To fight radical Islam, we need strange coalitions

Posted: Jun 10, 2005 12:00 AM

Any seasoned Washington veteran will tell you that a successful political movement frequently earns its victory thanks to the assemblance of strange bedfellows and partnerships. And the more difficult the battle, the stranger that coalition may need to be.

At the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee's 25th anniversary conference in late May, it was clear that the prevailing viewpoint on the Middle East was what could be generously described as ?pro-Palestinian.?  However, it was in that crowd?a mix of Muslims and Christians?that maverick Muslim Kamal Nawash (a Palestinian by birth who rarely discusses Israel) found a surprisingly warm reception from many of the attendees.

A former ADC staffer, Nawash has recently become a pariah in the eyes of most American Muslim leaders thanks to his relentless attacks against the radicalism that has seeped into Islam as it is practiced in America.  He is equally incensed at the leaders of major national American Muslim political organizations for their inability to condemn radical Islam even when it is staring them in the face.

Although he was no more than a mere attendee at the ADC conference, Nawash found himself receiving congratulatory handshakes from people who support his confrontational?and among Arabs and Muslims, controversial?message.  Based on the overall currents at the event, it is likely that many of those at the ADC conference supportive of Nawash would not have a particularly benign view of Israel and some probably don?t even believe in the right of the Jewish state to exist.

Nawash has caught flak recently for putting a controversial figure on the board of his organization, the Free Muslims Coalition.  Ray Hanania, a Chicago columnist, has repeatedly blasted the Jewish state for its policies of ?violence? and even called Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a ?Nazi.?  (He has since repeatedly apologized and admitted in an interview with this columnist that he was wrong to use that term because, he explained, ?Nothing compares to the Holocaust.?)

Though Hanania can be a hothead, he also is a relentless critic of Islamic terrorism and radical Islam.

But when Nawash and the FMC organized the first-ever Free Muslims Rally Against Terror, several Internet bloggers who should side with Nawash instead went after him, including one who ludicrously claimed that Nawash views ?Jews/Israelis as the root cause of terrorism.?

Although Hanania is Arab Christian, he has long been involved with Palestinian politics inside the U.S. (his family hails from Bethlehem) and he has found himself assailed by ?moderate? Muslim leaders because he unhesitatingly labels Hamas a terrorist organization.

Where Hanania really raised the ire of many Muslim leaders, though, was in his championing of the cause of Chicago-area Muslim Omar Najib, an observant?but modernized?Muslim who is battling the leadership of the Bridgeview Mosque, arguing that it has fallen into the hands of foreign-financed radicals.  Without Hanania, Najib might have lacked a public platform.

It is impossible to determine how many Arabs and Muslims like Hanania and Najib are out there, in large part because of the intimidation that permeates the community. Speaking out is difficult and those who do almost always pay a price. 

Najib, for example, has found himself on the outs with many in his mosque, and the leadership certainly has him in its crosshairs.  And Nawash has found himself the target of repeated and vicious attacks from the leaders of supposedly moderate Muslim political organizations.

Because the climate for Arabs and Muslims to step forward and criticize radical Islam is already deeply inhospitable, every effort should be made to encourage such dissent.  But part of that will mean having to listen to people who might not be at all supportive of Israel or even philosophically believe in the right of the Jewish state to exist.

In the end, though, if someone is genuinely critical of radical Islam, he has no choice but to unequivocally condemn suicide bombings or any other form of Islamic terrorism.  With that as a basic ground rule, legitimate discussion should be possible.  But the culture of conformity in the Muslim community in America?ruthlessly enforced by those who silence dissenters?has made nearly impossible any legitimate discussion amongst Muslims about the spread of radicalism.

For Nawash to succeed, he must do so by empowering the ?silent majority??if it is even that?among Muslims in America to fight back and reclaim the religion from the radicals.