Just when you think STACLU can’t get any more ridiculous you come across this post by davef, announcing breathlessly that a – gasp! – Muslim has joined the national board of the ACLU. Laila Al-Qatami of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee is joining the ACLU board and, apparently, davef thinks that the mere fact that she’s Muslim makes her a terrorist. He tries mightily to make this sound like a bad thing, and fails miserably. He begins:
Laila Al-Qatami has long been the spokes person for the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, an organization with previous ties to the ACLU, most notably the ACLUs ongoing lawsuit against the Patriot Act (ACLU vs. John Ashcroft & Robert Mueller).
Really. No kidding? She agrees with the ACLU (and many conservatives, by the way) that the Patriot Act has come constitutional problems. What a shock, then, that she’d be an ally of the ACLU.
As a quick refresher the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee is a strong Arab lobby and part of the Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Advisory Council. It was created in 1980 by a Democratic Senator (James Abourezk) as a rival to the Jewish Anti-Defamation League. You can find more on the AAADC here. The AAADC of today officially opposes US aid to Israel, opposes the war on terror and especially the Patriot Act, opposes ethnic profiling of Arab Americans, and officially supports the Palestinian Martyrdom (homicide bombing) campaign in Israel.
Does davef have any actual evidence that the ADC “opposes the war on terror”? Opposing particular Bush administration policies in this regard does not mean that one “opposes the war on terror”. Many of Bush’s anti-terror policies have been opposed by conservative intellectuals like Bruce Fein, so merely equating opposition to racial profiling, to the Patriot Act or to the NSA warrantless surveillance program does not mean that one is “opposed to the war on terror.” This is just ridiculous and inflammatory rhetoric engaged in by braindead partisans and demagogues.
Likewise, does davef have a shred of evidence that the ADC supports Palestinian suicide bombings? If so, he should present it. The fact that he doesn’t present any speaks loudly. In fact, at their 2006 conference the ADC adopted a resolution that explicitly condemned all such acts of violence and arguing for a more comprehensive approach to fighting terrorism:
Whereas ADC condemns terrorism and all acts of violence against innocent civilians whether committed by states, groups or individuals; and whereas ADC believes that the eradication of terrorism requires a comprehensive approach taking into account the root causes of such acts; and whereas ADC strongly believes that effective counter-terrorism efforts must include undertakings to address injustices that breed desperation and the breakdown of security; be it resolved that ADC will urge our government to take a more comprehensive approach to fighting terrorism which includes adopting a fair and even-handed foreign policy towards the Middle East.
In another statement on their website they declare:
Suicide bombing is a reprehensible and unacceptable tactic. These attacks should stop immediately.
So where is this “official support” for suicide bombings? It doesn’t appear to exist. Of course, he’s just cribbing, literally word for word, from the website he links to. That website, Discover the Network, is a highly partisan site that paints its political enemies in the worst possible light. It is highly dishonest to pretend that supporting the Palestinian cause or opposing aid to Israel means that one supports suicide bombers or opposes the war on terror.
So how about it Dave, do you have actual evidence that the ADC “opposes the war on terror” and “officially supports” the Palestinian suicide bombing campaign? Or are you just lobbing empty rhetorical bombs at a political enemy in an attempt to demonize them? An intellectually honest person would either post some genuine evidence to back up such an accusation, or withdraw it and apologize. I’m willing to bet you’ll do neither.
There are Muslims I would find absolutely unacceptable on the ACLU board. The Florida ACLU named Parvez Ahmed to their board and I came out strongly against it. Ahmed has argued publicly in favor of anti-blasphemy laws, a position absolutely contrary to any reasonable notion of civil liberties. He thus has no place whatsoever in any group that claims to be in favor of freedom of conscience. But the mere fact that he is Muslim has nothing to do with it. Muslims can be pro-liberty or anti-liberty, and there is not a shred of evidence presented that suggests that Al-Qatami is in favor of any of the bad things davef accuses her of. This is hardly a surprise. This looks like nothing more than a sad, bigoted attempt at character assassination.
