Sunday, May 15, 2005

New Muslim Groups: the Ugly, the Bad and the Good

When I first decided to name my blog, "Progressive Muslim Thoughts," my aim was to bring a moderate-to-liberal perspective not only on religious but political issues as well. I have to admit that I wish I had named it something else because the word "progressive" has so many connotations. For example, if you don't support gay or abortion rights, you are often termed as "conservative." It is also important to revisit the word progress itself - what does it really mean? To be secular? To be industrialized? To be Western? The reason I am posting these thoughts is because the article below is very interesting regarding the recent political fervor amongst Muslims following 9/11 and the war in Iraq & the birth of many groups, some good & some not so good! However, the author of the article is vice chair of the Progressive Muslim Union (PMU) which has caused a lot of controversy regarding its stances on several issues including homosexuality. So if I don't support PMU, does that mean I'm not a "progressive" Muslim? What is progressive Islam is an interesting article on PMU's site.

From Muslim Wakeup:

In the wake of a number of seismic changes to conditions facing the American Muslim community in recent years, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the subsequent backlash against the community, a massive increase in defamation against Islam and Muslims in the United States, and the invasion and occupation of Iraq, a number of new American Muslim organizations have emerged. In particular, a set of organizations has been developing that respond, or purport to respond, to the need felt by many in the community to express a more progressive American Muslim agenda. However, the community needs to be very clear about distinguishing efforts which are organic, and which are driven by established figures within the community corresponding to the needs of a genuine constituency among American Muslims, from efforts which are either aimed primarily at a non-Muslim audience and which essentially stigmatize American Muslims, or those which reflect attempts by forces hostile to American Muslims to speak on behalf of the community using organizations that function like a ventriloquist's dummy.

There has been a great deal of confusion about several of these new organizations, and it is the intention of this article to make these important differences clear. In this article I will outline three new organizations, and explain why they constitute the ugly, the bad and the good among these new groups. I serve as the vice chair of the Progressive Muslim Union (PMU), but I also speak from a vantage point reflecting many years of service to the community and a great deal of information that is not widely known. It is imperative that American Muslims understand exactly who is speaking under the aegis of an "American Muslim organization" and what they are saying.

The Ugly: Free Muslims Against Terrorism (FMAT)

This organization is an attempt to resuscitate the failed political career of Palestinian American lawyer Kamal Nawash as a Republican candidate for local elected office in Virginia, and inoculate him against the charges of disloyalty universally applied to Arab and Muslim Americans by those who detest our community. The chronology is a simple one, and self-explanatory. For a couple of years, Kamal worked at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) as an attorney, and for much of that time I was its Communications Director. After being asked to leave ADC, Kamal set himself up as a private lawyer, but his main intention was to become a player in local Republican politics. He ran twice for office, and was twice badly defeated. Kamal publicly cited attacks against him by Daniel Pipes on his blog website under the heading "Kamal Nawash - Hussein Ibish's Favorite Political Candidate?" as having been partly responsible for the defeat.

Apparently, Kamal decided at some point that his association with ADC and the mainstream of the community, as well as his having served as one of the early attorneys and public spokespersons in defense of the former American Muslim Council leader Abdelrahman Alamoudi, was an insurmountable obstacle to his political ambitions, and decided to form a group whose purpose would be to ensure that charges such as the ones leveled against him by Pipes and others would somehow not be repeated. In other words, Kamal decided to say and do whatever it took to get in Pipes' good graces.

He has essentially established the political equivalent of a sex-talk phone service: "tell me your fantasy baby, I'll be anything you want me to be, etc." with Daniel Pipes as his main audience. The big problem is, of course, that this has entailed, as a sine qua non, a massive attack by Kamal on the entire community and all of its major organizations, since he has had to claim, and has made the centerpiece of his efforts, the absurd idea that his is "the first and only American Muslim group to condemn terrorism in all its forms." This is not only a lie, it's a damned and odious lie, and Kamal knows very well that it is a lie, but for his purposes he needed to say this and so he did.

