‘Bigotry of Low Expectations’—Dr. Zuhdi Jasser Talks Iran Protests, Islamist Ideology, and Islamic Reform
On this episode of American Thought Leaders, I sat down with Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, a practicing physician, proud Muslim, and the founder of multiple organizations aimed at countering the threat of political Islam, more commonly referred to as “Islamism.”
“The hypocrisy of the left, the feminists, and others in their claim to be about women’s rights is just mind-boggling … They think people are not going to notice … their silence on supporting their actual allies, which are the women in the streets of Iran,” says Jasser.
We discuss the current protests in Iran, the role America should play in the Middle East, and the curious alliance between far-left ideologues and illiberal Islamists—what Dr. Jasser calls, “the red-green axis.”
“The relationship between AOC and Ilhan Omar is exactly the same in the U.S. Congress as it is in the UN between Iran and the Venezuelas and the Chinas of the world that are far-left communists … They work together because they have a common fear and hate of freedom and liberty,” says Jasser.
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Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, it’s such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Dr. Zuhdi Jasser:
It’s great to be with you, Jan. Thank you.
We’re going to talk about the protests in Iran and what’s really happening over there. But before we do, please tell me a little bit about your background.
My family escaped Syria in the late 1960s. My grandfather, initially, when the French pulled out, he was involved in democracy movement with parliament attempt at democracy. Then, in 1963, the Ba’athists took over, which is still the Assad regime today. My father finished medical school, escaped before he got conscripted into the military, and came to the United States and awaited political asylum. I was born a few months after they got here.
Basically, I was raised in a small town in Wisconsin, and learned that I could practice my faith more freely in Wisconsin as a Muslim than in a Muslim majority country like Syria or elsewhere, because I could pick and choose the things that I wanted to practice—the interpretations of the Quran that were the Islam that I learned from my grandparents and my parents, and not the ones pushed down the throat of the people, whether it’s in Syria, Iran or elsewhere.
Since then, because of a belief and love for this country, the United States, and our Constitution, I served in the US military for 11 years. I was on a military scholarship through medical school in Wisconsin, and ultimately served my last tour after serving in Somalia on a ship, the USS El Paso. I was a physician to Congress for three years. And now, I’ve been in private practice in Phoenix since 1999.
You’re a practicing physician?
But what you also do is, you are involved in a movement to reform Islam from within.
Yes. So as a doctor, I learned that you don’t treat symptoms. You don’t just suppress a cough or give somebody narcotics for pain. You treat the cause. After 9/11, we realized that, as much as we live in the safest, the most beautiful country and freest country in the planet, they’re going to come here, the radicals. They’re going to attack us because we are a threat to the theocrats of Islam and those who are afraid of freedom.
Ultimately, I felt that we as Muslims are the only ones that can repair the problems within our house of Islam. Thus, history will show that either we stayed asleep, like many of the Germans did when Nazism rose, or that we woke up and pushed back against the fascists or the theocratic fascists of Islam fascism, if you will.
I felt that I had an obligation to do that, things that you can do in this country that you just can’t do elsewhere across the Middle East. Ultimately, it’s about religious freedom, whether it’s the women insisting that they aren’t going to be forced by misogynistic men to wear a hijab in Iran or elsewhere, or those of us who reject the interpretations of Sharia that are pushed on us sometimes within countries like America, within our own faith communities, to the ignorance of many around us that don’t realize what’s happening.
We have an obligation to treat the disease. And the disease, as we believe, is not terrorism which is a symptom, but rather political Islam. Let me put it in a historical context. Set aside whether you know anything about Islam or not. America was developed as a country, as an idea, that people came here to escape the establishment of the church through government. That concept is actually what we’re trying to do in Islam.
I believe it’s not only an enlightenment where you have classical liberal ideas, but actually to defeat the root cause, which is the Islamic state. When you have a state identity that’s wedded to a single faith, then the legal system becomes that faith’s tradition. So, is the Quran a source, or the source of the law?
At the end of the day, if you believe it’s a source, you can live in America and be very patriotic. If you believe it’s the source of law and nothing else, then you’re a separatist and you’re actually an insurgent threat to the legal system that is the social contract of America. That’s why our organization is founded on the belief that we want to put an end to the concept of the Islamic state, no different than old theocratic states that did not survive revolutions in the West.
We want to put an end to the concept of military Jihad. We want to put an end to the concept of caliphism and caliphates, that whole concept of Islamic supremacism globally, and ultimately, blasphemy laws and a lot of these other things stem from the concept of the Islamic state. Until the West understands that, we will never be safe from radical Islam, political Islam, and Jihadists.
