Looking at Zuhdi Jasser, you wouldn't expect him to be a national lightning rod. Polished and polite, he is a medical doctor and Navy veteran who finds no contradiction between being a proud Muslim and a patriot willing to die for his country.
It is precisely that mutual love of Islam and America that led Dr. Jasser to speak out in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, when he was disgusted by a parade of Muslims taking to the media to blame "U.S. foreign policy" rather than Islamic fanaticism.
Of course, in covering Peter King’s (R-NY) hearings yesterday on Islamic radicalization at which Dr. Jasser testified, the media didn’t bother to tell his compelling and only-in-America life story.
Here’s the story that the mainstream media and left-wing critics have chosen to ignore.
Showing bravery that has been dishearteningly uncommon in the American Islamic community, Dr. Jasser decided to speak out not just against "terrorism" — most Muslim leaders have done that — but also against the teachings that foster the sense of Islamic victimization that motivates young Muslims to "defend" Islam and fellow Muslims by taking up arms.
While still maintaining a full-time medical practice, Dr. Jasser founded the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. He also joined with like-minded families in his community to start a new mosque in the Phoenix area. In the intervening years, his message has been gaining traction, and yesterday he was the star witness at the congressional hearings on Islamic radicalization.
Mainstream media and left-wing outlets alike have assailed the hearings almost from the moment they were announced earlier this year. What irks Dr. Jasser most about those critics is that they fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the hearings — just as they misunderstand the nature of the threat from homegrown terrorism.
Despite high-pitched critics painting a picture of Dr. Jasser as a sort of Islamic Uncle Tom, he never has said that violent rhetoric dominates discussion in mosques or elsewhere in the Muslim community. The problem is that the opposite isn't true, either.
Muslim leaders, he insists, have to be full-throated in condemning the justifications for violence against America — meaning that they need to be unapologetic in preaching the compatibility of deep Islamic faith and unabashed patriotism.Thus, the problem he sees in the Muslim community isn't support for terrorism but rather a lack of clear opposition to the ideas of Islamic victimization that inspire and motivate young Muslims to become jihadists.
"I've never met a Muslim who wouldn't report violence," Dr. Jasser says. "But this isn't about violence; it's about walking back the ideas that can lead to violence, specifically those ideas that can implicitly justify actions against the 'oppressors.' "
Dr. Jasser, who has clear libertarian tendencies, does not want government legislation that attempts to fix problems in the Islamic community. But he believes that outside pressure is needed to trigger necessary debate within the Islamic community about what needs to be done to fight homegrown terrorism.
"Cooperation is also a continuum," he says of the controversial comments from Mr. King that the Muslim community has failed to cooperate fully with law enforcement. "It's not just about reporting violence but about reporting radicalism and then going further and countering those anti-American sentiments."
When the topic turns to accused Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, whose background bears more than a passing resemblance to his own, Dr. Jasser pauses for a moment. Like him, Maj. Hasan was a medical doctor and practicing Muslim, who was born and raised in America.
The key difference, though, was that while Dr. Jasser never wavered in his love for America, Maj. Hasan embraced anti-American propaganda, believing that his co-religionists were being slaughtered by the people wearing the same uniform as he was.
Not only did his Islamic faith not prevent him from serving his country, but Dr. Jasser says it was his faith that helped inspire his service. His grandfather, who was a devout Muslim, instilled in him a love of America and convinced him that Arab countries had fallen into dictatorships because "freedom-loving Muslims had abandoned the military to the thugs of society."
He even grew in his faith while in uniform, noting that his favorite imam to this day was at a civilian mosque in Hampton Roads, Va., which he attended while stationed in nearby Norfolk.
Even though many would consider high-profile congressional hearings a major victory, Dr. Jasser is realistic about the enormity of his struggle. He will continue to face detractors who will hurl a wide variety of insults and accusations, including from those who believe that reforming Islam is a lost cause.
Labeling himself "a fairly orthodox Muslim," Dr. Jasser does not hesitate to note that he and his wife are "raising our children conservatively in the Islamic faith."
His resolve to reform Islam now also stems from the world he envisions for his children.
"Ultimately and most importantly," Dr. Jasser says, his passion rising, "what I want is for my children to grow up in an Islamic community that rejects Islamism in favor of the principles of liberty."