WIN Exclusive: ‘I’m afraid of Islamism,’ says American-Muslim activist Zuhdi Jasser

Zuhdi Jasser says he represents the silent majority of American Muslims and is hopeful for the future of America, despite the success of extremist elements. 

By Atara Beck, World Israel News

Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser is the president and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), described on its website as a think tank dedicated to protecting American national security against the global threat of Islamism. He is also co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement

Jasser, a physician based in Arizona, is a former U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander with 11 years of service, including a tour as the Staff Internist to the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court.

In an interview with World Israel News, Jasser discussed the state of Political Islam in the United States and his motivation for becoming an activist. Following are excerpts.

Q: You are a proud Muslim and an American patriot. Are there many like you? Do you feel you are representing the silent majority of Muslim Americans?

“I do, and I think ultimately the reason I know that is if you look at most statistics and most behaviors of the organized Islamic groups, at the most they have a plurality of movements and not a majority. So even in countries where Muslims are a majority, the Islamists have only one election – whether it’s Egypt, where the Muslim brotherhood won initially, or Tunisia, where [Islamist political party] Ennahda won initially but then lost – Islamists usually have been able to get, at the most, only 30-40 percent of the votes.

“And I do think that it’s very apropos to your question, because I think that, very much tied to loyalty and patriotism to secular countries, is the concept that we no longer, as Muslims, believe in an Islamic military. We no longer believe in an Islamic state. As long as a Muslim believes that a political party should have an Islamic flag or that the state should have an Islamic identity with an Islamic legal system, then it becomes impossible for them to also argue that when they’re a minority, they’re loyal to the state they live in.

“You can’t be both. You can’t say, ‘I believe in one set of principles because I’m not an anarchist, and I believe that if I’m a Muslim in Israel I’m going to follow the laws of the land but where I’m a majority, in Egypt or elsewhere, I would make it an Islamic state, then I would change it to Sharia.’ That’s either dishonesty or, at worst, you could label it as fifth column…

“I think the bottom line is: Many Muslims realize that there’s a set of laws that are still part of normative Islam that are those Sharia laws that run Pakistan, those blasphemy laws, Saudi Arabia’s Wahabi extreme laws that are misogynistic, anti-Semitic, and other laws – and yet, when they come and live in a Western free society, they realize that if they’re going to go through a divorce, they won’t go through the imam. They go through the civil system here because not only do they prefer Western law, they believe that their interpretation of Islam should be more in line with a Western system rather than with an Islamic Sharia system that is still in the 13th and 14th centuries.

“That’s their behavior. But the reality is our Muslim community is anaesthetized, they’re asleep at the wheel, and they shouldn’t be given a pass. On the one hand, they’re enjoying the freedoms of Western democracy; on the other hand, they’re doing virtually nothing to correct the pathologies that have led to the radicalization and theocracy that is the cornerstone of the Islamist movement…

“The anti-Islamists, the Muslims who believe in Western freedom and secular liberal democracy, are the majority of the Muslim population among the approximately 4 million Muslims in America. Then there are the Muslims who are active in mosques, active in Islamic organizations, the Muslims that are somehow bonded to the Islamic establishment…

“I do think that if you look at the American population and you go to mosques, for example, Muslims that go to mosques  more than once a month, those folks are going to be 80%-90% Islamist.”

Q: From what I understand, the mosques themselves are radicalizing people.

“I am always careful when using that term ‘radicalization,’ but you’re exactly right. The sermons, the imams, the dogma that is taught with the textbooks that are on the shelves there are full of punishments for blasphemy, the condoning of the severing of hands from those who steal, the condoning of women getting a quarter of the inheritance – all these things are various interpretations of Sharia law and are endemic in the mosques.

“And the narratives that come from the pulpit are conspiratorial, us versus them, the collectivist mindset that America is against us, the conspiracy theories that denigrate Israel, that denigrate Jews and other minorities that live among us, and the community.

