United States Action
Quilliam Foundation and Misdirection on Egypt's Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa
By Jeffrey Imm
August 18, 2008
In my July 16, 2008 article "False Reports of Jihadists 'Quitting' or Abandoning Islamic Supremacism," I challenged the Quilliam Foundation to address some key questions that were being asked about its organization. The primary issue I raised was its documented support for Egyptian Grand Mufti Sheik Ali Gomaa (also spelled "Ali Gum'a" or "Goma").
In reply, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence Director Matthew Levitt criticized me on July 17 for asking this obvious question, and on August 15, that same organization's Michael Jacobson published a "response" to my July 16 article on behalf of Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation.
Mr. Nawaz's comments in Mr. Jacobson's reposting "Quilliam Responds" are not a response at all, but are directed towards a July 30, 2008 letter from various senators to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice regarding "a 2003 article in Egypt's 'Al-Haqiqa' newspaper quoting Ali Goma defending terrorist acts in Israel." Mr. Nawaz dismisses this quote as he states it is coming from a "Wahabite-Islamist source" and "a newspaper that explicitly promotes a Shari'ah-law based Caliphate." (On the other hand, Mr. Nawaz does not explain how he defends Ali Gomaa who is interviewed in the March 2008 U.S. News and World Report as seeing Sharia as a solution for "Islamic extremism.")
Mr. Nawaz further defends Gomaa by referencing a July 21, 2007 Newsweek / Washington Post blog article where Gomaa seeks to define jihad with "a large category of meanings," and where Gomaa states that "Islam forbids suicide" and "Islam forbids aggression against others." (This did not stop Gomaa from defending the terrorist group Hezbollah, as he viewed Hezbollah attacks on Israel as a "defense of its country and not terrorism" and called for support for Hezbollah as a "religious duty.") On July 24, 2007, the Gulf News reported an update on Gomaa's comments to Newsweek / Washington Post regarding "apostasy," quoting Gomaa: "What I actually said is that Islam prohibits a Muslim from changing his religion and that apostasy is a crime, which must be punished."
Mr. Nawaz further dismisses criticism of Gomaa by using a ploy of playing on assumed political divisions: "[o]n the matter of support for Ali Goma, it seems rather ironic that right-wing critics share their worries over our stance, probably to their horror, with Marxists on the far-left such as the UK Guardian's Seamus Milne." Unfortunately those who think that criticism of Islamic supremacism is merely a right-left issue, fail to understand the issue and certainly fail to understand America's history in fighting supremacist ideologies. Mr. Nawaz should recognize that his experiences with the Nazi Combat 18 group were part of a continuing challenge against supremacist ideologies, and that the battle against supremacism beliefs will not be addressed by inconsistencies or by pandering to inaccurate assumptions about right-left political divisions.
The larger issue that my
July 16 article raised is how can an organization that attacks
political Islamism, such as Quilliam Foundation,
individual as Egyptian Grand Mufti Sheik Ali Gomaa, which it calls a
"Muslim scholastic giant," when there are numerous articles about Gomaa
that would make him a questionable "scholar" to emulate?
The simple answer is that in their efforts against political Islamism, Quilliam is seeking "scholars" that will justify their goal to develop a "Western Islam" as a method to counter political Islamism. Quilliam apparently believes that there are limited "scholars" that would provide such justification, and therefore the ends justifies the means (even though such an approach will not work in an ideological battle).
So the Quilliam Foundation chose Mufti Sheik Ali Gomaa as an example of "Muslim scholastic giants" to provide guidance to Muslims in adapting "to local cultures and traditions, while remaining true to the essence of their faith..." despite the numerous negative media reports readily available about Ali Gomaa. While Mr. Nawaz continues to defend Quilliam's support for Gomaa by stating that "Mufti Ali Goma must stand innocent until proven guilty," perhaps he can explain how Americans should be supporting a group who admires and defends someone like Mufti Sheik Ali Gomaa -- who supports the terrorist group Hezbollah, thinks that Sharia law is the answer to "extremism," views that "social violence is the result of the secularists' attempt to impose their principles upon society," is quoted as calling Israeli Jews "blood-suckers," is quoted as calling for the denial of freedom of religion, calls for the death penalty for adultery, and takes a relativistic view towards wife-beating. (This includes media reports from such "right-wing critics" as the Associated Press, the New York Times, and U.S. News and World Report, as well as Egypt's Al-Ahram that is frequently quoted by left-wing Counterpunch.)
