Deradicalizer used in case of 5 Muslim men arrested in Pakistan

From Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, CNN
  • 5 missing U.S. Muslims arrested this week in Pakistan
  • Parents, Muslim group had a deradicalizer trying to find the youths
  • Parents hoped sons would quietly be picked up and brought home, deradicalizer says
  • Expert says there is no single path to radicalization among young men

(CNN) — They are a little like the deprogrammers who try to coax young — and not so young — impressionable people out of cults. But if anything, their work is more important. They are in the middle of a web that includes would-be terrorists, distraught families and anxious federal authorities.

Deradicalizers find themselves busier than ever, dealing with young Muslim men who live in America but want to wage jihad in Pakistan, Somalia or Afghanistan. Influenced by radicalized friends or preachers, sometimes by what they read, see and hear on the Internet, they become fixated by a sense of injustice toward Muslims around the world.

CNN has learned that one of the most experienced of these deradicalizers was intimately involved in efforts to find five young men who vanished from their homes in northern Virginia at the end of November. On Wednesday, Pakistani officials reported the arrest of the five in the town of Sargodha in Punjab.

The young men’s families went to the offices of Council on American Islamic Relations in Washington on the morning of December 1, shortly after discovering their sons were missing. They’d also discovered a disturbing video posted by one of them.

The council contacted a Muslim community organization involved in deradicalization efforts, the director of that organization said. Given the sensitivity of the case, the organization has asked not to be identified. The executive director of the council, Nihad Awad, confirmed the role of the organization to CNN.

The deradicalizer said he contacted the FBI and, together with the council, worked closely with U.S. authorities to locate the men. FBI agents interviewed family members of the missing men in northern Virginia and young Muslims living in the area, he said. The Muslim community in northern Virginia was very cooperative, he said, and “the FBI was careful not to strong-arm the community.”

A source briefed on the investigation said U.S. authorities pinpointed the location of the apartments where the men were staying in Pakistan two days before the arrests. U.S. authorities had been trying to gather intelligence on who the individuals were contacting so they could try to establish if they had linked with militant groups in Pakistan, and who might have helped them get to Pakistan.

For the families, the way the story unfolded was disappointing and upsetting, according to the deradicalizer. They were hoping their sons would quietly be picked up and discreetly brought back to the U.S. Their arrest has scotched any chance of that.

One Muslim community leader whose organization has been closely involved in deradicalization efforts is Mohammed Eliabary, who is based in Texas. He said there is no single path to radicalization among these young men. It is rarely a mosque or Islamic school, as such institutions have a lot to lose if found to be radicalizing their congregants, he said.

More often, Eliabary said, Web sites, chat-rooms and forums and other forms of social networking are involved. Rarely are “recruiters” involved, he said.

Eliabary told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the radicalization of American Muslim teenagers has become known as “jihadi cool,” a term coined by author Marc Sageman. “The path for a lot of these kids is essentially like at-risk gangbangers, who want to stand up for their community, to address grievances of the global Muslim community more effectively than they’ve seen the elder generation address them since 9/11.”

Eliabary said the great majority of these young men have little sense of what they are doing. They are “extremely shallow theologically and even ideologically.”

He studied a group of young Somali-Americans who disappeared last year. “Their parents were saying these kids don’t even know what Somalia was … they are fighting for a cause that they really don’t know anything about,” he said.

He said there is no single method of dealing with these young men.

He prefers the term “disengagement” because radicalization doesn’t necessarily lead to violence. It can be no more than holding political views beyond the mainstream.

It is difficult to challenge their world-view, Eliabary said. They see a war on Islam and there is plenty of political rhetoric to reinforce that view, he said. So he tries to change their priorities. If they have a wife or children, for example, they have a responsibility as Muslims to take care of them.

Eliabary said there are grounds for optimism, despite the apparent increase in the number of young American Muslims who have seen themselves as jihadists.

“The American Muslim community is by far and will continue to be the most integrated, affluent and higher-educated [of] the rest of the western Muslim communities,” he said, adding that it is not as though any more than a fringe will be attracted to violence in the name of their religion.

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(A politically incorrect, apolitical, political comedy satire)

Scene II

“Attack of the Info-tainment Circus”


The scene begins in a gaudy, over lit news studio with several Hi definition cameras and lights (Made in Japan) focused on a mahogany news desk and an overpriced red, white and blue, firm, patriotic and potent, ergonomic chair (Made in Singapore). There is a mug, a manly mug, (Made in Bangladesh) with “NO BULL” written in Ivory white letters on a blue and red cup. The fertile American flag (Made in Mexico) is shimmering behind the news desk either via a digital screen or an actual hanging flag. There is 1 ergonomic, main anchor’s chair, which is sturdy chair made by and for MANLY men and not girly-sissy boys. To the left of this main, manly anchor chair, there are 5 girly-sissy boy, non-ergonomic chairs made by and for unmanly, girly-sissy boy men.

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Imam Zaid Shakir
“Radicalism is the realization of marginalization”
Imam Zaid Shakir might seem like a rock star, but he is one of America’s most influential Muslim scholars. He speaks to us at length about politics, extremism, and an emerging Muslim American identity.
Imam Zaid Shakir, an African American convert to Islam and one of America’s most influential and popular Muslim scholars, commands a rock star following – legions of enthralled and inspired Muslims filling rooms to standing only capacity waiting to hear his words. It represents a fascinating and dynamic phenomenon illuminating the resurgent identity of an educated, spiritual, religious and political Muslim American identity emerging from the post 9-11 era. Shakir, a student of the civil rights era and an educated scholar of political science and traditional Islamic jurisprudence, casually interjects tidbits of political theory, economic reform, critical race theory, Arabic, traditional Islamic philosophy and religious didacticism within his rhetoric. altmuslim’s Wajahat Ali spoke to the highly sought scholar, referred to by his students as a “new Malcolm X” for Muslim Americans, for a discussion on the “Clash of Civilizations,” the 2008 presidency, religious extremism, and an emerging Muslim American identity.I want to repeat a section from your most recent essay regarding the presidential elections:

“As long as we politely skirt the fundamental problems plaguing our country, starting with the superficiality of our race relations, Obama’s candidacy and possible election do not represent any real change, they represent a re-entrenched status quo, and illustrate the sort of duplicity that would hound Dr. King as a traitor and communist at the end. The election of an African American, or a woman for that matter, without an associated “revolution of values” will do no more than possibly delay, but will not stave off, this country’s inevitable spiritual demise.”

What exactly, in your opinion, comprises a true “revolution of values” within the modern American political and cultural climate?

SHAKIR: I think a true revolution of values would include having the ability to consider the interests of people nationally and internationally. And on the basis of that ability being able to deem certain policies that historically have been an integral part of American political life – as being unacceptable. Right now, here in California and in other states, we are facing a massive fiscal crisis. There are massive budget cuts. Immediately, there are talks of cutting education, cutting therapeutic and preventive programs for the youth and for poor people. But, there is no discussion of cutting the military budget and changing our foreign policy.

Those are clear domestic implications that accrue from billions of dollar spent on the war. If you spend that much money on the war, you have trouble finding money for other things requiring far less expenditures. The values that don’t challenge the war machine dictate that we will have an unending series of boogeyman to go after. They might be Muslim – in recent history most of them have been Muslim, but not necessarily and not all of them amongst the list of the people we’ve chosen to demonize and then justify military action against. I mean in the ‘80’s, we had Maurice Bishop – that threatening, potential superpower of Grenada.

(Laughs) Right.

We had Manuel Noriega of Panama. We burned an entire quarter of the city just to potentially kill him, and as to be expected, he wasn’t harmed, but a large section of Panama City was burned down. When it was over – from that misadventure – we had over 3,000 dead people. So, these boogeyman, most of whom are friends and associates and operatives and assets however you want to term it, at one point of their career might not necessarily be Muslim.

At one time it was Khomeini, then it was Maurice Bishop, then Noriega, now it’s Ahmedinajad. Who is it going to be tomorrow? Who knows? But it will be someone because of the logic of maintaining that “machine”, the logic of renewing those contracts dictates that those armaments have to be used, those bombs have to be dropped, those bombs have to be dispatched, those cruise missiles have to be launched. Otherwise, those companies that make them will go out of business.

So when you have this massive business, this massive infrastructure, this massive expenditure and massive profiteering that goes on during war, then there is tremendous international and domestic consequences. So, a revolution of values would have to challenge the complacency with this arrangement. A revolution of values will have to give equal value to every human life. We can’t just determine that the lives of some people, like the lives of Muslims in Sudan might be “worth” saving [as opposed to the] lives of Muslims in Somalia – where we have almost single handedly one of the gravest humanitarian crisis in Africa today by facilitating and encouraging the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia which undermined one of the few periods of stability they had in recent history. So Somalian lives don’t matter [to us], so we can impose situations on them that will lead them to starvation and refugee status. But, the lives of Muslims in Darfur matter because the politics play out in a different matter, or, the lives of Muslims in Darfur matter, but the lives of non-Muslims in Congo don’t matter. They’ve been dying at far more horrifying rates due to that ongoing conflagration.

