While most students hear one view from the Middle Eastern Studies department on their college campuses, another is emerging albeit without the attention that most Middle Eastern Studies departments get.
A rally against terrorism drew small crowds at Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC on Saturday, May 14. The Free Muslims Against Terrorism, the organizers of the event, described the rally as “the first Muslim march against terror.”
The slim crowd, however, did not dishearten the president of the Free Muslims, Virginia attorney Kamal Nawash [pictured].
“[The march] may be small today…but our hearts are big and we are not going to give up,” he said.
Nawash addressed the need for American Muslims to counter popular conceptions of Islam—conceptions that view Islam and terror as intrinsically linked.
“The reputation of our religion is damaged,” he said, noting that “Islam has two faces.”
Muslims, Nawash said, have damaged the reputation of Islam by refusing to condemn terror in all its forms and by recognizing terrorist groups, such as Hamas.
“Anyone who can kill a Christian or a Jew…they can easily kill a Muslim,” he said.
The task of eliminating terror from Islam must come from within, according to Nawash, a Palestinian refugee. Muslims must be firm and adamant about condemning terror.
“This is not a battle between Islam and the West,” he said. “This is a battle between Muslims and Muslims.”
“We are going to win it,” he later added.
The rally reached out to Muslims and non-Muslims. Criticism of the march has come from widely-recognized Muslim organizations. For example, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) declined to join the eighty sponsors of the rally. The sponsors have aroused suspicion from Muslim and non-Muslim groups.
Of the 80 sponsors for the rally, many were not Muslim organizations. The sponsors included right-wing organizations—Rightalk.com, Free Republic Network, and the Objectivist Center—and organizations that promote democracy—the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Alliance for Democracy in Iran, the Government of Free Vietnam. Other sponsors, as critics of the Free Muslims have noted, seemed unrelated to the cause of the Free Muslims. These organizations included JPJ Fashions, Marion Meadows Entertainment, and Scentual Fragrance, as well as various law offices.
“We are looking at everything from clothes shops in Arizona, Moonies, right-wing Zionists, and Christian fundamentalists, to Iranian monarchists, Iraqi supporters of the occupation, Darfurian exiles and Lebanese Pphalangists,” wrote Hussein Ibish, the communications director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), on the weblog muslimwakeup.com.
“Also, I confess that I am somewhat puzzled by a list of endorsers that includes Marion Meadows Entertainment, JPJ Fashions, The Law Offices of Andrew Pakis, The Nawash Law Office, Rask Law Office, and Scentual Fragrance. What do these groups have to do with terrorism and jihad? What does their presence on the endorser list do except pad the list—enabling FMAT to send out a press release recently touting the March’s endorsement by over 50 groups?” wrote Robert Spencer, a harsh critic of Islamism, on his jihadwatch.org website.
Critics, like Ibish, of the Free Muslims and the march have looked with skepticism on Nawash, the organization’s president, who once ran for Virginia delegate as a Republican. They see Nawash as using the Free Muslims to revive his political career and to curry favor with figures such as David Horowitz and Daniel Pipes, former critics of Nawash. Ibish described the Free Muslims as “the group set up to stop criticism of Kamal Nawash by right-wing Zionists like Daniel Pipes and bolster his failed career as a Republican party candidate for local office in Virginia.”
Nawash has not always allied with Horowitz and Pipes. During his delegate campaign, Daniel Pipes wrote a piece entitled “Kamal Nawash—Hussein Ibish’s Favorite Political Candidate?” Pipes has since retracted his comments on Nawash, writing that his “his work as head of Free Muslims Against Terrorism has been creative, constructive, and brave.”
Later, an article on Frontpagemag.com, attacked Nawash for alleged Islamist ties, referring to his “record of extremism” and allegedly vague remarks on terrorism. The article also reports that he once served as a legal advisor to the ADC, the group for which his now-critic Hussein Ibish works. The article is no longer available on the website, to which Nawash now contributes.
The Free Muslims Against Terrorism strongly reject Islamism. On its website, the FMAT touts secularism in government: “The Coalition fosters this secular environment by opening debates on the prerequisite of secularism in governments in the Middle East & North Africa, rallying against Islamist propaganda in media outlets, in institutions of education and in political campaigns, and by exploring the creation of secular democracy-preserving constitutions for Arab and Muslim countries.”
The FMAT also encourages thinking on the modernization of Islam, and Nawash has told the Washington Post that he would like to be seen as a leading an Islamic reformation.
Larry Scholer is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.