Should American Muslims Work Through The American Political Process To Try To Change American Foreign Policy Towards The Muslim World?
Osama Bin Ladin’s 1998 fatwa says, “The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies — civilians and military — is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty God, ‘And fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together,’ and ‘Fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God.’ This is in addition to the words of Almighty God: ‘And why should ye not fight in the cause of God and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)? – women and children, whose cry is: ‘Our Lord, rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from thee one who will help!’”
We now hear regular news reports of attempted attacks by Muslims against American targets around the world, including inside America.
The former head of the CIA’s “Bin Ladin Unit,” Michael Scheuer, says there are two ways to prevent future Al Qaeda attacks in America. One way to prevent future Al Qaeda attacks in America is to improve security in America and militarily defeat Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere. America has been trying to do this since 9/11 with mixed results.
Scheuer says the other way to prevent future Al Qaeda attacks is to eliminate the Muslim grievances (relating to American foreign policy) that allow Al Qaeda to raise money and recruit fighters. The Muslim grievances that Al Qaeda has cited since the mid-1990s are (1) American support for dictatorships (e.g. in Saudi Arabia and Egypt) in the Muslim world, (2) American support for people of other faiths (e.g. Jewish Israelis) in their conflicts with Muslims, and (3) direct American military involvement in the Muslim world (e.g. the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq).
Polls show that most Americans realize that America is being attacked because of Muslim opposition to American foreign policy: “63% of Americans say a major reason why Muslims are unfavorable toward the United States is their belief that this country favors Israel too much in that country’s conflict with Arab nations. Another major reason, according to 62% of the American public, is that Muslims perceive the United States as interfering too much in the affairs of Muslim countries.”
The 9/11 Commission received testimony from FBI investigators regarding Al Qaeda’s motivation for the 9/11 attacks. During a 9/11 Commission hearing, 9/11 Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton asked, “I’m interested in the question of motivation of these hijackers, and my question is really directed to the agents. …. What have you found out about why these men did what they did? What motivated them to do it?” FBI Special Agent James Fitzgerald responded, “I believe they feel a sense of outrage against the United States. They identify with the Palestinian problem. They identify with the people who oppose oppressive regimes, and I believe they tend to focus their anger on the United States.” (2 hours and 7 minutes into the hearing.) At the same hearing, the Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission, Philip Zelikow, said, “The Al Qaeda leader wanted to punish the United States for supporting Israel.” (57 minutes into the hearing.)
The 9/11 Commission concluded that the 9/11 attacks were motivated by Al Qaeda’s hostility to American foreign policy. The 9/11 Commission Report provided information about the views of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), who has claimed to be the mastermind behind 9/11. The 9/11 Commission Report states: “By his own account, KSM’s animus toward the United States stemmed not from his experiences there as a student, but rather from his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.” (Page 147.) Furthermore, the 9/11 Commission Report states: “American foreign policy is part of the message. America’s policy choices have consequences.” (Page 376.)
In December 2004, the Defense Science Board (which is a Federal Advisory Committee established to provide independent advice to the Secretary of Defense) issued a report stating, “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states.” (Page 40.)
The U.S. government prepared a summary, of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s statements, for use at Zacarias Moussaoui’s 2006 trial. “Sheikh Mohammed said that the purpose of the attack on the Twin Towers was to ‘wake the American people up.’ Sheikh Mohammed said that if the target would have been strictly military or government, the American people would not focus on the atrocities that America is committing by supporting Israel against the Palestinian people and America’s self-serving foreign policy that corrupts Arab governments and leads to further exploitation of the Arab/Muslim people.” (Page 15 of Defendant’s Exhibit 941, “Substitution For The Testimony Of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,” in the criminal trial of Zacarias Moussaoui.)
In 2007, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told an American military tribunal why he organized the 9/11 attacks: “I want to make great awakening between American to stop foreign policy in our land.” (Page 24 of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s 3/10/07 statement.)
In September 2009, Osama Bin Ladin issued a statement explaining his motivations for the 9/11 attacks. “At the beginning, I say that we have made it clear and stated so many times for over two decades that the cause of the quarrel with you is your support for your Israeli allies, who have occupied our land, Palestine. This position of yours, along with some other grievances, is what prompted us to carry out the 11 September events.”
American political leaders occasionally discuss the fact that the 9/11 hijackers were motivated by hostility to American foreign policy.
Arguments By Those Who Believe That American Muslims Should Work Through The American Political Process To Try To Change American Foreign Policy Towards The Muslim World
1. American Muslims pay taxes, and we help elect American political leaders who decide how to use those tax dollars. When American political leaders use tax dollars to prop up Muslim and non-Muslim governments that oppress Muslims overseas, American Muslims have a religious obligation to try to convince American political leaders to change the way they spend tax dollars. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said that if you see an injustice, you have to take action to change it; if you can’t take action to change the injustice, you must speak out against the injustice; if you cannot speak out against the injustice, you must hate the injustice in your heart, and that is the lowest level of faith. The Prophet also said that all Muslims are like one body; if one part of the body is suffering, the entire body feels the pain. In the Qur’an, God criticized Muslims who refused to help the Prophet; God called such Muslims “hypocrites” (munafiqeen). American Muslims who refuse the Prophet’s instructions to help oppressed Muslims today are also hypocrites.
2. Improving the relationship between America and the Muslim world is the only way to end this war. Al Qaeda cannot be defeated militarily. America has been fighting Al Qaeda for nine years, and Al Qaeda is growing around the world. Therefore, American Muslims have a patriotic obligation to help protect America by helping formulate an American foreign policy that reduces anti-American feeling in the Muslim world, and that reduces the chances of Al Qaeda attacks in the U.S. Al Qaeda has said that if America escalates the conflict, Al Qaeda will do the same; Al Qaeda has also said that if America reduces the conflict, Al Qaeda will do the same. If a change in American foreign policy convinces average Muslims overseas that America is not hostile to them, there will be no basis for a defensive jihad against America, and it will be harder for Al Qaeda to recruit operatives or raise funds to attack America. An improved relationship with the Muslim world will assist America in accomplishing its objectives around the world; sometimes you get better results with honey than with vinegar. An improved relationship with the Muslim world will also allow America to invest American resources in domestic growth and development, rather than in bombs.
3. If American Muslims work actively to make America safer, that will improve our image and our lives in America. If America is no longer at war with Al Qaeda, American Muslims (like other Americans) will be safer. In addition, American Muslims will be less likely to experience increased governmental scrutiny, hate crimes, discrimination, and bullying when there is no Al Qaeda threat to America.
4. If American Muslims work through the American political process to try to reduce oppression in the Muslim world, that will show frustrated young American Muslims that there are peaceful ways to fulfill our religious obligations. Alternatively, if American Muslims don’t make a serious effort to work through the American political process, frustrated young American Muslims (like Faisal Shahzad, who pled guilty to plotting to bomb Times Square, and Zarein Ahmedzay, who pled guilty to plotting to bomb the New York City subway system)will continue to believe that there is no peaceful way to change American foreign policy, and more of them will become radicalized and get involved in violent plots against America. American Muslims must channel American Muslim concerns for the Muslim world into political action, not violence.
5. Changing American foreign policy is a huge challenge. But American Muslims don’t have to change American foreign policy by ourselves. There are many other Americans who are concerned about America’s current relationship with the Muslim world. We can all work together to improve the relationship between America and the Muslim world.
