The last few weeks didn’t contribute much to improving the image of Islam. Raging crowds of Muslim film critics rioted all over the world and even killed the American Ambassador to Libya. President Obama handled that assault with the decisiveness of a Vietnamese nerd, who wants to explain to his quarterback roommate that he should not loot his food from the fridge without ending up being dangled from the balcony of their apartment. Last week a large crowd of fanatics gathered in front of the US Consulate in Toronto to demand censorship and blasphemy laws for Canada. Yesterday the convicted murderer and terrorist Omar Khadr was quietly brought back to Canada by the supposedly conservative government.
Amidst that doom and gloom, it was like a breath of fresh air to attend the inaugural meeting of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow. It was refreshing to hear people discussing things in calm and rational manner, instead of constantly yelling “Allahu Akbar!” as many did last week.
Prof. Salim Mansur gave a short introduction, after which Raheel Raza – the president of the new organization explained the goals and objectives of the organization. This is not a religious organization, it is an association created to address the wide spectrum of issues that the Muslims are facing now and which will become even more acute in the future. The Muslims need to get away from the 7th century. At the same time, the group wants to expose those who have no loyalty to Canada – example of that was her encounter with a man from a certain well-known Muslim organization, who stated at an event that Canada had no values, its values came from Israel, and she confronted him about that. The movie protest was another issue – Raheel asked people in Toronto going to the protest if they have seen the movie, and most of them haven’t – that was definitely a manufactured event. Maintaining the individual freedoms is the most important task in our country – the pluralism and preserving of the Charter are also very important, including freedom of expression. The new movement should respect the equal rights of Muslims, homosexuals, atheists, etc. She is well aware of all the challenges and threats she would face working in that field, because from the traditional conservative Muslim point of view she is seen as an aggressive woman.
Christine Williams from the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and the Simon Wiesenthal Center was the next speaker.
In her opinion, the main problem with the modern Islam is the blending of religion with politics. That trend could be noticed all over the world, where even countries, which were not that affected in the past, like Turkey and Indonesia, are turning to Islamic control. The issue with the Muhammad movie was that it was a planned attack, it wasn’t caused by the movie itself. The solution the fanatics are recommending is to impose blasphemy laws on the West, which will severely restrict our freedoms, mostly with regard to criticism of Islam. In contrast, Christianity is still criticized or ridiculed without any consequences, like in the example of the “artwork” of Jesus Christ immersed in urine.
There are even attempts to impose sharia law, like the case of the Iranian embassy, which wanted the Iranians in Canada to work for the Iranian government and gradually take over the Canadian government and then attack the USA. In many other cases we are dealing with taqiya – a tactic where Muslims pretend to be friendly while secretly working against the Canadian values. Sharia law already has had bad consequences in England – after being accepted in 2008 to deal with civil matters among the Muslims in the country, it has quietly expanded to include even criminal matters. Even the Bishop of Canterbury defended its introduction in the name of creating better cultural cohesiveness. The Muslim extremists tried the same in 2004 in Ontario and we were very close to accepting it, if it wasn’t for the campaign organized by Muslim women, who didn’t want to see themselves in the inferior position that sharia has reserved for them. A common misconception is that if Muslims don’t follow those laws, they seize to be Muslims. That is nonsense – in other religions, like Judaism, there are punishments like stoning adulterers according to the Torah, yet nobody gets stoned today – the Jews have outgrown those concepts. Muslims should be able to do the same. The reality of the Muslims blasphemy laws is frightening and they should be abolished.
M. Zuhdi Jasser, M.D., the Founder and President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), was the keynote speaker.
He said that all the ideas about reforms in Islam discussed tonight cannot be presented in the same way in the Muslim world, because they’ll be considered blasphemous. The key difference is that here in the West we have freedoms, which don’t exist in other places. What binds us together here? It’s the idea that we live in a country, which protects you as an individual. Those freedoms are under attack and they have been condemned for decades by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic organizations, which advance quietly in the West. They were irritated by Al-Qaida, which with the 9/11 attacks blew the cover off the project and attracted scrutiny and attention to Islam.
Those fanatical organizations demonize the West. They attack the very nature of the Western societies and try to redefine and change the identity of our countries. Islam as a religion doesn’t require dominance, because it is a spiritual experience of the believers. He gave as an example the former Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic who said that he never felt more Muslim than during the 15 years of solitary confinement under Tito’s regime (I definitely didn’t like that example). We need to firmly identify and convey through our narrative the identity of the citizen of the West. Making those values clear would insulate many Muslims from radicalization. The problem is that the modern Islam is departing from its spiritual principles and turning into a political movement. Those Muslims, who want to reform their religion, need to restore the spirituality in it.
One important way to do that is to encourage criticism of Islam, especially among young people. Under the current stagnation, the leaders discourage free discussion in every possible way – for example, they claim that only people with degrees in Muslim studies can discuss Islam. That leaves out people like Jasser or Daniel Pipes, who though knowledgeable, are disqualified. The resulting rigidity has created an oligarchy that prevents any meaningful reforms.