This is essentially, and you haven’t said the word, but this is the distinction between Islam and Islamism.
Islamism is basically what these political movements are. That’s one of the successes our work at the Muslim Reform Movement and our American Islamic Forum for Democracy has had in the past 21 years since 9/11. Islamists, initially, they tried to tell the West, “Don’t use that term. It offends us. It means terrorists.” It doesn’t mean terrorists. In Arabic, it’s Islamiin, which are political movements animated and inspired by Islamic interpretations. The Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamist movement.
Hamas, an outgrowth of the Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamist movement. Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan, one of the largest parties in Pakistan, is an Islamist movement. Iran’s Khomeinists, even though it’s the Shia variety of what I just gave you, were Sunni varieties in an Islamist movement. They are a party whose platform is based on theologians that put into place Islamic interpretations of Sharia or Islamic law.
They believe that the flag is not a national identity based on all diverse citizens, but rather a national identity based on Islamic law and Islamic identity. Ultimately, we have to defeat that concept. American Muslims are uniquely positioned to say, “You know what? We believe in a national identity that gives us religious freedom and is based on principles of morality and human rights that are derived from God, not from a single faith. It’s derived from a western tradition of freedom of religion, from Judeo-Christian history, and from a liberty that separates us from theocratic oppression.”
Islam is still premodern in its interpretation. It hasn’t gone through a recognition that you protect the community by protecting the individual. It’s still very tribal in a sense. The radicalism and Islamist ideology legitimizes female general mutilation in which they say a woman is born hypersexual, so therefore, she has to have some type of surgical procedure done to her genitalia, which the UN human rights report identifies that tens of millions have been done.
It’s horrific and it’s still a crime against humanity. We’re trying to work with courageous organizations like the AHA Foundation and others to try to expose that in America, let alone globally. So they legitimize that. They legitimize honor killings against women who might decide to date or to not wear the hijab, where their uncles, their brothers have them offed from their family, and then they’re just given a slap on the wrist for committing an act of murder in the West sometimes, let alone in Jordan or other Middle Eastern countries. As you diversify discussion of the Muslim condition and the Muslim faith, you will then actually allow it to bring us dragging, kicking, and screaming into the 21st century.
This is the perfect moment to start talking about what’s actually happening in Iran. It looks like there are people, notably in response to a woman, who I don’t know if it’s proven yet, who was killed for her opposition to exactly the kind of thing that you’re talking about right now. Is that what is happening there right now?
There have been three basic upticks in revolutionary activity by the people since 2009. In Iran, there’s a complete confluence between the military, the government apparatus, and the religious apparatus, which are completely unified in Iran. So, it is a theocratic state. Initially, there was the Green Revolution, which was basically an economic pushback by the workers in Tehran and in the larger cities, especially in 2009.
The Obama Administration slept on that for a few weeks until they basically were pushed globally into doing something, and they slowly began to provide, or at least insist that companies help the revolution. Because the government at the time, just like they’re doing now, turned off the internet and did other things. Then it went quiet, because most of the people that started the revolution in 2009 were tortured and put in the worst prisons in Iran.
I’ll remind folks that Iran is the same regime whose best friend is Bashar al-Assad who used chemical weapons, who has basically destroyed and killed hundreds of thousands over the past 10 years now, since the Syrian revolution took place. Syria as a client state of Iran. This brings you to 2019 during the Trump Administration, when there was another mass movement of people into the streets of Iran.
At that time the Trump Administration was vindicated. The strong pressure against the Iranian regime against any type of nuclear agreement actually then fueled the people to feel that they had support in the West. What was different about that revolution was, it wasn’t just economic and big cities. It was actually in all of the cities in which the theocrats, the clerics have universities, in Qom and other smaller cities that have universities based in what infuses the ideology of the regime, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iran.
Now comes the Women’s Movement, which has now taken off no different than the Tunisia Revolution, started by that one individual, that had his cart, that set himself on fire. This current hero, Mahsa Amini, basically took off her hijab, decided she was not going to wear it, and she was tortured and killed. It just set off a stream of demonstrations and defense. What is really amazing about this movement is that it’s men and women.
Nowhere else in the Middle East have you seen this. Usually, when it’s women demonstrating in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, it’s just women. It’s not supported by the patriarchal culture. You’re seeing this in Iran, which is also more chipping away at the almost 40 plus year entrenchment of the Islamic regime.
Ultimately, in the Middle East, you’ve had two choices. Tribal monarchical dictatorship, or a military regime which are secular, socialist fascists, which are the Ba’athists in Syria and Iraq. Or in Iran, it was the Shah, and in Saudi Arabia, it was the king. Then, that switched to Islamic regimes. Two extremes, perhaps drinking from the same type of ideology, which is political Islam.
