The events in Paris and San Bernardino were outrageous. There is no way to predict when or where the next atrocity will occur. My first reaction was to bomb the Islamic State into oblivion, cut off their money supply and destroy their leadership. I sounded like some of our Republican presidential candidates who serve up promises of instant gratification to a frustrated electorate.
I, too, want swift justice and an end to this senseless savagery. The extreme acts of violence committed by the Islamic State, such as beheadings, intentionally and rightfully provoke our most visceral instincts. I believe we should be doing all of the above. Yet, I know the evil we face is multifaceted and will require long-term, broad-spectrum approaches to extinguish it.
We have already seen how knee-jerk reactions can backfire. Although the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein, dismantling the infrastructure and government of Iraq and then carrying out a poorly conceived post-invasion plan supplied the Islamic State with a workforce of young Iraqi soldiers seeking leadership, according to Richard Clarke, our nation’s counterterrorism expert under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
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I write this as a Muslim immigrant from Iran who came to Fresno in 1978. I became a U.S. citizen in 1992 by choice. This is my home and my country. I see myself as an American, who like many, adopted the religion of his parents. I don’t see my religion as defining the person I am, but rather, as my spiritual guidance system and connection to God.
My goal is to help my fellow Americans distinguish between Islam and the misguided creed that fuels the Islamic State. I know there is much confusion about Islam. I would also like to suggest ways to defeat terrorism and forge stability in the Middle East.
Islamic State root: Wahhabism
Let’s start with this: The apocalyptic belief system of the Islamic State is directly linked with Wahhabism, a cult that has hijacked the religion of Islam. Islamic scholars worldwide agree that the Islamic State has nothing to do with Islam, and refute the religious arguments used to justify their ghastly actions.
The vast majority of terrorists in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and North America subscribe to the ideologies of Wahhabism – funded and most active in Saudi Arabia, a close ally of the United States.
Founded in the 18th century in Arabia by Muhammad ibn Abd al-wahhab, Wahhabism spreads hatred of western values and modernization, and calls for the purging of Jews, Christians and non-Wahhabi Muslims. Just as we would never link the Ku Klux Klan with Christianity, Wahhabism is not Islam. In fact, I am considered to be an infidel by Wahhabis.
As one of the three Abrahamic traditions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam), Islam proclaims the value of all human lives. Murder is not supported by Islam. On the contrary, any murder is seen as equivalent to killing the whole of humanity. Islam is a religion that not only stands on the concept of peace and justice, but also on the idea that every Muslim ought to live in a state of balance.
While we mistakenly declare war on Islam, Muslim refugees and mosques, and alienate Muslims in the United States, Wahhabism is expanding. Today, Wahhabi schools (madrassas) and mosques worldwide, from Islamabad to our own backyard in Culver City in Southern California, are funded by Saudi-Wahhabis. To read more about this violent cult, see Ambassador Curtin Winsor Jr.’s essay.
World must unite against the Islamic State
Genuine solutions will be challenging, costly and will require long-term resolve. There are no shortcuts to lasting change in the Middle East. It cannot be accomplished single-handedly by any nation. Multifaceted, geo-global partnerships are critical for striking at the heart of the Islamic State, and stabilizing the region.
A coalition of nations, including the European Union, allies in the Middle East, Iran and Russia, must pressure the Saudi government to stop funding Wahhabi schools and mosques in the U.S. and across the world. A strong coalition could collaborate to remove the leadership of the Islamic State, cutting off its petroleum-based money supply and putting boots on the ground to develop a safe zone in Syria. The negotiated removal of Assad from power, while leaving the government infrastructure in place, is key. Iraq and Syria must be rebuilt, as Germany and Japan were rebuilt after World War II.
Without major boundary revisions that recognize and restore the Middle East’s organic frontiers, peace will never be seen there. With the participation of local Arab tribal and ethnic leaders, the boundaries of Iraq and Syria can be redrawn to recognize and restore the cultural and religious boundaries that have been in place for centuries.
A new country of Kurdistan, which is our biggest ally in the war against the Islamic State, can emerge.
In this process, a new country of Kurdistan, which is our biggest ally in the war against the Islamic State, can emerge. With our help to jump-start economic engines, opportunities will be created for young Arabs to reduce the widespread poverty that exists in the region. Equally essential will be to provide a framework for public education and good governance, neutral of Anglo-American and Israeli agendas.
These objectives, although tremendously challenging, are critical. The contemporary Middle East is exploding. The Islamic State preys on the impoverished and disenfranchised, much as gangs do in the U.S. Although the Islamic State does not follow Islam, the group pulls exponentially on young Muslims who have lost faith and have no hope for the future.
For those who have only experienced chaos, violence and civil war, the Islamic State’s offers of power, inclusion, sex, value and salvation are intoxicating. It is human nature to turn to religion, even a false religion, when faced with constant pain and suffering.
Muslims in the U.S. are deeply horrified over the atrocities committed by the Islamic State. And yet, I can vouch that many Muslims feel a sense of alienation just watching the presidential debates. Do we really want to treat our Muslim neighbors differently because of their religion? In truth, our Muslim neighbors are our greatest allies against the Islamic State in the United States. And collaboration with local Muslim communities is one of the most powerful solutions for safety at home.
Muslims comprise 1 percent of the U.S. population and represent 10 percent of America’s physicians. As a group that has successfully assimilated and integrated with U.S. culture, Muslims are in the most potent position to recognize early signs of radicalization among members of the faith, and notify law enforcement.
Members of the Muslim community have more frequent contact with such individuals, and within a context most Americans do not yet understand. In fact, up to 42 percent of foiled jihadist plots in the U.S. were reported to law enforcement by Muslims, according to Mohamed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America and a Virginia-based imam who has advised the Obama administration on radicalization.
In the same manner that the FBI befriended the Italian-American community in the early 20th century to track down the Mafia, law enforcement should work closely with members of the Muslim community to identify those showing signs of radicalization.
As well, the Muslim community has a strong obligation to identify and report signs of radicalization wherever it exists, whether within local mosques or when demonstrated by individuals. Additionally, Muslim scholars must put aside denominational differences and clearly articulate for Muslim youths the basic tenets of Islam, including a strong proclamation of what is not Islam.
An American’s hope
America is the greatest nation on earth because of our opportunities and freedoms to express ourselves openly and practice the religion we choose. There are no limits to our imagination in this country. When our reactions are misguided, based solely on fear and anger, we jeopardize the very freedoms we love. Worse, we become like those committing the atrocities, and like the brutal dictatorships from which so many immigrants have fled.
I became a proud U.S. citizen because of America’s values, the opportunities it provides for all of its citizens, and for its respect for human dignity. We cannot allow terrorists to reshape the values we hold most dear.
These times test our political and moral character. Will we betray the heartfelt ideals our nation was built upon?
As an optimist, I believe that we will reject demagoguery and fear-mongering. As Americans, we must lead. I remain hopeful our strong values and courage to insist on “justice for all” will prevail.
Darius Assemi of Fresno is a builder, farmer and philanthropist.