LAST YEAR THE New York Police Department (NYPD) issued a clear-sighted and path-breaking document titled Radicalization in the West: The Home-Grown Threat. Prepared by Mitchell D. Silber and Arvin Bhatt of the NYPD Intelligence Division, the report was serious, well-researched, and articulate. It traced radical Sunni Muslim activities in non-Muslim countries to the "jihadi-Salafi" ideology, better known as Wahhabism, created in Saudi Arabia and supported by major extremist resources in Pakistan (the jihadist movement of Mawdudi) and Egypt (the Muslim Brotherhood). It was posted on the internet by Republican congressman Pete Hoekstra of Michigan and may be read here.
Radicalization in the West met with enthusiastic approval from anti-extremist, moderate Muslims, but with predictable condemnation from the "Wahhabi lobby" represented by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and its allies. On November 23, 2007, as disclosed in documents made available to me, a statement was composed, in the name of the "Muslim community," protesting against the NYPD’s release of the report. Employing the typically arrogant, peremptory, and militant idiom of the Islamist movements, the statement called on New York police commissioner Raymond W. Kelly:
- "To cease distribution of the report to other jurisdictions’ law enforcement agencies while the NYPD carefully responds to and corrects the report’s misconceptions and errors;
- "To clarify what policies have been adopted by the NYPD as a consequence of the report, and in particular respond to concerns expressed in [a] Community Statement submitted by diverse Muslim community representatives;
- "To issue a public statement to the effect that the NYPD is working with members of the Muslim community of New York on developing a sound, rights-respecting policy on ‘radicalization’ that will not lead to religious or racial profiling;
- "To commit NYPD to a regular schedule of ongoing dialogue to address the issues."
The Wahhabi lobby activists in New York then completed their "Community Statement." It consists of little more than nitpicking over the sources and conclusions of the NYPD report, notably rejecting any association of Wahhabi "Salafism" with jihadism. But more important, the defenders of Wahhabism arrogated to themselves the right to decide what the city’s police should do in response to the challenge of radical Islam. The extremists would set the NYPD’s overall agenda, forcing Commissioner Kelly and his personnel to work according to Wahhabi guidelines and at the Wahhabis’ convenience.
The radical Muslim response to the NYPD report predictably employed the pretexts of alleged "profiling" and "inappropriate" criteria. But the report did not embody "profiling;" rather, it was an academic-style work based on open source documents and serious expertise, and utilized a case study approach drawing on terrorism incidents abroad. These included the March 2004 Madrid metro massacre, in which 191 people died and some 2,000 were injured, the November 2004 murder of Dutch film-maker Theo Van Gogh in Amsterdam, the July 2005 London transport attacks, with 52 commuters killed and 700 hurt, and thwarted conspiracies in Australia and Canada.
But for Islamists in America, charges of "profiling" and "inappropriate" methods are the preferred reply to critical discussion of almost all significant matters. Those who investigate Wahhabism are accused of "profiling" Saudis, even though numerous Saudi subjects hate and reject Wahhabism. Questioners about radicalism in Islam are alleged to "profile" all Muslims, notwithstanding the recognition and repudiation of extremism by millions of ordinary Muhammadan believers. According to the radicals, they themselves represent the Muslim mainstream, their practices and beliefs are harmless, and any questioning of them amounts to persecution. Unfortunately for the extremists, many Muslims disagree with them, considering them a deviant phenomenon, their habits and views distorted, and their worldwide quest for domination worthy of decided opposition.
This month, the Wahhabi lobby plans to drop its manifesto of grievances on Commissioner Kelly, on April 17. In minutes of a meeting held in New York on March 3, officials of CAIR present included Faiza Ali, Aliya Latif, and Omar Mohammadi, joined by Islamist agitator Syed Z. Sayeed, religious adviser to the Saudi-backed Muslim Students Association at Columbia University. They noted that the NYPD had asked for a detailed reply to the report. The participants at the March 3 get-together also observed that while they would prepare such a response, CAIR itself has financed and is working on a more thorough text designated its "long-term analysis/alternative model of radicalization."
Perhaps the most remarkable detail about the March 3 conclave was the leading role taken in it by Debbie Almontaser, a New York resident who last attracted attention as the front-person for a middle-and-high magnet school to be established in New York, the Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA). KGIA was intended as a special institution emphasizing an Arabic language curriculum and related studies, but its proponents were accused of trying to establish an "intifada academy." Nevertheless, when Almontaser came under scrutiny as the project head she was defended by many in New York as a faultless moderate. Her involvement in CAIR’s counter-attack on the NYPD demonstrates otherwise: her assignment in dealing with NYPD was to organize an online discussion group for input into the Community Statement.
Such would not be a minor responsibility, and shows that she enjoyed the full confidence of the CAIR commissars. Debbie Almontaser appears to be a classic "stealth Islamist," and KGIA looks like just the kind of radicalizing effort it was said to be by its critics. Almontaser resigned from her position as head of KGIA last August, but now claims she was forced out, and is pursuing a legal complaint to regain her place at the school. KGIA has been promised housing in an elementary school in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn, but its future is little more certain than that of Almontaser’s own career.
On April 8, 2008, Aisha H.L. Al-Adawiya of a New York group calling itself Women in Islam Inc. called for signatures, due April 14, on the complaining screed to be presented to Commissioner Kelly next week. Shia Muslim community leaders in New York have expressed their opposition to the campaign and their support for the police, and have refused to sign the letter.
Here is a preferred outcome for this absurd contretemps:
- The New York Police Department should be congratulated, not assailed, for publishing a serious analysis of radical Islam in the West.
- The Islamist organizations should accept that if they disagree with the views in the NYPD document they should do so in a polite, respectful manner, without issuing self-righteous demands or irresponsible charges. Of course, they won’t agree to such a thing. One might even argue that the NYPD and the anti-Islamists, not the Islamists, have been "profiled"–by the radicals.
- Debbie Almontaser should quit her masquerade as a moderate and her non-Muslim enablers should end their naïve defense of her alleged mainstream outlook.
- And, finally, New York police commissioner Raymond W. Kelly should inform the aggrieved extremists, with maximum politeness, that he will spend a minimum of time listening to them. He should then file their laborious plea in favor of extremist ideology where it belongs.
Stephen Schwartz’s latest book, The Other Islam: Sufism And the Road to Global Harmony, will be published by Doubleday this summer.