We need to give equal value to all human beings. Unless we do that, we will ignore some situations where there is tremendous human suffering, and address other situations where there might be suffering of a lesser magnitude. I’m not justifying that some suffering is more justified than others. It’s all bad is what I’m saying. Unless we have a view of life that it is all bad and that it is all unacceptable, and that we wont engage in policies that encourage it here but discourage that suffering there, but instead, we will do something that will discourage suffering everywhere.

This is a human project. As human beings, we must seriously challenge the idea of “the national interest.” I seriously believe the whole idea of the “nation state” is an outdated and atavistic concept. It had its day, it served its purpose, but now due to the nature of the world, the shrinking of the world, globalization, integration, modern communications, we literally now live in a global village. So, now we must seriously consider a political arrangement that transcends the nation state. Right now, the nation state is for the elite who dominate the state. That might be here in US, in Saudi Arabia, in Europe, in Kenya – the elite that dominate the nation state. It’s an arrangement that the nation state monopolizes the legitimate use of force where that aspect is used to protect and advance the interest of those elites who dominate the state.

If we thought in global terms, in universal terms, we wouldn’t hesitate to begin to make serious changes in the way we do things here as it relates to the economic and ecological damage that ensues from the American way of life. Unless we can begin to think in human terms and develop ideas of human interests to replace national ideas, I think we are in for more of the same.

Let’s relate these ideas to the current political climate. The Muslims came out en masse in 2000 and voted for Bush as an interest group. In 2004, they went for Kerry. Now, most are confused looking for direction. In light of what you just said, what is the best option for Muslim Americans in the 2008 election? Furthermore, is a Muslim interest group, a voting majority if you will, the next political step for Muslim Americans in flexing their cultural muscle? Is there some hope their voices will be heard and it will resonate in changed foreign and domestic policy, or are these votes simply wasted on candidates who will do nothing to change the conditions of prejudice, exclusionism, and war mongering?

I think it’s a flawed system. One of the flaws is that there is no proportional representation. That virtually eliminates minor parties and political actions no matter how attractive their message might be. Some Muslims are attracted to the policies of Ron Paul, but they know he is not electable. Some Muslims are attracted to Dennis Kucinich on principle, but they realize he is not electable. So, a lot of Muslims are attracted to Obama. In that article you quoted, I wasn’t trying to attack Obama or discourage Muslims from attacking Obama. I was making the point that this is the same attitude towards race that manifested itself in a sort of duplicity that was used to assess the career of Dr. King – of what were acceptable actions worthy of being “glorified” with a national holiday and what were unacceptable actions that we don’t even talk about in the mainstream.

That sort of duplicity determines the viability or lack of viability of Obama as a candidate. That was the main point I was trying to make. I think Muslims first of all must ask if we are going to see ourselves as a progressive, social group looking at the interests of Muslims in the progressive sense, or are we looking at ourselves as a progressive human group who are looking at the interest of humanity and then using our potential strength in the political process?

First of all we have to sit down and hammer out an agenda. If you don’t do that, then it’s meaningless. It’s meaningless for half of Muslims to vote for Clinton in one primary, and then half for Obama in another primary. Each side neutralizes the other half. Or, at end of the day, half the Muslims fear Republicans will bring more wars in Middle East, but they are attracted to conservative moral values, then half vote for McCain and other half for Romney. It becomes meaningless. So, if we’re just merely participating in the political system to fulfill one’s civic duties, then there can be other ways of doing that other than voting. Voting is not the only way. It is not the end all of political participation, and voting in national campaigns, specifically, there are other ways to be politically active and make a positive impact in someone’s life.

If we are going to participate in these national contests, the first thing is incumbent on us to do is sit down, talk, and first of all determine why are we in this: to advance a system that will ensure greater liberty and even greater freedom to practice Islam? If that is our priority then we will find ourselves making political alliances with groups whom we have fundamental differences with in terms of our core values, such as gay and lesbian groups. Our strategy would dictate we are cooperating with gay people because the same sort of liberties and constitutional guarantees that would ensure the right of gay people to do their thing and function and exist in this society without the threat of physical violence, hate speech being aired to encourage violence against their group, those sort of policies would provide us protection as Muslims.

It’s very important for us if we are saying we are specifically looking at policies that will ensure to most successfully raise our children and pass on our core values. Then, we might be inclined to vote Republican, because we can say, “Well, we don’t really care because it doesn’t immediately affect me if this is basically a vote for the perpetuation of the war machine.” That’s why it’s very important to sit down and hammer out what are the core values that we want to emphasize in terms of committing ourselves to a political candidate. We might even want to exercise a punitive vote, we make sure those groups that support policies that are antithetical to Muslims, we make sure they move out and we don’t care who wins.

So who does Imam Zaid Shakir say is the candidate to support in 2008?

I think there is promise in Obama based on some of his pronouncements. And perhaps what I mention about race relations is that it won’t scuttle his candidacy, but that remains to be seen. I’m still honestly looking at this situation and assessing where it would be best to place a particular emphasis. But, it’s slim pickings out there.

A sexy term that has been used and abused for the past 10 years is the “Clash of Civilizations.” We’ve seen the rise of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world, the war against Iraq, the racist diatribes of certain pundits against brown folk and Muslims, the anti Semitism and prejudice of Muslims towards certain Europeans and Jews; we see terrorists in London: Pakistani, Britain doctors; we see educated Arabs attacking the WTC; we see extremists murdering Dutch filmmakers and people violently protesting cartoons; we hear about Muslim terrorists in Spain, in Indonesia, in Pakistan; we hear Muslims say “Islam means Peace.” In face of all these examples, isn’t “Islam is Peace” just empty rhetoric? How do you, or can you, if at all, convince the masses that Islam is anything but violent and reactionary, and that we are not in the throngs of a clash of civilizations?

I definitely don’t believe there is this clash of civilizations going on for a number of reasons. Number one, Islam and Christianity are articulations of the same civilization, basically. Meaning that in the classical manifestation they are rooted in Hellenistic traditions. Classical Islamic thought was, philosophically, predicated on Aristotelian logic and Neo-Platonic philosophy. That was the same basis for Christian scholasticism. If you look at the Christian doctrine, you’ll find many Christian theologians, such as St. Augustine, saying verbatim what Muslims were saying. They’re saying the same thing. They were both rooted in the same area of the world, the Mediterranean. If you go further East, you hit the Mesopotamian, similar in terms of influence. Then, you look at the work of Muslims in Spain and Sicily and the establishment of Islamic universities. They were a direct inspiration for and had seeds of the European Renaissance. So, if you look at these two religions if you will, they are articulations of the same civilization: they are rooted in monotheism.

So, it would be very difficult, historically, to determine and separate these two. They developed in the same part of the world – socially, culturally in terms of their core values. I mean there are very little differences between a Palestinian Muslim and a Palestinian Christian.

This whole idea of neatly, compartmentalized, cultural regions and then setting up a clash between them – the world just doesn’t work like that. So, scholars like Samuel Huntington advance this whole idea of a civilization clash, revising historian Bernard Lewis’ ideas in the early 90’s. Lewis focuses on the fall of the Soviet Union that unleashed the forces of the clash, if you will. He was also writing in the immediate aftermath of the first Gulf War. It behooves them to analyze that on the basis of this Clash theory. If they did, it would not argue favorably in support of the theory.

You have Christians and Muslims coming to together not to fight each other, but to fight against third parties. You have the British and the Americans joining with the Kuwaitis and Saudis fighting against the Iraqis. You see the main supporters of the Iraqis are the Russians and to a lesser extent the French. The world is filled with nuances, with gray areas that defy these terms.

Also, if you are talking about a clash of civilization, you should be able to demonstrate it historically in terms of some of the theories, sub theories if you will, associated with the main theory. One of them is that sharing a common civilization mitigates the intensity of wars that do occur. Recent history rejects that idea. The first and second World War, focusing on Christian Europeans mostly fighting against Christians, was among the most bloody conflagrations this world has ever witnessed. The Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988 was one of the most costly conflagrations in terms of loss of life that the Muslim world has experienced. So, where is the mitigating effect of sharing a common civilization? So, it’s very important to look at things as they are and take the time to work through the nuances and understand the complexities.

In spite of all this, you must realize many people say and will say, “Even if what you say is correct that Islam has science, a rich civilization, poetry, arts, Rumi, Sufism –fine, we’ll accept that, it’s granted. Nonetheless, we still have terrorists, Muslim terrorists in the 21st century. Where did Islam’s spirituality go? Why is Islam’s piety now measured by radical extremism and political militancy?”

