The United States is uniquely able to fight the so-called Islamic State, says an outspoken Muslim, who is also a critic not only of current U.S. diplomatic policy but also demands more from members of his faith.
Dr. M. Zudhi Jasser, a second-generation American who founded the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, says the United States should condemn all theocracies — those in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Iran — as being in opposition to universal human rights.
The goal, he said, should be to spread word of American values of religious freedom and tolerance — the founding principals of the United States.
“In most countries, their identities stem from racial ties — German, Dutch, British — it’s not only where they live, it’s their racial identity,” he said. “But in the United States, this country was founded on ideals: separation of church and state, religious freedom, protection of minority rights. Those are the ideals that we should use to fight ISIS.”
Jasser spoke at The Broadmoor to members of the Winter Night Club, one of the oldest dinner societies in the Rocky Mountain region, just days after an ISIS-backed attack claimed 129 lives in Paris and hours after German police found a van packed with explosives outside a soccer stadium.
A former Navy doctor, Jasser founded the ASFD after Sept. 11, 2001, in an effort to send the message of American freedom and democracy to Muslims.
“My grandfather left Syria in 1968 — and Syria was a prison, it was hell, it was every bit as bad as the Nazis,” he said. “When he got here, he said he felt American immediately. And he said the United States was the only place we could practice our faith freely, as we choose. To now have the CIA say they should work with Assad to end ISIS, to us, that’s like saying we’d work with Hitler.”
The United States should not consider countries like Saudi Arabia as one of its allies, he said. Considering dictators allies stands in stark contrast to the nation’s values — and people in the Middle East realize that.
He repeatedly spoke of Saudi Arabia’s stance on women, on dissidents, on the lack of individual freedom.
“In the last six months, Saudi Arabia has beheaded more people than ISIS. But no one says anything — no one condemns them,” he said. “No one is really offering something better in their own countries, so they have no where to turn. And into that vacuum — we have ISIS.”
Jasser said American Muslims were caught between two sides: On one side, there are apologists for the terrorists; on the other, people who believe all Muslims are terrorists.
“The truth is there is a difference,” he said, “between Muslims who are Islamists, who want Islamic-backed governments, and those who just want to practice Islam. I love my faith, but I also love my country. I’m first an American, and second a Muslim.”
Muslims should speak out against the Islamists, and stop pointing to Western actions as the reason for terrorism, he said. That only feeds into ISIS rhetoric. Instead, Muslims should stand up and condemn the violence, placing loyalty with nations, not only with their faith, he said.
“Muslims bear the responsibility as well,” he said. “Muslims should stop making excuses for these terrorists — they need to speak up. They need to say that they love their faith, but there is an honest need for reform.”
Jasser draws a distinction between Muslims and Islamists. Muslims are practicing a religious faith while Islamists seek a religious-based government which denies individual freedoms and basic, universal human rights.
“There’s no debate going on right now,” he said. “No conversations about the difference. Even criticizing Islamists, you’re called an Islamaphobe, anti-Muslim. It’s amazing to me that here, a nation that has religious freedom as its first and most important right, that you can’t talk about the problems in Islam, the need for reform.
“They do hate us for our freedoms,” he continued. “We’re an ideological, long-term battle. We need a public-private partnership to stop this political movement — this movement that wants to return us to the 12th century. We need something like Radio-Free Europe, satellite television, we need an information campaign. And it can’t be just how wonderful America is — it should focus on advancing the ideals of freedom in the Middle East.”
And Jasser believes that the country’s refugee forms should be updated to reflect the current crisis.
“The forms now include questions about communism,” he said. “They’re outdated. We need to make sure the refugees are asked about Islam and theocracies. That’s not profiling for religion — it’s checking for militants.”