From that perspective Islam has something to learn from Christianity. Along with the great Christian leaders and theologians, many laymen have contributed to reforming it, like for example Thomas Jefferson and the other founding fathers, who created a new paradigm of religious freedom and tolerance with the US Constitution. Why can’t Islam do the same?
Obfuscating the problems by pretending that Islam has nothing to do with its current situation makes things much worse. The claims that people like Osama bin Laden are not Muslims, because of the way they act only obscures the issues in Islam. The statement that the recent riots in the Muslim world were caused primarily by a movie (parroted by the Western media) distracts us from the violence within Islam and is aimed at changing the values and the laws of the West. The constant blaming of the USA, Canada, and other Western countries is designed to distract the attention from the real issues. The perpetual parade of grievances and victimization stop any discussions of the flaws of Islam as manifestation of “Islamophobia”.
We have to find our narrative and show that the USA is not about jeans or other superficial things; the core issue is that this type of society allows you to achieve anything you want. The Islamic theology must be reformed to respect the values of liberty and the independence of the individual, which cannot be achieved without separation of mosque and state. That also includes the questioning of the principle of jihad. The issue of values and identity is crucial for the personal development. For example Dr. Jasser and Major Hassan, the Fort Hood terrorist, had strikingly similar biographies. Both received medical education and had careers in the army. The difference is that Hassan probably grew up in a family environment hostile to the Western values, which built in him an identity of violent hater.
Once again, the discussion within Islam is crucial, if we want it to change – hiding behind hadids to justify the reluctance to think is not helping anybody. The role of the reasonable discourse must be increased. It is important to remember that these are not some abstract theological or ethical issues – on the contrary, the consequences from them are very tangible and affect the national security.
The problem is that the people in the government and many private citizens are not aware of the quiet advancement of the Islamic extremism. During the Cold War things were very clear and polarized – nobody saw the communist parties as some benevolent organizations contributing to our progress. Since the demise of communism that polarization disappeared and many people have a hard time determining what is good or bad. Thus dangerous Islamic organizations are perceived as charities dedicated to spiritual enlightenment. The reality is different – for example, the Muslims are a very small minority in the USA, yet in the last few years 85% of all arrested and charged with terrorism were Muslim. No matter how some people would like to twist the things, this is a problem.
Even within the Muslims countries it is difficult to evaluate the political forces. Often we see confrontation between theocratic and secular fascism with nothing in the middle. These complex issues would probably take a generation to resolve.
Dr. Jasser has been often accused that his understanding of Islam is not real and it’s outside of the mainstream. However, in his opinion, that situation of turning Islam into a political movement is relatively new and happened within the last 100 years – by its nature Islam is not hostile toward invention and progress (remembering the role of Islam in Southern Europe for over 500 years, it’s hard to agree with that statement). During the Q&A session he added more clarifications to his position – he didn’t believe that the extermination of the Jews under Muhammad and most of his war atrocities described in Islam really happened; he didn’t believe that Muhammad had sex with a 9-year old girl either.
His conclusion was that no matter what, we must support and advance liberty. Now we are battling for the soul of our nations. Multiculturalism, as it is understood and practiced today, could kill us because it cannot distinguish between a culture and a political movement. The political Islam is a dangerous movement, whose purpose is to dominate the West. It is incorrect to see it as an odd, but harmless culture. We will be doomed if we ignore that fact.
After that I had a chat with a friend, who also attended the event. She asked me what I thought about it. I said that while I found Dr. Jasser’s ideas bold and challenging, there were things I didn’t like that much. Presenting Izetbegovic as some kind of a morally elevated type was a bad idea – those who know the new history of Yugoslavia remember that he and his henchmen provoked the violence in Bosnia by shooting their own people in Sarajevo to demonize the Serbs by blaming the bombings on them. The Western intervention, which resulted from those events, caused a domino effect of even more violence. Also, saying that Islam was recently corrupted or that the worst things didn’t really happened probably saves the reputation of the Muslim prophet, but doesn’t sound very convincing as a position. Wouldn’t it be better to say (like in Judaism or Christianity) – yes, we’ve had some bad things in our past, but we will do our best to outgrow them.
My friend replied that what I say may be true and many other critics of Dr. Jasser see things in a similar way, but we still need to support him and other people with his convictions, because they are doing a very difficult work, which eventually would change the Muslim world.
I hope she is right, because the situation now is quite scary. On one hand, we have a mild-mannered lady, who came from Pakistan, and a rational doctor speaking in a Toronto auditorium about the need to reform Islam (and many in their audience are not even Muslim); on the other hand, we see on the TV news crowds of mindless savages who, like a singular of boars, crush everything under their feet and destroy the property of their fellow Muslims over a YouTube movie they have never seen. Faced with these two alternatives, it’s not difficult to decide whom to root for.
Let’s hope that one day Mrs. Raza and Dr. Jasser will succeed with our help. We have no other choice…
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