Well, again, we have to look deeper than the surface. I believe what you said is very relevant. Why do we have this problem in the 21st century – emanating from some Muslim individuals? I was talking about it in the context of a “civilization,” which is bigger than an individual, an individual terrorist, or radicals, or small cells of potential terrorists and radicals whose radicalism pushes them to violence. A civilization is bigger than that.

A more telling question getting to the root of it is the following: Is this Islam or is this individuals and groups who’ve been radicalized? In the New York Times, even [conservative scholar] Fouad Ajami raises the questions that these terrorists might not be possessors of a whole civilization. My response is that they are not the possessors of any civilization. They’ve been radicalized by social forces, by economic forces, by political forces that they have very little control over.

An aspect of radicalism is the realization of marginalization. The realization that there is no larger venue, if you will, whereby one can begin to think of influencing the politics that are leading to one’s frustration. So they think they can’t rely on any nation state actors, so if we have a “clash of civilizations” then where are the nation states that are mobilizing millions of Muslims, not just a few a thousand Muslims? Where are the nation states that are mobilizing millions of Muslims telling them to expand their civilization at the expense of other civilizations, or to undo civilizations that don’t represent their values and teachings of Islam? Where is that happening? That’s what I’m saying. Civilizations are large, deep, historical forces. They are not small groups.

So, it’s one thing to quote verses from the Quran or traditions from the Prophet to justify one’s actions, but it is another thing to say these are the reasons for taking these actions. If Islam wasn’t there or the Quran, the forces of globalization, of political occupation and domination, would push many individuals associated with these groups to act anyway and justify it the way the Tamil Tigers justify it in their response to foreign occupation and domination of another religion. Or, how some of the youth in Kenya justify it by believing it to be an encroachment of their rights and undermining of their participation in the political process. These are just some examples of political violence, some which involve extreme reactions like the suicide bombing campaign in the past of Tamil Tigers in a group where there is no Islam. So, in the Muslim world if there was no Islam, you’d still have a lot of these radical responses because the underlying socio-political forces that are pushing people to act in desperate ways, they would still be there. And humans beings, at the end of the day, are human beings.

Speaking of “modernity” and continuing on the ramifications of your comments, we have this assumption that Islam is incapable of adapting to modern times. In fact, many suggest the Muslim reliance on following the traditions of the Prophet and his companions is turning the clock back 1400 years. Thus, they think this is proof of Muslims as relics of a fossilized age incapable of adapting to a modern age. Thus, Islam is stunted and not compatible with the problems of modern era. Muslims trying to be Muslims according to the ideology of Islam is akin to burying one’s head in the sand as the world passes them by. People say evidence of this is the scientific and technological advancement of Europe and the technological decline of Muslims. What’s your response to that assumption?

The technological advancement of Europe, which was an anomaly in human affairs, hasn’t just rendered the Muslims backwards and non competitive, but it also has rendered parts of Latin American “backwards.” Those are Christians, Catholics in Latin America. So, if you look at it and make comparisons between Muslim nations such as Turkey, and the comparisons in technological sophistication between oil rich nations such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and even Iraq before the war, then not Islam but the war set it back thousand wars. If you compare the oil producing nations in the Muslim world with oil producing nations in the non-European parts of Africa or Asia, then you find Muslims are extremely competitive. So, it’s unfair to make a comparison between Islam and Europe, or Muslims and Europe. You compare the technological advancements of Europe to Muslims in the third world, but you don’t make comparisons between Muslim and non Muslim people in the third world – to do that makes the point that Islam, specially, is responsible for their backwardness. The same forces that render Guatemala or Costa Rica or Uruguay or Paraguay – the same forces that render those nations backwards are the same forces that render Muslim nations backwards.

Let’s take it from a globalized view to a more personalized view, the actual practice of the religion itself. People say Muslims follow a religion that is now 1400 years old; they still don’t eat pork, they are averse to interest; they have long beards and wear traditional dress; they are relying on this crutch of a 1400 year old tradition, thus even in the practice of their religion they are incompatible with “modernity.” Your thoughts?

[Islam gives Muslims] some grounding to give meaning to their lives in many instances. Suppose there was no Islam in Iraq – You’d probably have massive suicides after a million of their people have been killed, after four million people have been internally and externally displaced, after their entire modern nation state with its education, farming institutions, exports to other nations, agricultural produce and oil, technological advancements: they have all been leveled and unraveled.

To be placed under United Nations sanctions and watching a million of your children die, half a million admitted to by then Secretary of State Madeline Albright. Watching your babies die, being forced to drink sewage infested water because your sewage treatment facilities have been bombed. If you didn’t have Islam there to give people their sense of spiritual grounding, I mean, no telling what you’d have there in terms of the types of resistance and suicide rates you might have. So, Islam has given Muslims a lot of spiritual grounding.

I think a lot of informed religious people have privately said, and I’ve heard this myself, that you should be thankful you haven’t had this type of enlightenment, because it has destroyed our religion. The issue of “modernity” is a function of modernization in a technological and industrial sense, which is largely based on where you are situated in a European dominated global economy. If in that economy, you are situated in a place that, for a number of reasons, allows you to make advances in technology, then it doesn’t matter if you are Muslim, or Christian, or whomever you are.

You can look at close similarities at Turkey and Brazil in terms of industrialization and the factors that undermined their efforts to industrialize. Another comparison between Venezuela – in terms of what they could do with their oil wealth and the realm of possibilities available to them – and Iran, which was fairly populous like Venezuela, but what they were able to do. Look at a small oil producing country and its ability to translate that wealth into a large degree of infrastructure and development, and make comparisons to small Muslim and non Muslim countries without that regard.

You can see what lack of religion had led to some people to in terms of psychological trauma they are experiencing, in terms of alienation. How did the whole social fabric of Rwanda fall apart and lead people to kill each other in the massive numbers you see? No external intervening cause for that. Why hasn’t a Muslim country gone through that genocidal episode? So, there are lot of positives thing you can point to that Islam has contributed. Praying 5 times a day isn’t a crutch that will keep people from modernizing. There are lot of deep historical forces that determined who modernized.

To take this question a little deeper, many students of history have noted that if not for the bubonic plague that broke out in the 14th century, many assume that Muslims would have been the first nations to “modernize.” Why? All the factors were there – Muslims were at the heart of the globalized trading system extending from Scandinavia to China, whose heart lay in Egypt. The Muslim Middle East had the silk roads which converged with all the sea routes. Muslims experienced tremendous and very elevated scientific thinking at the time. What broke this momentum? The bubonic plague that traveled throughout the system and hit the core of the system, the heart of the Middle East, it devastated the heartland. Because of the nature of the settlement patterns in Europe, the impact wasn’t as severe, thus that region was able to be the first to rebound from that age and enter into a process that aided development.

The plague had a negative impact on the momentum of Muslim technological advance that was developing. Another totally unexpected development was the massive source of gold and silver from the New World. Europeans were able to exploit that new, unexpected source of wealth. Not only unexpected, but totally free! It was being taken completely for free. Then, you also add to that the colonization of the New World and the development and use of slave labor, free labor in developing the economic resources of the colonies of the New World. All of that wealth: the gold, the produce of slave labor, all of that coming to Western Europe where at that time the primary Muslim actor, such as the Ottoman State, was experiencing a fiscal crisis. All this money was invested in research and development, money used to orchestrate dominant trade relations with other partners – all of that is occurring at one time. So, there are a lot of deeper historical factors that aided the advancement of Europe and that worked against other nations when that money was discovered. Viable economic relations were developed exclusively between Western Europe and the new colonies of the Americas. Muslims used to be the heart of the trading region, now they belong at the periphery. Western Europe, which was at the periphery, now is the heart between the Muslim world and the new Americas.

In 1453, when Constantinople was captured, the Muslims did it because like the French they adopted the use of cannon technology that other Hungarians and other Christian powers were developing. There was no hesitation to adapt that technology. So, what happened that destroyed that willingness to adapt, that willingness to adjust to current situations? What undermined that? Something happened to change the attitude. So, there is a lot of work and study we have to do if we are going to conclude what are the real factors that can answer any of these questions. Many times we find that religion is not the sole, determining factor, it is a factor, but in many instances it is not central factor.

I need to address this controversial New York Times quotation attributed to you:

“Every Muslim who is honest would say, I would like to see America become a Muslim country,” he said. “I think it would help people, and if I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be a Muslim. Because Islam helped me as a person, and it’s helped a lot of people in my community.”

Doesn’t this reaffirm and justify the fear of Americans that Muslims in America are loyal only to Islam, and their ultimate goal is the complete “Islamization” of America, thus making Muslims and their culture incompatible with democracy and the “West?”

