The appointment of M. Zuhdi Jasser, a Muslim-American activist who spends his time railing against Islamic extremism, to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom sparked a controversy. MSNBC reported yesterday that a coalition of 64 Muslim groups voiced their opposition to Jasser’s appointment, by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), to the commission.
Muslim Advocates head Farhana Khera, former counsel with the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, told MSNBC, “Sen. McConnell should rescind his appointment.”
Muslim-Americans and organizations are right to view with disdain Jasser’s ties to less-than-savory anti-Muslim bigots. The MSNBC article captured this nicely by describing Jasser as “a controversial figure who many American Muslims see as a shill for anti-Muslim bigots.” CAP’s “Fear, Inc.” named Jasser as someone “often tapped by the Islamophobe network as a validator of their views on Islam and Muslims in America.” Jasser could start to alleviate these concerns by disavowing an Islamophobic group he’s associated with.
Gaffney, one of America’s most notorious Islamophobes (and sometime conspiracy theorist, including noxious “bitherism”), among other egregious positions, contends that the problem is not Islamism (political Islam) or even radical, extremist Muslims, but the faith of Islam itself.
Clarion, under the guidance of Gaffney and his like-minded cohort, produces hawkish films such as 2006’s Obsession that lambast Islam as a faith, even as they proclaim to target only radicals. Jasser narrated another Clarion film called The Third Jihad. Jasser is featured prominently in the trailer:
Speaking to the The New Republic last year, Jasser had some limited criticisms of the film:
One part of it talked about Muslim population concerns, which I did not like. I disagreed with it. Obviously, I want the Muslim population to grow. My kids are Muslims. I want them to have Muslim kids. But you know, listen, you’re not going to agree with everything people write… I think if [viewers] hadn’t seen that there’s a Muslim that’s part of the solution, it would have been worse.
In January, the film came under attack in a New York Times editorial. The New York Police Department was criticized for showing it, and NYPD commissioner Raymond Kelley apologized for his appearence in the “inflammatory” film. But Jasser defended it in a New York Post op-ed and the National Review.
Less than two weeks after Jasser defended the film, Clarion Fund again invited controversy by uncritically posting in its newsletter reader comments that attempted to legitimate the views of Norwegian anti-Muslim mass killer Anders Breivik. After ThinkProgress reported on the comments, Clarion scrubbed the newsletter from its archives, but the organization failed to apologize and even refused to comment on or explain the incident.
Nonetheless, the newsletter confirmed that many accusations of anti-Muslim animus behind the Clarion Fund’s sleek, PR-friendly facade are well-founded. Coupled with the involvement by Gaffney — who has said practicing Islam is “sedition” — Clarion lurches beyond the pale of reasonable public discourse.
Jasser should begin to rehabilitate his image among American Muslims — even while maintaining his criticisms of the community and radical extremists — by disavowing the group.