The real battle for religious freedom lurks beneath the Ground Zero mosque controversy. It is sadly ironic that our public debate presents the mosque proponents as the partisans of liberty: That includes everyone from imam Feisal Rauf, the project’s sharia-touting sponsor, to President Obama, Mayor Bloomberg, and the rest of the Islamist-smitten Left, to the GOP’s own anti-anti-terrorist wing. Yet, wittingly or not, when they champion this mosque and its sponsors, it is the agenda of an alien and authoritarian Islam that they champion — an Islam against which many American Muslims chafe.
When it comes to liberty, no one in this society has been given a wider berth than the Islamists, the purveyors of this authoritarian Islam, which is the mainstream Islam of the Middle East. Their vise grip on the American Muslim community has been cinched for two decades by the government, the media, and the academy. For our post-American ruling class, “Islamic outreach” means prostituting themselves for Saudi largesse; it means putting the “moderate” label on the Muslim Brotherhood — the Saudi-backed saboteurs whose American operatives boldly promise to “eliminate and destroy Western Civilization from within.”
The victims of this lethal charade include American Muslims. They, too, crave religious liberty and Western enlightenment. Our elites abandon them to the sharia-mongers. That freedom destroyers have been allowed to pose as freedom defenders ought to tell mosque opponents something: We have done a poor job of explaining the stakes.
In 1993, I headed up a prosecution team that was preparing to try the “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel Rahman and eleven other jihadists for conducting a terrorist war against the United States. The case revealed this country’s Muslim divide.
On one side were patriotic American Muslims, without whom successful prosecution would have been impossible. Not only did they infiltrate the terror cells, they helped us shape the resulting evidence into a compelling narrative. On the other side were the Muslim Brotherhood’s satellites. These included outfits like CAIR (the Council on American-Islamic Relations), which was formed in 1994 by the Brotherhood’s Hamas-support wing, with seed money from an Islamic “charity” — the Holy Land Foundation — later shut down for financing foreign terrorist organizations. These Brotherhood satellites purport to speak for American Muslims. In fact, they speak for anti-American Muslims, most of whom are outside the United States. They demagogued the case as a phobic criminalization of Islam itself, just as they have libeled America since 9/11 as being “at war with Islam.”
Translating evidence into English turned out to be a Herculean challenge during our trial preparation. Most of our evidence was in Arabic, because almost all of our defendants had immigrated here from Egypt and Sudan, hotbeds of anti-American Islam. The resulting mounds of documents, wiretap recordings, and inflammatory sermons overstretched the Justice Department’s thin Arabic-language capacity. To ease the strain, we tried to retain some civilians as private contractors. A number of local Muslims expressed interest, but in the end they turned us down.
BROTHERHOOD ISLAM vs. AMERICAN ISLAM
Mind you, they wanted to help. They were as offended as anyone by what the terrorists had done. These folks were Americans. They were the kind of Muslims you’re never exposed to, given the media’s preference for jihad apologists who, when not applauding him, claim Osama bin Laden was “made in the U.S.A.” But the would-be translators wanted ironclad assurance that their assistance to the prosecution would be kept confidential. It was an assurance I was not in a position to give, so they politely declined.
Here’s the most depressing part: It wasn’t really a matter of safety. There was surely some element of that — it goes with the territory in terrorism cases. But these people were mostly worried that they and their families would be ostracized in their communities as traitors to Islam.
In Muslim communities, I learned, many people — especially American Muslims — were supportive of our investigations. Of course they didn’t like the light of suspicion being shined on Muslims, not any more than Italian Americans liked the attention our mafia cases thrust on their communities. Yet they tuned out the CAIR chorus, just as most sensible people tune out the grievance industry. They reserved most of their resentment for the malevolent, anti-American actors in their midst. They understood that public safety is the government’s highest obligation. As long as they could do it quietly, they were willing to help.
But doing it quietly was imperative. Most American Muslims are not instinctively different from other Americans. But American Muslim communities are peculiar. In many of them, the leadership of the mosques and Islamic centers is foreign (or at least foreign-influenced). This leadership tends to be anti-Western and arrogant, claiming an Islamic authenticity Americans are said to lack. Many American Muslims are intimidated into silence. They are cowed by the specter of being condemned as too American. In Islam, there is no more grievous offense than causing disunity through infidelity. It is no small thing when community leaders frame a Muslim as insufficiently loyal to the ummah, the notional Islamic nation.
American Muslims are also taken aback by the ease with which their community leaders straddle the line between preaching Islam and cheerleading for terrorists. Why, they wonder, does their government, the U.S. government, consistently elevate America-bashing Islamists who can’t give a straight answer when asked about Hamas and Hezbollah? Why not highlight Muslims who are pro-American and unambiguously anti-terrorist — Muslims who desperately need the support?
Most of the mosques and Islamic centers in our country are controlled, to a greater or lesser degree, by the Muslim Brotherhood and its satellites. The North American Islamic Trust (NAIT) was established in the early Seventies to buy up property for the establishment of American mosques and “Islamic centers,” the latter being what the Brotherhood calls “the axis” of the Islamist movement in America. The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) supplies literature and vets imams. Both NAIT and ISNA, along with CAIR and other Brotherhood groups, were identified by the Justice Department as unindicted coconspirators in the recent Hamas-financing prosecution against the Holy Land Foundation. These Islamists owe their vision to the Brotherhood. Just as important, they owe their livelihood, influence, and power to moneyed Middle East patrons, particularly the Saudis.
