Imams preach jihad and extremism in 10 percent of the 2,000 mosques in the United States, the FBI estimates.
That sums up the problem facing us as we ponder the meaning of Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan’s slayings of 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas. Given his association with a pro-al-Qaida imam in northern Virginia and his preoccupation with radical Islamic Web sites, it’s clear that the radical element of Islam influenced Hasan.
On the other hand, those who condemn Muslims in general because of the actions of Hasan and others like him are engaging in prejudice that has no place in America. Indeed, such stereotyping sets back the war on terror, because we need moderate Muslims on our side.
The problem is not the Quran, which is no more incendiary than some passages in the Bible. (Deuteronomy, for example, prescribes stoning to death for those who “served other gods and worshipped them.”) The problem is the radical element that uses the Quran as an excuse to engage in terrorism and the failure of many moderate Muslims to condemn the extremists.
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About a quarter of the Muslims in America ages 18 through 29 believe that suicide bombings can be justified, according to a Pew Research Center poll. Generating those attitudes are imams who preach jihad and hatred in American mosques and postings on the Internet, according to FBI counterterrorism officials interviewed for my book “The Terrorist Watch: Inside the Desperate Race to Stop the Next Attack.”
Saying he is being conservative, an FBI counterterrorism official told me in interviews for the book that 1 in 10 imams preach jihad. Before 9/11, the number of mosques where imams preached jihad was even greater than today.
“Those who actively support extremist causes, say America is evil and deserves what it gets, and celebrate the death of soldiers, know they may come to our attention,” an FBI official says. “So they don’t do it as openly now.”
Before 9/11, he says, “There was much more of that because all of it was considered by Justice Department guidelines to be purely protected speech. We do not have incitement laws in America, but once an imam facilitates someone else taking action, he has crossed the line into material support and becomes our business.”
An example was Ali al-Timimi, a spiritual leader at a mosque in Northern Virginia who preached jihad and provided contact information for those who went to Afghanistan for training in terrorist camps. Al-Timimi is serving a life prison term.
The FBI has outreach programs to try to develop sources in the Muslim community and solicit tips, but FBI agents have found little receptivity. They find that Muslims often are in denial about the fact that the terrorists who threaten the U.S. are Muslims.
“I had this discussion with the director of a very prominent Muslim organization here in D.C.,” a frustrated counterterrorism agent says. “And he said, ‘Why are you guys always looking at the Muslim community?’”
The agent began laughing.
“Okay, you know what I’ll do?” the agent said. “I’ll start an Irish squad, or how about a Japanese squad? You want me to waste my time and your taxpayers' dollars going to look at the Irish? They’re not killing Americans. Right now, I’m going to put my money and my people in a place where the threat is.”
The agent tells them to take a look at the cells that the FBI has rolled up in the United States.
“I can name the home-grown cells, all of whom are Muslim, all of whom were seeking to murder Americans,” the agent says. “It’s not the Irish, it’s not the French, it’s not the Catholics, it’s not the Protestants, it’s the Muslims.”
In response, Muslim groups have told him he is rough around the edges.
“I’m not rough around the edges,” he tells them. “You’re just not used to straight talk.”
They respond by getting angry at him.
Although Muslims occasionally condemn al-Qaida, “Rarely do we have them coming to us and saying, ‘There are three guys in the community that we’re very concerned about,’” one agent says. “They want to fix it inside the community. They’re a closed group, a very, very closed group. It’s part of their culture that they want to settle the problem within their own communities. They’ve actually said that to us, which I then go crazy over.”
On the one hand, “They don’t want anyone to know they have extremists in their community,” the agent says. “Well, beautiful. Except do you read the newspapers? Everyone already knows it. That horse has left the barn. So there’s a lot of talk about engagement, but realistically, we’ve got a long, long way to go.”
At one meeting, a Muslim group suggested having a photo taken of its members with FBI Director Robert Mueller to show their community isn’t a bunch of terrorists and that they are partners in the war on terror.
An agent replied, “Let me make a suggestion: When you bring to my attention real extremists who are here to plan and do something, who are here supporting terrorism, and I work that based on your information, then I promise you, I will have the director stand up on the stage with you.”
To the agent’s amazement, the answer was: “That could never happen. We would lose our constituency. We could never admit to bringing someone to the FBI.”
“Well, we’ve just defined the problem, haven’t we?” the agent told them.
To be sure, some individual Muslims have brought leads to the FBI. That led to FBI cases in Lackawanna, N.Y.; Lodi, Calif.; and Atlanta. But the FBI has found that imams and other community leaders are reluctant to do that.
If the news media filmed imams preaching hated of America in mosques that are public, the number of imams publicly espousing jihad would dwindle to close to zero. Until that happens, Americans must learn to distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys.
“In recent years, U.S. soldiers have fought a common enemy on behalf of and often alongside Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait, Somalia, and elsewhere,” the Wall Street Journal pointed out in an editorial. “The U.S. is fighting a sworn enemy today, just as in World War II American Germans, Italians and Japanese fought sworn U.S. enemies of the same race and religion. Many American Muslims will do the same if we stay focused on the real enemy, and show we have the will to do what’s necessary to find them and stop them.”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
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