(Sarcastically) Uh, no. That was part of what I said. This reporter was with us for 3 months, so there’s a lot of cherry picking [with the quotations] there. That quote, if you see what preceded that, is in the context of a very structured – I mean – if you see the quotation marks “quote” “unquote” “quote” “unquote” introducing very evocative ideas that I didn’t mention at all, such as [discussions on] the Taliban and Sharia [Islamic Jurisprudence] – and then contextualising that to give that impression.

What I said was I respect the right of all people to make the decision about how they want to live their life. As a Muslim, I’d want every Muslim to be a Muslim, and I think every Muslim would feel that way. But, I respect the right of a Christian to believe the same thing. I think every Christian wants everyone to be “saved” so everyone can go to heaven. Everyone should be free to choose whatever they want to believe. That’s what I said. If that statement is problematic then the first amendment is problematic.

All I’m saying is everyone should be free to advance their ideas and to accept or reject the ideas of others. Period. That’s all I was saying. When I said that there wasn’t any controversy. I specifically said this to this reporter that I made the same statement at an Inter-faith conference in the context of sitting on panel with representatives of other religions. That was the origin of that statement. I said “We’re all here and we are presenting our ideas. As a Muslim, I’d like all of you to become Muslims. But as Christians, I respect you might want everyone to be Christians. But what is important for us is to be able to share our ideas and work for a system where people can be free to choose.

There is a problem of race relations within the Muslim American community: Muslim on Muslim crime, if you will. Often most Muslim conferences talk about “Unity” yet we traffic in stereotyping and racial prejudice that is rampant within the American Muslim citizenry. What causes this?

As Muslims in this country there are lots of factors that work to create divisions at a fundamental level between communities whose populations are rooted in immigration and communities of converts: African Americans primarily, but increasingly Latino and Caucasian-American. From an immigrant perspective you have people in many instances who are coming to America, who have been, historically, attracted to her through “brain drain politics.”

People who were successful on their own right, people able to pass very rigid entrance exams in their respective countries – they were very privileged and talented individuals. When coming to this country, they found the universities to be very receptive, and the brightest were given scholarships and education. When you have that degree of talent, it becomes very easy to assume anyone, who just works hard and gets ahead, makes it the way “I made it” – and not to look at the some of the factors that work against everyone getting ahead just like in the country where you come from. In that country, there were, say, only 5000 seats for education, but there were millions who couldn’t pass the high school exams, and millions who couldn’t pass the junior high exams.

So, there is a tendency when one is successful to forget the realities that render a lot of people unsuccessful – to use those terms. Coming with those attitudes and seeing people whom you assume had the same opportunities you had in this land of opportunity – it works towards creating very narrow minded attitudes that are very shallow in terms of really understanding the dynamics at work in the lives of many people from different racial, ethnic groups. Those prejudices play themselves out in the mosques.

In addition, many of our societies are plagued by racialized thinking. You see a lot of color consciousness in a lot of Muslim societies – Syria and to a lesser extent Sudan. Pakistan and India where lighter skin people are looked in a different light than darker people. The daughter who has lighter skin, even if her features aren’t as attractive as the darker skinned daughter, she gets all the marriage proposals.

She’s the number one draft pick.

Yeah, so then you come to this country and you see a lot of African American Muslims and you have this built in mechanism to project the inherent, intrinsic racialist, racist attitudes towards those people. These create a lot of discomfort when the two groups come together and this is perceivable. Especially at those who are considered to be at the lower end of the economic spectrum. It is very important for Muslims to acknowledge this and not be in a state of denial regarding a lot of these racialist attitudes, color consciousness, and social economic snobbishness – it’s real!

You have those attitudes, you have that tension, and then you have a desire to exclusively pursue those interests. Each group is pursuing its respective interest and not looking at how coming together in certain areas could strengthen certain communities, especially in this indigenous, racial divide. So, when each group is selfish, then the everyday life activity and organizational activities of the other group becomes irrelevant.

You get a phenomenon like 40,000 people in Chicago for an ISNA conference [the largest Muslim American conference in America] and less than 1% of that is African American Muslims, even though 35% of American Muslims are African American. Or, you have Warith Deen Muhammad’s convention [Elijah Muhammad’s son] and over 99% of attendees are African American, because people feel it is relevant to their circumstance and identity. We have, as Muslims, stagnated ourselves in terms of how we organize ourselves, our interests and those advancements that deepen these divisions. We need to transcend this because we have so many ways we can help each other and strengthen each other.

Malcolm X when he went to Hajj had an observation that I don’t deny: that people of different groups tend to congregate and gravitate towards ones who are similar. Urdu speakers go to Urdu speakers, Spanish speakers go to people who speak Spanish for example. Should there be a level where we can recognize this and even celebrate it? This is part of what the Quranic message encourages: “We made you into nations and tribes.” It’s a reality, it’s a cultural reality. But shouldn’t there be a higher level where we can identify some common issues that no individual group or no individual ethnic collectivity has the power to address individually? And then come together at that level to those larger issues that affect all of us? So, it’s important for us to mature to a point, where as you said, as opposed to empty cries for unity that totally ignore the sociological basis of the separation that exists in the community are replaced by a mature call for creating common agendas that don’t seek to eradicate the existing divisions, but seek to glorify and celebrate those divisions.

But, on the other hand, look at a higher level of interest where our collective resources are needed. For example, challenging the spread of prejudicial and hateful attitudes towards Muslims. That’s a massive project. The people spreading those ideas are spending lots of money, publishing books, dominating talk radio, getting their voices on major media outlets like Fox and others. So, to compete on that level and put out a countervailing message, is going to take a tremendous amount of resources that no one community possess. It will taken a common agenda, a common message, a common strategy and pooling of resources, such as a nationwide legal endowment with lawyers on retainer with ongoing research into civil rights and human rights issues that are relevant to Muslims in this country – like a NAACP legal fund but for rights of all Muslims. Responses as a community to those situations in a very effective manner: fueled jet plains loaded with resources to supply medicine ready to fly anywhere in the world for example. That’s what we are capable of doing as Muslims if we are to come together and think at a higher level and not confine our activism to issues that are specifically germane to “my corner and segment” of the Muslim community

Most know that in the 2004 elections, the issue of “moral values” was statistically shown to be the most important issue for voters. However, what was underreported was that under moral values, “materialism” beat out gay marriage and abortion as the most prevalent problem according to voting Americas. Discuss the materialism of America and Muslim communities and how it has, if at all, contributed to a spiritual decline.

Materialism is going to the idea of a “revolution of values.” In this country, we must take a hard look at why we have such a wasteful life and what are the implications on others. Why should 5% of the world’s population be consuming 30% of the world’s resources? There’s no way we can justify that. Why do we need 3 bathrooms when the whole time we were living in our apartment with one bathroom there was no argument or fighting? Why do we need 11 ft ceilings when we are 6ft tall? Why do we have to drive a Hummer or an Escalade, and we say we are getting this for my wife so she can feel safe when she is only 5’6″ and weighs 140 lbs? Why does she need a Hummer and why contribute to the waste that it involves?

We need to consider this Earth has a finite resource base. What examples are we setting for others? We’re saying to be successful we need 2.5 bathrooms, you need to have two cars. For example look at China, they are chasing the American dream, they will say, “I need two cars.” Look at consequences of 300 million Americans living like this, and what will happen with one billion Chinese living like this? One billion Indians? This is madness. China is literally destroying their eco-system to make the “industrial” advantages they are making. Taiwan has already destroyed their eco-system. This is sheer madness. We must realize local is better. Localized communities. We live close to places we work in, we grow our food close to communities we live in, we buy and shop close to community we live in which cuts down on the massive costs of moving and packaging goods. We must realize there is a finite amount of resources, and as Muslims one of the great objectives of our Divine Law is preserving children, to preserve the future of our children.

It’s very important to think what kind of world we are going to leave our kids, and if these children are denied the opportunity to walk in an oak or redwood forest. Their ability to even breathe might be compromised – deforestation, polluting the ocean, a tremendous drop off in Salmon and the possibility that in 5 years Chinook Salmon will be gone. To never see a salmon run, to never walk in a forest, to never see a polar bear, because they are all extinct due to our activities and our greed. It is very, very troubling. What sort of world will we leave our children? Is it all get rich quick, develop, industrialize now and forget about the consequences for future generations? That’s a dangerous attitude to take.

The core value we have to change is the materialist nature of our life and the impetus to own, to shop. We have a looming recession. How are we going to stave it? We are going to give a taxpayer $600 rebate so they can go out and shop. Anytime anyone is going to get money, they are going to shop. They won’t save the money for the kids. They won’t give that money to charity, or to help the less fortunate. They will go out on a shopping spree. The whole premise is dangerous and deeply flawed and it’s important for us now to challenge those premises and look at the deep, ecological consequences of those premises.

