Hearing focused on faith versus extremism

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011
By KEITH PHUCAS
Times Herald Staff

WASHINGTON – At a controversial Congressional hearing Thursday, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser likened “political Islam” to a disease that slowly infects vulnerable Muslims in America who become violent extremists and believes if the country is going to cure its problem of homegrown radicalization, a proper diagnosis and treatment is needed.

Jasser, a devout Muslim, medical doctor and former U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander, is a rare public voice of reason in the typically polarized debate surrounding Muslims and Islamic extremism. He founded the American Islamic Forum for Democracy in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks to counter the Islamists who have hijacked his religion.

Over the past four years, there has been a rise in United States citizens becoming radicalized, and arrests have followed bomb plots or shootings: In New Jersey a plot was uncovered to attack Fort Dix; in Detroit, Michigan an airline passenger had a bomb in his underwear; a car bomb was found in New York City’s Times Square; at Fort Hood Army base, a military psychiatrist shot and killed 13 people; in Pennsburg, Pennsylvania “JihadJane” hatched plans to support violent jihad in Europe; in Portland, Oregon in November a man planned to bomb a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony.

Jasser told House Homeland Security Committee members that Islamic extremism grows and festers in susceptible individuals over time, such as Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist whose radicalism resulted in the Fort Hood massacre.

“He didn’t become radical overnight, and if you look at his resume, it’s frighteningly similar to mine,” Jasser said. “But something happened to him over years.”

The physician said American Muslims don’t just wake up one morning as jihadists.

“Pathology creeps up over time, and just as we see in alcoholism, there are enablers,” he said.

The “cancer” of radicalization of American Muslim youth occurs only in small number of mosques around the country, and counteracting this effort can only be achieved with Islamic reform toward modernity and “the separation of mosque and state,” the doctor said.

He claimed many Muslim organizations in the U.S. have been allowed to define Muslim identity exclusively through religion and not by fundamental American principles. And the solution to this problem rests with Muslims.

“I’m a Muslim, and I realize it’s my problem, and I need to fix it,” he said. “It is a problem (only) we can solve,” Jasser said. “Christians, Jews and non-Muslims cannot solve Muslim radicalization.”

Republican Congressman Patrick Meehan, of Pennsylvania’s Seventh District, is a member of the House committee, and heard compelling testimony Thursday from two men whose family’s have personally experienced Islamist radicalization.

Melvin Bledsoe testified that his son, Carlos Bledsoe, had become radicalized at a Nashville, Tennessee mosque. Carlos, who had traveled to Yemen, was charged for the Little Rock, Arkansas shooting at a military recruiting station that killed one man and wounded another.

Abdirizak Bihi, a Somalian Muslim who lives in Minnesota, testified to being ostracized after complaining to religious leaders about his nephew and dozens of other youth who had been radicalized at a local mosque and now are in Somalia, a notorious terrorist state.

Sheriff Leroy D. Baca, of the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department, testified about Muslim outreach programs that have been successful in the city.

While some of Meehan’s colleagues criticized the hearing’s exclusive focus on Muslims to the exclusion of non-Muslim extremists, such as the Ku Klux Klan, he agreed with Jasser that the U.S. was experiencing an increased terrorist threat from Islamist radicals from within its own borders and less from abroad.

“This is how al-Qaeda and its affiliates have changed the nature of the threat,” Meehan said in an interview Thursday.

America’s anti-terrorism measures, including overseas military operations, have made it more difficult for foreigners outside the country to pull off major attacks here.

“Instead we’re seeing individuals – lone wolves – operating, and we have seen more of it in just the last couple of years,” he said.

At Thursday’s hearing, Meehan suggested what made people uncomfortable about the hearing was the singling out one religion as the cause of terrorist violence, while the real culprit is “political Islam,” which overshadows the ordinary practice of the faith that occurs peacefully across the country every day.

“It’s into an area between this elephant in the room we’re not supposed to be talking about: religion and jihadism,” the congressman said.

When Meehan asked the doctor to define this key concept in more detail, Jasser said political Islam is a movement that wants to create a theocratic state based on Shari’ah law, which is the antithesis of America’s founding principles, especially the First Amendment of the Constitution.

“But that antagonism (exists) between this country’s understanding of the establishment clause, and the beauty of liberty versus political Islam, which wants to put into place Islamic states like Iran, or like the Taliban had in place or Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Jassar said is essential for Americans to make the distinction between the practice of his religion, and radical fringe players who have perverted his “beautiful faith.”

“And until you treat this diagnosis, what’s called political Islam, spiritual Islam will continue to suffer, our faith community will continue to suffer and our (national) security will continue to suffer,” he said.

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