One is top down, the other’s bottom up, but essentially, they are both tyrannical. Or there’s a third option, which is liberty and freedom. That will take some time to evolve. Now, we’re seeing this as a third permutation. Again, don’t take this in a historical approach, because each revolution is different.
This seems like a remarkable women’s rights movement, and we don’t see a ton of support for it here, which is strange to me.
The hypocrisy of the Left, the feminists that claim to be about women’s rights, is just mind boggling. Many of us in this space have called it the Red Green Alliance. The Red being the socialists, Marxists, far-Left historical collectivists, if you will. And the Green being the Islamists, those who are animated by political Islam, a grassroots movement of Islamic supremacy, if you will. They find common enemies. Together, they hate capitalism. They hate free thinkers, individual thinkers, anti-tribalists. They hate those who believe in free speech and autonomy and individual rights and the impact that western democracies have had on global economies.
Ultimately, what unites them is what they’re against. Left to their own devices, they hate each other, yet right now they’re animated by what they hate. So, the way to try to destroy America’s foundations is to do that through identity politics. The identity politics movement of the far-Left, whether it’s Black Lives Matter, or whatever it might be on critical race theory, they claim to be about protecting minority rights, but they’re actually negating individuals.
I’m a physician and I’m seeing medical universities now opening talks by saying this land use disclaimer opening, saying that this land was stolen from the people. I can’t believe that is part of a medical school education now. Speaking as a former naval officer, the academies had a PowerPoint last week that was released that said our military officers can’t use the word terrorist anymore.
Terrorism is an actual defined political movement that uses asynchronous attacks against innocent unarmed civilians. That’s what it is. Now, our military can’t use that definition, because of how it gets interpreted. They think people are not going to notice their silence on supporting their actual allies, which are the women on the streets of Iran. By the way, it’s not lost on the people on the streets of Iran.
If you read the Farsi media, if you had read Arabic media during the Arab Awakening, they realized that’s where the West lost a lot of credibility. If we’re going to have effective foreign policy, we have to be consistent. If we are really going to believe in our values, we have to have consistency abroad and at our dinner tables and domestically. It’s not about effectuating, and shipping troops everywhere all the time.
No. It has to be a principles-based approach, where it’s not just a utilitarian mechanism to have a common enemy, but rather about principles. That’s when people need to realize the relationship between AOC and Ilhan Omar in the U.S. Congress is exactly the same as the UN between Iran and the Venezuelas and the Chinas of the world that are far-Left communists or whatever they might be. They work together, because they have a common fear and hate of freedom and liberty.
Then afterwards, when the West has fallen, they’ll fight it out amongst themselves. Is this the idea?
In the long term, yes. They want to seize the property of individuals to use for their own means. Now the reality is, if you look at Europe, for example, which is a bit ahead of us, the Socialist Workers Party ultimately parted ways with the Islamists very openly, because when they got into positions of influence they realized, “Oh my God, they don’t share any values with us. They’re theocrats.”
The far-Left Workers’ Party folks are anti-religion. They’re atheist typically. Ultimately, left to their own devices, in the end they will probably end up in a lot of battles. One of the reasons we don’t want a nuclear Iran is because that would then necessitate a nuclear Saudi Arabia, because of the Sunni-Shia battle that exists.
Perhaps it’s a Machiavellian thing where they find a common enemy, and in the meantime, they forget their own differences. With the long-term strategy, I hope we don’t have to wait to see how that turns out. We don’t need to send troops in Afghanistan prove that it doesn’t work. We have to be helping those on the ground take sides within the house of Islam.
That’s why it’s so important that people understand what political Islam is, because you can’t just let Darwin figure that out. Help those behind the scenes through intelligence, through media, through whatever it might be, through platforming many of us doing this work in the West and in the Middle East. Help those who share our values at least have the power to not be unarmed when it comes to the necessary tools to push back.
Very briefly, let’s discuss this Sunni-Shia schism.
Sunni in Arabic means orthodox Islam. Out of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, 90 per cent are Sunni. My family’s from Syria, we’re Sunni in the extraction. 10 per cent are Shia. That was an initial division that happened after the prophet Mohammed passed, and there were four caliphs. The Shia tradition felt that the leadership of the Muslim community should be based on inherited genetic familial transmission, which is why the Shia believe in a clerical transmission of the 12 Imams. Right now, there have been 11, they’re waiting for the 12th Imam. Sometimes, the Shia are also called Twelvers, that believe in the 12th Imam coming, all traditionally genetically transmitted from the tradition of the prophet.
In a very loose analogy, if you compare Shia to Sunni, the Shia are more Catholic type, clerically-based, and the Sunni are more Protestant or more grassroots-type. Now having said that, it’s Pepsi—Coke right now. It’s basically two flavors of the same problem. The Sunnis have a pseudo-clerical class, which are the Saudis of the world, the Al-Azhar University in Cairo and elsewhere, which are clerics that have become basically a ruling class for Sunni Islam.
They are no different than the Khomeinists in Iran that are Shia. They both believe in the same type of political Islam, which is the law should be inspired only by the Quran. The law should be written only by clerics, not by lay people. People should be forced to believe that the government is God, basically, and their job on earth is to interpret God’s law and enact it by force through government. The resolution of Islam into the 21st century from our current 13th century status is only going to happen not by resolving the Sunni-Shia dilemma, but by defeating the cancer that is the same in both houses, which is political Islam, or Islamic state concepts.
There have been many examples over the past decades of the U.S. being involved for its own interests in the Middle East, more or less. There’s a lot of suspicion about U.S. intervention as a useful thing, because you can end up with something worse than what was there before. Are we really helping based on principles, or are we just cynically projecting our own power as America?
In my book, “A Battle for the Soul of Islam,” one of my chapters, the sixth chapter is about changing the paradigm. I’m talking about changing the paradigm of our foreign policy. Through the 20th century, my grandfather, who I mentioned earlier, had basically evolved in his position when he was trying to get democracy started in Syria, thinking that America’s influence was not only was positive, but would help push the Middle East into democratic movements. Obviously, not only did that fail in the 20th century, but when it was really ripe to happen in 2011, it was an abysmal failure. That wasn’t an Arab Spring, it was an Arab awakening, and the U.S. actually ratcheted back.
Ultimately, this Game of Thrones approach of the West in which we pick our kings and queens, and we think that this one’s better than the other, not only burns any bridges of credibility with the people there, it’s doomed to failure. Because it’s not only artificial, it is un-American. It is not who we are, and I’ve evolved on this.
I served in the Navy for 11 years. I left the Navy truly, truly believing that I would never meet a naval officer that would be sent somewhere in order to oppress or colonize someone. I really saw what we do as a liberating force. I saw our military as a very, very moral fighting force. Yet, in Iraq, we were painted as oppressors, as colonialists, because that’s how the Al-Jazeera media, the Islamist media, wanted to paint the West and blame us for all of their own problems.
The bottom line is, I’ve evolved, because I thought ultimately, there’s no greater thing I could ever have seen than the complete destruction of Saddam’s military and what he did. He’s the Ba’athist of Iraq, no different than Assad’s Ba’athism in Syria. Ultimately, that was a good thing for the world. Now, in retrospect, it was doomed to failure, because it was not organic, because it was artificial. Ultimately, I believe in our Second Amendment, because the only way to push back against true tyranny is to have the arms to do it.
I supported it in 2003 and 2004, because I thought that people would never be able to do that. But in today’s world, there are ways to have revolutions, as we’re seeing in Iran, without foreign forces needing to support it from a military standpoint. Because of the way it gets portrayed, and because of the lack of organic nature to it, it’s always fraught with far more expense and risk and doomed to failure, than to actually succeed. Afghanistan really highlighted a lot of that.
The initial invasion was very moral, because we went to get rid of the cells that were part of Al Qaeda that had attacked us and attacked us on our soil. But ultimately, the occupation went on for trillions of dollars. But then we turned on a dime and left. Number one, the exit was not only an abysmal failure, but was a catastrophic failure of American policy that the Biden Administration will have to live with forever. It will be reviewed that there could have been a way for us to leave after 20-plus years without having done it as incompetently as Biden did.
Because we could have done it where there was a very public handover, however corrupt it is, to the government that exists in Afghanistan that had been protected by us—publicly handed over, region to region, until we slowly, methodically left—versus just to turn on a dime, shut down the runway, don’t use it, and trap our people in. We got 13 people killed by the Taliban assisted Al-Qaeda groups or ISIS groups that were there. It just became a complete disaster.
We lost not only the PR part of it, we lost our 13 heroes, and it accentuated our failures over 20 years. But it also proved that there was no civil society generated there. Look, with the revolutions in Tunisia and elsewhere, Tunisia was one of the silver linings of the Arab Awakening. Even with no American invasion there, you had what was the greatest chance for success for liberation of Muslim populations. In December 31st, 2014, Ennahda, which was the Islamic political party that was Muslim brotherhood of Tunisia, lost an election three years after the initial revolution. That is a huge success for the defeat of political Islam, greater than anything we’ve ever done. And we weren’t even in Tunisia.
