Crescent Conflict

The National Journal devotes a cover story to Islam/Muslims in America, focusing heavily on Washington, DC.

Crescent Conflict

By Paul Starobin,
National Journal
© National Journal Group Inc.
Friday, Nov. 18, 2005

There is something new under the sun in our national capital — a Moslem mosque,” The Washington Evening Star proclaimed in an article from its pages in the fall of 1953. The object of appreciation was the new Islamic Center on Massachusetts Avenue’s celebrated Embassy Row. “The fact that a graceful minaret now arises above a richly artistic edifice, designed to be a religious and cultural center, marks Washington as more than ever a world city,” The Star enthused. In an earlier, no less upbeat piece, The Star asserted that the Islamic Center would help “to foster a better understanding of the mutual interdependence of Moslem nations and the West.”

Ed: Full article below.

Four years later, President Eisenhower formally dedicated the center with a speech to a VIP throng that included the ambassadors of Afghanistan, Morocco, and Sudan, and leaders of groups such as the Moslem League of Philadelphia and the Brooklyn-based Islamic Mission of America. “Under the American Constitution, this center, this place of worship, is as welcome as could be any similar edifice of any religion,” Ike said. “Americans would fight with all their strength for your right to have your own church, and worship according to your own conscience,” he added. After his departure, guests assembled in the mosque for Friday prayer.

Establishing the Islamic Center was the idea of Muslim diplomats and American Muslim leaders who were dismayed that Washington had no mosque at which to hold a prayer service for the Turkish ambassador who died unexpectedly here in 1944. The center, distinguished by a courtyard fountain of pink marble and a Turkish-tiled mosque, piled with Iranian carpets, and situated at a northeast angle in order to face Mecca, is indeed one of Washington’s most beguiling structures. It has also served, as intended, as a symbol.

A week after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush made a nationally televised tour of the complex. “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam,” Bush declared on his visit. “Islam is peace,” he said. “When we think of Islam, we think of a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world.” The president added, “Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country…. And they needed to be treated with respect.”

That was just over four years ago. Since then, officials in Washington and representatives of the American Muslim community have, in some respects, made progress in forging the kind of trust needed to address a tangle of unavoidably sensitive issues. The FBI, for example, has expanded outreach to imams and other Muslim leaders who have pledged to help identify Islamic militants and potential terrorists in their circles.

Even so, undercurrents of anxiety, suspicion, and fear threaten to submerge the gains that have been achieved. For their part, American Muslim leaders say that “Islamophobic” alarmists in Washington are unfairly targeting their community as disloyal. Noting Washington’s generally meager understanding of Islamic culture and history, these Muslims also say they lack a voice in key quarters, including on Capitol Hill.

At the same time, prominent figures such as James Woolsey, the ex-CIA director who until recently chaired the pro-democracy group Freedom House, warn that America is underestimating the potential threat to the homeland posed by a variety of subversive strategies pursued by Islamic militants.

In January, under Woolsey’s direction, Freedom House released a report saying that American mosques and Islamic centers are being used, knowingly or not, to spread hateful, extremist ideology. Focusing on the distribution of Saudi-backed extremist literature within the United States, Freedom House said it had collected seven such publications at the Islamic Center in Washington, including one, a Saudi government text for seventh-graders, that called Jews “worse than donkeys.” (The Saudi regime is among the financial backers of the center.)

Farzad Darui, an Iranian-born Shiite Muslim who manages the Islamic Center and is a trustee there, said Christian churches can also sometimes be unwitting repositories of offensive literature. As for the Freedom House report, he said, the Islamic Center had searched for but found none of the cited “hate” publications in its library or elsewhere. He dismissed the report as “baseless.”

Separate from the likes of Woolsey, a small but growing network of specialists tracking the threat of Islamic subversion is putting out a profusion of scare-mongering literature. The specialists, in some cases, do prodigious research — which then tends to bounce around from one kindred Web site to another — but are apt to present their findings in the most alarmist fashion possible. Into this category falls the recently published book Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington, by Paul Sperry, a former Investor’s Business Daily editor and a Hoover Institution media fellow. The cover shows the red crescent-moon-and-star that symbolizes Islam superimposed over a picture of the Capitol. “I couldn’t put it down,” Rep. Tom Tancredo, the conservative Colorado Republican, says in a blurb for the book.

The atmosphere in Washington has not reached the anti-Communist hysteria of the Cold War’s early days, when accusations of disloyalty and even treason clouded the air over the Potomac. But in a weird parallel to the Cold War’s shadow battles, the coterie of specialists who track Islamic subversion are accusing the veteran Washington operator Grover Norquist, a well-connected Republican conservative, of fronting for Islamist extremists — a charge that Norquist vehemently denies. Muslim American allies of Norquist suspect that pro-Israel activists are trying to box Muslims out of the Republican Party, in order to safeguard the party’s generally pro-Israel line.

It has probably never mattered more that this “world city” and the Muslims in its midst have a good, mutual understanding. But an on-edge Washington, it seems, is experiencing its own clash of civilizations.

Missing In Washington
In a small basement room, under the U.S. Capitol Crypt, a dozen men, shoes off, foreheads pressed on white sheets spread on the floor, are deep in worship. Two women in headscarves are sitting cross-legged behind them. The room, HC-8, has been converted to a makeshift mosque for this regular Friday prayer meeting for Muslims who work on Capitol Hill and elsewhere in official Washington.

This particular service, in early September, is led by Ahmed Younis, a 26-year-old Republican lawyer who runs the Washington office of the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council. Younis was born in Egypt but moved to Los Angeles at an early age. “Every smile you give today is on behalf of Allah,” he begins. In his sermon, he warns, “This community has enemies trying to exclude us from the pluralism of this nation.” But pointing to a passage in the Koran, which he first reads in Arabic and then translates into English, Younis says believers must never respond to “the hatred of others” with injustice.

At the end of the service, the worshipers retrieve their shoes from a heap in the corner. Many of the shoes are sneakers. This is not a high-powered group. But that should be no surprise, because among the movers and shakers of Washington — the folks in positions of high status and influence — Muslims are hard to find.

This is not a post-9/11 development; it’s the way things have pretty much always been. There are no Muslim members of Congress, nor have there ever been. A few Muslims serve at high levels in the executive branch and a handful hold positions of prominence on K Street. Muslims are absent from the elite media slots in Washington: no editor or bureau chief for a major publication, no national columnist, no television talk-show host. (Muslim American leaders generally identify Fareed Zakaria, the New York City-based editor of Newsweek International, as the nation’s most prominent Muslim American journalist.)

The paucity of Muslims in Washington’s top tiers is something of a cultural anomaly. The United States has, after all, approximately 6 million Muslims, of whom nearly 70 percent were born here. Muslims have won acclaim in fields such as engineering, business, medicine, and education, but not in politics. Establishment Washington’s highest-status Muslim is a physician — Dr. Elias Zerhouni, the Bush-appointed director of the National Institutes of Health, who was born in Algeria and came to the United States in his early 20s.

In part, this state is undoubtedly a matter of choice. Project MAPS, a survey of “Muslims in the American Public Square” conducted in 2001-2002 by researchers at Georgetown University, found that 86 percent of all Muslim professionals were concentrated in three careers: engineering, computer science, and medicine. Law, law enforcement, and politics accounted for a minuscule 0.6 percent.

American Muslims, some demographers say, have also been voting well below their numbers in the population — registering to vote at only half the national rate, according to the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey [PDF], a project of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. “If they ever did play to their weight” in the electoral arena and in Washington, Muslims “would be a much more considerable force in public policy-making,” says Steve Clemons, a Democrat who directs the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation in Washington.

Perhaps Muslims’ political rise is just a generation or two away. “The story of the American Muslim community,” Younis says optimistically, “is the story of most all communities that are new to America — political integration comes last…. You have to gain a societal weight before you are allowed into the most precious of things.”

But other American Muslims in Washington are more pessimistic. One such source, who declined to be quoted by name for fear of harming his career, says that elite Washington, including K Street, has a “fear” of hiring Muslims for prominent positions. The main reason that few Muslims are operating in Washington, this source says, is that Muslims “think it is just an unfriendly field.”

Case Study: The Norquist File
Were Washington’s “clash of civilizations” merely a matter of cultural ignorance or myopia, ready solutions could be found. But the clash between Islam and the West also engages deep matters of politics and passion. Exhibit A is the strange saga involving Grover Norquist.

One can read this saga in a number of ways: as a cautionary tale about the perils of one player trying to organize the Muslim American community; as an illustration of the irrational fears that some in Washington harbor about the dangers posed by that community; or as a story about how a naive or insufficiently vigilant power broker did in fact leave himself vulnerable to manipulation by militants who intended America harm. Perhaps all of these readings are correct.

