IMAM HAMZA YUSUF, formerly Hanson, is a one-trick pony: He, like other radical Muslims in America, claims discrimination where none exists.
For those who have not closely followed the detailed history of Islamic extremism in America, Imam Hamza Yusuf is a San Francisco Bay Area "new Muslim" (Muslims eschew the term "convert") who spent a good deal of time, before September 11, 2001, preaching violent jihad against the West. His style is high-pitched, dramatic, and resembles that of a Southern Christian revivalist. In 1991, he delivered a classic oration titled "Jihad is the Only Way" to a local group of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), an arm of the Jama'at-i-Islami movement in Pakistan, which in turn is an al Qaeda ally.
In the aftermath of September 11, Imam Hamza Yusuf rushed to redefine himself as a "moderate," and even as a Sufi, or spiritual Muslim. He also commenced a course of boasting about a meeting he had with President George W. Bush, as a member of an interfaith delegation, on September 20, 2001. There, his counsel to the chief executive consisted of suggesting sensitivity about using the phrase "Infinite Justice" to describe the U.S. military action against the Taliban in Afghanistan--his argument being that Muslims would be offended by it. Because of this meeting, Imam Hamza Yusuf now advertises himself as an "adviser to the president" and complains that other Muslims call him "Bush's pet."
On January 16, Imam Hamza Yusuf came forward to complain to media in his home region that he had been "harassed" by U.S. Customs officials on his way back from a conference (titled "Reviving the Islamic Spirit") in Toronto last month. He was stopped at the Toronto airport and held for three hours. Shortly after being detained, he refused to continue answering the officials' questions and began asserting various constitutional protections involving rights to attend spiritual conferences, free speech, and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. (This was ironic considering that less than a decade ago he denounced "the false gods of this society whether we call them Jesus or democracy or the Bill of Rights.")
The Customs agents were unimpressed, but soon enough, he was allowed to continue on his way home.
"I think it's racism, and it's based on names," Hamza Yusuf said. "It's been three years now. They've had time to sort things out and they're not sorted out. Unfortunately I think they've lumped us all in together, and it's just guilt by association."
But what sort of company is Hamza Yusuf keeping? According to the "Reviving the Islamic Spirit" conference's website, his appearance came directly after a presentation by Imam Siraj Wahhaj, universally known in the American Muslim community as an extremist. Siraj Wahhaj was an unindicted co-conspirator named in 1995 in a plot to blow up New York City monuments.
Last September Hamza Yusuf addressed the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the main front organization in the United States for the Wahhabi Islamic sect. There he accused the Republican party of "basing an entire political platform, in the most powerful military nation on the earth . . . on the idea that Islamic fanatics are a threat to the security of this country," adding "this must be condemned." He ranted against "neoconservatives" who he claimed wanted to make the United States a Christian theocracy, complimented Patrick J. Buchanan, and rejected a definition of "moderate Islam" advanced by Islam expert Daniel Pipes. Pipes had constructed a series of questions for moderate Muslims. "I took that test and I failed," Hamza Yusuf said of Pipes's questions. "And I want to say to all of you, I hope you fail that test too." (There was no "test"; Pipes was simply proposing questions about pluralism.)
However uncomfortable it may be for him, Hamza Yusuf is forced to take the consequences for his past radicalism and his continuing extremist outbursts. How can this be considered "harassment"? According to the news reports on his latest experience of "discrimination," Kristi Clemens, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection assistant commissioner, put it simply, "We had ongoing, credible intelligence that conferences such as this one in Toronto had been used, are being used, and will be used by terrorists to transmit fraudulent documents, to fundraise, and also to mask the travel of terrorists. "Based on that information, we decided to have individuals verify they were who they said they were."
We all wish that, in Hamza Yusuf's words, the three years that have passed since September 11 had allowed U.S. authorities "to sort things out." But the war on terror is still ongoing. Radical Muslims in America continue to express extreme views, terrorists abroad continue killing Americans, and the U.S. government has a continuing responsibility to respond accordingly. At least the U.S. authorities have learned how to conduct security checks that require no more than a three-hour stopover while crossing our borders. For his part, Hamza Yusuf appears to have learned nothing.
Stephen Schwartz is the author of The Two Faces of Islam.