State Department’s Continued Outreach to Radicals

788_largeby Abha Shankar

The Obama administration’s efforts to conquer hearts and minds in the Muslim world as part of its broader strategy to battle Islamist terrorism may be a laudable goal. But the administration’s continued pandering to radical Islamists both at home and abroad continues to baffle and frustrate opponents of political Islam and Islamist organizations.

The administration has been swift to embrace newly-elected Islamist regimes in the Middle-East despite their violent and pro-jihadi rhetoric. Last month for example, it heaped praise on Egypt’s new Islamist leader Mohammed Morsi for helping broker a truce between Israel and Hamas after eight days of fighting. In lauding Morsi, the U.S. government overlooked statements supporting Hamas issued by Morsi’s colleagues in the Muslim Brotherhood and their celebration of rocket attacks on Israel. Morsi was a senior Brotherhood official for years before seeking office.

This international outreach to authoritarian Islamist regimes bestows undue legitimacy on Islamists and renders democratic and secular opposition and dissident groups voiceless. The same flawed outreach is being pursued domestically.

The latest example comes from a State Department-sponsored delegation last year of five Bulgarian Muslims who came to discuss the role of religion in the United States. Details of the trip, funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs under its International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), were obtained by the Investigative Project on Terrorism via a Freedom of Information Act request.

The delegation hoped to “learn about the environment of religious tolerance in the U.S. and how religious groups function in a democratic society with a separation of church and state,” records in the 379-page FOIA release show. It described meetings the delegation had with leading Islamist groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and individuals in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Salt Lake City and Chicago from Sept. 26-Oct. 14, 2011.

This is a problem that has been detailed before. Rather than seeking views from the broader, more diverse Muslim American community, government officials grab at “the lowest hanging fruit,” said Zuhdi Jasser, a Phoenix-based doctor who heads the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. “But they ignore ideological diversity and instead take the shortcut of generally allowing those Muslims who are part of a national and global political Islamist movement to represent our faith community.”

“When confronted the White House and State Department will say that the ideological positions of Muslim groups is not their concern,” added Jasser, whose appointment this year to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom sparked ire among Islamists.

Jasser also blamed political correctness for the government’s flawed outreach policy:

“In part this also happens out of an absurd degree of political correctness and in part because these organizations have been very successful at branding themselves as the ‘voice of the Muslims.’ Even our National Strategy on Counterterrorism has been hijacked by this behavior, where it references the word ideology over 20 times but never names the ideology. The truth is that there is not and will never be one Muslim voice. We are a very diverse community….”

Jasser’s views were echoed by Qanta Ahmed, a New York-based physician and ardent critic of radical Islam.

The government’s failure to distinguish “Islam” from “political Islam” and its “willful engagement with non-violent Islamists” has resulted in the Islamists “owning the narrative,” she said. In congressional testimony given in June, she also highlighted the threat Islamist ideology poses to the American democracy:

“While we have been pursuing conventional international warfare and in fact have assassinated the leader of Al Qaida for instance, we have remained dangerously vulnerable because of our delayed realization of the political science aspects of Islamist ideology and the very serious threat this poses to our democracy,” Ahmed said. She described threats to free speech in the debate over radical Islam due to threats of litigation and false claims of bigotry that are used to stifle other points of view. Already, due to Islamist influence, the U.S. government has stopped using words like “Islamist” and “radical Islam.”

“This sanitization of our lexicon reveals a shocking and perhaps specious reluctance to engage with the problem or worse, a foolhardy embrace, unintentional or otherwise, with the Islamist stance,” Ahmed said.

“These are vulnerabilities which cannot be safeguarded by drones, or gunships but instead must be secured by counter ideological warfare which begins here, by widening the debate, discussion and scholarship in the area.”

Read more at IPT

See also:

Washington’s Secret History with the Muslim Brotherhood (counterjihadreport.com)