Norquist is a 49-year-old Washington dynamo — a Harvard-educated, anti-government libertarian ideologue; a hard-edged Republican partisan; and a well-connected and opportunistic consultant and lobbyist. An impish character with a ready store of wit and a highly diverse collection of friends, he is best-known for assembling the “Leave Us Alone” political coalition of anti-tax business leaders, gun owners, and social conservatives.

As Norquist tells the story, he cast his eyes back in the mid-1990s on the American Muslim community as a promising trove of recruits for his causes, for the GOP, and for the conservative movement. American Muslims, in his mind, beckoned as a natural addition to his coalition, which already included evangelical Protestants, Mormons, conservative Catholics, and Orthodox Jews.

Norquist’s pro-immigration views also fit with an immigrant-voter organizing drive blessed by Karl Rove, the GOP political operative who back then was gearing up to run candidate George W. Bush’s presidential campaign. “A successful Republican Party, or Democratic Party, speaks to each immigrant group,” Norquist told a recent gathering of National Journal reporters and editors. “The point of being an American is that you are for individual liberty and freedom and the Constitution,” he said, adding, “It doesn’t matter, frankly, what language Mom speaks, or what religion you are.”

As part of the GOP’s outreach to Muslims, Norquist teamed up with Khaled Saffuri, a Washington lobbyist who shared Norquist’s libertarian outlook and had first-rate contacts in the U.S. Muslim community. A Palestinian, Saffuri came to America in the early 1980s and became a U.S. citizen. In the mid-1990s, as director of government affairs for the American Muslim Council, he was seeking to deepen American Muslims’ ties with top honchos in the Republican and Democratic camps.

In 1998, Norquist and Saffuri established the Islamic Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit aimed at mobilizing Muslims in electoral politics and promoting Muslims to positions of influence in Washington. The institute shared office space with Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform outfit on L Street NW.

The fledging institute got an important boost early in 1999 from two checks, each for $10,000, from Abdurahman Alamoudi, an Eritrean immigrant, a naturalized U.S. citizen, and the founder and leader of the American Muslim Council, for which Saffuri had previously worked. One of Alamoudi’s checks was a gift; the other was a loan.

Alamoudi, in the 1990s, was a prominent man about town, a guest at events such as the 1993 peace-deal handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat in the White House Rose Garden. Alamoudi’s activities included an effort to get the U.S. military to hire Muslim chaplains. As Republicans geared up to capture the White House in the 2000 campaign, Alamoudi was among those invited to a meeting with then-Gov. Bush in Austin. Saffuri had coordinated the meeting with Bush adviser Karl Rove, to whom Norquist had steered Saffuri earlier. The Muslim American leaders asked Bush to come out against ethnic profiling of Muslims and to include the Muslim American community in his rhetoric on people of faith in America — and Bush was generally agreeable.

But Alamoudi, even at this juncture, was acquiring a controversial reputation. Back in 1996, he had told an Illinois gathering of the Islamic Association of Palestine that the United States “will become a Muslim country.” At a rally outside the White House in October 2000, he professed support for the Islamic militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas. “Hear that, Bill Clinton,” Alamoudi shouted, “we are all supporters of Hamas!” Norquist’s Islamic Institute had touted the rally by posting on its Web site an advance press release issued by another Muslim affairs group in Washington.

Alamoudi was subsequently proven to be a criminal conspirator: U.S. authorities arrested him in September 2003 on charges that resulted in his admission last year that he had a role in an assassination plot targeting Saudi Arabia’s crown prince. In July of this year, the Treasury Department released a statement asserting that Alamoudi’s arrest “was a severe blow to Al Qaeda, as Alamoudi had a close relationship with Al Qaeda and had raised money for Al Qaeda in the United States.” Alamoudi is currently serving a 23-year sentence in federal prison; his attorney told The Washington Post that Alamoudi had done nothing to help Al Qaeda.

A Troubling Influence?
With the Alamoudi tie as the focal point, Norquist’s Muslim American outreach project has exposed the conservative activist to an unremitting barrage of attacks from right-wing critics who warn of the Islamic threat. They have condemned Norquist and called for his isolation from the conservative movement. His most relentless critic is Frank J. Gaffney Jr., who is himself a well-connected Washington operator. A former assistant secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration, Gaffney presides over a think tank, the Center for Security Policy. The group’s funders over the years have included big defense contractors, conservative foundations, and conservative Jewish groups with a pro-Israel posture. One prominent donor has supported the Israeli settler movement.