The truth is that the ADC is a very moderate organization of American Muslims. They condemned the events of 9/11 vociferously and have spoken out strongly against the use of terrorism by Islamic radicals and against their reactionary, anti-modernist interpretations of Islam. In an address to the ADC, their President, Dr. Ziad Asali, said the following:
The war on terrorism in Afghanistan is the first phase of a long, opaque and complex engagement that will define international relations for decades to come. Arab Americans, both Christians and Muslims, have had the unique experience of being doubly impacted by this tragedy: first as Americans, and secondly as people of Arab heritage. We will be in this unique position, filled with dangers and opportunities, for the foreseeable future…
There is no historical precedent in our country for September 11. The closest analog, Pearl Harbor, was directed against men in uniform and machines of war. There is no way to exaggerate the feelings of violation and outrage this massive crime provoked in all American citizens, Arab Americans included. All of us in this room will be dealing with its consequences for years, perhaps for the rest of our lives…
The Arab American community can play a key role in promoting understanding and exploring avenues of mutual benefit between Arabs and Americans. The task of educating both cultures about each other, by interpreting the multi-textured Arab World to America, without intermediaries who harbor their own agendas, and by educating the Arab people about the system that makes America great, is our calling and our challenge. As Arab Americans, we know there is no inherent contradiction between these two societies, and we are keenly aware of the unexplored opportunities that improved relations offer…
A revolutionary and right wing version of political Islam has emerged as a powerful ideological force. It seized power in Shiite Iran in 1980, and claimed a military victory, with the strong support of the United States, for Sunnis in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. It presents itself as a viable and successful alternative to a people who have known only the politics of failure for generations. It appeals to the sense of injured dignity of the disaffected and hopeless youth. Although Islamism is not in power in any Arab state, it has effectively replaced socialism, secularism and Arab nationalism as the dominant form of opposition to all regimes. It has been allowed to cast itself as the main vehicle for powerful reformist impulses as other voices have been effectively stifled.
For the past 20 years political dynamics in the Arab World have been shaped by two major internal forces: the regimes on the one hand, and Islamist opposition on the other. It is fair to say that neither of them represents a majority, since a large middle ground is occupied by politically marginalized or impoverished sectors of the society. The various reactions to the war on terrorism in the Arab World reflect the positions and perceptions of these competing forces…
Supporters of Al Qaida, after their initial flush of triumph and defiance, were shocked by the quick disintegration of their power base in Afghanistan, their lack of popular support, and the relentless dismantling of their operations around the globe. Their vision to replace the existing nation state system by a single powerful Islamic state that reclaims the glories of bygone days lies in ruins. Their goal, as expressed by bin Laden, was to arouse Muslims against Christians and Jews, whom he called infidels in direct contradiction to Islamic texts and tradition. This call failed to resonate in a culture that, contrary to relentless defamation by so-called experts, has a long history of pluralism, tolerance and coexistence. Whatever initial appeal their propaganda may have had for some, these fanatics are now identified with brutality, desperation and failure. Life in Afghanistan under their control provided a vision of the future that almost everyone finds appalling and unacceptable…
Of course it would be disingenuous to deny that some Arabs derived and expressed satisfaction from the attack on America. However, it is erroneous, indeed malicious, to suggest that the majority of the Arab people did not have a genuine sense of sympathy for America and the victims of the attack. This majority understood America’s reaction, and its retaliation in Afghanistan against Al Qaida and the Taliban, but is deeply apprehensive about the future. It has not heeded the call to Jihad so violently pushed by Bin Laden, but it has genuine fears that some forces in the US share his desire for a clash of civilizations and is afraid that they might prevail.
Strategic and tactical decisions shaping the war on terrorism must recognize the vital importance of winning over this “swing vote” of the silent majority and ensuring that it is not lost to the fanatics. Words that precede deeds, uttered by leaders, have to reflect a sense of history and sensitivity to their disproportionate impact at this point in time. The colonial experience, the plight of the Palestinians, and the long record of broken Western promises to the Arab people are certainly serious obstacles to winning over the Arab public. But it is a public that can be won over, and will respond to goodwill. Despair and humiliation, two affects that are unfortunately spreading among the Arabs, cannot enhance anyone’s security.
The story of the past several decades is one of the ascendance of the Islamist forces in opposition to the regimes that nurtured them, and to the West, especially America, that also initially promoted them. This was at the expense of the secular nationalists who were marginalized and discredited yet they remain a potential source of much progress.