“Despite all of my confrontation with mosque leaders and exposing the hypocrisy and trying to debate imams across the country, I’ve never been kicked out of a mosque. My family has been targeted as far as social ostracization and defamation and vitriol in the local community, but I’ve never been kicked out. And I tell you that because Muslims don’t have an excuse for handing over the reins of our Islamic institutions to the most separatist, conspiratorial, often uneducated individuals in our community.

“Many of the Muslim leadership are part of the Islamic Society of North America, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and I put them all in a group that we call the Muslim Brotherhood legacy group in America.

“Originally, up until two years ago, they were also funded heavily by the Saudis. Now that has gone to the wayside because Saudi Arabia has recalibrated itself against the Muslim Brotherhood, which is a good thing.

“But the bottom line is the American Muslim community, other than our Muslim Reform movement, which has about 15 leaders, will come up  to us behind the scenes and say, ‘Thank you for what you’re doing, but I stopped going to mosque other than our two main holidays because I just couldn’t take the sermons.’

“I tell them, ‘You should go there, they’re not going to kick you out, you should have a voice on the board, tape the sermons, expose what’s being taught, because it’s our community and by not doing so, it appears that we condone their radicalism. By not having a voice, you’re allowing the worst of our community to speak on behalf of our community.’”

Q: I’ve heard you speak about the need to reform the Muslim religion by reinterpreting sentences in the Koran in order to adjust to modern society. Is this approach similar to Judaism’s – not Reform Judaism, but traditional Judaism over thousands of years – with its mitigating interpretations of severe Torah commands, according to the Oral Law, such as “an eye for an eye”? Have you made any headway?

“That’s a very important question, because if you google textbooks on Islamic reform, some of the most sold ones are by radical imams. Wahhabism itself in Saudi Arabia was a reformist movement. And Imam Qaradawi, the spiritual guide for the Muslim Brotherhood based out of Qatar, has written two books in the last 15 years on Islamic reform…

“Reform Judaism has a very specific meaning, which is not what we’re trying to do, which is a more traditional method of looking at not the English translation, but the Arabic word itself that we believe to be the word of God.  Look, for example, at the passage that says to cut the hands of those who steal – that’s the English translation. The Arabic word is actually ‘sever,’ it could mean sever them from society, not necessarily sever the hand from the body…

“If there are multiple interpretations, as there is for pretty much everything in the Koran, then there should be freedom of religion to interpret as you wish, and that’s why the government should have nothing to do with the establishment of religion in society. And that’s why I feel that the American form of government is the one that we’re trying to apply religious reform in our own tradition.”

Q: At the recent Democratic National Convention, the Biden campaign at first rejected Linda Sarsour and then almost immediately turned around and apologized to the Muslim community for doing so. What are we to make of that?

“I was offended that there was even a perception that her constituency somehow represents American Muslims. It represents a segment of American Muslims, but is [Presidential candidate Joe] Biden trying to say that the BDS movement, which is what Sarsour is all about – the BDS movement that basically calls for the economic annihilation of Israel – represents American Muslims?

“And I have to tell you, I believe what’s happening, the identity politics in America, is that they’re approaching the American Muslim community with a bigotry of low expectations.”

Q: Across the board?

“I’m talking about the Left in this instance. We have been critical of the Right in some areas, but right now, as far as Biden’s campaign responds to Sarsour – I think that… if a non-Muslim had said the same things that Louis Farrakhan or Ilhan Omar say about Israel, or about the Jewish community, they would be ostracized from the Democratic party. But there’s this bigotry of low expectations.”

Q: Are they afraid of being labeled Islamophobic?

“That’s a good question. Why has that cultural approach evolved? It’s the post-9/11 phenomenon in which the Islamists have instilled the fear of God into anyone who dares question the Islamist ideological movement.