Arguments By Those Who Believe That American Muslims Should Not Work Through The American Political Process To Try To Change American Foreign Policy Towards The Muslim World
1. American Muslims’ primary religious obligation is to help suffering neighbors (Muslim and non-Muslim) who are nearby, not Muslim strangers who live far away overseas. If Muslims overseas don’t like their oppressive Muslim and non-Muslim governments, they should leave those lands, or they should overthrow those oppressive governments. In the Qur’an, God says that Muslims have no obligation to help other Muslims who have failed to leave the land of oppression; God also says that Muslims who have a treaty of mutual alliance with non-Muslims have no duty to help Muslims who seek assistance against those non-Muslims. (8:72) Because American Muslims have a “treaty of mutual alliance” with America, we have no religious duty to help Muslims being oppressed by America. Furthermore, even if American Muslims wanted to help Muslims overseas, American Muslims haven’t reached agreement on what American foreign policy is best for the Muslim world. Should America totally disengage from the Muslim world? What if new Taliban-style Muslim governments oppress Muslims after the U.S. leaves? Should America play any role in promoting human rights in the Muslim world?
2. There’s no need for American Muslims to try to protect America through a change in American foreign policy, because America will eventually defeat Al Qaeda militarily. Furthermore, Muslim and non-Muslim regimes that oppress Muslims overseas are American allies; America supports them because they cooperate with America. America benefits from the relationship. Maintaining American troops and relationships in the Muslim world allows America to quickly project American power as America sees fit. There’s no guarantee that a change in American foreign policy will ultimately be good for America. What if America disengages from the Muslim world, and then a problem arises that requires the use of American power in the Muslim world? What if America disengages from the Muslim world, and then an unstable Middle East raises the price of oil? What if America disengages from the Muslim world, and then Al Qaeda sets up a caliphate throughout the Muslim world? What if such an Al Qaeda caliphate attacks America to try to establish Islamic law here? What if America disengages from the Muslim world, and then Al Qaeda obtains Pakistani or Iranian or Israeli nuclear weapons?
3. If American Muslims try to address Muslim grievances by trying to change American foreign policy, other Americans will view us as “outsiders” who care more about other Muslims than about other Americans. We will be accused of trying to “appease” Al Qaeda, and that will make our lives more difficult in America.
4. The political process works very slowly. If frustrated young American Muslims (like Faisal Shahzad, who pled guilty to plotting to bomb Times Square, and Zarein Ahmedzay, who pled guilty to plotting to bomb the New York City subway system) are inclined to use violence to try to change American foreign policy, they won’t have the patience to work through the political process. They have waited a long time for American foreign policy to change, and they want change right now. Furthermore, some of these frustrated young American Muslims believe that it is religiously impermissible to work through a man-made political process. Their frustration cannot be channeled into the political process.
5. There’s no point in trying to change American foreign policy, because there’s no chance of success. The opposing forces (who want to maintain current American foreign policies towards the Muslim world) are too strong. It would be a sinful waste of our community’s limited human resources and financial resources to try to change American foreign policy. We should use our limited resources to solve problems closer to home. Furthermore, there is no “Muslim community” to lobby in the U.S. The “community” is actually a combination of various different ethnic communities. Therefore, they will not unite to lobby the U.S. government on a common agenda. As has always been the case, Pakistani-Americans will lobby on issues related to Pakistan. Iraqi-Americans will lobby on issues related to Iraq. Afghan-Americans will lobby on issues related to Afghanistan. Palestinian-Americans will lobby on issues related to Palestine. Kashmiri-Americans will lobby on issues related to Kashmir. These small segments of the community will not work together, so there will be no impact on American foreign policy. Other American Muslims will continue to sit on the sidelines. Furthermore, there is no consensus among American Muslims about what type of foreign policy to pursue. For example, some American Muslims want American troops out of Iraq now; others want American troops to stay until Iraq is stabilized. Some American Muslims want American troops out of Afghanistan now; others want American troops to stay until Afghanistan is stabilized. Some American Muslims want America to push for an independent Kashmir; others want America to push for making Kashmir a part of Pakistan. Some American Muslims want America to totally disengage from the Muslim world; others want America to play at a least a minimal role when it comes to protecting the human rights of Muslims. Without consensus, American Muslims cannot change American foreign policy towards the Muslim world.