Last Thursday, Secretary of State Colin Powell engaged in the Bush Administration's latest outreach to members of the Arab-American and Muslim-American communities. Unfortunately, as with virtually every one of the Administration's previous efforts of this kind, those embraced by Mr. Powell are part of the problem not the solution in the war of ideas that is at the heart of the war on terror.
According to a press release issued last week by one of the four organizations asked to participate, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Secretary of State used the meeting to "discuss foreign policy" with its executive director, Nihad Awad, and representatives of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). Specifically, the meeting addressed: "the Middle East peace process, the war in Iraq, efforts to promote democratization and reform, America's image in the Muslim world, and the role American Muslims can play in helping to formulate polices that will improve that image."
It is entirely understandable that senior U.S. officials like Secretary Powell would want to hear and to be seen listening to the views of American Muslims. After all, there is a growing appreciation that, if the United States and Western civilization more generally hope to prevail in the current struggle with terror-wielding enemies, the military, political and diplomatic strategies being employed must be complemented by an as-yet-unarticulated ideological component.
Enlisting Muslims and Arabs who have benefited greatly from their time in this country and who prize its tolerance, respect for religious diversity and human rights, value the rule of law in accordance with a secular, legislated code and appreciate the economic opportunities America offers could be decisively helpful in defeating our common enemies: the radical, virulently intolerant and anti-Western ideology that masquerades as a strain of the Muslim faith, known as Islamism.
While the organizations Secretary Powell chose to meet with style themselves as "leaders" of the Arab and Muslim communities in this country, they certainly do not represent the foregoing views. Instead, they or their officials have all been associated with, supported and/or defended various Islamists and their causes.
For example, CAIR's Nihad Awad has publicly announced his support for Hamas. At a September 10, 2003 hearing of the Senate Judiciary Terrorism Subcommittee entitled "Two Years After 9/11: Connecting the Dots," Sen. Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, stated that the Council on American-Islamic Relations has "intimate links with Hamas," and "ties to terrorism." Even Sen. Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who has tended to echo the Muslim activists' line, declared at the hearing that CAIR is "unusual in its extreme rhetoric and its associations with groups that are suspect." Since 2002, three CAIR officials have been arrested and charged with terrorism-related crimes.
The Islamic Society of North America is a well-known front for the promotion of Wahhabism Saudi Arabia's state-sponsored version of Islamism in the political, doctrinal and theological infrastructure in the United States and Canada. Established by the Saudi-backed Muslim Students Association, ISNA seeks to marginalize leaders of the Muslim faith who do not support Wahhabism. Through its sponsorship of Islamist propaganda and mosques, ISNA is pursuing a strategic goal of eventual Wahhabi dominance of Islam in America.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council publicly opposed the United States government's designation of Hamas, Hezbullah, and the Islamic Jihad as terrorist organizations and discouraged Muslims from cooperating with the FBI after the 9/11 attacks. In fact, MPAC literature has urged Muslims not to cooperate with "police, FBI, INS, or any other law enforcement or investigator" except to report "hate crimes" or "hate incidents" against Muslims. MPAC criticized the 2003 arrest of alleged Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Sami Al-Arian in Florida and demands repeal of one of President Bush's most important accomplishments on the domestic front in the war on terror: the USA Patriot Act.
Although the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy purports to provide scholarship to educate policymakers and to "counter widely held prejudices and misconceptions" on Islam, two individuals who were, until last year, members of CSID's Board of Directors Taha Jaber Al-Alwani and Jamal Barzinji have been implicated by federal officials in "financial and ideological relationships with persons and entities with known affiliations to the designated terrorist Groups Palestinian Islamic Jihad and HAMAS."
The danger of consulting with these sorts of groups is not simply that they are unlikely to prove truly helpful to U.S. efforts to counter their ideological and institutional friends, who are our avowed enemies. Meetings like that Secretary Powell had last week actually makes matters worse insofar as it appears to validate such groups' claims to leadership of their community. That is the last thing we should be doing if we wish to enlist and empower those truly moderate, pro-American Muslims who have as much to fear from the Islamists as do the rest of us and who are our natural allies in waging the war of ideas against the terrorists.