Thus his project of becoming the "first and only" among the Muslims to be genuinely opposed to terrorism necessitated a contrast with both all existing organizations and with the community in general. It mandated, in fact, a massive implicit attack against the American Muslim community. This was provided not only through numerous statements implying that most other American Muslims and community organizations are basically pro-terrorism, but also through a disgraceful appearance on the O'Reilly Factor on FoxNews Channel on August 5, 2004. Nawsh placed all the onus for difficulties facing American Muslims not on the terrorists who laid the basis for a backlash by their insane violence, or on the bigots who conduct and promote the backlash, but on a broad-bush of community groups in general: "because a lot of the Muslim organizations in this country agree with the overall goal, that same goal, maybe not the tactics of these terrorist organizations, it's also very difficult for them to criticize this. And this is foolish. This is stupid. And they're endangering -- I think the Muslim organizations in this country have -- are the ones who endangered the Muslims in this country." (We are sexy young girls, call now, etc.)

O'Reilly asked Kamal how many Muslims around the world "are fascists who want this theocracy," and implicitly support both the aims and methods of Al Qaeda. Kamal obliged with the following: "I think it's much, much larger than anyone is willing to admit. Because I really would say -- if I was to say it's about 50 percent, I don't think that's far-fetched." Pulled straight out of his own ass, of course, but the figure was useful in promoting the idea that Kamal is, single-handedly and valiantly, standing up to a virtual majority in the community worldwide that stands behind fascism and terrorism - at last, the good Muslim (we knew there had to be at least one out there somewhere). Even Bill O'Reilly, who has pretty much heard it all, was taken aback by this wild claim, saying "Wow!" Wow, indeed. The whole episode was so disgraceful that Kamal had to later issue a clarification that he did not intend to imply that 50 percent of the world's Muslims support terrorism and al Qeada, even though that was precisely the implication of his remarks, and for obvious reasons.

Kamal's strategy of posing as "the good Muslim" in the eyes of the right-wing audience, with which he has been well acquainted since being a young David Duke supporter in Louisiana Republican circles, also required extraordinary displays of abjection, and making an ostentatious display of subordination. The crescendo of this campaign of flinging himself, and on their unsolicited behalf, the community at the feet of our fellow Americans in groveling, sniffling, masochistic abjection was an extraordinary article issued on September 10, 2004 entitled "We Are So Sorry For 9-11." Obviously, a healthy combination of decency and dignity called instantly after 9/11 for Arab and Muslim Americans to express their outrage and unequivocal condemnation of the terrorist attacks, and leaders of all major community organizations in fact did just that. For many Americans, especially those inclined to see the world in terms of a hierarchy of identity groups and who see Arab and Muslim Americans not as integral parts of the United States but rather as interlopers here at the sufferance of "real Americans," that wasn't good enough. What many people, especially on the right, were waiting to hear was an abject apology that took upon itself the collective guilt for 9/11 that they unfairly assigned to Arab and/or Muslim Americans, for someone to speak as if the community in general was somehow culpable in the attacks. Obviously, that was not going to happen. Until Kamal came along.

In his article, Kamal accepts, on behalf of American Muslims and Muslims worldwide, the blame and responsibility for the demented actions of every extremist and lunatic among the world's 1.2 billion Muslims. He asks, "does the Muslim leadership have the dignity and courage to apologize for 9-11? If not 9-11, will we apologize for the murder of school children in Russia? If not Russia, will we apologize for the train bombings in Madrid, Spain? If not Spain, will we apologize for suicide bombings in buses, restaurants and other public places? If not suicide bombings, will we apologize for the barbaric beheadings of human beings?" And so on, listing every action by the extremists among one fifth of humanity.