In the end you are only one man. Yet you have millions around the globe looking up to you, following your advice, calling you the “next Malcolm X for the Muslims” – for any man this is tremendous pressure and immense weight on their shoulders. I feel like you are like Frodo from “Lord of the Rings”. Surely, moments of doubt have crept in your mind and you have asked yourself “Why me?” or “I’m not worthy.” How do you confront this reality: your scholarly obligations and duties, your own weaknesses, and the weight of people’s impossible expectations thrust upon you?

We had a lesson last night on just accepting whatever Allah gives you and give that it’s full right. Basically, in summarizing the text, the author said, “Be wherever Allah has placed you.” So, if you are placed in a situation with some public exposure and influence, then be responsible and do that to the best of your ability. If you are placed in obscurity, then be content with that and give that it’s full right and fulfill the right that you owe to everyone in that situation.

One of the ancient sages said, “Whoever seeks to have a public face, then that person is a slave to publicity. And whoever seeks to be hidden away and be obscure, then that person is a slave to obscurity. And whoever seeks Allah, then the two states are equal within him and her.” We pray that we can seek Allah and that whatever we are challenged with us in this world, whether it involves fame, popularity, or shame in the eyes of people, but as long as you’re right with Allah, to give each situation it’s full right and to make Allah the ultimate objective of our striving. Not our ego, nafs. Not the pleasure of people, but the pleasure of Allah. If we are sincere in making that our attitude and orientation, no matter what Allah challenges us with, we will rise to that change. Inshallah [God willing].

Wajahat Ali is Pakistani Muslim American who is neither a terrorist nor a saint. He is a playwright, essayist, humorist, and recent J.D. whose work, “The Domestic Crusaders,” is the first major play about Muslim Pakistani Americans living in a post 9-11 America. His personal blog can be found here and he can be reached at

DECEPTION: Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade of Nuclear Arms

“We have to honor the wishes of the Pakistani people”
Is Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal really able to fall into the hands of al-Qaida? To find out, we speak to Adrian Levy, author of “Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons.”
In the wake of Bhutto’s tragic assassination, renewed international attention focuses itself on Pakistan’s political instability and nuclear capabilities. The United States and President Musharraf adamantly state that the Pakistani military represents the only stable safeguard against potential radical extremists and al-Qaida sympathizers taking over Islamabad and controlling Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and technology. Playwright and altmuslim correspondent Wajahat Ali received an exclusive interview with Guardian journalist Adrian Levy, author of the explosive new book, “Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons,” to discuss Pakistan’s political past, present, and future regarding nuclear proliferation and its volatile relationship with the United States.
All around the world, Benazir Bhutto’s assassination tops the headlines. You’ve done extensive and exhaustive research on Pakistan’s international and domestic policies. What are the repercussions of this tragedy in relation to Pakistan’s current political stability?
Levy: It will have an enormous impact on Pakistan by engendering more instability. The reasons for that are that the Pakistan Political Party [Bhutto’s political party], although very feudal and by no means perfect and by no means transparent and open, is still a tremendous political operation with a lot of grassroots support. That support is not solely based in her home state of Sindh, but there is consolidated support from most progressives for her that has emerged merely due to the frustration with 9 years of Musharraf’s military rule. Lot of people who are not sympathetic to Bhutto, personally or her party, see the chance to vote as a vote against Musharraf and against his party, the PML-Q, the “King’s” party as it is called in Pakistan. That party represents only the wishes and needs of the military and certain pragmatic politicians whose interests are only in survival and not in progressing any kind of liberal, progressive, secular movements in Pakistan.The feelings, generally, from numerous people I’ve talked to in Pakistan is that although Bhutto was an imperfect electoral card and although an imperfect candidate – who has been beset by corruption allegations and like all parties she had tremendous problems with her two terms mainly in her weakness in standing up to the military – nevertheless, people saw [her] as the beginning of something. The start of something: the commencing of a new dialogue with the military. She was seen as the foil, and once this began – if support was strong enough – the PML-Q vote [Musharraf’s party] would’ve been minute. Musharraf would’ve been weakened even with tremendous vote rigging involved.

The result would be a National Assembly that would not be answerable to the military but to a democratic system. This is only the very, very, very beginnings of something, but it is better than the option of Musharraf retaining all political power according to the frustrated voices of Pakistanis wishing to see a democratic Pakistani system. Their voices are not being listened to. The worst possible situation of all is for there to be no election, or the candidates are simply the military’s chosen candidates or the military’s sympathetic coalition, the MMA, the religious coalition, which as we know only polled 12% of the vote in the last election.

Another reason her death is significant is that, in essence, it is a blow to a buoyant progressive movement. A lot of people will feel downtrodden, very pessimistic. It strengthens the military’s hand in Pakistan. Fear, chaos, and anarchy in Pakistan strengthen the military’s hand. It also plays very much in the military argument that democracy is young, incapable and juvenile even, and that only the military is the professional, solid entity that can hold together a fractured Pakistan. They create a false equation that goes like this: “Without the military, there would be chaos. Without the military, there would be an Islamic coup. Without the military, the nuclear assets of Pakistan may well fall into the hands of Jihadists – or parties and goals – antithetic to the West.” This is completely crass and a complete un-writing of the real situation in Pakistan.

The reality is that the military have, throughout, manipulated the Islamist vote. They have given succor, money, training, arms and political power to the Islamists and religious conservatives. They’ve brought them into the military coalition; they’ve used them against the military’s moderate, liberal opponents. In fact, if we look at Musharraf through hard objective facts, since 1999 virtually all facets of Pakistani life have gotten worse. The only facets that have not gone worse are due to the swamping of Pakistan by US money. When they talk of the Pakistani economy and economic growth being more buoyant, these are simply figures that are bent around the artificial situation of billions of dollars being pumped into Pakistan by America. [The US has given Pakistan more than 10 billion dollars of aid in the past 5 years.]

In effect, society has become far more radicalized, far less democratic, the institutions of democracy have been undone by the military. The military has become tremendously wealthy, tremendously unreliable even. The personal wealth of the top tier generals, I mean, each general has assets of more than 10 to 15 million dollars. If you look at the military businesses, they turned in a 10 billion dollar profit, which is the same size profit last year as the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank. They’re a political class of their own, and their interests aren’t the same as the democratic movement of Pakistan.

Let’s talk in depth about Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies, the ISI. First, from your research, how powerful are these agencies? If indeed they are powerful and pervasive, how could they not have known of A.Q. Khan’s nuclear proliferation activities [Abdul Qadeer Khan is known as the “Father of Pakistan’s Nuclear Bomb,” a Pakistani scientist and engineer who confessed to operating a nuclear proliferation program]? How can students who besieged Pakistan’s Red Mosque in July – which is sitting right in front of ISI agencies – be fully loaded with guns and ammunition? Are the ISI and military incompetent, or are they highly involved in the daily political happenings of Pakistan?

All the research shows, and all of my objective sources that include external agencies and former members of Pakistan’s military, that the nuclear proliferation activities of A.Q. Khan were effectively a state run policy. They evolved out of the desk of General Zia [Zia al Haq ruled Pakistan as a military dictator for 11 years] in August 1988, and they evolved in the knowledge that in 1988 the US made it clear as soon as the Soviets had left Afghanistan, all US aid would be cut off to Pakistan since Pakistan would not be needed anymore.

So, Pakistan was looking at two things: 1) The need to get hold of hard cash outside the monies they would now lose from the US, and 2) To generate a political presence of power that could stand up to US, since it could no longer be counted as a continuous, consistent, solid ally. The leadership of both the ISI and the military, after the death of General Zia, thought the best way to do this was to woo political allies through use and deployment of the country’s nuclear assets and to make hard cash by selling those assets. This is critical in understanding the motivation behind what happened to A.Q. Khan.

The ISI and military leaders sat down and had a meeting during the last 3 months of Zia’s life, and then after his death, the leader of the military, General Baig, and the leader of the ISI, Hamid Gul, sat down and discussed a term of defiance. Would it be a nuclear defiance, or an economic defiance? What was the best way of creating an Islamic movement that could stand up to US interference?

One thing to keep in mind is that the US very much created the grounds for this to happen. The US relationship in Pakistan has been feeble, a roller coaster, a feast and famine existence. America either loved Pakistan when it needed it politically, or it abandoned it when it didn’t. I want to throw forward one critical point to understanding this idea. If we can just look at the hard figures of US aid to Pakistan during every period of dictatorship in Pakistan, we see that US aid has been enormous, absolutely enormous. It has been bountiful: both “black” aid by the CIA and overt aid by Congress. And during the weak period of democracy in the 90’s when fledgling political parties in Pakistan tried to stand on their own feet, US aid only amounted to $1 million a year. America never tried to build a civil society, instead they’ve only supported dictatorships [in Pakistan.]

