Yesterday in Washington, the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID), a think-tank dedicated to warm ties between the United States and so-called “moderate Islamists”--mainly in the Muslim Brotherhood--held its 11th annual conference.
The conclave was titled “U.S. Relations With the Muslim World--One Year After Cairo,” a reference to Barack Obama's "speech to the Muslim world." CSID president Radwan Masmoudi crowed that Obama’s Egyptian discourse ended “the era when U.S. policy [toward Muslims] was defined by the anti-terror war.” To also epitomize this rupture with the administration of George W. Bush, the conference celebrated the arrival in the U.S. of Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss-born academic denied a visa under the Patriot Act in 2004 and 2006. A federal court decision last year, reversing the ban on Ramadan’s entry, has become, like the Cairo speech, another over-praised item in Obama’s new dispensation.
CSID’s event enjoyed considerable federal patronage. It was cosponsored by the congressionally-subsidized U.S. Institute for Peace. Its morning speaker was Farah Pandith, appointed by Hillary Clinton as “U.S. Representative to Muslim Communities.” At lunchtime, Ramadan was introduced as the keynote speaker by Keith Ellison, America’s first Muslim congressman, elected from Minnesota by the left-of-liberal Democratic-Farmer-Labor party. And the concluding address was delivered by Rashad Hussain, current U.S. envoy to the Organization for the Islamic Conference.
Pandith appeared swept away by the alleged novelty of the Obama outreach. She derided the previous administration’s goal of “winning hearts and minds.” The new aim of the White House is “to form partnerships,” not “to get people to like us.” For Pandith and her superiors, “violent extremism” is typically an unfair labeling of Muslims, but where it does exist, the solution is to formulate an “alternative narrative” through “conversations” with “local communities that know what their interests are,” coming from “grass roots” and reflecting “the needs of youth.”
Unfortunately, every item in the Pandith (i.e., Obama) recipe for improvement of U.S. relations with Muslims is empty or wrong-headed. Important examples of long-established “partnerships,” such as those with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, have run afoul of radical Islam in those countries’ elites, which efficiently obstructs any “conversations” with local folk. An “alternative narrative” to radical Islam, presumably improvised by marginalized and youthful strivers, has little standing in competition with well-financed propaganda and mission work from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran. The real “alternative narrative” to that disseminated by radical Muslim preachers must take as its first principle the defeat of radicalism--on the battlefield when necessary, in the realm of ideas when possible, but, in either case, definitively, conclusively, and undeniably.
Pandith set the tone for nearly every other speaker at the conference by identifying Palestinian claims against Israel as the primary focus of any attempt to improve U.S. relations with Muslims. In addition, for Pandith, Iraq and Afghanistan appeared important mainly because some Muslims complain about U.S. policies there. But there is nothing new in her, or Obama’s, perspective. Our most important past “partnerships” with Muslims were faulty, and the Palestinians declined to seek peace, regardless of our indulgence toward them. The vaunted “new strategy” is in fact a return to an old, failed approach.
The Palestinian appeal was repeated in Ramadan’s luncheon address. Ramadan harangued American Muslims, summoning them to oppose U.S. policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to provide greater support for the Palestinians. More important--and more distressing--Ramadan insistently argued that American Muslims should intervene in the American educational system, from public elementary and high schools through universities, to direct how Islam is introduced to Americans. The grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna, Ramadan clearly envisions a complete Muslim transformation of America. He dismissed any discussion of “moderate” or “fundamentalist” Muslims with the argument that such categories involve greater diversity of opinion than would typically be perceived. He also, in his characteristic distorting manner, alleged that “moderate Muslims” are too widely equated with apostates from Islam.