That has now ratcheted back just three, four months ago, because they’re now reverting back to dissolving the parliament, and getting a strongman back in power, because the government was falling apart. Now, they’re looking to have revolution 3.0 in Tunisia. Just as the West, you might need to go through 6.0, 7.0. The French went through how many revolutions ultimately, until they got to democracy. Keep our troops out of it. In Afghanistan, we actually suppressed their normal evolution.
I compare it as a doctor to treating cancer. You give the patient chemotherapy, sometimes they get sicker, sometimes they die, sometimes they’re not that bad off, and then ultimately, they get better and the cancer gets treated. So, this is going to take some time and evolution. We should take sides for our credibility and also for our interests, because if we don’t, the Chinas of the world, the Russias, the Irans are taking sides with our enemies and they’re making sure in a Darwinian way that the other side is armed, is fueled, and will defeat those who share our ideas.
But if we’re going to take sides, we can do it like we did in the Cold War. This is what I advocate for, now that I’ve also matured in my understanding of what the American military can do and what it can’t do. We no longer have any strategy in Washington globally about how we advocate for religious freedom and liberty. I was on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom for four years, appointed by Senator McConnell.
The countries we spent most of the time in were Muslim majority countries. I remember going and listening to our state department mistranslate things in Arabic countries. I talked to groups and organizations in Saudi Arabia and Malaysia and Indonesia and elsewhere that said, “You know what? You guys aren’t supporting the moderates, you’re supporting those who are just status quo, so that there’s no conflict.”
All I can tell you is, if we’ve learned anything through the Trump Administration and elsewhere, is that the way to defeat the establishment is disruption. Allow there to be disruption. It will be more chaotic, but you will only get the curing of disease through disruption. That’s really what I believe. But you disrupt it not through military where you end up owning it like we did Afghanistan, but you disrupt it through low-grade behind the scenes platforming.
Okay, expand on that a little bit, because again, that could sound very much like you’re picking someone that’s politically expedient for whatever reason, and then you support them.
It’s not about individuals. It’s like after the Egyptian revolution, America was going to support one of the Google entrepreneurs that was Arabic and then the other one. No, it’s not about individuals. It’s like in the Women’s Movement now in Iran, it’s not about one person, Masih Alinejad, who’s wonderful woman, who’s done a lot of great work. It’s about all of them. You platform all of them. Social media doesn’t need one person that America gets behind. Yes, you’re right. That is a recipe for then making that person ineffective, actually.
We should be promoting our principles and standing behind free speech, making sure the internet’s not shut down, helping the Elon Musks of the world, and opening the satellites like they’re doing in Ukraine and elsewhere, so that they can communicate. The Obama Administration actually helped, as I mentioned before, turn on Bluetooth technology, so that they could communicate point to point, separate from broadband technology during the 2009 revolution.
There are a lot of startup viral-type organizations that we can help behind the scenes that don’t have to be front loaded by American influence. Look what the Russians and the Chinese are doing on our social media, on Facebook and YouTube, to push causes that they don’t care that much about, but they want to disrupt our society. Why are we not involved in similar types of disruption, at least helping those that share our values?
I find the Abraham Accords, for example, to be a perfect stepping stone towards modernization. What was different about the Abraham Accords is that you now had Bahrain, the Emirates, and they wouldn’t have agreed on it had Saudi not been… even though Saudi Arabia hasn’t signed on, those two countries would not have said yes had Saudi Arabia not wanted them to.
You found for the first time clerics in the Emirates in Dubai basically saying, “Theologically, the only state recognized in the Quran is Israel. Therefore, Muslims should support the state of Israel.” For the first time, peace and recognition of the democracy of Israel is happening. Not just because the kings say so, but because theologically, they’re getting some backup on it.
If the world’s ever going to be safe from caliphates, from not only ISIS, but just a future Islamic theocratic tyranny, it’s going to have to be through a liberation of Islamic thinking. This is where my book talks about a paradigm shift where friendship and foreign policy is not a black and white phenomenon. It’s not a binary—either we hug the king or we tell the Putins of the world, “We’re your enemy.” We can’t have a bigotry of low expectations.
What is your policy prescription to support what appears to be a women’s rights and freedom movement in Iran?
We have to be honest, and that will then translate into effective policy. You talk to the Solzhenitsyns and the Natan Sharanskys. If you talk to Natan Sharansky, he will tell you when he was in prison in the Soviet Union, he knew he was going to be free. When? When he heard Ronald Reagan describe the Soviet Union as the evil empire, because we were finally open and clear about what we thought about their values.