These are the serious, secular and progressive citizens on whom a positive future for the Arab world depends. This is the intellectual, social and economic class around which healthy discursive and political systems can be built. They are at the core of a civil society, which, in most Arab states, remains only a potential. Both Arab governments and the United States have, frankly, regarded such people with suspicion and mistrust. They have been marginalized, persecuted and discouraged, and have not been allowed to play their natural role in the development of post-colonial Arab societies. Arab regimes and our government need to rethink their relationship to this class of citizens, and see them not as a threat, a nuisance or a problem to be managed but the hope of the future. We need to recognize that while such people may criticize our policies, they share our fundamental values of freedom and democracy. The questions they raise are the first stirrings of a healthy civil society.
Building bridges between this constituency and the regimes is the most reasonable road to development and security. The economic failure of the regimes, with corruption playing a central role in impeding development, has created a significant constituency for a free and open economic system. This segment of society has been calling for more freedom, accountability, transparency and enfranchisement. Yet there is a great deal of mutual suspicion between these people and the regimes, and they have yet to develop any meaningful political role. The regimes have to understand the value of this alliance, and have to be nudged to widen their base of support and improve their performance. It will take a credible effort at reform for this class to accept to cooperate rather than to be co-opted.
Many in the West are understandably looking into the internal dynamics of Arab and Muslim societies, including Islamic theology, to understand terrorism as a phenomenon. One of the most pernicious notions to emerge is that, unlike other religions, violence is inherent to Islam. This view reveals a complete disregard of history, and implies that future conflict is inevitable, even desirable. Rhetoric that demonizes one out of every five people on earth is no recipe for peace. Proponents of such views are, to be very frank, America’s Taliban, the soul mates of Bin Laden, whose dangerous and atavistic appeals to hatred need to be exposed and denounced.
However, there is no denying the seriousness of the problems that plague the Arab and Islamic World. It is true that Arab societies have made significant strides in the past half-century, largely unnoticed and unheralded. This progress notwithstanding, the problems of uneven distribution of wealth, abridgement of human and civil rights, an array of social and economic ills and a sense of injured national dignity have all combined to create a subculture of despair and violence that exploded in the form of terrorism. Whatever immediate remedies we consider, we must commit resources to educating young people about diversity and tolerance, and equipping them with knowledge and skills they can use to build productive and meaningful lives in a competitive world.
One can draw lessons from the history of this nation with the racism, despair and violence that created race riots, bombings and urban guerilla groups. Security measures, controversial but unavoidable, were employed to deal with these challenges, but of more sustained and permanent value were enactment of civil rights laws and the upward mobility of African-Americans. One can also point to the progress made in the relations between the United States and Latin America over the past several decades. The fear, suspicion and hostility that defined these relations in the past have gradually, if incompletely, yielded to a more respectful coexistence and genuine movement towards democracy.
While the lack of freedom in Arab states is clearly a major issue to be dealt with, no serious analysis can ignore or dismiss the central role of the Palestinian issue in defining relations between the United States and the Arab world. Anyone who tries to position the Palestinian problem as a cause of 9/11 is making a very serious intellectual and historical error. However, there is no doubt that a successful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a vital element in any effective response to those attacks, since it is in fact the basis of so much resentment and anger across the Arab world. In other words, the Palestinian plight is not a cause of the attacks, but resolving it is a vital part of an effective political counter-attack. We are asking, even demanding, that almost all Arab and Muslim states and societies join the war on terrorism and, in effect embrace our international agenda. American foreign policy towards the Arab world therefore cannot simply be a laundry list of ideas and organizations to which the US is opposed. It must contain some positive elements and provide the Arabs with a sense of hope that their most fundamental concerns will be addressed.
Now, does that sound like an organization that opposes the war on terror? Or does that sound like an organization that, while it may be wrong on particular issues, is firmly on the right side against Islamic extremism and terrorism? Almost everything said there is spot on. Yes, we must fight the war on terror, but we must also address some of the situations that inflame terrorism, including a serious push for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And they are absolutely right that our most powerful allies in this fight are modernist Arab and Muslim intellectuals, academics and businessmen. Bin Laden is at least as much their enemy as he is ours and we will never stop terrorism without their efforts within the Islamic world.
Dave is doing nothing but demonizing, without a shred of evidence, one of the groups we should be working with in this fight. But I’ll all but guarantee that he will neither support his accusations nor retract them. To do so would be to get in the way of the simplistic demonization that he revels in.