Stealth Islamist: Khaled Abou El Fadl
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
Updates follow the footnotes.
Which Muslims in the West support Islamism, which do not?
Those who have Al-Qaeda connections or deal in terrorism are relatively easy to classify, once they are found out. The state has ways to investigate and punish illegal activities. In September 2003, for example, Taysir Alony, a star reporter for the Al-Jazeera television network, was arrested in Spain on charges of belonging to Al-Qaeda. In the United States, Abdurahman Alamoudi, "a well-heeled advocate who had represented American Muslims in White House meetings," was arrested on terrorism-related charges.
But what about individuals who apparently break no laws but promote an Islamist agenda in a legal fashion, sometimes from within the heart of the establishment? One case is that of the renowned Swiss-French intellectual Tariq Ramadan, hailed by some as a moderate—a man who has stayed within the law but is believed by some to have Al-Qaeda connections. Another is Bashir Nafi, who teaches at the University of London but in February 2003 was indicted at a U.S. District Court in Florida as someone who "supported numerous violent terrorist activities associated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad."
Then there is the case of Khaled Medhat Abou El Fadl. Born in 1963, he is a professor of law at the University of California in Los Angeles, visiting professor of law at Yale Law School, President George W. Bush's appointee to the Commission on International Religious Freedom, a consultant to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, an expert state witness in major court cases, an advisor to major law firms, and a writer for prestigious publications. As this listing of his achievements suggests, Abou El Fadl has a reputation as a "Muslim moderate." Here are a few of his exuberant press clippings:
To judge from Abou El Fadl's press, he is a path-breaking and fearless antidote to extremism. But there is a body of other evidence suggesting that he is something other than the "moderate voice" his admirers believe or hope him to be.
Abou El Fadl's signature issue, the one that has most established his reputation as a moderate, involves his outspoken opposition to the Saudi regime. But one can be an Islamist, and even a radical one, and also take a stand against Wahhabism. Ayatollah Khomeini, and indeed the entire school of Shi'ite radicalism, provides a dramatic example of this pattern. After a confrontation with Saudi security forces during the pilgrimage to Mecca in 1987, which left hundreds of Iranians dead, Khomeini raged against "these vile and ungodly Wahhabis, [who] are like daggers which have always pierced the heart of the Muslims from the back."
Abou El Fadl, another such anti-Wahhabi Islamist, fits into an Egyptian tradition, currently called the "New Islamists," that is outspokenly critical of Wahhabism. Sheikh Muhammad al-Ghazali (1917-96)), a leading New Islamist, remains one of Abou El Fadl's chief intellectual influences. Although Ghazali had earlier taken refuge in Saudi Arabia, he felt free to criticize the dominant interpretation of Islam there, especially as concerns women. He also wrote a book in 1989 that accused the Wahhabis of a fanaticism that harms the reputation of Islam. Raymond William Baker recounts how Ghazali "directly attacked Saudi religious scholars, whom he charged with mistaking the backward, inherited customs of the Arabian Peninsula for Islam and its revelation and then arrogantly seeking to impose their limited understanding on others." The Muslim Public Affairs Council of Los Angeles, with which Abou El Fadl was once closely affiliated, has a generally New Islamist outlook; it explicitly "rejects many of the ideas espoused by the doctrine of Wahhabism."
Despite Abou El Fadl's general antipathy toward Wahhabi and Saudis, he nevertheless has offered excuses for them. The Wahhabis, he says, "do not seek to dominate—to attain supremacy in the world … They are more than happy living within the boundaries of Saudi Arabia." This statement ignores the Saudi regime's policy since the 1960s of spending billions of dollars to spread the Wahhabi ideology abroad, precisely in an effort to dominate. Abou El Fadl declares there has been "no examination" of the extent to which objectionable materials are found in Saudi-funded religious schools and mosques outside the kingdom, calling for congressional hearings to learn more about this. But the U.S. government has already closed down several Saudi-funded institutions in the United States, such as the Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences in America. As Stephen Schwartz, author of The Two Faces of Islam, notes, "There is no doubt about official Saudi funding of Wahhabism, and there is little or no need for further expenditure of federal funds holding hearings on it."
Finally, Abou El Fadl has been known to place his talents at the service of Saudi-funded terrorists. In November 1995, for example, he provided sworn testimony in an "Affidavit in Support of Application for Bail" for Mousa Muhammed Abu Marzook, a top Hamas official, assuring the court that, "pursuant to Islamic law," Abu Marzook was obligated to abide by any bail agreement he would reach with the U.S. government.
In common with other Islamists, Abou El Fadl wants Muslims to live by Islamic law (the Shari'a), the law that among other things endorses slavery, execution for apostasy, and the repression of women, and which treats non-Muslims as second-class citizens. "Shariah and Islam are inseparable," he has written, "and one cannot be without the other." In a revealing passage, he confesses that his "primary loyalty, after God, is to the Shariah." Given that Islamic law is Abou El Fadl's academic specialty, this profound allegiance to its goals has great significance and provides a key to his outlook.
