America's freedoms aren't in danger from Islamists. But we can't
ignore Islamist influences on Muslim-American organizations. It is
not enough for Muslims here simply to assert their rights but also
to address questions whose continued neglect fuels understandable
How worried should we be about Muslims in America?
That question lies at the heart of this week's controversial
hearing about radicalization in America's Muslim community chaired
by Rep. Peter King (R) of New York. Supporters call it a timely
investigation. Critics call it a witch hunt.
But as Arab uprisings raise prospects for broader Islamist
governance in the Middle East, both sides should use the hearings to
reflect on how US policies toward Islamists overseas could inform
the way we address Muslim activists here at home. Despite obvious
differences, there are some parallels worth pondering.
Whether overseas or at home, we have typically muddled along,
often pursuing the path of least resistance.
In Egypt, this meant supporting a dictator who kept the Islamists
at bay. Here in the US, our approach has been more multifaceted, but
ad hoc and opportunistic nevertheless.
A day of reckoning
Consequently, the day may come when we wake up, as we have in
Egypt, to the realization that our aversion to more-demanding, far-
sighted approaches leaves us with fewer and less-palatable options
here at home than we would like.
At bottom, Islamists are Muslims who want to make the teachings
of the Prophet Muhammad the basis of government. In Egypt, they are
organized as the Muslim Brotherhood, exercising their clout through
social, charitable, educational, and political channels. Islamists
don't enjoy similar influence here, but they have long been a
prominent factor in the political life of American Muslims.
This does not mean that Islamists reflect the views of the
majority of Muslims in either country. Nor does it mean that most
Muslim-American leaders are members of the Muslim Brotherhood,
though many have been and some may still be. The key point is that
the leadership of the Muslim American community does have historical
ties and intellectual debts to Islamism. Here, as in Egypt, Islamism
has importantly shaped the discourse and the organizations that
Muslims are now using to carve out civic and political space for
Does this mean that America's freedoms are in danger from these
same Islamists? We think not. But we are struck as well by the
tendency of many in the United States, including the media and
various government agencies, to ignore the Islamist influences on
established Muslim-American organizations and their leaders. For
example, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has
origins and ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, is routinely
described and treated as though it were just another civil rights or
The price of ignorance
In turn, such studied ignorance in the face of this easily
verified history, has created a backlash among other Americans that
something important is being hidden from them - a sure recipe for
generating conspiracies and popular distrust of Muslim Americans
Not unlike former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's approach
toward his opponents, this has led others to indulge such instincts
and fixate exclusively on these organizations' links to Islamism,
however remote or attenuated. …