Why the American Muslim community should be concerned about Zuhdi Jasser

On March 20, 2012, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) appointed Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser as Commissioner to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), “an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission.”

The USCIRF is responsible for reviewing international violations of religious freedom and reporting policy recommendations to the President and Congress. Jasser, a Muslim, is founder and president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) whose mission is “to advocate for the preservation of the founding principles of the United States Constitution, liberty and freedom, through the separation of mosque and state.” Jasser, unlike other Muslim pundits, has recently been gaining more prominence in the political sphere, serving as the de facto Muslim for anti-Muslim political leaders while he paints a small group of radical Muslim extremists as mainstream.

Jasser’s appointment to the USCIRF has not been looked upon favorably by many American Muslims who justifiably contend that Jasser is nothing more than a puppet on strings meant to propitiate the Muslim community. While this may seem counterproductive at first-glance, American Muslims’ apprehensions are not unsubstantiated. Although Jasser is indeed Muslim, he is essentially a Muslim pundit excoriating the American Muslim majority. Often, he asserts that because he is Muslim, his statements must be true.

Jasser recurrently claims that he represents “a silent majority” of moderate Muslims fighting against Islamists and Islamism, or the “theopolitical movement of Muslims wedded to the ‘Islamic state’ and its legal infrastructure.” Muslim reactions to his “honorable” work, filled with contempt, perfidy, and antipathy, suggest otherwise, with over 64 organizations and leaders “expressing concern” over his appointment in a letter sent to Senators Inouye (D-HI), McConnell (R-KY), and Durbin (D-IL).

Zuhdi Jasser regularly appears in support with various anti-Muslim religious and political leaders enabling Islamophobia while also empowering Islamophobia through his own works. Jasser openly applauded the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) surveillance program that discriminatorily monitored Muslim mosques, students, and communities based on religion without reason, evidence, or suspicion of wrongdoing. As a part of their training, NYPD officers watched a documentary titled The Third Jihad, narrated by none other than Jasser.

The film ominously warns of Muslim intent to take over America from within, labeling Muslims as “the greatest threat facing America today.” In an article he wrote for the Metro New York that he also published on his blog, Jasser writes, “As a silent majority of American Muslims, we thank God every day for the NYPD.” Jasser’s support of the NYPD surveillance program and The Third Jihad is a part of an assiduous trend in which he erroneously portrays a small radical minority as mainstream, gratuitously planting fear and suspicion in the minds of thousands of Americans.

Jasser is also an outspoken opponent in the controversy concerning Park51 Community Center, the interfaith and Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero. In an article he wrote for the New York Post, Jasser remarks that the center is “unbecoming.” While arguing that Muslim Americans should be more sensitive when choosing where to construct mosques and cultural centers, Jasser insinuates that Muslims are somehow responsible for the attacks of 9/11.

Should he really be committed to protecting this great nation, as he claims to be, he would never support any violations to the U.S. Constitution, such as preventing the building of this cultural center would have been. Jasser punishes the non-violent American Muslim majority for the actions of a radical few. Rather than secure American Muslims’ constitutional right to freely practice their faith wherever they may please, Jasser works in conjunction with anti-Muslim Americans in enabling Islamophobia.

Perhaps most disturbing to the American Muslim community is Jasser’s involvement in Congressman Peter King’s (R-NY) Homeland Security hearings, entitled “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response,” in which the American Muslim community is grossly misrepresented.

The hearings failed to differentiate between individuals and an entire community where, as Rep. King admitted in his opening statement, “…[T]he overwhelming majority of Muslim-Americans are outstanding Americans and make enormous contributions to our country.” The hearings ascribed the actions of a radical few individuals to an entire community; thus, causing unwarranted fear and paranoia of Muslims among other Americans. Jasser’s support and participation in these hearings further validates his position as an apologist for anti-Muslim Americans, more notably right-wing conservatives and Republicans. As Saosan Suhrawardy, editor of The American Muslim, wrote, “A man who breeds fear and hate of any people, cannot possibly serve as an unbiased contributor to a commission dedicated to religious freedom.”

Also noteworthy is his support of a 2010 Oklahoma ballot initiative prohibiting state and federal courts from considering Sharia law. Jasser’s organization, AIFD, is known to allegedly have received funding from anti-Muslim organizations, including the Center for Security Policy. Jasser is also affiliated with recognized anti-Muslim groups and organizations including the Clarion Fund.

Zuhdi Jasser’s appointment to the USCIRF is contradictory to the committee’s goals. His association with anti-Muslim leaders and organizations, as well as his own stance in regards to the American Muslim community, shows that he is unfit to uphold the USCIRF’s goals. This is highly disturbing because Jasser will have a vast influence on future policies concerning American Muslims and religious freedom, as well as the future of the American Muslim community. The USCIRF would do well to choose Muslim leaders who carry more credibility among the American Muslim community so as to continue to foster better relations with Muslims and other Americans, rather than, as this appointment has done, furthering the divide between them.