Crucially, he does not ask when Muslims will oppose these things, since most clearly already do, but rather when will they apologize for them, as if these were collective actions widely supported or as if Islam were an organization like the Vatican. "We can no longer afford to be silent," Kamal continues, as if American Muslims had been silent on these issues (the central calumny of his entire project, you'll recall). And then, here's the payoff: "If we remain silent to the extremism within our community then we should not expect anyone to listen to us when we complain of stereotyping and discrimination by non-Muslims; we should not be surprised when the world treats all of us as terrorists; we should not be surprised when we are profiled at airports." The canard that American Muslims by and large have been silent about terrorism and passive in the face of extremists justifies discrimination and bigotry against them, and his prejudiced audience of "real Americans" is absolved of any responsibility for harboring bigoted views or supporting discrimination whether systematic or ad hoc. This, of course, was the whole point of the piece in the first place.

Not only does Kamal take it upon himself to apologize for 9/11, something with which neither he nor any of the people for whom he is presuming to speak had anything to do, he ends by entering into a kind of frenzy of self-flagellating and deeply masochistic apologizing that becomes increasingly hysterical (you can almost hear his voice rising half an octave with each sorry sentence):

"We are so sorry for the murder of more than three hundred school children and adults in Russia. We are so sorry for the murder of train passengers in Spain. We are so sorry for all the victims of suicide bombings. We are so sorry for the beheadings, abductions, rapes, violent Jihad and all the atrocities committed by Muslims around the world. We are so sorry for a religious education that raised killers rather than train people to do good in the world. We are sorry that we did not take the time to teach our children tolerance and respect for other people. We are so sorry for not rising up against the dictators who have ruled the Muslim world for decades. We are so sorry for allowing corruption to spread so fast and so deep in the Muslim world that many of our youth lost hope. We are so sorry for allowing our religious leaders to relegate women to the status of forth class citizens at best and sub-humans at worse."

The last paragraph says it all, in case you didn't get it: "We are so sorry." Here the abjection, prostration and self-mutilation becomes completely unhinged from any specific transgression on the part of "the Muslims" and is left as a free-floating self-denunciation and begging of forgiveness for anything and everything from American Muslims to other Americans. Forgive me for anything, everything, something, nothing; forgive me for… being a Muslim, is what it really comes down to in effect. (I've been a naughty, naughty girl, daddy, call now.) This is what the "good Muslim" should be doing in the eyes of many on the right, Kamal figures, so that's just what he does, no matter how absurd or disgraceful the sorry spectacle becomes.

To some extent at least, it has worked. Where once on Daniel Pipes' website was found a long series of attacks against Kamal, now one finds the following explanation:

"In early 2004, Nawash began the Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism (later changed to the Free Muslims Against Terrorism); I was impressed by the work he was doing and on June 8, 2004, he and I met in person in Washington, D.C. At his request, I the next day took down this entry about him and promised to keep it down so long as I found the FMCAT to be engaged in good works - that is, forwarding a moderate vision of Islam and confronting the Islamist lobby in the United States. I am continuing to monitor FMCAT."

This is what is known in some circles as "the money shot." The intended and principle audience has been placated and the Gods satisfied. Kamal has managed to get in the good graces of the man who is doing more harm to, and spreading more fear and hatred against, American Muslims than any other person in the United States. It's quite an accomplishment.

It may or may not be enough to resuscitate Kamal's still-born career as a GOP candidate for Virginia office, though. Bush campaign activists were working with various people on the right-wing of the Arab and Muslim communities to try to produce a letter in support of the Bush-Cheney '04 ticket by people who had some sort of connection to the Middle East. A leaked October 2004, exchange of emails between a Bush campaign activist and Walid Phares the right-wing Lebanese American academic coordinating the letter, demonstrates the difficulties Kamal continues to face. Phares wrote to the Bush supporter, "Nawash, upon your suggestion is not in" the list of signatories he proposed for the letter. The Bush campaign activist replied, "after our conversation I went ahead and did a google search on the names below. I am not sure if they are spelled correctly. I did not find anything questionable. Since I do not know most of them - I cannot vouch for their reputations. You will have to do that. Kamal Nawash cannot be on the list - for the reasons we discussed. Remember this: We do not want to do anything that might harm the President's chances of re-election by exposing him to any controversy." Plainly, this refers to Kamal's extreme lack of credibility given his antics designed to please Pipes by attacking the community, or perhaps his role as an attorney for Alamoudi. In other words, the whole enterprise may have already been so badly mismanaged as to be at least for the moment unsalvageable.