In your book you name names and state that at least 5 US presidents had knowledge of Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions and could have taken a more proactive and competent approach in curbing what is now a volatile and potentially explosive situation. Let’s talk about America’s love- hate relationship with Pakistan. Originally, in the 70’s you mentioned US was loathe to have a nuclear Pakistan, however the State Department, especially in the 80’s, engaged in highly dubious, if not illegal, leaks of information and support to Pakistan to help them build nuclear technology. How complicit has the United States been in this deception? Who has been deceiving whom? How has US, if at all, helped Pakistan go nuclear and if so how does it benefit US foreign policy interests?

The critical time is 1979: the world changed. We have the Soviets invading Afghanistan, the Shah fleeing Iran, and Khomeini returning to lead the Islamic Revolution from Paris to Tehran. When that happened, American began to feel insecure suspecting a front against it that could expand to Asia. The feeling of Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski – and he lobbied for this in memos he wrote in 1979 – was that the gold standard of US should be shifted. No longer should emphasis be placed on human rights and non-proliferation, but these should be moved down the political agenda in order to court Pakistan anew and win it under our umbrella. Carter’s administration ran out of steam, but we see as soon as Reagan’s administration came in the White House, a huge number of moves from the State Department to the Pentagon were made to Pakistan to attract them to the table. Those offers were very clear: the information that has been released through the Freedom of Information shows meetings between Haig, the Secretary of State and other US officials saying, “We will not mind Pakistan having a bomb. That is not an issue for us now. We need to use them as a springboard for our support of the mujaheddin in Afghanistan. We are prepared to set aside, or, not look at issues of the Pakistan bomb.”

In other meetings they were more overt and actually said, “just take it off our radar. Get the bomb program off our radar. Don’t embarrass us with it.” So, in terms of deception, it is a deception of the American people. The American people are being told that non-proliferation was the gold standard of the government, in fact, it wasn’t. Non-proliferation was sold down the river to woo Pakistan in this temporary relationship of 8 or 9 years. And Pakistan, of course then, having been armed and enabled by America that not just turned a blind eye but actively gave assistance to the program, having done that, America then turned its back on Pakistan in 1989-1990. Pakistan warned three US officials, “if you turn our back on us, we will sell our technology and Iran will be our first client.”

Now, that message was given to Norman Schwarzkopff at Central Command, it was given to Bob Oakley, the US Ambassador in Islamabad, and it was given to the Assistant Secretary of State in the Pentagon. All three were told and all three reported back. And, the decision was that Pakistan wasn’t needed now. The attention was on Gulf War 1, the attention was on the Middle East, so Pakistan was abandoned, and it did what it said it would do and began to sell its nuclear technology. We know through several interviews given by many people in the CIA and working in the Pentagon as analysts that active operations to prevent Pakistan from selling and procuring nuclear program were sabotaged from within the White House. It’s actually a question of enabling the program. Reagan’s administration enabled it, and Bush Sr.’s administration then basically turned their back on Pakistan in 1990 when the country was unstable, when democracy was weak, when the [Pakistani] civil society needed support from the US. So, it was an inevitable consequence that Pakistan would sell. Any claims that American had a progressive view towards nuclear technology wasn’t true. It was duplicitous. Pakistan was very much a victim of this, in essence. It was looking for consistency from US and never received it.

First, please explain the relationship of Musharraf and Bush post 9-11 and specifically how it relates to Pakistan’s nuclear capability and ambitions? Second, one argument is that Musharraf’s military dictatorship, although it is hardly labeled as such by the White House, must be supported out of necessity to ensure nuclear technology does not fall in the hands of extremists and al-Qaida. Basically, the line goes: if no Musharraf, then al-Qaida has a nuclear bomb. How legitimate is this threat and assertion?

It’s completely false, a completely false assertion put forward by two groups of people: a circle of neo-conservatives from the Vice President’s office and the Pentagon. They didn’t want to get involved in the messy business of building a democracy, and they did want to get involved with dealing with a dictatorship, because it is easier to talk down on the phone to a General than it was to talk about a messy democratic system. They were on the verge, before 9-11, in proclaiming Pakistan a terrorist state for supporting Al-Qaeda, for nuclear proliferation. In fact, if we look at all the facts, we had a military regime that was suppressing human rights, that was proliferating, that was supporting terrorism, that had a threatening link to 9-11. That was not Iraq. It wasn’t Iraq. There was only one country that ticked all of those boxes: Pakistan. And yet, a group of neo-cons around the President had an agenda that went back to 1992 and that agenda was Iraq. They thought Saddam should be the next suitable target. Consequently, all information on Pakistan were downscaled. Quite honestly, the greatest threat was instability in Pakistan, and yet that’s something American didn’t want to get involved with.

So, how legitimate is that claim that Pakistan’s nuclear program will allow itself to fall in the hands of Al-Qaeda or –

Absolutely impossible. It’s impossible for a weapon to be released. That just cannot happen. The Pakistani military have their own command and control structure, their own methods of dealing with it. It’s a fear story that is put forward to justify the support of the dictatorship. It’s a ludicrous argument.

The modern fear is that the “Axis of Evil” or rogue nations are stealthily obtaining nuclear technology. This charged is leveled against Iraq under Saddam, Iran’s new government, and al-Qaida sympathizers and Taliban. How credible is this allegation? Also, what is Pakistan’s role in helping these countries and agents achieve their goals?

The Pakistan military and intelligence agencies were selling to these countries, and they didn’t allow it to slip into the hands of the jihadists. The Pakistani military set up country to country deals They first offered all of their technology to Iraq, but Iraq didn’t believe the offer was genuine and thought it was entrapment, so they turned them down. Pakistan then went back to Iran and set up a relationship with Iran. Then, in 1993-1994, they did the same in their deals with North Korea. Those deals came from within the military and A.Q. Khan’s network was simply the proxy by which it happened. By 2002, we reached a situation where Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Syria, and Saudi Arabia were all either in the position to be negotiating for or possessing nuclear technology. This was a government enterprise. Government carriers were used. Government transporter planes, ships, the Navy, and air force were used to transport. And A.Q. Khan was tracked at every stage by American intelligence until the end of the 90’s and beginning of the millennium. So, they began to know what he was doing. The picture that was portrayed in the intelligence was that this was a government enterprise and not simply A.Q. Khan.

A.Q. Khan is routinely painted as the “father of the Islamic bomb.” In fact, in 2004, he appeared live on television and claimed personal responsibility for nuclear proliferation and selling of information to “rogue governments.” Subsequently, he was pardoned but placed under house arrest by Musharraf, who feigned ignorance regarding nuclear black market deals happening under his nose. If what you just said is true, then how can one man, an elderly scientist no less, escape the scrutiny of his nation and international policing forces and freely deal nuclear technology? Why was he used as scapegoat?

A deal was done in 2003, because Pakistan had signed up on the “War on Terror” and was now a consolidated partner – the military was seen as a partner without whom the war could not be fought. So, they decided to absolve the reputation of the Pakistani military by finding a scapegoat: A.Q. Khan. If Khan would agree to stand up for this [nuclear proliferation], then no one else would interrogate him, no one else would be given access to him. And the whole deal would be dealt with within Pakistan. The military will be absolved, their military’s reputation protected and preserved, and they would continue to be an ally. So, Khan appeared on T.V. in 2004 in January and he gives his great speech, a mea culpa of “I, alone, along with a small band supporters did this grand enterprise,” and sure enough the next day he is pardoned. And the investigation is done later, 18 months later, written up by Musharraf. And a line was drawn under the affair.

Why do some people in Pakistan or “the Muslim world” consider A.Q. Khan to be a hero, whereas the rest of the world paints him as a criminal and nuclear proliferator? What explains this marked discrepancy in characterization?

In one sense, he is a hero: a man with relatively paltry means took a country that was, at that stage, under-equipped and created for it through his brilliant organization a sophisticated nuclear program. For which, you can have nothing but the highest respect in that he put together a massive enterprise run very efficiently. We can see quite reasonably why certain people would see him as a remarkable individual. He was betrayed very much by the military he worked for; he was sacrificed by them for very cynical political reasons.

In that sense, the military of Pakistan has been the enemy of the wider “Islamic” community. And Khan was seen as simply a dutiful assistant of Pakistan who loved his country and serviced that program with remarkable efficiency. A lot of people over-emphasized the money that Khan made, his individuals assets and etc., this is just part of a smear against Khan. He was mostly motivated by patriotism. He was mostly motivated by his desire to see Pakistan stand up to India. Mostly motivated by what he saw as a bigotry with the non proliferation act and bigotry with its enforcement which allowed Israel, for example, to develop a covert bomb with no word about it, and yet Pakistan couldn’t have one. The un-level playing field where countries like Israel, South Africa, Argentina and others could secretly acquire technology, and yet Pakistan was forbidden. So, one can understand why Khan was lionized and treated as a hero.

