INTIMIDATING critics through trumped-up litigation and claims of "discrimination" is something of the house specialty at the Council on American-Islamic Relations. No surprise, then, that CAIR is involved in the lawsuit filed against US Airways by six imams who were kicked off a Minneapolis-Phoenix flight after their disruptive behavior alarmed other passengers. CAIR cranked out a press release on March 13 noting that the imams had "filed a lawsuit against the airline and Minnesota's Metropolitan Airports Commission alleging that their civil rights were violated."
What the release didn't mention, but the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Katherine Kersten discovered in the complaint, is that CAIR and the imams are also targeting as-yet unnamed "John Does" -- the "passengers . . . who contacted US Airways to report the alleged 'suspicious' behavior of Plaintiffs." That behavior reportedly included praying ostentatiously near the gate, refusing to take their assigned seats after boarding, and asking for unnecessary seat-belt extenders that could be used as weapons.
"The imams' attempt to bully ordinary passengers marks an alarming new front in the war on airline security," Kersten writes. "Average folks, 'John Does' like you and me . . . are our 'first responders' against terrorism. But the imams' suit may frighten such individuals into silence ."
Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy.
Over the years, CAIR and other Islamist groups have gotten much mileage out of such strong-arm tactics . But there is good news: Some Americans are pushing back. And even better news: Some of the push-back is coming from Muslims who forcefully reject the Islamist project.
One of the most impressive of these anti-Islamist moderates is Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, an Arizona physician, US Navy veteran, and devout Sunni Muslim. In 2003 he founded the American Islamic Forum for Democracy to "stand against the religious fanatics who exploit the religion of Islam for a nihilistic, anti-American, anti-Western war." On the day that CAIR and the imams trumpeted their lawsuit, Jasser and AIFD issued a statement supporting US Airways and denouncing the litigation as "wrong for American Muslims, wrong for American security, and wrong for American freedoms." Last week Jasser went further: He offered to raise money for the legal defense of any passengers sued by the imams.
It is hard to overstate how important the Zuhdi Jassers are in the free world's struggle against radical Islam. We call it the "war on terrorism," but terrorism is only a means to an end -- namely, bringing the entire world under Islamic law. Not all Islamists are jihadi terrorists, but all Islamists do want sharia to reign supreme. When the chairman of CAIR, Omar Ahmad, addressed an audience of California Muslims in 1998, he asserted that Islam is in America not to be equal to other faiths but to be dominant, and that the Koran should be the highest authority in America, according to a paper that covered his speech. Ahmad now denies having said this, but the paper stands by its story.
By contrast, Muslim reformers like Jasser explicitly reject political supremacy for Islam and the Koran. "As a devout Muslim," he told me last week, "I can testify that a Muslim can truly love the faith of Islam, yet believe deeply not only in the separation of mosque and state but in the pre eminence of Americanism over Islamism." When he was commissioned as an officer in the US Navy, Jasser took an oath to defend the Constitution "against all enemies, foreign and domestic," and he sees no enemy more hostile to the Constitution today than the ideology of radical Islam. CAIR and the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda and Al Azhar, Shi'ite ayatollahs and Wahhabist sheiks -- whatever their differences in tactics and style, they are as one in seeking universal compliance with sharia.
"Here in America," says Jasser, "Muslims, Christians, and Jews can practice their faith freely and without fear. Precisely because the Constitution forbids any state religion, all religions live together in harmony. I wish the Muslim world would show such tolerance! As an American, I cherish that liberty. The Islamists would take it away."
On 9/11, many Americans woke up to the fact that a deadly enemy is arrayed against us and that effective counterterrorism is critical to our national security. But even more critical is the need to delegitimize the Islamist message that resonates with so many Muslims. To permanently end the "war on terrorism," we must defeat the ideology that motivates the terrorists. We have no allies more valuable in that cause than Muslim reformers like Zuhdi Jasser, in whose passion for pluralism and liberty lies the hope of an Islamic Enlightenment.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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