The latest ploy by Kamal is the "March Against Terror" he has planned for May 14 in Washington, DC. Almost every major Arab and Muslim American leader has been invited to speak at or attend the event but of course, given the outrageous behavior outlined above, not a single one has agreed to participate. You can look forward, no doubt, to that being used in the future to condemn all those who decline to attend. It looks like an effort to force people into choosing to give Kamal completely undeserved credibility by joining him, or face possible denunciation as agents of terror by declining the poisoned offer. It's a typically crude ploy, and nobody should be fooled for a second by it.

The only remaining question is: who is giving Kamal the money to allow him to turn himself out like this, complete with office and staff? Since he still has yet to file his 990 financial disclosure forms, we'll just have to wait to discover who is the Mac Daddy pimping Kamal, if indeed we ever really find out. If we do, I doubt we'll be too surprised.

The Bad: The Center for Islamic Pluralism (CIP)

This organization is headed by an extremely strange man who, these days at any rate, is calling himself "Stephen Suleyman Schwartz." In some of his previous incarnations he had been known, among other things, simply as Stephen Schwartz, Suleyman Ahmed Steven Schwartz, Suleyman Ahmad al-Kosovi, S. Solsona and Comrade Sandalio (and, for all we know, possibly Rumpelstiltskin as well). Details of his bizarre and sordid life are to be found on the internet for those who wish to bother, but suffice it to say here that Schwartz is a red-diaper baby born into an ardently Trotskyite family and who has spent most of his life consequently obsessed with the struggle between Stalinists and Trots within the communist movement. In essence, Schwartz, who came by Islam in the Balkans in the late 1990s, has taken this worldview, in which everything is reduced to a Manichaean struggle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness within a single overarching system, and transplanted it willy-nilly onto the world of Islam. In this case the Baddies are Wahhabis, substituted for the Stalinists, and the Goodies are the Sufis, substituted for the Trotskyites.

Everything bad, oppressive, reactionary etc., in the world of Islam in Schwartz' view is associated with "the Wahabis," including people and events operating long before the emergence of Abdel Wahhab himself in the late 18th century. Moreover, in Schwartz' texts, Wahhabi more often than not is synonymous with Arab, and Sufi with Balkan, Turkish and Caucasian Islam. He shares, although to a lesser extent, Irshad Manji's silly but nasty proclivity to suggest that everything bad about Muslim societies and practices originates with some defect or other in Arab culture (both are also ardent defenders of Israel).

The arbitrary and completely inappropriate superimposition of this Trotskyite sensibility onto the realm of Muslim affairs is not only the product of a dangerous blend of deep ignorance and strong prejudices, it also crams an incredibly complex universe of actors and forces in both the contemporary and historical Islamic world into two absurd little boxes. This reductive mania was on full display in his lamentable 2002 book, "The Two Faces of Islam," in which Schwartz re-reads (or rather horribly mis-reads) Islamic history as being an unending conflict between what boil down to only two tendencies within the community of the faithful: the good and the bad.

A review in the Washington Post by Professor Michael Doran, no apologist for the Saudis or any other Muslims for that matter, rightly dismissed the book as "essentially an anti-Saudi manifesto." Doran wrote:

"The Two Faces of Islam… fails to provide the intelligent reader with a reliable guide through the U.S.-Arab labyrinth. Instead of judiciously analyzing the policies and beliefs of Saudi Arabia, Schwartz peddles the outlandish thesis that the country ranks -- together with Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union -- as one of the greatest threats to world peace in the modern era. Because a danger of such magnitude cannot be something completely new, Schwartz has no choice but to rewrite the story of the modern Middle East, depicting the Saudis as the primary villains. Claiming that his study 'constitutes a 'secret history' comparable to the hidden archival record of Soviet Communism,' Schwartz manages to find the fingerprints of Riyadh at crime scenes that no Saudi ever visited. Thus, with no proof whatsoever, Schwartz asserts that it was Saudi -- not European -- expansionism that presented the Ottoman Empire with 'the deadliest challenge' to its rule. And thus, based on the weakest circumstantial evidence, he equates Wahhabism, the official Saudi ideology, with Islamic fundamentalism in general, thereby saddling the Saudis with more guilt than they deserve for the general Islamic resurgence in the Middle East."

One would also note that Schwartz, who supposedly converted to Islam in the Balkans in the late 90s, has been incredibly coy about this. Nowhere in "The Two Faces of Islam," or its accompanying literature, is he described as a Muslim, but there are references to his Jewish origins, and none of it refers to him as either Suleyman or Ahmed, or any such thing. With the formation of CIP, Schwartz seems finally to be stuck, if nothing else than for professional reasons and for the meanwhile at any rate, with the public identification as a Muslim. In the past, however, he seems to have deployed this supposed conversion strategically, referring to it only in situations where it would serve some obvious purpose, and eschewing it when that seemed more useful.

I first encountered Schwartz socially at the home of Christopher Hitchens in 1999, and after he made many suggestive comments I asked him outright if he considered himself a Muslim. He declined to commit himself, and seemed to enjoy being cryptic even though I really didn't care much either way. That evening is also remembered, as my friend the noted journalist Jason Vest who was also present at the time recently reminded me, because Schwartz was discovered, after having ostensibly left the apartment, to be lingering outside the front door, apparently trying to listen to what was being said about him (which was, of course, nothing at all).

Full disclosure #1: Schwartz and I know many people in common socially, and every single one of them has told me at one time or another that they consider him stark-raving mad. Full disclosure #2: when I first met him, he was writing for the Jewish weekly The Forward and used to interview me on a regular basis, but following his neocon re-alignment he decided that I am a shill for the Saudis and has called me every name in the book in his articles, which are now mainly published in David Horowitz' barbaric website (The Saudi embassy, where I am all but persona non-grata, would be deeply amused to hear this.) Among Schwartz' efforts on behalf of Horowitz, following an ill-fated stint with ultra-Llikudnik neocon Cliff May's "Foundation for the Defense of Democracies," was "An Activist's Guide to Arab and Muslim Campus and Community Organizations in North America," which attacks and defames each and every existing mainstream Arab and Muslim American organization, left and right, secular and religious, without exception and without the least regard for the facts. In this sense, I suppose, Schwartz has already demonstrated a commitment to pluralism in the Arab and Muslim American communities: he hates us all equally and without discriminating on any basis.

Oh, and what company he keeps at Frontpagemag, this patron of Islamic pluralism and our new defender-in-chief. A tiny sample of what Horowitz posts about Islam along with most of Schwartz' articles published in the past few years:

"Is it any surprise that an average Moslem who lives up the life recommended by the Quran, behaves like a beast who has forsaken his freedom to exercise his faculty of forming an independent judgement of whom to Love and whom to hate? Like a soulless robot he/she hates all non-Moslems. They have the body of a human being, but their mind no longer has the freedom of forming an independent judgement of whom to love and whom not to. Thus while having the body of the Human being, a Moslem who unquestioningly follows the Quran, behaves like a soulless beast who has forsaken his/her capacity of independent thinking. A quality that is in fact the distinguishing quality of our sapient species - the Homo Sapien."

