Having participated in numerous community events aimed at combating Islamists trying to limit free speech, I am convinced we will only protect speech rights in this country if we have the help of patriotic American Muslims. There are several reasons for this, but chief among these is the fact that, rather than mounting a principled defense of foundational liberties, American reporters, city officials, school board members and county supervisors usually default to anything that looks like a tolerant and multicultural negotiation.
Though it is a short-term fix, local politicians and media commentators consistently opt for the incremental compromise that may restrict freedom just a bit because it mollifies a complainant. Therefore, when up against politically activist groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), it is critical to have the voice of allied American Muslims endorsing unfettered speech and equal rights. This exposes the aggrieved Muslim political action groups as tacticians simply looking for excuses to claim offense while working to gain one more ounce of veto power over criticism of Islamist activity.
A recent example is that of Orange (CA) Councilman Jon Dumitru, who posted a Sept. 11-related comment on his Facebook wall talking about Muslims and the World Trade Center attack. CAIR’s swift demand for an official apology for “falsely linking Islam to 9/11 attacks” went to the entire city council and followed what Dumitru describes as an ambush conference call in which more than a dozen reporters waited on the line as a Los Angeles CAIR official asked Dumitru to defend his comments.
The Orange City Council duly placed an item on the next meeting’s agenda to consider a formal response to CAIR’s complaint. The public session that evening must have impressed both the council members and CAIR as vigilant community members presented mostly thoughtful and organized comments on the dangers of allowing any group to restrict speech according to arbitrary and subjective standards. CAIR and the many politically driven Islamist organizations know that if free and open debate is incrementally limited - and squelched - our only effective tool to define and defend our culture will be lost.
When the City of Orange council members declined to censor Dumitru’s speech that evening, it may well have been largely due to a presentation of American Muslim Dr. Zuhdi Jasser’s written plea published earlier that day asking Americans to safeguard an environment where Jasser could raise his children “as orthodox Muslims who embrace the unparalleled freedom that is guaranteed for them in the United States Constitution.” In the piece Jasser said he fears the Islamist influence on his children, and that “we must start looking at how the gullible, fertile minds of our youth [can be led] toward loving and identifying with Western secular democracy (as in America).”
Finding and encouraging courageous Muslims like Zuhdi Jasser is critical to presenting a public message that attacks Islamists and their agenda while being careful not to smear all American Muslims as wanting to undermine our freedom of religion, open debate and the equal treatment of women.
As Robert Spencer and Andrew McCarthy have been debating the value of acknowledging moderate Muslims over at National Review Online, the very idea of publicly crediting courageous and patriotic Muslims has been called into question. Unfortunately, there is only space here to roughly summarize the key dispute for comment: Spencer believes the numbers of such Muslims are so scant that recognizing a reformist movement is just a distraction from exposing the sources and teachings of Islam as inherently flawed and destructive. McCarthy similarly condemns the texts and clerics but says we should not go out of our way to alienate those who would be allies in the cause of defending American culture. McCarthy notes the invaluable aid of moderate Muslims in his successful prosecution of the Blind Sheikh after the 1993 World Trade Center attack.
From the front lines of local clashes on the battleground of free speech I see the public profile of the brave Muslim defenders of democratic values as a necessary centerpiece to making successful arguments against advancing political Islam. Why does it matter whether there are dozens or thousands of them? We owe each and every one - even if there is only one - all encouragement and every friendship. This is the American way - and the smart way.
So rather than alienating or discrediting Muslims who value American ideals, we should celebrate and feature them. Where do we get the authority to demand that they satisfy our standards for rationalizing their texts before we can consider them cultural allies? It makes sense to admit that all we can practically ask is a consistent record of defending American traditions and Western values.
Consider the experience of U.K. House of Lords Baroness Caroline Cox, who recently introduced “British Law for All” in Parliament. Speaking as a panelist on this subject at the recent David Horowitz Restoration Weekend, Cox described the invaluable support from some British Muslim groups who publicly endorsed her initiative in the interest of women’s rights - even though the proposal would deny legitimacy to the 85 sharia courts in Britain.
Quite possibly, secular or Westernized Muslims are waiting to see if we do a better job than the Europeans have done defending what we call our prized Western values. They may well be looking to see if we do more than spill ink complaining about Islamist activism and whether we actually stand against the imposition of the sharia-inspired blasphemy regulations that will chill our speech and deny us the ability to define our culture.
The example of Baroness Cox and others, such as Reps. Peter King of New York and Sue Myrick of North Carolina, as well as those of us organizing, meeting and speaking in our local town halls, shows that we must find any freedom-supporting Muslim allies to join the front lines for a winning battle campaign.