Just having a flag talking about LGBT rights, or whatever it might be, is not going to necessarily do anything, unless we actually tell the Taliban in Afghanistan openly that they are evil, that they are a vestige of medieval inhuman thinking. The problem is we were too often pushing hard power, when that’s not how you affect change. You push it through soft power, which is the media war, the intellectual war, and also, the validity of what we represent domestically.
People don’t realize what impact our own domestic weakness is having on these issues. They underestimate the impact that it’s having globally. If we don’t know who we are, we can’t affect foreign countries in a positive way. It will always be destructive, it will always be negative, because we’re so unsure and unclear of who we are that our troops, our state department, our diplomats, and our media will not have an identity of the values that we represent.
I can’t tell you enough how many times I’ve had discussions with Left media, whether it’s CNN, MSNBC or others, when they will ask me, “Where were you getting these numbers from the Middle East that show 30/40 per cent are Islamist?” I said, “This is what the Arab Awakening showed us.” Then they will respond and say, “Who are we to impose our values on them? That’s very presumptuous.”
I said, “I can’t tell you how bigoted that is.” It is a bigotry of low expectations to say, “The Arabs, the Persian community, the Iranians, they don’t want freedom. They don’t want Americanism. They want basically theocratic control by the men in beards.” Is that what you’re telling me? This is the way the narrative goes and nobody pushes back. Somehow, we’ve lost what it means to be an American. That’s what critical race theory is about. They want to erase the fact that Americanism is the best idea that has ever come to mankind, second to the ideas that came from God in our scripture.
One of the books that had huge impact on me is Alexis de Tocqueville’s, “Democracy in America.” In that book, he talks about how military dictatorships don’t need God. Functioning democracies, especially republics, need God. Because you don’t have to have martial law when people fear God and are going to treat each others like brothers and sisters, and not use force or coercion or terrorism when they think it will have a political consequence. And that’s the success.
The secret sauce in America is that the Russian Constitution today might not be that different from ours, but their society is extremely different. It has to do with the Judeo-Christian heritage in America. It’s a very religious society. As we lose our religion to identity politics and the self-hate of the Left, we are going to actually destroy what it is to be American and destroy the best tool you have against defeating Jihad and political Islam.
Because many of us Muslims want to bring Americanism into Islam, so that we can defeat the theocrats in Iran and across the planet. American identity now has become basically guided by making sure you don’t offend anybody, and they quickly raise the flag of offense so that we don’t have actual discussions.
You saw a month or two ago, Salman Rushdie, one of the heroes of free speech who wrote a fictional tale back in 1988. The Iranian government targeted him, a religious ruling basically saying that if he’s assassinated, this is great. You will get $3 million. He had to live under protection for years, and ultimately, has become an icon in the West for free speech. One of the things our Muslim reform movement says at the top of its website is, individuals have rights, but ideas have no rights.
Nothing should protect an idea, but you can debate it. So, you can debate it, but not protect the idea itself. And Islam is an idea, it should not be protected. Yet, the concept of Islamophobia is put out there by Islamic regimes to prevent criticism of their weak ideas and to insulate them from any critique. So, Salman Rushdie nearly gets assassinated, stabbed multiple times on a stage in a school in New York, and it’s hardly covered.
They covered it for a few days, but people didn’t realize the guy who tried to kill him was a online devotee of the Iranian Republican Guard Corp, which thankfully, the Trump Administration identified as a terror organization, but it was a state-endorsed military arm. The Biden Administration supports Rushdie. They had a good statement supporting Rushdie, but they said nothing about the root cause. Biden said nothing about the Iranian fatwa against Rushdie, and about all of the ideologies that infused the radicalization.
In fact, Iran said, “Just because this guy happened to act on whatever was said, that doesn’t mean we had anything to do with it.” That was how it was left out there in the open. That tells you when you wonder where the voices of Islam and modernity are, the Salman Rushdies of the world are still getting attacked. We have nobody actually voicing protection for those of us that are trying to fight the real fight within the house of Islam that love our faith, but want to reject the theocrats.
The reason Iran can never have a nuclear weapon is, even when we were in the Cold War against the Soviets, mutually assured destruction worked, because typically, even the Soviet Politburo did not want their children to die. For the Khomeinists, the Islamist terrorists, whether they’re Sunni or Shia, suicidal death means immediate heaven. Jihad means they go to heaven.
This is why Iran can’t have nuclear weapons. With Israel, which is right around the corner, Iran could easily decide, “We’re going to attack them.” So, this is very important. What’s the best mechanism? No, not regime change, that’s done. Not only has that failed, but the concept that somehow we’re able to do regime change not only has failed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, it’s irrelevant. I’m telling you that now, as a much more educated American Muslim.