Or this beauty: "This must baffle most Muslims, who have no allegiance to any country. Their only allegiance is to Islam. This is what they have been taught since birth. It is all they know. Muslims have no borders." . It is to his eternal shame that David Horowitz, a Jewish American, would publish such a perfect recapitulation of the essential argument of western and American anti-Semitism, "the international Jew" reborn as "the international Muslim." It is among articles such as these that Schwartz' work has mainly found print in the past two years, and he must not be allowed to escape the implications for that in his new post at the head of CIP.

The most important fact about the CIP, however, is less its leader than its provenance. It is the brainchild and the creature of the chief bigot against and defamer of the American Muslim community: the odious Daniel Pipes. Not that anyone bothers to hide this damning reality, mind you. On his own website, Pipes promotes the CIP, calling it "a Muslim anti-Islamist organization with which I am connected." He's a little too modest. According to a February 26 article by Inter Press Services Washington Correspondent Jim Lobe, "Schwartz, a former Trotskyite militant who became a Sufi Muslim in 1997, has received seed money from [Pipes' think-tank the Middle East Forum] MEF, which is also accepting contributions on CIP's behalf until the government gives it tax-exempt legal status, according to another grant proposal obtained by IPS." Schwartz may be the nominal head of CIP, but given who is really behind it, he's likely to exercise as much sovereign authority over it as E.B. Farnum does as Mayor of Deadwood in the superb HBO series.

Let's recall, for a moment, that Daniel Pipes:
• Warns of the "dangers" posed by Muslim immigration into the United States;
• Warns of the "dangers" posed by American Muslims voting;
• Advocates religious, racial and ethnic profiling against American Muslims;
• Demonstrates a particular antipathy towards African-American converts to Islam;
• Opposes any compromise between Israel and the Palestinians, strongly supports the Israeli settler movement including opposing Sharon's Gaza redeployment plan, and calls for the "defeat" of the Palestinians, whatever that means;
• Along with Michelle Malkin has become a recent convert to the defense of the internment of thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II on the sole basis of their ethnicity, in both cases clearly in order to pave the way for supporting some potential future mass internment of Arab or Muslim Americans on a similar basis.

In short, any American "Muslim" organization founded by Pipes and/or his agents, or in league with Pipes, can properly be regarded in fact as "Muslims against Muslims," and should just spare us all the hypocrisy and change their name to that. No good can come of these origins, and only a barely disguised malevolence and hostility underlies the thin veneer atop the "Center for Islamic Pluralism." They are, and must remain, pariahs, as there is no doubt, they mean us all, every last one of us, serious and severe harm.

The Good - the Progressive Muslim Union of North America (PMU)

As I noted at the opening of this article, I am one of the four founders of PMU, along with Professor Omid Safi of Colgate University and editor of the instant classic "Progressive Muslims" (One World Press, 2002), Ahmed Nassef, editor-in-chief of the ground-breaking website, and Sarah Eltantawi, former Communications Director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), and I presently serve as the vice chair of the organization. In contrast to the other two groups outlined above, PMU is an organic development emerging from a collaboration of numerous established and respected individuals who have served the community well in the past and who wish to broaden the spectrum of religious, political and philosophical choices available in American Muslim discourse. PMU is not a front for anyone, and has been complete open about who has formed and is directing it, and what our aims and motives are. Although most of its Board of Directors are devout, the organization is committed to secular politics and defines Muslim identity as an act of self definition, including for those whose affiliations are defined by social commitments and cultural heritage. (see for the complete PMU statement of principles). This opens PMU to the broadest constituency among American Muslims who agree with the positions laid out in our Statement of Principles.

