I was recently appointed a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) and had the honor of swearing an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
Some of my track record over the past several years helping to confront foreign-inspired threats to our homeland has recently been made public. That same patriotic track record, however, was met with outrage in what I can only call the "keyboard crusader" corner of the blogosphere. Why? Because a Muslim was appointed to such a position.
What is becoming more obvious daily is that here at home we have some of our fellow citizens here at home have an unevolved view of the clash of civilizations. This self-righteous camp claims to be fighting to counter Bin Laden’s ilk by broadening the enemy category to the religion of Islam and/or casting broad suspicions on all Muslims.
It’s accurate to diagnose the American people as a confused bunch. After all, we are still debating who attacked us on 9/11 and what their ideology was. On the one hand, there are those see our enemy, post-9/11, as Al Qaeda and the global pseudo-jihad movement it spearheads. Then, there are others who believe in a "conveyor belt" theory of sorts. They feel that "Islamism" or the merging of one’s religious identity and nationalism is a gateway to extremism. -- Just as marijuana is considered by some as a "gateway" to harder drugs.
Currently the majority of academics and center-left think tanks view non-violent Islamists as the largely benign Muslim version of Evangelical Christians and therefore natural allies in countering Al-Qaeda and expanding democracies. That view is opposed by right-wing think tanks and security hawks who view non-violent Islamism as merely a pre-cursor stage to violence and an eventual threat to U.S. foreign policy objectives in the Middle East. All these groups and their viewpoints enrich our public discourse and generally welcome nuanced analysis of their point of views in a civil public discourse.
Finally however there is a unique category that views the circle of threat as not pseudo-jihadists or Islamists, but instead as the religion of Islam itself. They’re quick to classify any action by any public Muslim figure as “deception” in the pursuit of an ultimate goal to “subvert our Constitution” and impose a “Caliph” guided by the Koran in its place.
Many of our fellow citizens have spent the greater part of the past nine years confused as to whom our country’s enemy is and in response lash out harmfully at a great number of innocent fellow citizens. We must remember that one can’t listen while he’s shouting, nor discern while conflating broadly into global conspiracies, and only dialoging with sell-out “moderate” Muslims willing to reinforce what we want to believe is not patriotism but simply pouring Novocain upon our paranoia.
The intelligence field is basically about collecting information and producing analytical products to inform government’s policy making process. The counter-intelligence field is basically about playing defense against others trying to steal our national secrets or advance subversion operations against us. Our collective challenge therefore is to identify who America’s enemies are, what their plan is and where to draw the line between “us” and “them” so we stop suffering from fratricide.
An important step down the path of consensus and true service to our country is to settle our post 9/11 public conversation on who exactly “belongs” as an American. We can achieve that by not attempting to outsmart our common sense and adopt separate standards for separate religions and groupings of Americans in our public discourse about security topics. Simply put if we can't substitute the word "Jew" or "Christian" when speaking of Muslims then we should be wise enough to know that’s not the proper way to state a perspective.
There is no valor in being ugly or debasing our democracy’s public discourse in a bullying manner, just evil cowardice.
As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “When evil men plot, good men must plan. When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind. When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love…”
Mohamed Elibiary is a national security expert and an advisor to several government agencies and American Muslim community groups. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.