Pakistani patriots and supporters say India is nuclear and has fought several wars against Pakistan. Israel is an ally of India and it’s nuclear. Major Western countries are nuclear. Why should Pakistan be denied this same right? Isn’t it merely protecting its borders and sovereignty? What gives Western countries the right to have it and not Pakistan? Is this a legitimate question?

It’s a very, very good question. It’s a really good question. It’s the hardest question to answer. I think the problems have been created by the proliferation mainly with the situation with India. India did obtain a nuclear problem and it was de facto accepted. And when one reads the report from the State Department and Pentagon regarding this, they accepted that Pakistan is going to take this badly and it is an inequality that India will be accepted and the Pakistan program wouldn’t. That’s absolutely right.

But the major problem stepped in, because as we discussed before, America was slow to respond with any consistent regard to Pakistan, so Pakistan then went on and developed a proliferation system. This is brand new within nuclear history. Which other countries proliferated on the scale that Pakistan did, with the contempt that Pakistan showed both to organizations and to nation states? The [Pakistani nuclear] program may well have been accepted if it was not for the proliferation that created a situation in the international intelligence community; that just enraged them. When the deals were exposed, the extent, depth, and breadth of it, that basically created the movement to go after the Pakistan program. But, you’re right, there is a huge inequality in a way that system is administrated by the protectionist powers – that’s absolutely right.

The last question. We often see movies of the 50’s and 60’s depicting the Cold War hysteria – mushroom clouds, the Cuban Missile Crisis, children hiding under desks preparing for potential nuclear annihilation, MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) situations and what not. Is this the vision of the world’s future? What can be done now via foreign policy or international organizations that can curb the dangerous proliferation of nuclear weaponry? Is it hopeless?

I think the most important thing of all, and it this comes back to your initial question, for most people who have the money, who have an interest, have the influence and interests to work towards creating a stable Pakistan. I think that really, really matters. I think a nuclear-free Middle East is desirable. Disarming Israel, assuming all the powers around it are disarmed, that idea will simply not be realizable. I don’t think Israel will be persuaded to do it. I think creating a progressive movement in Pakistan that itself will fight against terrorism, al-Qaida, and create a liberal, more secular consensus might be the answer. In order to do that, we have to support democracy over there. We have to honor the wishes of the majority of the Pakistani people who don’t want to live under military dictatorship. So, in America’s policy sense, it has to shift from the easy path of propping up generals and to the messy path of assisting countries in nation building. It needs to be consistent towards countries like Pakistan.

Wajahat Ali is a Pakistani Muslim American who is neither a terrorist nor a saint. He is a playwright, essayist, humorist, law school graduate, and regular contributor to whose work, “The Domestic Crusaders,” is the first major play about Muslim Pakistani Americans living in a post 9-11 America. He can be reached at

And will the real Muhammad please stand up?

With a sigh of resignation, a fist pumped in rage, and both hands brought together in hopeful supplication, I humbly ask, “Will the Real Muhammad please stand up?”

“Who here is petrified of Muslims,” a Pakistani American Muslim man calmly asked the 90 or so assembled law students of UC Davis King Hall Law School for a special lunch time meeting entitled: “Minority Reports: Representing the Un-represented.” (For lovers of irony: King Hall, named after revered civil rights leader Martin Luther King, counts 1% of all its 2004 incoming student body as African Americans). Given the stifling restraints of self-imposed politically correct nooses people choose to wear, I was not surprised when none of the enlightened raised their hands in response to my question.

“You all are excellent liars. You will make excellent lawyers,” I replied.

“If I wasn’t a Muslim American, and I was your Average Joe America, I would be terrified, petrified, freaked out of my mind about these fun-do-mentalist, terror-rist, extreme-ist, anti-Semitic, Women-hating, tali-boning, bearded, hairy, smelly, leering, oil guzzling, turban wearing, magic carpet flying, Sand niggers.”

And those words, spoken swiftly, coolly, and calmly, connected like a brutal uppercut smashing (or at least partially revealing) their carefully constructed masks of racial “enlightenment.”

These words did not sprout forth from the rage filled, Bile spewing gut of a knee jerking, reactionary loon – a standard description routinely used by “media experts” to publicly pillory any person guilty of “exporting” an unpopular sentiment. Rather, the rhetoric accurately portrayed the image I, as an American, would sincerely hold of 1.2 billion members of the human race in the year 2005 if television media, academic history books, Hollywood movies, and governmental rhetoric were my crash course tutorials on all things “Moslem” and “A-rab.”

Let’s do a summary, shall we? According to the FBI, CIA, and the 9-11 Commission report, 19 hijackers happened to have Middle Eastern backgrounds, 15 of them hailing from our oil-in-ally Saudi Arabia. In retaliation, we have liberated Afghanistan and Iraq, two “Moslim” countries, from evildoers, with Iran, Syria, and an assortment of other hostile, Muslim neighbors on the way. However, our commitment to the Wahabbi-based Saudi regime, mostly responsible for the dissemination of Muhammad Ibn al Wahhab’s puritanical and re-visionary interpretation of Islam, remains firm and intact. Even though the administration eventually conceded Iraq had no tangible connection to the Twin Tower attacks, USA Today reported nearly 70% of Americans believed otherwise. I guess a Saudi is an Iraqi is an Arab is a Muslim… is a terrorist. Oh well, sucks for me – and 1.2 billion other people.

Furthermore, to bolster not only national security but also foreign relations with our Middle Eastern “neighbor”, we hold detainees as “unlawful combatants” to bypass international laws and customs in Guantanamo Bay, which has been called the “Gulag of our times… in violation of international laws,” according to Amnesty International. The administration and its henchmen scoff. The “liberal” media, including Newsweek, is so liberal that it prematurely and embarrassingly retracts its May 9th story at the commands of its superiors, in which it described the desecration of the Quran by interrogators who wanted to rattle detainees by placing the Holy Book in the toilet. (The Administration later conceded there were several valid reports of Quran desecration.) This was another “Spring time” musical for the haters. “Protests in the Islamic world,” exclaimed the headlines! “Look at those barbarians: so violent, so angry!” complained the pundits. “Why do they react so violently? It’s just a book! Jeez, do they take it that seriously?” asked the genuinely baffled reporters. A simple dialogue with any practicing Muslim with even the most elementary rhetorical skills would have revealed, that yes, Muslims do take desecration of their Holy Book seriously. However, I guess allowing an intelligent Muslim voice to emerge amongst the high-pitched, paranoid shrills and shriekings of non-Muslim “experts” would have been truly radical and “undemocratic.”

And will the Real Muhammad please stand up?

But who needs Muslim voices when you have liberal and conservative pundits. Erudite and compassionate visionaries, such as Ann “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity” Coulter, or academic Bill “I wouldn’t read the book (the Qur’an). And I’ll tell you why I wouldn’t have read “Mein Kampf” either,” O’Reilly, who subtly equate the religious text of 1.2 billion people with the racist, supremacist ideology of one Adolf Hitler. In the lucrative world of Islam-bashing, it’s comforting to know that even conservatives and liberals can set aside their differences to participate in this “Springtime for Haters” musical. For example, “pay for play part time liberals”, such as Christopher Hitchens and Alan Dershowitz are heavily involved in this gig. Dershowitz, promoted as a renowned legal scholar and civil libertarian, wrote the pro “non lethal torture” book “Why Terrorism Works: Understanding the Threat, Responding to the Challenge.” Specifically, in a 2003 CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer, Mr. Dershowitz describes a civilized method of non-lethal torture, such as placing a “sterilized needle underneath the nail,” which he concedes would “violate the Geneva Accords, but you know, countries all over the world violate the Geneva Accords. They do it secretly and hypothetically, the way the French did it in Algeria… I think we would want to do it with accountability and openly and not adopt the way of the hypocrite.” At least we’re openly torturing people now, instead of burying the reports behind the walls of Abu Ghraib; surely, this is a sign of progress. Furthermore, in his essay, “The Rules of War Enable Terror,” Mr. Dershowitz declares “Democracies must be legally empowered to attack terrorists who hide among civilians.” Does this include people of white skin color, such as Timothy McVeigh and members of the Militant Militia? Would Mr. Dershowitz allow this method on, say, Israelis caught spying on the US? Or is this special VIP treatment reserved solely for Muslim and “brown skinned” Americans suspected as terrorists? Even though I’m honored by the lavish attention, I’ll respectfully decline this humble offer.

And will the Real Muhammad please stand up?