If you look at January, 2011, overnight, every government within a few months in the Middle East was on its heels, if not falling apart. The United States had nothing to do with any of that. As effective as regime change might seem, ultimately, those governments will only be pushed back when the people are ready to do it.
Now, as a Syrian American, I can tell you I’m horrified at what the Syrian people went through in the past 10 years with the chemical weapon abuses, and the 10 million out of 20 million that are displaced. It’s horrific. Should the U.S. have done anything different? I don’t have a good answer for that. All I know is, if only we had prevented Russia and Iran from intervening, that civil war would’ve ended much earlier. But it’s the foreign intervention from them that caused it to go on and leave Assad in power.
In the future, we should have a short-term and long-term policy. Short-term policy is to do exactly what the Trump Administration did with the Abraham Accords, to work with those that have a vision that starts to chip away at some of the old things. De-escalation of the Palestinian crisis was one big solution and that’s what we did. We moved our embassy to Jerusalem. We basically got the countries on board that realized that Iran was the bigger problem in the Middle East.
For the long term, we pull back and say, “Listen, we’re now going to begin to advocate for our ideas; religious freedom abroad, free speech, the protection of minority rights, and movement towards modernity. Instead of simply putting in place schools of medicine like Johns Hopkins and Cornell in the Middle East, start demanding that they start having schools of humanities, of literature, of art, of music, of poetry, and of journalism.
This is what’s not happening. And also, you need free markets. You need to actually start having startups, small free market startups in these countries, which are entrepreneurs. What product has ever come out of an Arab country in the last 50 years? Other than oil, it’s zero. It’s not a coincidence that there’s been no Islamic reform, while you also have no economic small business free market startups coming out of those countries.
That should be part of our policy, a capitalist pro-trade, pro-free market startup type of policy. Because as free people start thinking more about economic success with new ideas and products, they will also start to use their scripture and other things in a more modern way.
Yes, it is very interesting. This label of Islamophobia is used constantly, it seems, to shut down debate. When you talked about this bigotry of low expectations, you remind me of something that my friend, Bob Woodson, once told me. Of course, in the African American or black American community, by having these oddly low expectations, it’s rather insulting, and in itself very bigoted. This seems analogous to that.
It is. Islam became racialized, and it’s part of the cancel culture phenomena, right? Thank you for covering our work, because every other week, I saw coverage in conservative media about cancel culture. But I said, “Where’s our story?” Because yes, we’re small, barely 1 per cent of the population are Muslims in America. But globally, it’s a quarter of the world’s population, and we are canceled by the millions.
In Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Iran, these women are being canceled. They’re being covered now this week, because there’s thousands in the streets. But when we talk about free speech online, let’s make sure Muslims who’ve been fighting and suppressed online are covered as part of this discussion in center-Right conversations about cancel culture and who gets targeted. Because they in invoke Islamophobia in order to render us as somehow hateful.
It’s amazing. If you Google online, you’ll see my name associated with anti-Muslim hate, supposedly an Uncle Tom, a native informant, all these pejorative commentaries. If you talk to folks locally here in Arizona, anyone who knows me understands it’s just not true. My family is very much a believer in conservative orthodox practice of the interpretations that we believe in. It’s just done intentionally to slander and libel our work, so that they don’t have to deal with the impact it has on the power of the establishment of the Islamic community.
I speak to a lot of small groups here in Arizona where we’re based, and also nationally. I tell them, “Listen, don’t worry about getting mired in the internal concept of trying to understand the Quran and translations and what is Islam. If you understand what it is to be an American, you will be able to figure out how to join me.”
I’ve testified to Congress eight or nine times about this issue and always one of the first things I say is, “This country was founded in a battle against theocrats.” I remember Congresswoman Speier from California after I finished, she interrupted me and said, “Zuhdi, who are you to be telling Muslims what is Islam and what is not, and coming here into Congress and preaching about Islamic reform? That’s not really your role. You’re not a recognized cleric in Islam.”
She said, “I’m Catholic, I would never push back.” I said, “Ma’am, that’s a great example.” I said, “These halls of this Congress were founded by men and by men and women who believed that they would not take orders from an organized church, from a theocratic establishment of that church in this halls. This was going to be a separation of church and state, if you will, as we defined it in 1776 and 1789 when our Constitution came to fruition.”
It was just amazing to me the hypocrisy. Americanism is an idea where everybody could be an American. Ultimately, that push back against establishing religion through the government made our first freedom religious liberty. That’s something she couldn’t even understand, the position I came from. In our Muslim liberty project, we teach our kids. We tell them, you are Americans that happen to be Muslim, not Muslims who demand to be American.
