An Open Letter to Mary Beth Sheridan, et. al.

Dear Ms. Sheridan:

May this find you well. This comes in response to your Washington Post article of August 8, 2005 (“Educating Against Extremism”). After reading your article I felt there were certain things that you and your colleagues needed to know; and I can assure you that what I am about to share is representative of the thoughts and feelings of many others.

Your informative article begins as follows: “Alarmed by the London subway bombings, U.S. Muslim activists are taking a series of steps aimed at preventing young people here from embracing extremist ideas – including producing a pamphlet on how to spot susceptible youth.”

Point #1: Every Muslim (young or old) who declares, “I bear witness that there is nothing worthy of worship except Allah (God Almighty),” and means this in his or her heart, is capable of being “radicalized” in a world like the one in which we live in today. In a commentary that I wrote in 1999 (Five Mistakes of U.S. Policy-makers in the Muslim World), I noted the following: “No nation can indiscriminately bomb, maim and kill innocent Muslims without the pain, grief, and anguish, being felt on some level by Muslims the world over. No matter how many official disclaimers are issued – ‘This is not to be taken as an attack on Islam, or all Muslims’ – the actions are going to be seen for what they are, and the impact is going to be felt.”

(Special Note: When our analytical commentary – Five Mistakes of U.S. Policy-makers in the Muslim World – was first written it was sent to the Washington Post, but the Post declined to published any part of it. A short time later it was published in its entirety by The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.)

Point # 2: You and other fair-minded journalists in the mainstream media should broaden your reference base in the Muslim community. In the aforementioned commentary we also noted: “Too often America… has misread the pulse of the people by listening to leaders of the establishment telling them all is well. Don’t continue to make this mistake in the Muslim community… It would behoove American politicians and policy-makers to keep their ears to the ground in order to get the most accurate read on how the grass-roots are feeling, concerning U.S. domestic and foreign policy and its impact [on the Muslim World]. Our major [Muslim] organizations and mainstream leaders serve an important function, and are appreciated for what they do; however, they are not always the ones you should be listening to. For they will sometimes tell you what you want to hear, and not what you need to hear.”

Ms. Sheridan, you were probably present at the National Press Club a few weeks ago, for a press conference wherein the Muslim American Society-Freedom Foundation unveiled its antiterrorism campaign. If so, you may recall a voice being raised from the audience as the press conference was winding down. That voice belonged to me. I was attempting, without much success, to get the organizers to address a question that lay at the very heart of their highly touted campaign.

Mr. [Mahdi] Bray, as you may recall, did everything in his power to prevent my voice from being heard; and this raises a very important and sensitive issue (especially within the Muslim community). If individuals and organizations like Bray and MAS find it too difficult to entertain open and frank dialogue on tough issues with well known and respected Muslim activists like myself, what hope do they have of reaching the hearts and minds of “radicalized” youth, who might be inclined to view such individuals and organizations as compromised sellouts?

You quoted Bray in your article as saying, “If Muslims preach intolerance we have a responsibility to debate that person, make that opinion unpopular.” That is easier said then done, Ms. Sheridan, because healthy debate, as you well know, requires give and take.

Truth be told, many of our “mainstream”organizations have been instrumental in helping to foster a climate that makes “extremist” tendencies difficult for any conscious and caring person (Muslim or non-Muslim) to resist. And again, truth be told, most of our mainstream media organizations are guilty of doing the same. I’ll provide you with two relevant illustrations on the latter (and then come back to the former). The media’s treatment of the “Arab-Israeli conflict,” and “domestic terrorism,” are two cases in point.

We all know that Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza has nothing to do with altruism, or a change of heart; it was pragmatic to the core. In the words of pro-Israel commentator Charles Krauthammer, “Gaza was simply a bridge too far; settlements too far flung and small to justify the huge psychological and material cost of defending them.”

While the media has been very sympathetic regarding the “emotional toll” this newly enforced policy has had on “displaced” Jewish settlers, little, if anything, is ever mentioned about the catastrophic toll 38 years of brutal occupation have had on the Palestinian people, and, especially, on the developing psyche of Palestinian children. I have yet to hear, or read, any in-depth reports on the numerous violations of well established “international law,” resulting from the establishment of these universally acknowledged illegal settlements in the West Bank and Gaza! Laws such as:

The Geneva Convention of 1949, Article 49 (paragraph 6) which states: “The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territories it occupies.”

Article 27 of the Geneva Accords: “Persons under control of an occupying power shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected, especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof.”

Article 53 of the Geneva Accords: “Any destruction by the occupying power of the real or personal property is prohibited.”

And then we have the issue of domestic terrorism. One of the most frightening aspects of the manipulation of this issue, is the evisceration of the U.S. Constitution taking place before our very eyes; facilitated by men and women who took and oath to uphold and defend this very important document! And more often than not, instead of serving as that critically important check and balance, the media (generally speaking) is complicit!