Perhaps we must seek the wisdom of Christopher Hitchens, who vociferously supports Bush’s “War on Terror” thereby significantly ensuring a steady stream of Dead Presidents in his bank account and increased exposure and public visibility on television news programs. He laments the use of the word, “Islamaphobia,” which I’m assuming refers to the irrational fear, ignorance and hatred of Islam and Muslims, which he argues is a “cheap propaganda tool” used by “soft defenders of Islam.” Shhh, let’s not tell Mr. Hitchens that last year marked the highest number of harassment, violence, and discriminatory acts against American Muslims ever recorded by Council on American Islamic Relations, with a near 70% increase in hate crimes over 2002, representing a three fold increase since 2000. Or, how about the story of Mr. Gagandeep Bindra, an Indian Sikh, who was called “Osama” and seriously injured by three teenagers found guilty of ethnic intimidation in 2004? And what do we say to an honorary Sikh priest, Rajinder Singh, who was attacked for wearing a turban in New York? I guess you don’t even have to be a Muslim to get beat down like Muslim nowadays. I wonder what Mr. Bindra and Mr. Singh would say to the Hitchens of the world regarding the “cheap propaganda tool” of “Islamaphobia” which lead to their assault? I guess we’ll never know because those voices are never heard.

And will the Real Muhammad please stand up?

The detractors will now predictably chime, “but look, we do allow Muslims to speak. We love Irshad Manji, see? Ha! Fie on you, you cantankerous rabble rouser!” Irshad Manji, like most info-tainment prostitutes, turns her tricks by playing the “pathology” game: where the token minority, aka “the good minority,” is hired to absolve certain individuals, institutions, and accepted norms, which directly contribute to discriminatory practices and racism, by blaming the collective minority as responsible for its own inferiority. Irshad Manji, a self proclaimed lesbian feminist South Asian Muslim refusenik, (if you can say that 5 times in a row you get a cookie and a national book tour), wrote the scholastically inept, “The Trouble with Islam,” offering her unsought wisdom on how to “reform” Islam. Considering she lacks even the most remedial credentials to be certified an “Islamic scholar,” and that her book and politics have been shunned by the vast majority of the Muslim ummah (community), it is utterly not surprising that she, nonetheless, received the “Valor” award from the Simon Weisenthal Center, the “chutzpah” award from Oprah Winfrey, and feminist of the “21st century” award from “Ms. Magazine,” for her brave, enlightened, and “liberal” approach to Islam. Her major reform, you ask? “The major reform for which I am calling,” say Manji, is “all about questioning the divinity of the Koran. This is still the great unspoken taboo within Islam.” This is perhaps a “taboo” because all Muslim scholars, both Sunni and Shiite, hold that believing the Quran as the uncreated word of Allah as revealed unto Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is a crucial aspect of one’s iman (Faith and beliefs). With paid henchmen such as Manji, the real Islam-haters simply sit back, light a cigar, and relax their feet as their Siphai army wages their “crusade” for them. Or, they can always rely on an “expert” on Islam, such as Pat Robertson of the 700 club, who says, with a straight face no less, that Muslims worship “a moon god.” If Muslims are truly the “Phantom Menace” then all these characters must surely represent the “Attack of the Clones.”

And will the Real Muhammad please stand up?

And so we roll on. With nearly 5-8 million Muslim Americans, you would think surely one reasonable voice, representative of at least most Moderate Muslims, would emerge? You would think… incorrectly. So what if Islam is the fastest growing religion in America, with the most rapid converts being African Americans and women? So what if over 75% of the Muslim community is not Arab, with the most populated Muslim country being Indonesia (note: not Arab), followed by Pakistan (note: not Arab)? Who needs their academic scholars, historians, or religious scholars when we have Bernard Lewis, the de facto “scholar” on all things Islam, Arab, and Middle East, who happens to be a white, Jewish European born in London and preserved by Princeton? Then, there’s the The Arab Mind, the bible for the neocons on Arabic/Islamic behavior, written by Raphael Patai, another non-Muslim, European scholar who stereotypically generalizes that Arabs value “honor” above all things, and specifically feel “shame” through sexual humiliation. “At the institution where I teach military officers,” retired U.S. Army Col. Norvell De Atkine writes in the book’s foreword, “The Arab Mind forms the basis of my cultural instruction.” With cultural instructions such as these, the successful interrogatory humiliation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib should come as no surprise.

And will the Real Muhammad please stand up?

So, we return to our modest meeting at UC Davis, where I rattled off some of these references and data to an audience that incredulously looked at me with skepticism for daring to mock their “understanding” of Muslims in America. However, the light bulbs began to click and the untrusting glances turned to nodding agreement when I brought it full circle in light of American history. In America, Muslims haven’t always been the only “outsiders,” the only obscurant anomalies magically appearing amongst the civilized masses, or the only fossil relics of a primitive backwards-Neanderthal mentality. I remind them of the 110,000 Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Americans rounded up, profiled, and interned during WWII. I remind them of a time when racial tensions resulting in Congress passing the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, barring Chinese immigration for 10 years; then extended by the Geary Act for another ten years in 1892, and by the Extension Act of 1904. If I could revisit this speech, I’d tell the Asian American audience members to be careful and vigilante, because they’re next. Check out the cover of the July Atlantic Monthly featuring a stern, black and white photo of a militant Chinese solider with the heading, “How we would fight China” by Robert D. Kaplan. The great challenge of the twenty-first century, according to Kaplan, will be figuring how to shape – rather than fall prey to – “China’s inevitable economic and military rise.” But never fear, or rather keep fearing, because it’s not just those wily Asians or those oil guzzling turban heads or those crack addled black folk – there’s more! Let’s not forget 1798, where the Federalist dominated Congress passed The Naturalization Act, a law aimed at curtailing the citizenship and immigration of the Irish and French who were sympathetic to Republican politics. Last I checked, people of Irish descent are now considered “white,” so the darkies weren’t the only ones who suffered discrimination. I guess the history of racism in America is truly multicultural.

Unlike some of these groups, the Muslims, the Morlocks de jour, have yet to find a powerful voice to help educate the American public as to the realities of the Muslim American existence. Currently, I liken our condition to a puppet head placed on a media screen whose tongue is ripped out and whose strings are pulled by a sadistic puppet master joyfully assailing us left and right by both the “left” and “the right.” The hard “Right” hates the Muslim because you aren’t white or Judeo-Christian and you, representative of the 19 Middle Eastern hijackers, attacked America. The hard “left” hates you because you are part of an organized religion, have certain beliefs contradictory to radical feminist and gay ideologies, and are representative of the 19 Middle Eastern hijackers who attacked America. And you, the Muslim, the terrorist, the extremist, who was once the “Jap,” and also “The Kike,” and also a “Chink,” and even a “Sand Nigger,” can never win because you always have to prove your loyalty. Defend the validity of your faith! Defend the validity of your text! Defend the validity of the entire 1400 year history and actions of a brilliant Islamic civilization which gave us the creation of Algebra, the poetry of Hadrat Jalaluddin Rumi, the best selling poet in America, the Canon of Medicine by Avicenna used by Europeans for centuries, the mind of Ibn Khaldun, the founder of the philosophy of history and sociology, and most importantly the legacy of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), whose name in Arabic means “the most praised,” and is shared by more people than any other name in the world today.

But in this game of modern day dodge ball, everyone looks for an easy scapegoat to hit and assail. The contributions of Muslims to the human race are rarely if ever mentioned. Instead, we get daily reports and images of an enraged mass of people, like the Orcs from “The Lord of the Rings,” frothing at the mouth, inexplicably yearning to destroy America for no other reason save their hatred for all things “democratic” and “western” as outlined by their savage, backwards “customs” and “beliefs.” Is it really surprising then to read the results of the Cornell Report, which revealed that 42 percent of “highly religious respondents [and 27 percent of all respondents] believe that Muslim Americans should register their whereabouts with the government at all times? Not surprisingly, 26 percent of these respondents were unfamiliar with the terms Allah and the Koran.

And so I awaken each day to find the Muhammad’s gradually erased by the “Mo’s,” the Nasir’s slowly replaced by the “Nas’s,” the Salims eradicated by the “Sal’s,” the Murads hiding behind the “Michael’s.” As I encounter the variety of “closeted DL” Muslims at the shopping malls, department stores, grocery shops, and other arenas of daily life, I am reminded of the Korean American “Tammy’s” hiding behind her newly reconstructed eye lids, the African American “Tim’s” masquerading under a surgically trimmed nose, the Iranian American “Ayeesha’s” hoping to assimilate brilliantly with her fake blue contact lenses. And with a sigh of resignation, with a fist pumped in rage, and both hands brought together in hopeful supplication, I humbly ask:

“And will the Real Muhammad please stand up?”

Wajahat Ali, a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, is the writer of ”The Domestic Crusaders”, a two-act play about Muslim Americans with its showcase premiere at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre this July 15th. This article was originally published in Konch Magazine.