by Aaron Smargon ‘11
This Veteran’s Day, the Tory hosted a talk by Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser titled “Is Islam the Problem?” Unlike Nonie Darwish, our guest speaker last spring, Dr. Jasser was not here to shun his faith. It would be difficult for him, in fact, since he is a devout Muslim. While Dr. Jasser does identify many problems with Islam, he does not view it as inherently incompatible with Western democracy. He founded the American Islamic Forum for Democracy in the wake of the September 11th attacks to promote democratic ideals within the Islamic community and to advocate for the separation of mosque from state.
Dr. Jasser is a patriotic Muslim American. In addition to being a practicing physician and former president of the Arizona Medical Association, Jasser served as a medical officer for 11 years in the U.S. Navy, where he reached the rank of lieutenant commander. He was proud to serve his country, to which his Syrian immigrant family was indebted for political freedom. And he was eager to study classic democratic works like those of de Tocqueville and Jefferson. Sadly, Jasser claims, after years of searching he could find no book that taught one how to be a good Muslim. Since none exists, it is the imam — and the imam alone — who teaches Muslims how to practice their faith.
This is problematic for a number of reasons. Fundamentally, it leads to a lack of assimilation. Dr. Jasser spoke of third and fourth generation American Muslims unable to read or write English, and of fewer Muslims serving in the U.S. military than Wiccans. More pressingly, it creates an identity crisis among followers who are taught not to be independent thinkers: They must choose either to embrace or forsake their heritage. It is this false choice — contradictory to the founding principles of America — that creates a continuum of radicalization, and that can slowly convert a rational person into a terrorist.
Jasser’s solution to the problem with Islam is two-fold, and the fight begins at home. While there exist different interpretations of Islam with varying degrees of politicization, it does not suffice to be inclusive of all views or simply to dismiss the most politicized; moderate Muslims must actively combat radical ideologies. At the local level, Islam must empower the individual as the ultimate arbiter of his or her faith. At the global level, Muslims who benefit from religious tolerance in the West must pressure their nations of origin to eliminate their double standard of persecuting religious minorities.
The second part of the solution is “real tolerance” within interfaith dialogue. According to Dr. Jasser, the current American debate about Islam consists of two opposing sides — denigrators who vilify all of Islam as a “cult of death” and apologists who say of Islamic terrorism, “This is not real Islam.” The fact of the matter is that terrorism is part of real Islam, and, if moderate Muslims think otherwise, then they must stop denying and take action. They must teach real tolerance, firstly by taking control of the defense of Islam away from liberals with their own political agenda, and secondly by being honest with the majority of Americans.
What does “real tolerance” mean in practice? Instead of labeling as bigots the 70 percent of Americans who oppose an Islamic Center at Ground Zero, try to understand why and consider a less provocative location. Instead of firing Juan Williams for voicing his concern over airplane passengers who identify themselves first and foremost as Muslims, initiate an investigative report on American opinions about Islam to spark a productive national discussion — especially if one feels that Williams engaged in “punditry.”
Around America, and especially at liberal institutions of higher learning like Princeton, liberals are stifling honest interfaith dialogue with a façade of “peace” and “love.” They may not realize it, but their delusions are only strengthening the voices of the anti-Muslim community. For this reason, Islam needs more courageous moderates like Dr. Jasser who are willing to stand up against ideological intolerance and boldly state, “There is a problem with Islam.”