A Cold War hard-liner, Gaffney has shifted his focus in recent years to what he calls the “Islamofascists in our midst.” His think tank started an “Islamist Project” aimed at unearthing Islamist political influence in America. The project has presented its research to, among others, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology, and Homeland Security. The subcommittee’s chairman, Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., is on the advisory board of Gaffney’s think tank.

Gaffney and Norquist used to be in political sync. In fact, back in 1999, Gaffney became a tenant of Norquist’s when the think tank moved its offices into the L Street space that also housed the Islamic Institute and Americans for Tax Reform. There, Gaffney attended Norquist’s regular Wednesday strategy sessions of conservative activists. But Gaffney became alarmed by what he viewed as consistently misguided presentations by figures associated with the Islamic Institute on issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he saw Khaled Saffuri as a worrisome link to Alamoudi, even though Saffuri was no longer attached to the American Muslim Council. Alamoudi’s arrest, in September 2003, only heightened Gaffney’s concern.

Gaffney laid out his anxieties in “A Troubling Influence,” a December 2003 article published in, a Web magazine edited by the conservative activist David Horowitz, who is a persistent voice warning of domestic subversion by Islamic militants. “Grover Norquist’s efforts to legitimate and open important doors for pro-Islamist organizations in this country must be brought to an immediate halt,” Gaffney wrote.

Gaffney’s piece got an immediate boost from Robert Spencer, a bigwig among the Islamist-alarmist community who is associated with Paul Weyrich‘s Free Congress Foundation in Washington and who wrote the current best-seller The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). Spencer linked his Web site, Jihad Watch, to the Gaffney opus, touting it as “much needed and long overdue.”

But raising questions about the Islamic Institute’s ties to the imprisoned Alamoudi wasn’t enough for the “Jihad-Watchers.” They next got very personal — as alarm-bell ringers just about always do. In April, Norquist married Samah Alrayyes, a Palestinian Muslim who had worked for the Islamic Institute and who currently does public-affairs work for the U.S. Agency for International Development. No less a figure than Daniel Pipes — a Harvard-trained historian and the author of a dozen books on subjects including Islam, the Middle East, and the role of conspiracy theories in American and European politics — weighed in with a few paragraphs on his blog endorsing speculation that Norquist had converted to Islam as a result of his marriage. (In fact, according to a friend, Norquist remains a Methodist; his wife remains a Muslim.) Norquist’s bride, Pipes continued, “has radical Islamic credentials of her own” by virtue of her work for the Islamic Institute. And as for her job with U.S. AID, Pipes added, “it appears that yet another Islamist finds employment in a branch of the U.S. government.”

But while the Islamist-threat-watchers have shown that Norquist’s Islamic Institute was partly funded early on by an Islamic militant, Alamoudi, they have not proved that the institute is an “Islamist” front, and they have not shown any harm to America’s security from Norquist’s Muslim outreach effort.

Over the course of a nearly two-hour conversation in his office recently, Norquist said he was being targeted by “bigots.” He declined to talk for the record about Alamoudi. Saffuri, who recently resigned from the Islamic Institute and is now a full-time lobbyist in Washington, told me he distanced himself from Alamoudi in 2000, after his former boss declared his public support for Hamas and Hezbollah. Saffuri says he had no knowledge of Alamoudi’s criminal activities and that Alamoudi had deceived him.

In response, Gaffney says the “bigot” rap is just Norquist blowing “smoke,” and not an explanation “for the company he has been keeping.” Gaffney added, “I would be happy to go toe-to-toe with Grover Norquist anytime, anyplace.” The pair still work on the same floor of that L Street office building — but they avoid each other.

Ethnic Politics And Foreign Policy
The Norquist affair foreshadows a political struggle over the direction of U.S. foreign policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the U.S. relationship with Israel, and wider matters of Middle East policy. An element in this struggle is an ethnic-group clash — specifically, between American Muslims, who tend to have sympathy with Palestinian and Arab interests on Middle East issues, and Jewish Americans, who tilt toward Israel’s interests. Neither group is monolithic, of course. But whereas Muslim Americans tend to identify, both politically and emotionally, with the unresolved plight of the Palestinians as a stateless, occupied people, Jewish Americans tend to identify with the embattled Jews of Israel and with Israel itself, a state that has never known relief from the wars and terrorist campaigns directed against it.