In your article, Ms. Sheridan, you referenced the so-called “Virginia Jihad Network” (aka “Paintball) Case,” as well as the case of Ahmed Omar Abu-Ali. It should be noted for the sake of accuracy that: NOT ALL eleven defendants in that case visited a Lashkar-e-Taiba camp; of the few who did, not all visited for the same reason; lastly, and perhaps most importantly, when those visits took place, Lashkar-e-Taiba was not on the State Department’s list of “terrorist organizations.”

The Virginia Jihad Network case is often cited as the most successful government prosecution to date in America’s so-called “War on Terrorism.” Its prosecution and outcome, however, should make every fair-minded American lower their head in shame! (It reminds us of the words of Voltaire, “Those who can make us believe absurdities, can also cause us to commit atrocities.”)

As for the case of Abu Ali, your article suggests that when you raised Bray’s organization’s support of this wrongfully imprisoned young man, Bray gave a rather tepid, almost apologetic, response: “His organization, he said, was concerned that Abu Ali’s rights had been violated since he had been held in a Saudi prison for more than a year without charges…” In our view his response should have been, ‘We supported him then, and we support him now, because we believe he is innocent and being victimized by his own government!’ (This would have been our response, particularly given all that is known about this shameful case.)

Ms. Sheridan, some people consider persons like me “militants,” or “Islamists,”or “fundamentalists,”etc.; and yet, The Peace And Justice Foundation and I have been on record for years now (long BEFORE the tragic attacks of September 11th) as opposed to the targeting of civilian non-combatants ANYWHERE in the world!

The difference with us, however, is that we make little distinction between the “terrorism” of the oppressor and the “terrorism” of the oppressed! We denounce both for what they are, “crimes against humanity” – but we also recognize two undeniable facts: terrorists are not born, they are made; and secondly, that the more materially developed terrorists commit a hell of lot more terrorism! It would be of such tremendous global benefit if the world’s opinion-shaping apparatus – especially here in the West – would also publicly recognize the same.

I am an American born Muslim who unabashedly recognizes the superiority of a Quranically-based governing system over what is today euphemistically called “Western Democracy.” Does this make me an “extremist,” a “terrorist,” or even a “terrorist sympathizer?” It shouldn’t.

Does being a critic of western style democracy render my thoughts and inclinations incompatible with “modernity?” It shouldn’t. I have long been a proponent of representative government; I believe in it with all my heart. Believe it or not, Islam mandates this very important doctrine. When the first caliph (successor to Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him) assumed office, he said, in his inaugural address to the people: “Here I have been assigned the responsibility of being a ruler over you, while I am not the best among you. If I do right support me; if I do wrong redress me.”

Here was the most powerful leader in that part of the world (quite possibly in the entire world) calling for the people to hold him accountable in office, 14 centuries ago!

The opposition that many Muslims have to democracy, echoes some of the same concerns that a number of prominent [American] Founding Fathers had with this concept. Don’t take my word for it; go back and read your history. It echoes some of the same concerns that prominent figures like Henry David Thoreau expressed about “majority rule” in early America. In one of his most memorable essays, Thoreau wrote: “Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience? – in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable?”

In our humble view, “democracy” is analogous to two wolves and a sheep debating the question of what to have for dinner (based on majority rule).

Getting back to the need for organizations like the Washington Post to broaden its reference base, one of the major mistakes that western media organizations make (both print and broadcast) is in favoring a certain type of Muslim for their reports. Usually this Muslim representative is of one of three types: He, or she, is a Muslim connected to the deen of Islam only by a thin thread. This is a person who is either ignorant of, or outrightly rejects, many of the fundamental principles of Islam, and reflects an uncritical, almost slavish, commitment to American-style democracy (while presuming to help lead the charge to “reform Islam”).

Another type of Muslim favored by the media is the one who can be found at the other extreme; the Muslim who’s actions and rhetoric reinforce an image of hating anything, and anyone, coming from the West (and/or not Muslim). This is the type of Muslim that persons like Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld depend on to sell the public on the ridiculous proposition that, “They hate us for our freedom.”

Increasingly, there is a third type of Muslim that we are beginning to see more of in the mainstream media; the type that engages in a confused and almost transparent dissimulation. This type of Muslim, unfortunately, lends some degree of credence to the accusation (increasingly heard from Islamophobes of various stripes) that Islam encourages its adherents to lie and conceal their true beliefs.

There is another type of Muslim, Ms. Sheridan; the type of Muslim that sincerely inclined journalists (like yourself, I would like to believe) should be seeking out. This Muslim is deeply and confidently committed to Islam; and believes, in the deepest recesses of his or her heart, that Islam is a divinely sent code of life and living, and a benefit for all living things.

This Muslim is not an apologist or hate-filled polemicist, nor does he or she engage in wanton dissimulation. This Muslim’s attachment to Islam doesn’t negate them from loving their country of birth (or naturalization); nor does it prevent them from adhering to the law of the land (as long as such adherence doesn’t cause them to violate Islam). You and your colleagues, in the profession, should not ignore this type of Muslim. You will find them intelligent, articulate, and, believe it or not, committed to a better America!

Yours in the struggle for peace thru justice,

El-Hajj Mauri’ Saalakhan
Director of Operations
The Peace And Justice Foundation