Phoenix physician Zuhdi Jasser was particularly stung by the Fort Hood massacre. Like him, Maj. Nidal Malik Hassan is a Muslim, a son of Middle Eastern immigrants, a doctor and a military man. But there's a key difference: Hasan appears to have succumbed to the radical Islamist ideology that Jasser spends his time as Muslim activist fighting. Jasser is shunned by mainstream U.S. Muslim organizations, in part because he insists that they're really cover organizations for the same kind of political Islam that poisoned Hasan's mind. Jasser spoke by phone last week to Rod Dreher.
As a Muslim and a Navy veteran, what lessons do you think the Fort Hood massacre teaches us?
Some have incorrectly tried to connect this to Columbine and other random shootings. How many events and terrorist incidents like this do we need before we realize that there's a common ideological threat? Over and over, we see that the common thread is political Islam.
It's an ideology that brings Muslims down a slippery slope. That slippery slope can claim a gentleman that, horrifically, reminds me of my path. My family came from Syria. I was taught about the values of America and decided I wanted to join the military. I went to medical school on a military scholarship. This gentleman, similarly, was on a military scholarship. He wanted to serve his country as a physician.
Ultimately, though, what infected his mind was a violent form of political Islam. The question is: why was he susceptible to this, but I wasn't?
The difference is that I was blessed to have parents who taught me that I'm an American who happens to be Muslim, that my faith identity is important for my relationship with God, but my community identity is primarily related to being an American and having a faith and loyalty to the U.S. Constitution and our system of government. Never in my home did we refer to Syria as home, or say that our government was inferior to sharia law or the Islamic state. I joined the military because I felt a deep-seated obligation to give back to the country that gave me freedom that no other country gave.
I was taught the value of liberty. I saw no conflict between the fact that I prayed five times a day and that I would be prepared to give my life to protect the freedom of every citizen of this country, whether they're atheist, Christian, Jewish or otherwise. I'm confident that that's not the way or the reason that Dr. Hasan entered the military.
In your activism, you've explained how political Islam dominates mosques and institutions of the American Muslim community. Would somebody like Hasan find an ideological home there?
Absolutely. And this is the part that is so difficult to explain, but to me as a Muslim is so easy to understand. Political Islam is an outgrowth of modern secular fascism. In the Middle East, the mosque was the only place you could discuss politics safely, where the government wouldn't touch you, so Islam became politicized. That's the model that the Muslim Brotherhood followed and brought to the United States. They were the ones who built mosques.
This has been a frustrating thing for me as a Muslim activist. Many Muslims disagree with political Islam, but they're not pressured to take on the mosque leadership. So you have discussions in the mosque going far beyond theology and the example of the Prophet; imams use the pulpit, or minbar as it's called in Arabic, to discuss politics. I've sent this over and over again in mosques I've attended.
At the largest mosque in Phoenix, the imam took a picture that CAIR distributed, and made a poster – we think it was doctored – showing an Iraqi lady holding a sign next to an American soldier, saying, "I was knocked up by this soldier." The imam held that up in front of 500 people in the mosque. I later said to him, "Not only is that very offensive to me, but do you realize what you've just done to the minds of students here at Arizona State University by showing them that picture?"
And you wonder how Hasans are created! They go to mosques, they open themselves spiritually to have a conversation with God. And that becomes infiltrated by a deeply anti-American sentiment. This is where you get a guy like Hasan, a very intelligent guy, starting to make the connection between his identity as a Muslim and standing against America. It's no different than Lee Harvey Oswald, who was in the Marines becoming a Marxist. You can't deny that his Marxism played a role in his hatred for this country.
David Brooks recently wrote that the media's initial downplaying of Hasan's religion was a charitable impulse, but a paternalistic and morally unserious one. Do you agree?
I couldn't agree more, and I would go one step further. We have to acknowledge that there are Muslims who believe in this country and who are going to lead the effort to defeat the ideology that kills people like [the Fort Hood victims]. But we also have to acknowledge that there are other Muslims and versions of Islam that are truly a threat to this country. Every time leaders or media or government discuss Islam, they need to discuss both.
If we look at events like [Fort Hood] and conclude that that's what Islam is, then we're going to alienate the allies we most need: Muslims like myself who want to have a civil war within the faith to marginalize the Islamists. We want to go through the same process the West went through, to push the theocrats to the side. I think there were very religious Christians who did that. We're not going to have that debate if we're not willing to talk openly about religion.
It's funny, but we were a lot more comfortable discussing religion in the public square in 1789 than we are today.
We've got to get more comfortable taking religion seriously. I can't tell you how frustrating it is to see in the media, some of these guys from CAIR and other organizations compare this stuff to Christian abortion clinic bombers. It could not be more incorrect, and even dangerous, simply to dismiss these people as lone wolves. The denials must stop. It is time for a frank public accountability and responsibility from American Muslims about the role of political Islam in creating Hasan and future Hasans.
Doesn't the lack of other Muslim leaders like you suggest that Zuhdi Jasser is a fringe figure within American Islam?
We cannot be ahistorical in our understanding of this struggle and how it plays out in the human consciousness. Our battle is the separation of mosque and state. Just like the battle over the separation of church and state, it takes time, and it takes leaders. It takes education. This is a problem when you're dealing with a Muslim world with a 50 percent illiteracy rate, and in which even the educated ones have a narrow intellectual formation.
So, there's maturation, and there's fear. I felt like I had no choice but to speak up these past few days. But the reality is when you see Web sites like [imam Anwar] Awlaki's calling [Hasan] a hero, and I'm saying no, I think he's an evil barbarian and I hope he gets the death penalty, you can't help but be concerned for my safety.
From other Muslims?
Yes. When you see how this virus infected Hasan's mind, you have to worry that any Islamist could flip on you. And when you take this on in public, you become a target.
The third reason so many Muslims stay silent is that they're comfortable in this country. They've never met a Muslim like Dr. Hasan, who's violent, so they think it's really not their problem. The mainstream media's political correctness unwittingly feeds into this mind-set and gives Muslims an excuse to be apathetic about the issue. We've got to make them understand that it is their problem.
There was a piece in Forbes the other day arguing that it won't take many more incidents like the Fort Hood massacre to make the American public turn on Muslims.
I've said the same thing to so many Muslims. Ultimately, Muslims that look at this problem as merely a PR problem are living on another planet. Americans are savvy. If they see us as treating this like it's only a matter of public relations, they're going to see us as disingenuous, which would be true for anyone who addresses it as such. But if they see us really stepping up to take responsibility and trying to fix the problem, it's a different story.
Remember that mosque in Phoenix? There were 500 people there that day. I was the only one who publicly criticized the imam for that. And yet, every Muslim I talked to was offended by what the imam did. But they have this sheep mentality. They don't want to fight the tribe. They don't want to rock the boat. They don't understand that showing that we can criticize ourselves is not a weakness, it's a strength.