The Kingdom and the Brotherhood have combined for a half-century to put American Muslim communities in a stranglehold. They proselytize a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam — an amalgam of Saudi Wahhabism and Brotherhood Salafism — that is virulently anti-Western. Its instruction to Muslims in the United States, Canada, and Europe is voluntary apartheid: Immigrate but don’t integrate, infiltrate but don’t assimilate.
SHARIA OR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM?
This brand of Islam is designed to create parallel Muslim enclaves, resistant to America’s freedom culture and to Western civilization, just as it created the liberty-killing “no-go zones” now sprouting up throughout Europe. It is designed to snuff out religious freedom, pressuring American Muslims to adopt the Islamists’ social mores, financial practices, and anti-Western outlook. And the authoritarian device it uses to establish and control these enclaves is sharia, Islam’s legal and political framework, which aspires to control of all aspects of life — not just spiritual life, but all of life.
It is the Brotherhood’s objective to thread sharia through American law and culture. This mission drives imam Feisal Rauf’s work, as documented by the Center for Security Policy’s Christine Brim in an eye-popping report at Andrew Breitbart’s Big Peace website.
Since 2006, Rauf has been developing the “Sharia Index Project.” His partners in this venture include longtime Muslim Brotherhood honcho Jamal Barzinji, a top official at the International Institute of Islamic Thought. The IIIT, a major backer of the convicted terrorist Sami al-Arian, is one of the Brotherhood satellites that republished Rauf’s book, What’s Right with Islam Is What’s Right with America, the book that was released in Malaysia under the more telling title, A Call to Prayer from the World Trade Center Rubble: Islamic Dawa in the Heart of America Post-9/11. (The other Brotherhood organization behind the republication of Rauf’s book was the aforementioned ISNA.) As Ms. Brim explains, the purpose of Rauf’s Sharia Index Project is “to benchmark” every country’s compliance with sharia, with an eye toward pressuring them to adopt and enforce more.
The United States is not going to become a sharia state anytime soon. That obvious fact has commentators pooh-poohing the encroaching peril, even as we watch Europe succumb before our eyes, as if no-go zones, honor killings, the Balkanizing of society, and the strangulation of freedom could never happen here. On Tuesday, for example, in an otherwise insightful column on the Left’s incoherence in the mosque controversy, the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto took an offhanded swipe at the “fringe right’s ravings about ‘Shariah.’” But are the concerns really “ravings,” and are they truly confined to a right-wing “fringe”?
It so happened that in the same day’s Journal, Bret Stephens penned a sharp essay about Muslim “moderates” who turn out not to be so moderate. As his counterpoint, he offered a courageous, progressive Muslim reformer, Irshad Manji. Rather than pretending that Islamic doctrine has nothing to do with terrorism, Ms. Manji is forthrightly confronting the doctrine and working to change it. What is it that needs change? As illustrated in her spellbinding book, The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith, much of what ails Islam is sharia sclerosis. Sharia, she elaborates, represents the legal opinions of classical Muslim jurists, frozen a millennium ago and, ever since, impervious to critical inquiry.
Frozen it remains thanks to atavistic zealots, prominent among them the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization founded by fundamentalists in the 1920s and lavishly funded by the Saudis since the 1950s, an outfit Manji correctly describes as “the al-Qaeda of its generation.” These Islamists are the true enemies of religious liberty. It is they who foreclose modern Muslims from the right to reason independently, to evolve.
Whether Ground Zero mosque proponents realize it or not, the cause they are advancing — against the will of the American people, and, perversely, under the guise of “religious freedom” — is the Islamist cause. It is the Brotherhood, not American Muslims, insisting that this monument must be imposed on this sacred spot.
It is a “considerable comfort,” Mr. Stephens writes, “to know that there are Muslims in the U.S. like Irshad who are working, tirelessly but mainly out of view, toward the cause of reform. They could use more support and recognition.” But, of course, their tireless work must happen “out of view,” because the Islamists have made it too dangerous for them to work openly. And they are denied support and recognition because the post-American ruling class has made its bed with sharia salesmen like Rauf, who blame America for 9/11 and can’t bring themselves to say Hamas is a terrorist organization.
By contrast, American Muslims grasp that 9/11 was an attack on their country, too. Their emerging leaders, such as Zuhdi Jasser and Steven Schwartz, have started organizations — respectively, the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and the Center for Islamic Pluralism — that promote freedom and offer Muslims an escape from the Brotherhood’s clutches. As Messrs. Jasser and Schwartz relate, American Muslims understand the significance of Ground Zero to our nation, to the families of those who were slaughtered, and to the enemy against whom we are still fighting. They know that, in contrast to the innate intolerance of sharia states, the United States opens its arms to people of all faiths, including Muslims. Like Ms. Manji, they are struggling, against daunting opposition, to forge an Islam that embraces Western values, that reveres religious faith but denies it temporal authority.
The Ground Zero mosque controversy is not about religious liberty for Muslims. It is about which Islam will thrive in the United States: the one that is fighting Americans, or the one American Muslims are fighting for.
— Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.