This is the identity crisis that you’re talking about. So many now in the Left and the progressives are saying, “We are from this race or that race. We’re going to destroy all the foundations of America, because we’ve been aggrieved by the American white person,” whatever that is. It’s all about race and not about any ideas that they want to defend. Because if you look at young Muslims that come to the West that are radicalized, they get told by Imams what they will die for. If they die killing the evil Westerners, they will go to heaven.
They find something they want to die for, which is Jihad. The only way to counter-radicalize that is not to say how bad that is, but to find something else that somebody believes in that they would die for. I would never die for my faith. That’s between God and His other followers. I believe that God doesn’t need me to die for His faith, but I joined the Navy because I would die for America.
Because if I am not willing to die for the American Constitution, then my kids are not going to have a country. They’re not going to be able to have this ability to be protected by this country. Ultimately, if you dissolve the foundations of what America means, you’ve not only lost the sovereignty and the protection and the security by letting millions rush in that may include those who threaten us, but you also then lose the very idea that can protect you against those who radicalize.
To many in the West, it’s paradoxical, given that there is a genocide being conducted by the Chinese regime against the Uyghur people in China. Muslim majority nations around the world aren’t condemning this or acting to stop this.
It’s because these Muslim majority countries are run by tyranny. They’re run by tribes or military dictators that only care about what is economic to them, what is economically feasible for their shortsighted game when it comes to their macroeconomics of who they’re serving. At the end of the day, it’s not about being Muslim, they use Muslim. It’s interesting. Saddam Hussein, when he was losing control of the Iraqi people, added scripture to the Iraqi flag and started to talk about the Palestinian crisis and other things that he couldn’t care less about. But he used it in order to rally the people.
Right now, the governments of these countries think they’re God, and they can basically dispense with populations like the Uyghurs, because they want to maintain economic operations and the billions from the Chinese government. If you look at the Uyghur population, two to three million are sitting in a camp. 14-plus million Uyghurs in China are forced to sometimes eat pork on the spot, are forced to tear up and throw their Qurans down the toilet, are forced to eat during Ramadan when they’re supposed to fast. That’s how the government will deprogram them from their Islam.
This is why we have a responsibility in the West. Our media needs to be honest. If they truly don’t want a genocide to happen, then spend the resources to expose what’s happening. Show the satellite images of what’s happening in these camps. They’re out there. Begin to talk about not only the religious crimes against humanity, but the harvesting of organs. The medical community recently released a meta-analysis of studies that looked at organ transplantation research done in China.
It exposed the fact that most of the research openly showed that the definition of brain death in Chinese transplant programs was so bizarrely inappropriate that it was actually harvesting organs from people that had not necessarily died. And odds are, as we saw in some of the anatomy displays that were going from museum to museum, that many of the bodies being used in these displays were actually from the Uyghur community and other minorities that were being tortured.
It starts with highlighting an obvious crime against humanity, which is happening to Muslims. What’s amazing, it also highlights the hypocrisy of Imran Khan in Pakistan, who was a prime minister that basically openly said how much he supports the Chinese government, and openly rejected the facts of what they were doing. Here’s a so-called Muslim leader that said that they were basically targeting a terror threat in China. I can’t tell you how much I feel for their plight. There have been heroes like Enes Kanter and others that have been trying to raise awareness of the plight of the Uyghur. It’s amazing to me how much the UN has been out to lunch on this, as they are on many things.
Regarding this organ harvesting crime against humanity, I’ve heard from reputable sources that there’s actually a market for Muslim organs for transplants to Muslims.
That’s interesting. I don’t know if that’s coming from Chinese government propaganda or if it’s coming from Islamic apologetics, where the Pakistani regime or others are trying to explain away what they’re doing. I don’t know. Bottom line is, it’s corrupt, it’s evil. As the old saying goes, for evil to succeed, good men need to do nothing. Good men and women need to do nothing. And hopefully, that can change.
Any final thoughts as we finish?
I do think that people underestimate the importance of those four and five million Muslims in America as far as being the head of the spear on some of these domestic issues that are not faith issues, which is our foundations, our free speech, and all these things. I hope people can begin to find those Muslims in their communities and begin to platform them, whether it’s platforming them in their faith, in their church and synagogues, in their academic institutions, in their local universities and community colleges with their politicians, in meetings with their government officials, or in meeting with businesses. Thank you.
Zuhdi Jasser, it’s such a pleasure to have you on the show.
It’s great to be with you, and thanks for having me.
Thank you all for joining Dr. Zuhdi Jasser and me on this episode of American Thought Leaders. I’m your host, Jan Jekielek.
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