“The bigger question is not just about the 4 million Muslims in America. Where does the term Islamophobia come from? The Organization of Islamic Cooperation back in the early ’90s came up with this term, which they used internally for a long time in their countries where they arrest people for any speech against their government. They say they won’t arrest them for criticizing the president, they’ll arrest them for criticizing Islam because the president is a representative of Islam… that’s why they flipped it upside down at the West and they said that when you criticize Muslims, you’re criticizing Islam.

“They’ve made it into a form of blasphemy law in the West… That’s one of the things, if you look at our website for the Muslim Reform movement, at the top it says, ‘Ideas don’t have rights. Human beings do.’”

“Again, we believe there is bigotry against Muslims that needs to be countered, just like there’s anti-Semitism that needs to be countered, but the Jewish community rarely talks about Judeophobia…

“I’m afraid of Islamism. The Islamists don’t even want you to use the term Islamism in the West. They claim it causes more discrimination when in fact they themselves, in Arabic, all over Al Jazeera and elsewhere, they talk about Islamism all the time; that’s the term they use to describe themselves. But on the other hand, they expect the ignorant folks in the West to be afraid of being called an Islamophobe – that fear, intentionally imposed in the West, in order to prevent criticism of theocratic ideas that are entrenched in Political Islam…

“I think it’s important that if you look at the Left and Sarsour, it should insult most Americans that a leader of the BDS movement that has hyper-politicized her own activism for Palestinians and apologized for terrorists and supported Hamas and other radical organizations now has become the standard bearer for American Muslims. The same with Ilhan Omar.”

Q: When Biden’s campaign did disavow Sarsour’s views, she said, “That means they condemn the views of 99.9 percent of the communities that I come from, who hold the exact views that I have.”

“OK, that’s probably true in her communities. But her communities are not mine. She doesn’t speak for all Muslims…

“When Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar were trying to come to Israel, all of a sudden her [Tlaib’s] grandmother, her family, became so important. That’s her community. These are folks that have a certain ideology, a certain perspective… This is the hypocrisy of the Left,  they’re all about diversity, but to them, diversity is an identity checkbox on either a racial or a religious identity form. That’s it. It doesn’t have anything to do with ideas.

“And if she really believed in ideological diversity, then there’s no way she would speak about 99.9 percent. That is a figment of her imagination that even 50% of American Muslims support the BDS movement.”

Q: How do you understand Muslim Americans like Linda Sarsour? She must realize that she enjoys much greater freedoms, especially as a woman, in the U.S. than she would in a Muslim-dominated country. What motivates her to defend Sharia Law?

“I think you are not understanding where the Ilan Omars and Rashida Tlaibs of the world are coming from. They are from the farm team, to use the sports analogy, of the Islamists. If you talk to the Somali community in Minnesota, many of them are livid that they have a woman now representing their community through her headscarf and her cultural reminders every day that she’s a Somali immigrant, that she takes on the president and other things in her vitriol on Twitter and elsewhere.

“And yet her own Somali community will say, ‘What have you done to change policies that are creating the oppression from the government in Somalia that exists to destroy the country that we came from? What about the imposition of Sharia in our community in Minneapolis, where you have some of the highest rates of jihadization in the country from mosques in the area?’

“She continues to act in the ideas that were the roof from where she came, which are Islamist, which are an anti-American, anti-Israel, an anti-Western perspective that sees that all the problems in the world as the West’s fault.

“I’m a former naval officer, and I have to tell you that one of the most offended I ever was by Ilhan Omar was in 2017– she was running for election, and Sen. Franken at the time from Minnesota tweeted out a memory, on the anniversary of the last significant major terrorist attack, in 1992, about all the people that lost their lives innocently in Somalia. I was there, I was on the Navy ship in Somalia… and she then makes a statement that, that act of terrorism was small compared to the terrorism committed by American troops against Somali citizens…

“Not only is this fabricated, but it also shows the scorn that she has for our country, for its soldiers.

