Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, a Phoenix physician who founded the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, discusses his new book about Muslim radicalism,”A Battle for the Soul of Islam: An American Muslim Patriot’s Fight to Save His Faith”
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. A long-time criminal investigator with the attorney general's office filed a lawsuit today against her boss, attorney general Tom Horne, accusing Horne of engaging in a cover-up to hide illegal campaign activity. Margaret Hinchey filed a notice of claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, seeking $10 million. Hinchey claims that Horne and his staff destroyed investigative materials and overlooked possible criminal activity by Horne. Hinchey also claims that she was the target of retaliation after she reported the information to the FBI. Hinchey claims that Horne also retaliated against staff who were democrats or supported his opponent in the general election. The FBI is investigating Horne for possible campaign law violations.
Ted Simons: dr. Zuhdi Jasser is a valley physician, a devout Muslim, and a leading voice in the push against radical Islam. Dr. Jasser's new book is titled "a battle for the soul of Islam: an American Muslim patriot's fight to save his faith." joining us now is Dr. Zuhdi Jasser. Good to see you again.
Zuhdi Jasser: great to see you again.
Ted Simons: Battle for the soul of Islam, who is fighting this battle?
Zuhdi Jasser: I think it's many Muslims who love freedom, who love liberty and want to push back against theocracy and I think to contextualize it, Muslims are going through this Arab awakening in the middle east but through our souls we are going through the same process our founding fathers went through in Europe when the enlightenment happened and that battle is between liberty, individuality versus tribalism and theocracy.
Ted Simons: where are the battles being fought?
Zuhdi Jasser: let's start in the United States. My grandparents escaped persecution in Syria and came to Wisconsin with my parents and were able to practice their faith more freely in America than they could anywhere in the world. And that led to me wanting to join the navy. That military narrative of why I spent 11 years as a physician in the military, if you look at what's happening in Syria now, it's being ripped apart by a military that's thuggish and corrupt and I learned growing up in Wisconsin is what keeps America safe is our military is a cross section of a moral, devout society that takes orders from a civilian government versus the fascist governments and militaries in the middle east. That's just another one of these fronts. I think in my book, I lay out this personal narrative that will allow people to see, you know what? Muslims have the same battle, the same conflicts against theocracy and America's solution is one we need to export.
Ted Simons: is it a personal narrative that is unique to you and your family? Are you hearing? Because from a distance it seems as though that isn't the common perception most Americans have of Muslim Americans and Muslims in general.
Zuhdi Jasser: I think obviously, 10 years since 9/11 I would be deceiving myself if I thought there were millions like me. I think there's a lot of uniqueness to my story generally because of my grandfather's attempt to write article after article living in house arrest until Syria and my father's education in London. I think there are so many American Muslims with that similar story. The problem is that they have not been pushed to speak out, to be as active partly a skill set. Many of us are, I am a second generation but most Muslims here are first generation other than the African-American community. And, you know, I think that that takes time. And we are living in a country that separates church or mosque from state, the goal of the, it's not a threat like in Egypt where we see the Muslim brotherhood coming to power. So basically they say, good luck, Zuhdi, this is a tough struggle and I am loving it quiet the way it is in America.
Ted Simons: the difference between Islam and Islamism, Islamism, however you want to pronounce it but you see a definite difference there. Correct?
Zuhdi Jasser: that's -- absolutely. That's the core of this battle in the soul is Islamism says like in the marines there's god, country and corps. It's not Christianity, we are all individuals under god. But not under a particular faith. Islamism believes people's rights come from Islam and the cleric's interpretation and many Islamists say as long as the Islamists that are in control give you rights that are democratic, that's fine. We know that democracy can be mobocracy. It can oppress minorities and that's why we are a republic in America. We are not a democracy per se. This is the issue that Islamism puts into place the vehicle where Koran or scripture is the source of law, not a source of law.
Ted Simons: But do most Muslims agree those definitions you just laid out? The difference between Islam and Islamism?
Zuhdi Jasser: I believe so.
Ted Simons: you think so?
Zuhdi Jasser: This is a guess. We haven't studied this. This is why, we have been so busy fighting terrorism, fighting the symptom, calling it nebulous extremism. In the cold war we understood while the soviets were our main, we are fighting this terrorism but I hope my book can open people's eyes to the fact there's an ideology we are fighting and it's political Islam. It's Islamism. If we say Islam is the problem we are going to actually antagonize a quarter of the world's population and cause more problems but yet if we say Islamism is the problem while Muslims and Islam are modern Islam, enlightened Islam is the solution, you actually will start engaging Muslims in repairing our own house.
Ted Simons: with that in mind a couple of questions here. And we hear this a lot in conversation, argument, debate regarding radical Islam today. Some say Islam simply cannot live in harmony with the modern world. It's just, it just can't.
