Though met by modest crowds, the recent first-ever Free Muslims March Against Terrorism could be considered a success in one key respect: It further exposed the unwillingness of most major Muslim groups to condemn the radicals that have come to dominate their religion.
It also further cemented the growing reputation of organizer Kamal Nawash, head of the Free Muslims Coalition (FMC), as one of the only genuine moderate leaders of a national Islamic organization.
While most Muslim groups gripe about being expected to condemn every Islamic terrorist attack — they aren’t directly responsible, they reason — Mr. Nawash wastes no opportunity to do so. To him, the problem is one shared by all Muslims, even moderates, because most Muslims have allowed the extremists to take control of the religion, more or less without a fight.
Thus his inspiration for the rally against terror. Speakers at the event, which drew roughly 150, were clear in condemning the real root cause of terrorism: radical interpretations of Islam.
Groups like Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) have a track record of condemning — but only targets like the Fox television show “24,” which they blasted earlier this year for having terrorists who were Muslims.
Never mind that CAIR officials have refused to condemn Hamas and Hezbollah when asked to do so by The Washington Post and others, describing questions about the terrorist groups as a “game.” And MPAC maintains, for example, that the Hezbollah murder of 241 Americans in Lebanon in 1983 was not a terrorist attack.
Although not shy about badmouthing Mr. Nawash and FMC, CAIR and MPAC largely stayed silent regarding the rally. But CAIR was careful to refer people seeking comment about the rally to Hussein Ibish, former communications director at the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), who used to work in the same office as Mr. Nawash years ago.
Mr. Ibish has been on a tear of late, writing two rambling smear pieces on his former co-worker. In one, he labeled Mr. Nawash “unsavory” and called his efforts to condemn radical Islam in the same breath as terrorism “appalling.” This is a marked contrast to how he responds to fellow Muslims who call for “jihad” and “Death to America.”
Appearing on CNN in August 2002, Mr. Ibish was asked about a 1991 fund-raising letter from suspected (and indicted) terrorist Sami al-Arian that read, in part, “Jihad is our path! Victory to Islam! Death to Israel and victory to Islam! Revolution, revolution until victory! Rolling, rolling to Jerusalem!”
His response? ” ‘Death to Israel’ does not necessarily mean violence. Jihad can mean a lot of things,” he explained. Without explanation, Mr. Ibish abruptly — and bizarrely — switched the topic. “I’ll tell you who is advocating violence. It is Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, who advocated torturing people.”
Someone who received far less criticism from Mr. Ibish was a man convicted of encouraging jihad against the United States. When prominent local cleric Ali al-Timimi — who had successfully cultivated a moderate image — was charged and later convicted of telling his followers in the days after September 11 to join the Taliban, Mr. Ibish was eerily silent. As were most of the Muslim groups that refused to join Mr. Nawash’s rally.
One high-profile Muslim leader, Muslim-American Society head Mahdi Bray, even went so far as to defend al-Timimi — after the imam was convicted last month. In an open letter on the MAS Web site, Mr. Bray wrote, “The verdict in Dr. Al-Timimi’s case is a sad day for American Muslims and the U.S. Constitution. It bodes ill for the Bill of Rights, and especially the First Amendment (Freedom of Speech).”
MAS is the most ardent advocate of the United States forging closer ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, the worldwide Islamist organization that has served as the theological inspiration for many of today’s leading terrorists. Muslim Brotherhood’s main goal is to create Islamic states around the world.
The kinds of Islamic states that Muslim Brotherhood and MAS would create, ironically, would be most inhospitable to someone like Mr. Ibish, who loves both wine and women. Though he does not shower praise on Islamist organizations, Mr. Ibish rarely criticizes them. Targets of his wrath, in fact, are almost always the enemies of the Islamists whom he should consider his enemies.
Were Mr. Ibish to change course and attack rabid Islamists rather than defend them, his stock among Muslim leaders would plummet. Such is the culture of conformity that punishes the likes of Mr. Nawash, while Mr. Ibish and other secular defenders of venomous Islamists thrive.
Though his coalition is barely a year old, Mr. Nawash hopes to blaze a new path, one where moderate Muslims can fight back and reclaim their religion. Until he does, though, even secular Muslims with a public profile are more likely to follow the path of Hussein Ibish.
Joel Mowbray occassionally writes for The Washington Times.