PMU completely rejects and stands against fundamentalism and religious extremism of any sort, including various forms of Islamic extremism, but also Christian fundamentalism and millennialism, Hindu extremism and chauvinism, and Jewish extremism and fundamentalism, which is most obviously connected to the Israeli settler movement and other radical Zionists. PMU also completely opposes all forms of terrorism and the targeting of innocent civilians, by both subnational groups and by states – we demand a single, consistent moral standard and moral clarity on the issue of violence, and will not give any state, including our own country, Israel, Russia, Colombia or any other state, a free pass on attacking and killing the innocent.

It is definitely true that PMU has been and will be challenging some conventions in American Muslim discourse and practice for which we seek to create an alternative. This was most clearly demonstrated by PMU's endorsement of and active support of the March 18 mixed-gender Jummah prayer led by Professor Amina Wadud in New York City. The subsequent debate that has been circulating about the propriety of this prayer within the American Muslim community has amply demonstrated divisions between PMU and more conservative actors and voices within the community. PMU has been deeply engaged in this debate, offering both religious and (in my own case) secular arguments in favor of female religious leadership among American Muslims at the present moment, including prayer leadership. Given the wide range of opinions already expressed on the subject by noted figures within the community, this is obviously a debate that we needed to have and where the presence of a multiplicity of voices and perspectives enriches our discourse. No doubt, there will be many more such debates to follow, and PMU certainly intends to continue to be both a catalyst and a participant in those crucial debates.

However, some on the more conservative side of social, religious and political issues have misrecognized PMU as part of a "neoconservative," or in some other way hostile, movement to damage or attack the American Muslim community. As one conservative author put it, "the Progressive Muslim Union, another group with objectives similar to the FMACT" Another disingenuously suggested that PMU is an unwitting tool of the RAND Corp. because RAND had discussed funding progressive Muslim organizations (to date, PMU has received no funding from any outside source whatsoever, and functions entirely as a volunteer and grassroots organization calling solely upon the time and money of its Board of Directors).

These accusations are both completely false and deeply misinformed. PMU's Board of Directors reflects an outstanding record of service to the American Muslim (and for that matter the Arab-American) communities. PMU is dedicated to practicing multiple critique, whereby our critical eye is cast not only on oppressive practices within our own community and in other Muslim societies, but also on the conduct of American foreign policy, and in defense of the civil rights and civil liberties of American Muslims and their right not to be defamed or have their faith maligned. PMU is not going to endorse or condone a neoconservative foreign policy, or stay silent on Israel's abuses of the Palestinian people and denial of their human and national rights. Indeed, our Boards of Directors and Advisors include an number of the strongest critics of the invasion of and occupation of Iraq, of Israeli’s occupation of Palestinian lands, of government excesses in the “war on terror” and violations of civil liberties, and in fighting defamation and discrimination against Muslims in North America. My own record on this is clear, as are those of Sarah Eltantawi, Ahmed Nassef, Omid Safi, Kareem Shora, Tarek Fatah, Tariq Ali and others who are part of PMU‘s boards.

Simply put, PMU is:
• Completely independent, transparent and straightforward;
• Committed to clearly defined progressive values;
• Not a front for or right-wing extremists or any other entity hostile to American Muslims;
• Committed to a morally consistent opposition to political violence and terrorism;
• Supportive of the rights of all oppressed peoples, including the Palestinian people;
• Opposed to all forms of religious extremism and fundamentalism, whether Islamic, Christian, Hindu or Jewish;
• Opposed to a neoconservative or hyper-aggressive US foreign policy.

Daniel Pipes, for one, is well aware of this, which prompted him to pen several extended attacks against PMU on his blog, mainly by suggesting that PMU is, in reality, a conservative organization. Pipes wrote that "some of the worst Islamist and leftist extremists in the United States will have important roles in the organization. Names that stand out are those of Salam Al-Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Council [he was not involved in fact], his former colleague Sarah Eltantawi, and Hussein Ibish, previously at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee." "(1) If these are the progressives, who are the regressives? (2) Separating the true moderates from the fakes is the monumental task ahead," Pipes continues. "PMU is just another group apologizing for extremism," Pipes concludes, realizing that the organization is made up of people who will never cooperate with his anti-Muslim, anti-Arab and, above all, anti-Palestinian agenda. "It bears remembering that at first, CAIR and MPAC were also seen as moderates; and just as it has taken years for their true colors to be discerned, so will it take time for PMU's real nature to be perceived. But it will be," he promises.