Zuhdi Jasser: Well, I tell you, ted, if you look in 2002 the negative perceptions of Islam were 32%. Now they are up to 68%. We have been torn by two extremes. One says no Muslim could ever do wrong; it's a religion of peace. The other says every Muslim is a possible terrorist. In the middle is a reality that, I talk in the book about how most of who I am as a Muslim, as a physician, I learned early on in my life. And my grade school and high school, I got from my parents how to be a good person, humble, honest, integrity, character, these are all part of being Muslim. Then I learned scriptures and the ability to understand different passages. Yes, the wahabi version, the radical version of the Iranian government, of the Saudi government, those are incompatible with the west ideas. The American Muslim, our Islam that we came to this country to be able to practice, is compatible but we don't have books on the shelves that fight that intellectual battle against the theocrats. I tell my children I am starting this battle but I can't finish it. I can't write all the new laws. We need to raise clerics and imams that are based in American freedom so they can separate mosque and state.
Ted Simons: What are you hearing from younger folks? Young you are Muslims right now? Are they getting the same old message? Are they getting a new message? Is it a mixed message?
Zuhdi Jasser: It's mixed. Some of them are being told America is the problem, and America is anti-Muslim and anti-Islam. You this don't see America is very pro Muslim. We went to Iraq and sacrificed soldiers to free them from their own oppressor. We have a liberty project at the forum for democracy that engages Muslim youth, 15 to 30. In pushing back, feeling confident, in questioning their parents, questioning their imams, questioning the infrastructure that so far which is really what I would call the Muslim brotherhood legacy groups that came off the petro dollars, came off the old history in the middle east that still we see now, even after the Arab awakening the two candidates in Egypt are the secular fascist candidate from Mubarak and the Muslim brotherhood. We have to start teaching youth and our youth are telling us they want to learn American identification. They want to be American first and everything else second. And they don't see that as threatening their relationship with God.
Ted Simons: Do they want that at opposition to what their parents want? Is there -- you know, obviously, the younger kid, that's the future. That's what's going to happen in the future. What are they hearing from their parents? What are they hearing from their relatives? That is a slow slog?
Zuhdi Jasser: you get both. We get many parents that are engaged along with their kids with us saying, you know, they heard me testify to chairman king's hearings last march at homeland security committee. And they said, boy, that was the first time I heard a Muslim testify where I felt there was an Islamic narrative and an American narrative that weren't in conflict. There's some parents that really want, are hungry for that narrative of American liberty. There are other parents that grew up in this political Islamism mind-set where everything is everybody else's fault. They blame things on Israel and there are Zionist conspiracy theories so to them, America is the problem and their kids are confused.
Ted Simons: How do you get past, though, the conspiracy theories? That really does seem to be just a whole there especially in the Middle East. How do you get past that when a lot of things that went on in the past involved a lot of nefarious stuff from the west?
Zuhdi Jasser: There's a chapter in my book called "changing the paradigm." I say it's time for Americans to change the paradigm where we have this binary, you are either our friend, ally or an enemy. Saudi Arabia, because they are fighting al-Qaeda, becomes our ally even though they are probably exporting the largest cancer in the world which is wahabism. We need to reboot that and this is how we regain the credibility in the Arab street. But that's not the primary problem. They have been able to spread this radicalism because the soil is fertile. The soil in the Middle East, and the Islamic consciousness has been fertile with a pre-enlightenment theology. Fix our house first and then start blaming everything on other policy that is may impact us.
Ted Simons: Last question. Is this book written for Muslim Americans? Your kids? You? Me? Americans? Those in the Middle East? Who do -- when you wrote this book who were you writing it for? Who did you see reading it?
Zuhdi Jasser: Americans that are looking for a solution. Americans that want hope, that want to see, this isn't going to be a cataclysmic war against Muslims, that we want to engage the right Muslims. So those Americans would be my children, Muslims that want to love America and find its roots that we find consistent, Muslim that is want to find where we need to reform and agree we have to take responsibility and then non-Muslims that say, you know what? The military is not going to solve this, homeland security is not going to have a whack-a-mole solution. The Muslim groups that have been speaking for Muslim groups have been apologists, focused on victimology.
Ted Simons: One of the groups, care, American Islamic relations council called you a sock puppet for Muslim haters.
Zuhdi Jasser: That demonstrates the weakness for their arguments. They don't know how to counter the ideas or the fact that I say, you know what? Their obsession using the bandwidth of American attention to victimization makes us not address our problems. They don't want to deal with that. They would rather call me an uncle tom, call me names and this is a common, when you can't deal with substance you call names. That's actually empowering our work. Because youth see that, they see through that and say, boy, I listened to Dr. Jasser and he seems pretty reasonable.
Ted Simons: Congratulations on the book. Good luck with that. Good to have you on the program again. Good to see you.
Zuhdi Jasser: Nice to be here. Thank you.
Dr. Zuhdi Jasser:Phoenix physician, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy;