What Makes a Muslim-American Radical? America’s Own Wars on Muslims

In the long-anticipated–and by some accounts long-dreaded–hearing held by GOP Rep. Peter T. King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, on the extent of radicalization in the American Muslim community, Muslim radicalism within the U.S. was repeatedly referred to as the “elephant in the room.

To remedy the situation, witnesses who took care to characterize the majority of 5 million Muslim Americans as law-abiding and productive, nevertheless stated repeatedly that young, impressionable Muslims were in danger of being recruited by Al Qaeda.

Somali-American Abdirizak Bihi testified about his nephew, who was among the young men who were recruited by the Al Qaeda—affiliated Al Shabab in Minnesota, later to die fighting in Somalia. Melvin Bledsoe spoke about the radicalization of his son, who in 2009 attacked a Little Rock recruiting center, killing one Army private and wounding another in the name of solidarity with Islam.

Yet during the four-and-a-half hour meeting, there was absolutely no discussion of U.S. military presence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and its impact on radicalizing Muslims, at home and abroad, against this country.

M. Zuhdi Jasser, a physician who champions moderate Islam, only made a passing reference to these engagements, lasting no more than a few seconds. During a subsequent news conference, the same witness, in response to a reporter’s question, said that radicalized Muslims use America’s foreign policy as “an excuse.”

Excuse or not, in the decade since 9/11, Muslims in large swaths of the globe have watched on their TV sets American soldiers who are looking down the barrels of their rifles at cowering, cringing Muslims. They have observed gory scenes of “collateral” civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan and along the border with Pakistan. They have seen the pictures of Abu Ghraib.

These images, far more prevalent on such networks as Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya than on American TV, amount to Al Qaeda recruiting films beamed worldwide around the clock, seven days a week. Seeing the carnage of their brethren with their own eyes, Muslims by the hundreds of millions do not put these victims in the context of “war on terror” or other rationalizations which have enabled the U.S. to wage open-ended war abroad with minimum resistance at home.

Most Muslims abroad live in poverty under the thumb of despotic rulers, seething with anger and seeing America as a gigantic, easy target to blame. Muslim Americans are not immune to this rage, which seeps into the country through letters and phone calls, by newly arrived immigrants and over the Internet. What may be an “excuse” to some is a compelling reason for a tiny minority of Muslims in America who choose to react with violence.

It bears repeating that on 9/11, a clever, cunning, persistent and patient enemy declared war on America with far more method than apparent madness. The purpose was to draw the United States into a land war with Muslims in Southwest Asia, where its large conventional forces would be mired indefinitely in bloody, asymmetrical warfare with irregular forces, virtually turning any news report about the events into anti-American propaganda.

Those enemies have succeeded beyond success, to the extent that Defense Secretary Robert Gates in a recent address to West Point cadets contended, “In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined.”

Those who ignore the impact of these wars on the radicalization of Muslims in this country, dismissing this larger global picture as an “excuse,” do so at obvious peril to our domestic security as well as our standing in the global community.

Instead of holding hearings–which, despite all good intentions, ultimately serve to further demonize Muslims–Washington should look upon Muslim Americans not as a threat but as an asset, holding up this largely affluent, well-educated community to the world as a convincing example of its goodwill.

Yet most crucially, America must find a clear exit out of Afghanistan and Iraq as theaters of conflict that can easily spill over into Iran and Pakistan, with catastrophic outcomes. The billions of dollars squandered on war must be redirected to rebuilding regions that are now in ruin, with nothing short of a comprehensive Middle Eastern “Marshall Plan.” The supportive rhetoric about the freedom movements in the Arab world has to be backed by constructive action.

Only the images of such endeavor can ensure security at home while reflecting the best of our ideals abroad, offsetting the years of inadvertent propaganda with which America has rewarded Al Qaeda.

NAM contributor Behrouz Saba is a Los Angeles-based writer and native of Iran

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