately created a firestorm of fake controversy among anti-Muslim bigots. However, it turns out that no Muslim students were involved in making this complaint, and in fact, Muslim students at the University defended the University and were offended by Banzhaf’s complaint.
Zuhdi Jasser took this opportunity to get publicity (without having all the facts) to go on Fox and Friends and discuss this “Islamacist supremacist” incident of Muslim students “imposing their ideas” on others.
Jasser has defended the film “The Third Jihad” and his participation in it, and come out in favor of the NYPD spying on Muslims. Jasser published an article defending the film The Third Jihad (which he narrated). What I found of interest in Jasser’s article is that he said ”... about the showing of my documentary film The Third Jihad ...” The emphasis is mine, and I find it curious that he refers to this as MY film. Jasser seems to believe that the fact that he is a Muslim and was involved in making the film somehow proves that the film is not anti-Muslim. He says “The Third Jihad is not anti-Islam or anti-Muslim. If it were, I would not have been a part of it.”
On March 5, Zuhdi Jasser, Tarek Fatah, and a handful of other Muslims joined Rep. Peter King in a press conference in support of the NYPD spying program. Adam Serwer at Mother Jones reported on the message of this meeting “That message was: Thanks for spying on us.”
Islamophobia Today reports that Jasser has been appointed by Sen. Mitch McConnell to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). A petition has been put online calling on Sen. Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner and the US Congress to repeal Zuhdi Jasser’s appointment to the USCIRF as flagrant oversight that presents a moral contradiction and a likely source of international embarrassment to the US.
Faith in Public Life reports that Jasser is not the only controversial appointment to the USCIRF.
Some have already noted that Jasser, a self-appointed “expert” on radical Islam and terrorism who was the primary witness during Rep. Peter King’s hearings on the supposed threat of Muslim radicalization, is an inappropriate appointee to carry out this mission.
However, George may also have somewhat of a conflict of interest behind the scenes. As detailed in the Center for American Progress’ Fear Inc. report – a study documenting the extensive funding that fuels the Islamophobia industry – George sits on the board of a foundation that contributes to at least three extreme anti-Islam organizations.
Earlier this month, when Nick asked George whether he saw a conflict between publicly defending the religious freedom of Muslims and privately funding organizations that seek to defame and distort Islam, George refused to answer. But the conflict is evident.
This is symptomatic of a larger issue within the conservative community: the double standard when it comes to religious freedom and the Muslim community. The far right simply cannot continue to champion the value of religious freedom without applying that freedom to faith traditions across the board. George’s and Jasser’s new roles are a stark reminder of this contrast.
As I said when I first published this article
What Jasser may discover over time is that the Islamophobes are using him, and no amount of pandering will ever make him truly “moderate” unless he actually leaves Islam. Already, Jasser isn’t “moderate” enough for Andrew Bostom ** or Pamela Geller ** or Debbie Schlussel **
And that is becoming more obvious as time goes on. Eliana Benador has just published what may be the most glaring example of such attacks on the part of the Islamophobic Who’s Who. Here are just a few snippets from this most recent hate article:
My second question was: As a devout Muslim, you practice taqqiya, do you not? His answer: “You are asking me if I lie.” My answer then was: “No, I am asking you if you practice taqqiya…” He said he does not lie. That was the confirmation that he practices taqqiya.
... His organization, the American Islamic Forum for Democracy’s (AIFD) avowed mission is “to advocate for the preservation of the founding principles of the United States Constitution, liberty and freedom, through the separation of mosque and state.” It looks as though, Mr. Jasser has already established that America’s religion is Islam… “separation of mosque and state…”
However, there is another detail of non-negligible importance that will show how deep ingrained Muslims already are within our system. Mohammed Zuhdi Jasser is a former Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy, where he served as staff internist in the Office of the Attending Physician of the United States Congress.
Now, we must wonder why would the United States Navy send Mohammed to serve as staff internist in the “Office of the Attending Physician of the United States Congress… instead of deploying him with his valuable skills to one of our different war zone fronts…?
It seems that Jasser’s credentials as a spokesman for “moderate Muslims” are questioned not only by the American Muslim community, but also by the Islamophobes.
HISTORIC MOMENT - PETER KING’S HEARINGS
Rep. Peter King’s hearing “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response.” took place on March 10, 2011.
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, and 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
- 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
All of these articles will be updated as further information comes in, and there will be more articles in this series.