To make Islamic law more appealing, he blurs or conceals some of its unpleasant realities. Consider the sensitive issues of adultery, jihad, and relations with non-Muslims.
Adultery: A Nigerian woman, Amina Lawal, was convicted of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning in March 2002. When asked about this case by talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, Abou El Fadl replied that the Nigerian authorities had made a mistake because "The punishment for adultery is really a symbolic punishment. It's a punishment that is designed to make a point about how bad this crime is." This is nonsense, for the punishment of adultery is brutal, deadly, and real. It has been applied repeatedly in recent years, notably in Iran and in Afghanistan under the Taliban. It is deceitful to pretend that Islamic law's hudud punishments (prescribed in the Qur'an) are merely symbolic.
Jihad: Abou El Fadl hides the historic meaning of this term (i.e., the expansion of Muslim-ruled territories primarily through the use of force) and instead variously defines it as "the struggle waged to cleanse oneself from the vices of the heart" or "to strive hard or struggle in pursuit of a just cause." In a sleight of hand, he substitutes his own Qur'anic reading of this word, blithely discarding a millennium of interpretation by Muslim scholars and rulers. Using his definition, he concludes that jihad is "a good thing." More ominously, he denounces those who "carelessly dump on jihad," accusing them of "prejudicial, dangerous talk" reminiscent (so he wrote) of Nazi preparations for the Holocaust.
Jizya: Abou El Fadl treats in like fashion the jizya tax, a discriminatory and humiliating poll tax imposed exclusively on non-Muslims by their Muslim rulers. He renders it into something historically quite unrecognizable—"money collected by the Islamic polity from non-Muslims in return for the protection from the Islamic state." Again, this is deception to excuse a discriminatory practice.
Andrew Bostom of Brown University concludes from a close reading of Abou El Fadl's work on jihad and jizya that his omission of evidence, "combined with an excessive reliance on sacralized, whitewashed historiography, refutes the prevailing notion that El Fadl is engaged in a sincere effort to instill fundamental change in Islam."
Abou El Fadl's efforts on behalf of Shari'a go further. Serving as the academic reviewer for the "Origins of Islamic Law" unit put out by the Constitutional Rights Foundation, he is at least associated with, if not the author of, an analysis that forwards a new amendment to the U.S. Constitution, enabling Shari'a-like blasphemy laws to encroach on traditional U.S. notions of freedom of religion. The proposed amendment reads: "The First Amendment shall not be interpreted to protect blasphemous speech. States shall be free to enact anti-blasphemy laws as long as they prohibit offensive speech against all religions."
Abou El Fadl harbors the Islamist's typical hostility toward the West, blaming it for whatever ails Islam and Muslims. Islamist terrorism, for example, he deems "part of the historical legacy of colonialism and not the legacy of Islamic law." By holding that "Islamic civilization has been wiped out by an aggressive and racist European civilization," he in one swoop exculpates Muslims for everything they do.
Nor is the problem restricted to the colonial past. In the United States, he finds, the "demonization of Muslims is well-camouflaged" and he cites unnamed and unspecified "plots and conspiracies" against Muslims. Along with the Islamist organizations, Abou El Fadl after 9/11 falsely issued alarmist predictions about "an explosion of hate crimes against Muslim and Arab Americans, both by police and by ordinary citizens." (Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics showed 481 reported anti-Islamic hate crime incidents listed in 2001 and 155 in 2002; 2003 figures are not yet available.)
Abou El Fadl, like all Islamists, objects to analyses of Islam that use such terms as "militant Islam," even calling use of this term "ideological ravings." And like all Islamists, he relentlessly disparages true Muslim liberals and freethinkers such as Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasrin for promoting what he calls "secular fundamentalism." Ibn Warraq is (the pseudonym of) an ex-Muslim who has written scholarly works critical of the Qur'an, the life of Muhammad, and the Islamic religion. Asked about him, Abou El Fadl describes Ibn Warraq's work as nothing but propaganda and wrongly dismisses his work as derivative: "If you already know what Islamophobes and Orientalists believe, this author has nothing original to add."
Along these same lines, Abou El Fadl shows the typical Islamist's bias against non-Muslims. In early 2003, shortly after President Bush appointed Noah Feldman, a New York University law professor, to serve as legal advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, Abou El Fadl expressed rage to a Boston-area seminar on "Islam and Democracy" that a Jew should be selected for this task.
UCLA's Abou el Fadl.
Goldfinger's Odd Job.
Mar. 6, 2008 update: Hillel Stavis provides an account, "Preaching the Sharia -- Just Another Odd Job at Harvard," of Abou El Fadl's talk on March 5 at Harvard University's Divinity School. Perhaps its most startling point is to report that Abou El Fadl began by declaring that the Shari'a's compatibility or incompatibility with human rights is a "vacuous" and "irrelevant" topic.
