Shortly after 9/11, many thought it was imperative to teach about and promote the heroes of that deadly day. One such hero whose life and example we can never learn enough about was Rick Rescorla. Originally from England, he came to America and distinguished himself as an Army infantry officer in Vietnam. Later he became head of security at Morgan Stanley, and, after the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, he knew the terrorists would go after the Twin Towers again. He warned the authorities continually; moreover, he led regular evacuation drills between 1993 and 2001. On 9/11, he successfully led almost every Morgan Stanley employee out to safety. He himself did not make it. His last known words were, “As soon as I make sure everyone else is out.” He said those words to another Morgan Stanley employee who had yelled to him that he had to get out too. Rick Rescorla’s remains were never found.
Rick’s life was not wasted; he saved a lot of people. But if the government had listened to him before 9/11, he would have saved even more. Rick was somebody who should have been posted at the top of our intelligence community, but he wasn’t. Today, we are still not listening to the most creative and prophetic thinkers among us. One of them is Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the American Islamic Forum on Democracy. He is the intellectual Rick Rescorla of our day.
Dr. Jasser, a practicing Muslim, is a physician and former lieutenant commander in the Navy — someone who, like Rick Rescorla, served his country with distinction, and continues to do so both in his medical practice and in his public warnings and teachings about the dangers from radical Islam. One of his efforts has been to confront members of Muslim Brotherhood organizations such as the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), who continually denigrate America. Jasser’s view is that we should promote the virtues of American freedom and tolerance, which American Muslims enjoy, and should also publicize the way our efforts abroad have given freedom to Muslims in other countries.
Indeed, while most so-called mainstream Muslim and Arab groups in America feed hysteria and spread conspiracy theories, Dr. Jasser despises the grievance narrative; he loves America. Now more than ever, he is the kind of man our government should listen to — and, more important, he is the kind of man our government should use.
But, although Dr. Jasser has offered to serve his country again, this administration has ignored this unique opportunity. Last year, recognizing the need for a shift in our thus-far-ineffective public-diplomacy program, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and others nominated Dr. Jasser to serve on the State Department’s U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. The commission is charged with “Appraising U.S. Government activities intended to understand, inform, and influence foreign publics.” There could be nobody better suited to serve in this role. Here is some of what Dr. Jasser said when testifying — extemporaneously — before the House Committee on Homeland Security earlier this year:
Until we have an ideological offense into the Muslim communities domestically and globally to teach liberty, to teach the separation of mosque and state, you are not going to solve this problem. . . .
. . . Our organization has . . . created a Muslim liberty project that looks at inoculating Muslims with the ideals of liberty, giving them the empowerment to counter imams, to feel that they can represent their own faith. . . .
This is our homeland. And we want to begin, if you will, a counter-jihad, an offense to counter these ideas. That, I think, is the best way to use our resources as a nation, and remember that the freedoms that we have don’t come with a cheap price, and we need to give back.
This is, simply, Dr. Jasser’s life’s work. This is the kind of thought and talk we need more of, not less. This is the intellectual Rescorlaesque effort we should be promoting and the government should be availing itself of.
Upon his nomination, Dr. Jasser submitted reams of information about himself to the State Department and the White House Office of Personnel Management. He spent hours upon hours in interviews. He passed every clearance with flying colors, including receiving confirmation of a top-secret clearance. This is a man, after all, who gave eleven years of service to the U.S. Navy, including some very sensitive assignments. And, now, after 15 months of vetting, he has learned that his nomination has been “removed from consideration,” with no explanation.
What explanation could there be? Unlike some commission members, Dr. Jasser was not a donor to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. But something else must have been at work as well. That something might have ranged from a lack of understanding of the dangerousness of jihadism and Islamism to a lack of respect for the muscular advocacy of the ideas of freedom and liberty. And, probably, one other thing was at work too: a political decision based on Dr. Jasser’s open criticism of the administration for its lack of clarity in the war of ideas and its inability to identify the ideology we are fighting. It should be noted, however, that Dr. Jasser is an equal-opportunity critic: He has spoken out against both the Bush and the Obama administrations when he believes they have faltered.
Clarity in the war of ideas, the ability to identify the ideology we are fighting, and expertise in the religion of Islam are precisely what we need. It’s ten years late, but not too late. It is a shame we will not soon be availing ourselves officially of Dr. Jasser’s work. It is work that we sorely need. Indeed, it is intellectual and rhetorical courage and heroism. We ignore and spurn it at our continued peril.
— R. James Woolsey is the chairman of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and was the director of central intelligence from 1993 to 1995. Seth Leibsohn is a radio host and the co-author of The Fight of Our Lives.