“I see the American military as similar to the IDF, one of the most moral fighting forces in the world, and yet she sees it as terrorists. When she talks about al-Qaeda, she does it laughing, she’ll give a giggle as if it’s some conspiracy theory. So this is the narrative she comes from and you’re trying to apply rational approaches to somebody who should be so thankful to a society that gave her freedom to escape… but this is somebody whose worldview is about Political Islam, about the defeat of secular democracy. Her worldview is about the ascension of the socialists of Venezuela in the red-green axis with Iran, with the socialists and Islamists rising up against the West… She sees us as evil, not good.”

Q: And she got voted in again.

“Yes. I wrote a book on the battle for the soul of Islam [A Battle for the Soul of Islam: An American Muslim Patriot’s Fight to Save His Faith] published in 2012, and I think what we’re seeing right now in America [is that] each party has to go through a battle for its soul. The amount of anti-Semitism that is being fomented in the Democratic party – they had two imams at their Democratic convention that were quite radical, and nobody seems to care.”

Q: How would you characterize the beliefs of Muslim Americans toward Israel and Jews?

“I truly believe that if you do polls, over 90% of Americans – not Muslims, but the whole population – support the State of Israel as being one of the closest allies of America on the planet…  That might have gone down in the past few years, but I know last time I looked at it, five or 10 years ago, it was 85%-90%… In the Muslim-Arabic community, those numbers might be less significant, not up to the 80s but maybe over 50%. I think they just need education.

“There’s a significant problem in that a lot of immigrant families end up watching Arabic media, etc. If you look at the State Department’s report on anti-Semitism, the rate of anti-Semitism, even in Lebanon, which is right next door to Israel, is upwards of 85%-90%, and that’s not just Muslims, it includes Christians and others. It has to do with media…. That’s why the UN spends half of its time on Israel when in fact there are so many more significant human rights abuses on the planet. So, when you look at the percentages, people should not be surprised that a significant number of Arab Americans are watching foreign Arab TV. That shapes a lot of the misperception [of Jews]…

“But I still think there is a silent majority that supports the State of Israel, that is against the BDS movement for sure. Most Muslims I talk to say BDS is absurd. They ask, what about the cancer cures we use, the vaccines, the generic medications.”

Q: If a new edition of your book came out now, is there anything you would update?

“Yes, a lot. I think in some ways I overestimated the responsiveness of the Muslim population and their willingness to speak out against the Islamists, against the Erdogans, against the Irans of the world and the Muslim Brotherhood leaders here in America. I thought they would see this American struggle as theirs also, but they basically left it for others and had not woken up to it.”

Q: Black Lives Matter is leading the current anti-racism movement, but it seems to be racist itself against Jews. Why did BLM include anti-Israel ideas in its original platform?

“Because, I think, many of the agitators that provided the propaganda driving this far-left movement were very much historically wedded to the Nation of Islam, the Louis Farrakhan movement, the Black Panthers, and the historical militant arm of the civil rights movement… it was obviously important to educate the rest of America about the civil rights movement, like Martin Luther King, but yet there was an element about it that people don’t talk about, that synergy that existed between groups like the Black Panthers, the Nation of Islam, and Louis Farrakhan.

“The founder of the Women’s March ended up having to step away because the leaders of the African-American community would not criticize Louis Farrakhan, would not step away from the Nation of Islam… The same thing happened with the Million Man March in the 1990s, when they wouldn’t separate themselves from that [movement], and it really hurt their mission.”

Q: Are you optimistic, hopeful that America will survive as America?

“I am. I’m a primary care physician by profession, that’s how I spend most of my day, and I’m always hopeful. Whether I’m treating patients with cancer or whatever, they will often get a lot sicker before they get better.

“I think that at the end of the day, most Americans are good people who not only love their country, but love each other and love humanity, and we’re going to probably get sicker before we realize that we’ve been allowing the most extreme anti-American elements of their movement [for equality] to drive their positions because they have a moniker Black Lives Matter, which on the surface appears to be a genuine movement but internally has been hijacked by the most radical elements of society.

“I think eventually the patient will come out healthier once we get beyond the therapeutic process, and that often feels like chemotherapy.”