Ethnic groups have long played roles in U.S. foreign policy-making; Polish Americans and others from Eastern Europe who lobbied for a tough line against the Soviet Union are notable examples. But given the emotional resonance and the geopolitical significance of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, in particular, the tension between Jewish American and Muslim American groups, now starting to play out in Washington, could lead to some very bruising encounters. And because Republican conservatives are in power in the White House and in Congress, the in-fighting is roiling the ranks of the GOP.

It might appear, on the surface, to be no contest. Pro-Israel groups, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, are well organized and well funded, and the pro-Israel cause draws powerful political support from Protestant evangelicals wedded to their own ideology of Christian Zionism.

Pro-Palestinian interests lack such clout. But they are making organizational strides. “The larger element” of the Norquist controversy, asserts a board member of the Islamic Institute, “is that there is an emerging Muslim American community that is feeling its way to having a political voice, and there are some in the Jewish American community who perceive that this is a threat.”

Some evidence for that assertion can be found in public criticism by Jewish Republican supporters of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., who represents Orange County’s Huntington Beach. In a January 2004 article in Horowitz’s, the conservative writer Kenneth R. Timmerman quoted longtime Jewish backers of Rohrabacher as having “serious concerns” with the congressman’s ties to Muslim supporters and with what his critics view as his lack of support for Israel. (Rohrabacher was one of four Republicans, along with 17 Democrats, to vote against a House resolution in 2002 accusing Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat of supporting terrorism. Opponents viewed the resolution as one-sided and counterproductive.) Timmerman’s article detailed political contributions to Rohrabacher from Muslim American activists, including Khaled Saffuri, Norquist’s partner in setting up the Islamic Institute.

For a conservative Republican perspective on these currents, I turned to Tony Blankley, the editorial page editor of The Washington Times. Blankley is a former aide to Newt Gingrich and the author of the new book The West’s Last Chance, which pleads for American policy makers to take militant Islam’s threat to the homeland more seriously. Blankley, who describes himself as coming from the libertarian wing of the GOP, says that some jostling between Muslim Americans and Jewish Americans is “natural” and should not be portrayed in overly dire terms. At the same time, he says that Robert Spencer, who is viewed in Muslim quarters as an alarmist, needs to be given a considered hearing. Just look, Blankley noted, at how a militant mentality has taken root in some Muslim communities in Western Europe. (He made this point a few weeks before severe riots broke out in poor, isolated, predominantly Muslim neighborhoods in France.) In his book, Blankley comes out in favor of a hard line, urging the use of “ethnic/religious profiling” of Muslims to combat the terrorist threat.

The West’s Last Chance, which landed on The Washington Post‘s best-seller list, begins with a futuristic nightmare scenario, in which a Republican presidential contender actually advocates adopting Islamic law, or sharia, for Muslim citizens before a wildly cheering Muslim audience at a campaign rally. It sounds highly improbable — and it certainly sounds alarmist. I asked Blankley if he would like to see a Muslim American elected to Congress. Yes, “if she is a Republican or if he is a Republican,” he responded with a chuckle. “I am strongly in favor of the peaceful integration of Muslims in our community,” he says. “The real challenge for any group integrating,” he adds, “is the desire to integrate.”

Muslims In America
On a Friday in late October, the parking lot of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, known as ADAMS, is filling up for afternoon prayers. Women are donning headscarves, and some men are putting on robes. About 20 miles from downtown Washington in the Northern Virginia town of Sterling, the ADAMS Center serves some 5,000 families in one of the fastest-growing Muslim communities in America. But the building lacks a minaret or any other architectural feature that would suggest an Islamic house of worship. In this wooded neighborhood of homes and low-slung office buildings, ADAMS has made a conscious effort not to stand out.

Boys and girls are sprawled in the hallways. One day, undoubtedly, there will be a Muslim American member of Congress, and possibly that future pioneer is now before my eyes. In a basement room, members of Girl Scout Brownie Troop 5186 are busy with scissors, paper, and glue. They’ve set about to earn a merit badge by preparing art mobiles on the theme of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, during which Muslims fast during daylight hours. The mobiles are adorned with glittery stars and crescent moons. This project, the troop leader notes, is consistent with the faith-based tradition of the Girl Scouts.

The sound system pipes the rites in the mosque throughout the three-story facility. After the sermon and prayer, Virginia state Delegate Dick Black, a familiar and welcome face at the ADAMS Center, addresses the congregation. A conservative Republican, a Catholic, and a former Marine Corps pilot who flew combat missions in Vietnam, Black has been in the Legislature since 1998, and he gets considerable financial support and volunteer assistance from the local Muslim community. Election Day is some two weeks away, and he has come trolling for votes.

