On March 21st, over 150 federal agents raided the offices of several prominent Muslim organizations and the homes of some of the most respected members of the American Muslim community, located in Northern Virginia. For over twenty years, the Muslim leadership associated with the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT: http://www.iiit.org) one of the targets of the raid, has been at the forefront of many progressive, moderate, intellectual and liberal initiatives taken by American Muslims.
The raids, according to authorities, are investigating alleged links between IIIT and terrorist organizations. No one has been arrested and no charges have been made yet. The terrorism task force is hoping it will find some evidence in the material, computers and files, it has confiscated from the Herndon offices of IIIT. IIIT is a research institute that has invested two decades and millions of dollars in search of “the Islamic epistemology” – a magic wand that when discovered would instantly restore the lost glory of the Islamic civilization. Needless to say it is still looking. I think the task of reading through all the material that IIIT produces, every third word of which is epistemology and every second word is maarifah, which means the same in Arabic may actually constitute cruel and unusual punishment. In a different situation I might of have sympathized with the Feds, but now I think they deserve it for terrorizing the Muslim community.
The raids on IIIT and the Graduate School of Islamic Social Sciences (GSISS pronounced Jesus) are an attack on the most moderate, most pro-American of Muslims. These raids have sent a shiver down the spine of the American Muslim community. If people like Dr. Taha Al-alwani are also targets in the War on terrorism, then this war is indeed a war against Muslims and not terrorists. Dr. Al-alwani the president of GSISS (http://www.siss.edu) is a leading liberal Muslim thinker who advocated that American Muslims adopt the festival of Thanks Giving as an Islamic festival, since Islam is all about thanks giving.
The IIIT community has played an important role in promoting education and liberalism amongst Muslims. They have advocated Muslim participation in America’s mainstream by supporting the creation of institutions such as the American Muslim Council. They created the GSISS to produce “Made in America Imams,” a sure way of promoting liberal Islam by cutting of the need for importing conservative Imams trained in anti-Western places like Saudi Arabia.
In the last few months, the Bush administration has systematically disengaged itself from the American Muslim community. In the immediate aftermath of September 11th, President Bush was indeed heroic in making several statements, and appearances with Muslim leaders, to protect the civil rights, properties, businesses and places of Worship of American Muslims. Muslims recognize that if he had not been so supportive, the backlash against the community would have been very severe. But that was in 2001. Since the beginning of this year, the White House has become completely inaccessible to Muslims.
The administration has discontinued almost all kinds of previous contacts with mainstream Muslim organizations. Things are so bad that even public relations contacts, such as Eid celebration in the White House that were routine in the past, are now on hold. Even the American Muslim organizations that endorsed the candidacy of George Bush and campaigned for him in 2000 now have no access to their President. The combination of estrangement from our President and the continued raids by the authorities on Muslim organizations and charities has slowly induced a feeling of fear, uncertainty, and melancholia in the community that is beginning to feel as if it is under siege by its own government.
Increasingly Muslims fear that they may be becoming a victim of the growing frustration within the administration. The war against the Al-Qaeda operatives still hiding in the mountains of Afghanistan is not going so well. Both Osama Binladen and Mullah Omar are still missing. While the authorities continue to detain over a 1000 people at home, there has been no major breakthrough against the so-called network of terrorists hiding inside the US. The anthrax bomber is still at large. On the international front nobody, neither the so-called pro-Western Arab regimes nor Western allies in Europe, are willing to support a US attack against Iraq. Washington is spending billions and after the laudable liberation of Afghanistan, has little to show for its efforts. Muslim leaders feel that this raid against moderate Muslims may well be a desperate attempt by the authorities to find something that it can use to claim as another victory in its war on terror.
One of the most debilitating effects of raids on moderate Muslim institutions is the power it gives to those conservative Muslims who are critical of the US and see the war on terror as essentially a global war on Islam. These raids weaken the position of Moderate Muslims who are inviting the global Muslim community to do its best to undermine extremism and intolerance within the Muslim World.
This was supposed to be a war on terrorists, the radical extremists who advocate violence against the US, not against moderate Muslims who promote democracy, education and interfaith relations. More and more Muslims are feeling that if moderate Muslims become as much a target as extremists then perhaps the war on terror is slipping into a war on American Muslims.