As policymakers, pundits and journalists continue to scratch their heads to understand the “root cause” of the terrorism inflicted by Muslim militants in Manchester and London, Somali-born human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali and I will bear witness at a U.S. Senate hearing to a difficult and painful truth: a dawah, or evangelizing, of an extremist ideology from within the House of Islam inspires terrorism.
And women and girls, like Australian Candice Hedge, 31, are among the first of its victims. When one of the recent London Bridge attackers plunged a knife in Hedge’s throat, he yelled, “This is for Allah.”
On Wednesday, Ayaan, the author of a new monograph, The Challenge of Dawa: Political Islam as Ideology and Movement and How to Counter It (Hoover, 2017), will tell lawmakers on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, “Insisting that radical Islamists have ‘nothing to do with Islam’ has led U.S. policymakers to commit numerous strategic errors since 9/11.” “It cannot be said often enough that the United States is not at war with Islam or with Muslims,” she will say, but we are battling extremists who “pose a direct threat to our civil and political liberties.”
Disturbingly, I will testify that, while appropriately policing hate speech by white supremacists, U.S. companies, including Google, Amazon, Facebook, and GoDaddy give platforms to Muslim supremacists who advocate extremism, including, “women beating,” child marriages, female genital mutilation, the murder of Jews and the judgment of “unchaste women” as “worthless and, as if all of that were not enough, the sanctioning of women and boys as slaves. Facebook hosts a page with the radical musings of Tarek Mehanna, a convicted al Qaeda propagandist, from inside U.S. prison. It also hosts a page by Hizbut Tahrir and its branch in America, seeking a global caliphate.
They join a list of offensive preachings that elicit a very simple response — “What the fatwa!?” — from those of us, as Muslims, who advocate for Muslim reform, and I will identify five preachings of Islamist ideology that violate U.S. laws and lead some Muslims to terrorism on the conveyor belt of radicalization.
For me, as an American-Muslim journalist who has been investigating and battling Islamic extremism for more than 15 years, it is an act of intellectual and moral courage that Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, chose to hold a hearing with the title, “Ideology and Terror,” because it emphasizes the ideological underpinning of terrorism. The hearing will air and be streamed live on CSPAN. It is my hope that the committee’s vice chair, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, will promote a conversation at the hearing that will allow us to dissect the theological roots of tragedies, like the kidnappings of girls in Nigeria by Boko Haram, a heinous crime that moved Senator McCaskill to deliver an impassioned plea on the Senate floor.
Preached from Saudi Arabia to a YouTube evangelist in Michigan, the ideology of Islamism seeks to overthrow our democracies with Islamic governance and sharia, or religious law, which, importantly, violates United States law on multiple fronts.
The ideology of Islamism, promoted by the governments of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and others, including the Muslim Brotherhood and other proxies, threatens life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the United States and globally. It even considers young girls attending an Ariana Grande concert “dangerous” women because of the freedoms they are enjoying.
There are many in a network that I call the “honor brigade,” protecting the perceived “honor” of Islam, who do not want Ayaan and me to have this conversation. Upon news of the hearing, The New Republic, a supposed bastion of liberal values of tolerance and women’s rights, published a hit piece on Ayaan and me, arguing we are “two of the worst ‘experts’ on Islam.”
But it is precisely our unfortunate, “expert” experience with extremist Islam that makes us overcome death threats and character assassinations to testify to the truth that we have seen. If I could, I would go to the ends of the earth to reverse the circumstances that gave me my expert knowledge.
In the early 1990s, some two decades ago, a young British-Pakistani chess champion, Omar Sheikh, met extremist preachers at his local mosque in London and embraced their firebrand interpretation of Islam. He dropped out of the London School of Economics, where he was a promising student. He journeyed to Bosnia to join his “Muslim brothers” in “the jihad.” That “jihad” led him, in early 2002, at the age of 29, to mastermind the kidnapping of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in a crime that led to Pearl’s brutal beheading by three militants, allegedly including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks. After wiping the floor of Pearl’s blood, they unfurled prayer rugs toward Mecca, swept their open hands beside their ears and uttered the sacred words, “Allah-hu-akbar.”
Soon after, Pakistani newspapers alleged that I, born in India and reporting in Karachi, had orchestrated the kidnapping and murder in a plot to shame Pakistan. Danny and his wife, Mariane, had been staying at a home I was renting in Karachi when he was kidnapped.
Two years later, in the fall of 2004, several thousand miles away, a Dutch-Moroccan man, Mohammed Bouyeri, 26, stood at the corner of Linnaeusstraat and Tweede Oosterparkstraat in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and shot Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh eight times with a handgun as Van Gogh bicycled to work. He had been indoctrinated to an extremist interpretation of Islam by a network of radicals in the Netherlands.
“Have mercy!” Van Gogh cried, but the assailant cut Van Gogh’s throat with a knife and tried to decapitate him, as had been done to Pearl. He believed he was justified in the murder because of a film Van Gogh had produced, titled Submission, about violence against women in Muslim societies. He attached a note to Van Gogh’s body with a smaller knife. It contained a death threat against the other one of us, Ayaan, a co-producer on the film, along with threats against Jews and the West.
While geography, ethnicity, social status and ancestry separated these young men, something connected them: adherence to a violent, rigid, dangerous interpretation of Islam. For Ayaan and me, the trajectory of our lives transformed with the murders of our friends. Ayaan has the added suffering of having been a victim of female genital mutilation, only to be mocked by members of the honor brigade today. We bear witness today to the very real ideologies of Islam that not only motivated the killers of our friends but the men who recently spilled blood on London Bridge.
1. We face a well-funded, well-organized enterprise of dawah, or proselytizing, of extremist interpretations of Islam, supported by an enterprise we call the “honor brigade,” of soft propaganda that attempts to discredit anyone who talks about Islamic extremism with the smear of “Islamophobia.”
2. We must investigate, expose and blacklist all state and non-state sponsors of this dawah, including mosques, nonprofit organizations, religious schools, think tanks, academic institutions, and thought leaders.
3. We must challenge, ban and eliminate this dawah, from the world, from the online and multimedia universe to face-to-face communications.
This summer is the 70th anniversary of the Foreign Affairs publication of a cable, “the Long Telegram,” that former diplomat George Keenan wrote from Moscow to his bosses at the State Department about the looming threat of communism. On Google Docs, we are writing a second long telegram to outline our current threat — the scourge of Islamism — and the solutions we need to implement to defeat it.
It is a political ideology within Islam that seeks political governance. And we cannot allow it to prevail.
Just as we defeated fascism and communism, it is time to defeat Islamism. In its sexism, homophobia and hate, its values are not compatible with the 21st century. We must ban it in its Shia form, through the Khomenism of the ruling government of Iran. And we must ban it in its Sunni form, as happened, appropriately this week when Qatar and its House of Thani ruling family were blacklisted by Egypt and competing Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, for supporting terrorism, through movements like the Muslim Brotherhood. Next must come actions against Saudi Arabia, the third leg in the axis of evil ideology in the world today.
Our lawmakers, policy makers and citizenry must stand up with moral courage so that our children can safely traverse this earth, bicycling, singing, dancing, living, working, breathing. We must see to it that our children do not inherit the suffering of our generation. We must end the ideologies of Islamic extremism now.
Asra Q. Nomani is a cofounder of the Muslim Reform Movement, and is working on a new book project, Make Islam Great Again. Follow her on Twitter at @asranomani.