"We want to be Americans. Religion is a private issue. We ran away from 'political Islam' in Iran, but it has followed us…. CAIR [the Council on American-Islamic Relations] has created this image that all 3 million Muslims in America are the same and CAIR represents them — which is not true."
So said Manda Ervin, an American Muslim who fled Iran following the 1979 revolution, to a conference of Muslim moderates on Capitol Hill.
Ervin was part of an unusual hearing on Sept. 24 that was led by Rep. Sue Myrick, a North Carolina Republican and head of the Congressional Anti-Terrorism Caucus.
In addition to Ervin, participants included Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy; Hedieh Mirahmadi, president of the World Organization for Resource Development & Education (WORDE); Shadi Osier, head of the Islamic Supreme Council of America; and Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, a former radical Islamist who has become a vocal critic of the ground zero mosque.
None was involved with Islamist groups linked to Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood; none was an unindicted co-conspirator in terror-finance cases; and none is an apologist for radical Islam.
Nor do any of them receive federal contracts, get special briefings from Cabinet agencies about federal efforts to "fight" radicalization, or get invited to official dinners at the White House and government agencies.
Yet these men and women had very important stories to tell about how Islamist radicalism has affected their lives and the dangers it poses to the United States. They emphasized the importance of educating members of Congress about the link between nonviolent political Islam and a totalitarian, violent strain.
Muhammad said that after converting to Islam about 25 years ago he joined "the more radical wing of the Islamic movement in America." Only after 9/11 did he realize that form of Islam was destructive and harmful, and concluded it is critical to expose "the stealth elements of radicalism" that permeate Islam in the United States.
Muhammad described "political Islam" as a system of governance in which Muslims are "given superiority over non-Muslims in society" and "that superiority is codified in the laws and its presided over by a ruler with arbitrary and unchecked powers . . . with a class of clergy who interpret the law and impose that law."
In that political system "there's no freedom of speech to combat those interpretations or any type of pluralism in the society, where other religions are suppressed," according to Muhammad.
According to Muhammad, claims by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf that building the ground zero mosque will benefit moderate Muslims are absurd. "That mosque is going to be seen as a triumph for bin Laden," he said.
Mirahmadi said Muslim supporters of the mosque need to understand that the great majority of Americans oppose it. "As members of the community, we want to be accepted . . . as equal members of the community," she said. "We should listen to the American people and we should move [the mosque]."
In an effort to silence critics of political Islam, advocates needed to come up with terminology that would enable them to portray themselves as victims.
Muhammad, who is African-American, said if America were genuinely Islamophobic, Muslims would have been rounded up after 9/11 and put into camps. Instead, Muslims complained about increased scrutiny at the airport.
"You had Muslims saying, 'she looked at me at the airport, they looked funny at me. I was oppressed,' Muhammad said. "No, this country just got hit by our people — by Muslims. And they're acting like all of this anxiety over Islams and Muslims is happening in some type of vacuum, like 9/11 didn't happen, like Fort Hood didn't happen, like Abdulmutallab trying to put a bomb on a plane didn't happen."
He emphasized the importance of the U.S. government moving to "stop legitimizing groups" like CAIR, MPAC, and ISNA, which he described as a "fifth column" in the United States. "It's got to get to the point where these groups are seen as pariahs on Capitol Hill," Muhammad said.
The West needs to "start reaching out to our friends instead of negotiating only with our enemies," Mirhamadi said.
Ervin said that back in 2003, her organization, the Alliance of Iranian Women, persuaded lawmakers to to allocate $3 million to organizations promote democracy and human rights in Iran. But the State Department diverted the money to something else, and the program never got off the ground.
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