The unseen war: The Islamist assault on dissidents

M. Zuhdi Jasser October 20, 2016 11:31 PM (UTC+8)
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Since September 2001, terrorism has dominated the headlines. But there is a much less discussed form of terrorism — assault on dissidents in which the very systems meant to protect them fail and hand them over to their killers.

The attack on dissidents is robbing families of their loved ones, instilling fear in communities, and obstructing many pathways toward deep reform within the House of Islam. It is long overdue for security forces and governments to modify their policies and stand unwaveringly by the universal human right of free speech.

Last month, Jordanian writer and political activist Nahed Hattar was murdered in cold blood outside a local court for “insulting Islam” by sharing a satirical cartoon on his Facebook page.

Relatives and activists cry during the funeral of Jordanian writer Nahed Hattar, who was shot dead, in the town of Al-Fuheis near Amman, Jordan. Photos: REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
Relatives and activists cry during the funeral of Jordanian writer Nahed Hattar, who was shot dead, in the town of Al-Fuheis near Amman, Jordan. Photo: REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

Hattar was murdered by a “known extremist” cleric as he was facing trial by his own government which opposed his freedom expression. These autocratic and quasi-theocratic governments often light the fuses of radicalism which at times they explode themselves and other times hand over blindly to rogue assassins who they empower.

In Bangladesh, bloggers who question theocracy are slaughtered in broad daylight – this year alone, at least eight dissident bloggers have been murdered. In Pakistan, dissidents and even lawmakers who break rank with the religious establishment are murdered with impunity – often with their own bodyguards tipping off and aiding the killers. When they are not killed, Muslim reformers, dissidents and freethinkers are threatened, stalked and made to live in fear. With the continued advance of Islamic State and those who are inspired by them, the problem is growing.

While some of these cases make headlines, many go unnoticed by the broader public. Worst of all, those who tacitly endorse such crimes are more prevalent than ever. Even in the United States, non-violent Islamists enthusiastically harass reformists on social media and at public events, spotlighting them with slanderous comments, inciting others to hate them, and leaking false personal information about them online.­­

You’d think that the broader society would completely marginalize such malignant actors. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong in many cases.

Nonviolent Islamists who knowingly cause dissidents to be targeted with harassment and threats aren’t just allowed to continue their malicious activities – they are positioned as representatives of the Muslim community in the media and even in the halls of political power, from Washington to London and even at the United Nations. It is when these individuals are granted legitimacy through political and social clout that they become even more dangerous.

For example, in the United States, Islamist groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), whose leadership has targeted members of the Muslim Reform Movement (including myself) as well as women’s rights and LGBT activists, have trained law enforcement on how to treat Muslims – when they themselves incite hate campaigns against minorities within the Muslim community.

At the United Nations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) claims to represent all of the world’s Muslims and even purporting to fight anti-Muslim bigotry. However, the OIC’s ideology and resulting actions – which include seeking to criminalize any speech or art they deem “offensive” to their interpretation of Islam – are exactly what inspire radicals to slit the throats of dissidents. Their governments and attendant systems are the malignant cauldrons that brew the ideas, culture, legalisms, and ideologues that suffocate reform.

The OIC, true to its name, has one purpose and that is to maintain control of the “House of Islam” by Islamists and suppress the diverse voices of anti-Islamist, pro-liberty reformers. Each Islamist regime does both domestically and globally. Domestically, they do so either directly or passive-aggressively by giving militants impunity over the murder of reformers, and globally they do so by making the free world in the West believe that Islamism and its attendant sharia states is the only possible form of Islam.

How can this be stopped? Through the education of the Muslim community as to the nefarious aims of Islamist regimes and their sympathizers; and by holding politicians, the media and national security establishments worldwide accountable for their empowerment of the worst within the Muslim community. While we must pay urgent heed to stopping violent extremism, that is only a tactic among many tried by Islamist movements. We must more importantly engage boldly and take sides in the war of ideas within the “House of Islam.” We must disarm non-violent Islamists as the theocrats they are in their war against dissidents, minorities and truth-sayers.

M. Zuhdi Jasser
M. Zuhdi Jasser is the President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy based in Phoenix, Arizona and the co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement. He is a former US Navy Lieutenant Commander and is also host of the podcast, 'Reform This!' on the Blaze Radio Network. He is on Twitter @DrZuhdiJasser
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