If Mr. Nawaz continues to defend Mufti Sheik Ali Gomaa as a role model for the Quilliam Foundation's objective in developing a "Western Islam," then it is fair for analysts to question what that vision of "Western Islam" really is. That is truly the challenge to the Quilliam Foundation. Moreover, it is not the responsibility of the general public to prove the worthiness or unworthiness of Quilliam's esteemed "Muslim scholastic giants," but it is the responsibility of the Quilliam Foundation to thoroughly vet individuals that they claim represent their guidance and message to Muslims. "Innocent until proven guilty" is not a coherent approach for promoting role models.
More troubling is the consistently uncritical view of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence regarding groups or individuals that claim to be against "extremism." Michael Jacobson accepts that Sayyid Imam al-Sharif (also known as Dr. Fadl) has renounced terrorism, when al-Sharif clearly supports Jihad in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Israel, and states that "Jihad in Afghanistan will lead to the creation of an Islamic state with the triumph of the Taliban, God willing." Mr. Jacobson's article was published in the increasingly disturbing West Point Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) Sentinel -- a month after the Sentinel published George Mason University's Peter Mandaville call for engagement with Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood as a counterterrorism strategy. The Stein Program's Director Matthew Levitt makes the incredible claim that the "Way Back from Islamism" is through "political salafists [who] have credibility when it comes to deradicalizing others." Neither Mr. Levitt nor Mr. Jacobson makes any critical comments about Egyptian Grand Mufti Sheik Ali Gomaa while uncritically praising the Quilliam Foundation. Moreover, the Stein Program's Matthew Levitt dismisses any such criticism by claims that "spending time in the communities" of the United Kingdom and the Europe is mandatory to being able to assess "the threat on the ground."
As a second-generation British American myself, I can assure the Stein Program's staff that I have spent plenty of time in the United Kingdom. Yet I recognize that the continuing threats from the United Kingdom to America's homeland security will not be resolved by looking the other way regarding inconsistencies in potential allies as a tactical short-term measure. It is not the micro analysis of individual "communities" that drives a war strategy, but a macro analysis of the enemy and its ideology. Facing such an ideological threat requires strategic honesty, criticality, consistency, and most of all a definition of the enemy and its ideology.
Where American governmental leadership and analysts in counterterrorism have failed is in the definition of the enemy and its ideology which allows such inconsistencies of tactical measures. When the enemy is "extremism," anyone can be an ally, because "extremism" can mean anything to anyone.
Moreover, the political science definition of "Islamism" has also clearly failed as well. I will recognize this as a personal failure as well, because I failed to imagine in my repeated statements of Islamism as a totalitarian and anti-freedom ideology, how others could claim to be against Islamism while seeing political salafism as an antidote or could claim to be against Islamism while supporting individuals who see Sharia as an answer to "extremism." Moreover, I failed to imagine that West Point would publish articles calling for embracing Islamism as a positive political force to fight terrorism. Unquestionably, this shows that the term "Islamism," while intended to refer to an Islamic supremacist political ideology, is too inexact a term to be used in further strategic discussion. Peter Mandaville, the Stein Program, and the Quilliam Foundation (among many others) have categorically proven this over the past several months.
As I discuss in my July 2, 2008 article "Crossroads in History: The Struggle against Jihad and Supremacist Ideologies," clearly our American historical experience against supremacism provides us with the direction to address the current enemy. But as we continue to struggle in the war of ideas, we must reframe the debate from "extremists" to "Jihadists", and from "Islamism" to "Islamic supremacism." Until we strategically address the supremacist nature of the enemy, the tactics and allies that we choose will not serve our cause over the long war.