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Pompeo’s Challenge to Islamic Clergy

I have been traveling in Azerbaijan and Iraq for the better part of a month with sometimes limited Internet access, and so I missed this speech by second-term congressman Mike Pompeo. It is worth watching. Pompeo serves on the House Intelligence Committee, and is a graduate both of West Point and Harvard Law School. Pompeo notes:

There have now been at least a dozen attacks by Muslim terrorists on U.S. soil since Ramzi Yousef’s parked rental van exploded in the basement of the World Trade Center on February 26 of 1993. Some have caused death and injury—such as the 9/11 attacks in 2001and Nidal Hasan’s mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas. Other attacks—such as Faisal Shahzad’s fizzled Times Square bombing or the unsuccessful underwear bombing of a flight—were thwarted or aborted…

He then argues that it is no longer enough simply to dismiss those who justify terrorism in religion as misunderstanding religion:

If a religion claims to be one of peace, Mr. Speaker, its leaders must reject violence that is perpetrated in its name. Some clerics today suggest that modern jihad is non-violent and is only about making oneself a better Muslim. Perhaps that’s true for moderate Muslims, but extremists seek to revive the era when most Islamic clerics understood jihad to be holy war.

And he takes on an issue which too many scholars and institutions dependent on Saudi, Qatari or Persian Gulf money are afraid to address:

Decades of Middle Eastern oil money have propounded this more extreme, violent interpretation in mosques around the world. Less than two months after the 9/11 atrocities an Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood preacher who is probably the most influential Sunni cleric [Yusuf Qaradawi] today, declared suicide bombing to be legitimate. He said:  “These are heroic commando and martyrdom attacks and should not be called suicide.”

He recognizes that not every organization has tainted itself with Saudi or Qatari funding, and that many do not hide behind false accusations of “Islamophobia” so often leveled by groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) or the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) to silence discussion of the battle about theological interpretation within Islam, giving well-deserved shout-outs to both Zuhdi Jasser’s American Islamic Forum for Democracy, and Zainab al-Suwaij’s American Islamic Congress, who have tackled the problem of extremism head on.

Nor does he ignore the fact that similar battles of interpretation have occurred within Christianity:

My own faith has occasionally been hijacked in the name of violence and cruelty, including in Kansas—my home state—by Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church. In response, hundreds of Protestant ministers preached that Mr. Phelps’ actions violate the most fundamental Christian traditions and denounced he and his church’s evil acts.

Here is Pompeo’s final challenge, his call for what Muslim leaders must do if they want to defeat the scourge of terrorism:

So what is it that these Islamic leaders must say?  First, that there is never any justification for terrorism. No political goal legitimizes terrorism. Terrorism is never excusable as “resistance.”  Imams must state unequivocally that terrorist actions—killing and maiming—sully Islam. They must also publicly and repeatedly denounce radical clerics who seek to justify terrorism. There is a battle of interpretation within Islam. It is not enough to deny responsibility by saying one’s own interpretation doesn’t support terrorism. Moderate imams must strive to ensure that no Muslim finds solace for terrorism in the Qu’ran. They must cite the Qu’ran as evidence that the murder of innocents is not permitted by good, believing Muslims and must immediately refute all claims to the contrary. Finally, Muslim leaders must say that there is no room for militant Islamism in the religion of peace. These statements must be made publicly, frequently and in the mosques… You know we have to call evil by its name in order to stamp it out. Downplaying atrocities and rampages ensures more of them.

Radicalism is a problem that must be tackled head on, not one that will disappear if those who discuss it are muzzled or threatened. Pompeo’s analogy between the reaction to the Westboro hate and that of radical Islamism is apt. Indeed, perhaps the response to Westboro should be the model American imams adopt to counter the cancer of radicalism in their midst.


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