“I know many of you,” Black begins. Reminding them of his positions on issues, he says, “I have always had sharp differences with the [Bush] administration on foreign policy.” In particular, he explains, the Israeli-occupied West Bank must be “entirely cleaned out” of Israeli settlements and returned to Palestinians. (The administration has tacitly signaled that it won’t object to certain Israeli settlements as part of any final deal establishing a Palestinian state.)

“I ask one thing,” Black continues. “Remember the one person who stood with you” after 9/11, when the American Muslim community attracted much suspicion from Washington and other quarters. He suggests that many Muslims share his views against abortion, homosexuality, and pornography, and he compliments Muslim women on the modesty of their dress, which he contrasts with the risque fashion statements made by some other American women. Wrapping up, Black declares, “Muslim Americans are citizens just like everyone else…. I welcome you. I am pleased you are my neighbors.” The group applauds.

I caught up with Black in the hallway. He had put his shoes back on and was accepting greetings from congregants, some of whom requested bumper stickers. His political opponents, Black told me, have tried to make an issue of his being “too close” to “Mohammed types.” But that strategy is not working, he says.

Black said he gets campaign contributions from “thousands” of Muslim Americans — money that some critics worry could be a means by which Islamic militants penetrate American politics. Black says he is not aware of getting any tainted funds, but he acknowledges, “Sometimes, it passes through my mind — what if I am wrong?” (Black was unexpectedly swept out of office by the Democratic tide overtaking Northern Virginia in the November elections.)

The ADAMS Center is a frequent visiting spot, suggested by the State Department, for foreign delegations interested to see how American Muslims are faring. The imam is Mohammed Magid, a tall man, with a broad smile, who was born in Sudan in 1965 and has lived in America for nearly 20 years. He is a Sunni from the Sufi tradition; his father was an Islamic scholar trained in Cairo. The center has a predominantly South Asian congregation, from Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh.

The imam greeted me in his small, third-floor office. He was wearing a dark business suit, a gray shirt with a clerical collar, and a white knitted skullcap. On the wall behind his desk was a framed photograph of pilgrims in Mecca circling the black, cube-shaped Kaaba shrine. I began by asking him about news reports of vandalism at the mosque. After 9/11, he said, there were several such instances; someone even tried to burn down the center’s sign at the entrance to the parking lot. But last September 11, on the third anniversary of the attacks, a group of Christians and Jews from the area kept a nighttime vigil to protect the mosque and to send a message to the community that the ADAMS Center was on welcoming ground.

The imam serves on an FBI advisory committee set up after 9/11 to give both religious and law enforcement officials a sounding board. The religious leaders bring their concerns about unfair targeting of Muslims as potential terrorists; the FBI, in turn, looks to the imams to alert the agency to any troublesome security matters. “Yes, it worries us” that an educated, middle-class Muslim American might turn to terrorism, he says — as did those British Muslims who served as suicide bombers in this summer’s attacks on London’s transport system.

The choice for Muslim youth in America, Magid suggests, is between isolation, assimilation, and integration. The first is obviously a bad strategy, he believes, but so, too, in his mind, is assimilation, which he defines as a loss of Islamic identity — a giving up, say, of the Muslim prohibitions against pork and alcohol. Thus, the right path is integration — an observance of Islamic practices along with full participation in America’s public square. In the long run, he’s confident, integration will take place.

But this moment, the imam concedes, is difficult, partly because critics “can say anything about Islam and walk away from it” without accountability. I cited Paul Sperry‘s Infiltration, which in a chapter on “sanctuaries of terror” calls the ADAMS Center “another Saudi-controlled Wahhabi mosque.” Sperry’s evidence is thin — he cites, for example, some inflammatory anti-American comments from an unidentified mosque member — and the imam became visibly agitated at my mention of the book.

Pointing out his own Sufi background and dismissing Sperry’s accusations as nonsense, Magid says that some people are milking fears about Islam to make money and that some “want to isolate us.” He sighed. Even well-intended people, at high levels of government in Washington, he says, have asked him questions that betray a remarkable ignorance of Islamic history and culture.

Given the current political climate in Washington, and the state of public anxieties on the terrorist threat to the homeland, is it going to get better or worse for Muslim Americans over the near future? The imam responded, “It is going to get worse.”



Filed under Arabs & Muslims, Islam, U.S.

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