Muslim Response to Terror Falls Short

Immediately after the 7/7 London bombings, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) condemned the bombers and terrorism in general. “Any individual or group that claims that these heinous actions serve as a redress for legitimate grievances,” MPAC thundered, “is dreadfully mistaken. MPAC condemns the exploitation of people and issues, regardless of the perpetrators and their justifications. This assault is unmistakably an act of terrorism, an attack against humanity.”

Words are hollow without deeds. Mindful of that, MPAC touts its “National Anti-Terrorism Campaign” (NATC): “It is our duty as American Muslims to protect our country and to contribute to its betterment.” MPAC calls for “religious awareness and education to create a strong Islamic environment that does not allow terrorism to be considered as a form of struggle in Islam.”

However, the Campaign forswears any intention to call on American Muslims to “‘spy’ on each other.” But that amounts to an admission that MPAC is not asking Muslims to report on suspicious activity in American mosques. How effective, then, can their anti-terror campaign be?

The rest of MPAC’s recommendations also appear to be more concerned about misbehavior by non-Muslim law enforcement officials in mosques than about the possibility of terrorist activity in those mosques. Its focus is misplaced in other ways as well. It recommends, for example, that “All activities within the mosque and Islamic centers should be authorized by legitimate, acknowledged leadership…” That sounds great until one realizes that if a mosque is involved in or sympathetic to terrorist activity, this is not likely because of unauthorized persons. It is much more likely that the jihadist sentiments will come from the mosque leadership — as per the Sufi leader Sheikh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani’s statement that eighty percent of American mosques were controlled by extremists. MPAC has dismissed Kabbani’s words as “an offhand remark…in some obscure presentation.” But in fact there was nothing offhand or obscure about what Kabbani said: he said this in a State Department Open Forum in 1999 after visiting 114 American mosques.

But the most notorious example of MPAC’s questionable focus is its war on terrorism expert Steve Emerson. At a conference on “Countering Religious & Political Extremism” on December 18, 2004, it distributed a booklet attacking not bin Laden, or Zawahiri, or Zarqawi, but Emerson. And in an appalling display of moral myopia, MPAC even implies that Emerson and others are equivalent to Islamic terrorists: “Without doubt Christian extremists such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Franklin Graham or Jewish extremists such as Daniel Pipes and Steve Emerson need to be held accountable for their falsehoods and distortions. But let’s face it, if another terrorist attack occurs Christians and Jews will not be the ones rounded up or have their civil liberties effected.”

Let’s face it indeed. Muslims, rather than Christians and Jews, may be “rounded up” not just because of societal patterns of discrimination, but because they will be most likely be the ones who commit a terrorist attack. If Falwell or Pipes or Emerson were beheading and blowing people up in the name of their religion, this equation of “extremists” might be justified. But in reality it is a ghastly bit of character assassination.

Also, MPAC’s Salam Al-Maryati in 1996 actually equated today’s jihad terrorists with the Founding Fathers: “Most Islamic movements have been branded as terrorists as a result of the rising extremism from a handful of militants. American freedom fighters hundreds of years ago were also regarded as terrorists by the British.”

So where does MPAC really stand? MPAC could clear that up with forthright anti-terror actions to back up its words. Let it publish a plan for combating inflammatory anti-American, anti-Jewish, and anti-Christian rhetoric in American mosques. Let it develop a plan to blunt the force of the jihadist interpretation of the Koran and Islamic tradition among Muslims. If it directed its efforts to these and other genuine anti-terror efforts, the ringing words it issued in the wake of the London bombings would not ring hollow.