Pipes was deeply agitated at the responsible and sound approach to the issue of terrorism taken in a New York Times article by PMU Communications Director Sarah Eltantawi: "'We're not going to equate Islam with terrorism,' Ms. Eltantawi said. 'You can see this entire effort as a response to terrorism, if you like,' but the emphasis is more on 'an enlightened and positive expression of our faith in this country,' she said. 'I think that is far more of a contribution than being defensive about the word terrorism in our founding mission statement.'" Exactly so. Having quoted this passage with extreme disapproval, Pipes adds, "Also today, as though wanting to substantiate my point about PMU being made up of assorted extremists, it came out with a statement that deems the U.S.-led attack on Falluja a 'war crime.'" Pipes was also infuriated by PMU co-Chair Omid Safi's comment to the Jerusalem Report that "'Earlier Islamic [reformist] movements were almost uncritically adoring of anything Western,' referring to such Muslim thinkers as Indian poet Muhammad Iqbal and Pakistani scholar Fazlur Rahman. 'People no longer take the collective experience of the West as a paradigm to be aped.'"

For Pipes, and many others, the bottom-line has nothing to do with progressive versus conservative views, a critical reengagement of Islamic texts and traditions, support for pluralism or democracy, or anything of the kind. It all boils down to one word: Israel. Anyone, no matter what else they may think and say, as long as they make and keep a commitment not to criticize Israel, or the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and do not defend Palestinian human and national rights in a vigorous way, can be classified as a "moderate." Anyone who persists in strong criticism of Israeli policies and defense of Palestinian rights is, by definition, an "extremist," no matter what their other positions may be. Usually, they will be consigned to the ultra right and described as Islamists. In my own case, since I have never been shy about being a committed secularist and agnostic, but who is also an organic and integral part of the American Muslim and Arab-American communities into which I was born and to which I am committed, I pose a particular problem. In 2000, Pipes listed me as an "Islamist," but this was so absurd that he had to change his line in 2002 to call me an "extreme leftist." That wouldn't work either, so eventually Pipes and his cohort Robert Spencer said that my political and religious views notwithstanding, I was an "Islamist" anyway. I list my own experience in this regard merely as an object lesson with which I am fully familiar. Many figures in the community have been similarly defamed by Pipes and his ilk, the bottom line usually being support for the Palestinian people.

Therefore, neither Daniel Pipes, nor any element of the ultra-right or the neoconservative movement, is or conceivably will become, sympathetic to PMU. On the other hand, because PMU does not as a matter of policy exclude American Muslims aligned with the Republican Party, some have sought to paint the organization as reactionary or conservative, or as a tool of the Bush administration. It's an absurdity of course, but this charge does tap into deep wells of anxiety about new Muslim organizations, the future of Islam in the West and in the Islamic world, and the idea that the US government or malevolent figures such as Pipes and Schwartz might be seeking to set up proxies or attempting to speak in behalf of the Muslim community.

What PMU can and does say to our fellow Muslims in North America is: Even if you do not agree with us on some social, theological or political issues, we are and will remain an important part of our community, committed to its development and empowerment, and seeking to expand the range of choices available to American Muslims, not to condemn any other constituency or tell other people what to do or say. We stand by our records, both individual and collective, of service to the community and take a back seat to no one when it comes to voicing our opinions about vital issues. Unlike those who serve the interests of forces outside our community, PMU is here to stay because our only motivation is our own deeply-held commitment to best interests of American Muslims and other people the world over.

Hussein Ibish is Vice-Chair of the Progressive Muslim Union of North America (PMU)