As for the reference to "Odd Job" in the title, it's explained by a pairing of pictures in the text, which I reproduce here.
Mar. 27, 2008 update: Appearing in an IslamOnLine chat session, Abou El Fadl makes a number of Islamist statements, but the one that most caught my attention concerns the Danish cartoons:
that the West is accustomed to insulting, making fun of, mocking all of the religious symbols from Prophets Moses and Jesus to the Pope in Rome. This is, as explained earlier, the moral choice of the West. But it is indeed a dubious moral choice to celebrate the right to mock a symbol of sacredness and yet preserve a complacent silence when Muslims are subjected to torture or murder from Palestine to Afghanistan to Iraq to Guantanamo to secret detention centers around the world.
No, I do not believe that the West's reaction to the caricatures about the Prophet is a matter of freedom of expression as much as it is a matter of sending a message to Muslims, in Europe specifically and the West generally, that their choices of values and morality are not welcome in the West. The caricatures against the Prophet (peace be upon him) comes at a time when a large number of Islamophobes have written books about the so-called Islamic menace in Europe, and several conservative parties have been elected to government in places such as Italy, Spain, and France. Parties with a very deliberate and public moral choices of intolerance towards the moral contributions of Muslims in the West.
The caricatures against the Prophet are a symbol, and as a symbol, it wished to tell Muslims in the West that "You either become like us, fully, thoroughly, without reservations or contingencies; either you adopt our way of life in all its particulars including our choices as to the way we deal with sacredness, the way we deal with the female body, the way we deal with sexuality, the way we deal with pornography – either you adopt these values fully and unconditionally, or we will send you a very poignant symbol and that is you are not welcome."
My sister, the caricatures against the Prophet (peace be upon him) is a speech of intolerance, not an upholding of a worthwhile moral value.
Dec. 24, 2010 update: Abou El Fadl gave a talk on Nov. 3, 2009, under the title "Shari'ah Watch: A View from the Inside" at the Center for Near East Studies at UCLA which Cinnamon Stillwell and Eric Golub.of Campus Watch dissect at "UCLA's Professor of Fantasy." Once again, Abou El Fadl obsesses over me and I respond to him today in a weblog entry, "Answering Khaled Abou El Fadl."
Apr. 24, 2012 update: Good to see Abou El Fadl on the David Horowitz Freedom Center's list below.
Functionally, the lslamist label becomes nothing more than a cover for expressing an anti-Muslim prejudice. For instance: it is not an accident that a binary constructionist like Daniel Pipes labels as lslamist any Muslim who threatens Pipes's own sense of superiority toward Muslims or who threatens his sense of political and social priorities. Therefore, in effect, in Pipes's constructions, any Muslim who does not perceive Islam to be a fundamentally flawed and inferior religion or any Muslim who believes that Islam can make a positive contribution to the social, political, and moral sphere is promptly declared as an lslamist, and, according let Pipes, Islamists are the moral equivalents of Nazis.
My takeaway from this is the title "binary constructionist," one I did not know of until now but which henceforth I shall wear with unblemished pride.
|2||El Fadl's book, The Great Theft [427 words]||Jon Paul||Aug 29, 2014 02:37||217483|
|Freedom of speech is the right to offend [262 words]||Putupwithit||Oct 3, 2008 23:05||139516|
|Does "Islam" mean "Hypocrisy"? [140 words]||Tom||Apr 12, 2008 02:48||125421|
|laughing [198 words]||dfwhite19438||Apr 10, 2008 03:08||125255|
|"It is a matter of sending a message to Muslims...that their choices of values and morality are not welcome in the West." [35 words]||DrRJP||Apr 6, 2008 18:03||124865|
|Not Welcome??? [33 words]||Linda Haslam||Apr 10, 2008 11:07||124865|
|Killing and eating turtles- Islamic Moral Value.- No Fatwas by even Moderate Muslims. [108 words]||Ynnatchkah||Apr 6, 2008 02:18||124806|
|knowing islam 39 years [80 words]||G.Vishvas||Mar 5, 2008 22:30||121848|
|more wolves in sheep/s clothing [319 words]||Rebecca Moulds||Mar 1, 2008 16:26||121507|
|They didn't forget ! [218 words]||dfwhite19438||Apr 10, 2008 19:21||121507|
|I Hope This Makes You Laugh [168 words]||Alex||Feb 29, 2008 10:59||121417|
|napoleon [19 words]||dfwhite19438||Apr 11, 2008 02:22||121417|
|Abou El Fadl is indeed a stealth Islamist [44 words]||dhimmi no more||Feb 29, 2008 07:11||121398|
|About muslim liberals [160 words]||G.Vishvas||Aug 29, 2006 09:25||54247|
|Learning about New Islamists [26 words]|
w/response from Daniel Pipes
|Muslihoon||Aug 28, 2006 16:51||54179|
|Well spotted [100 words]||Dr. Denis MacEoin||Apr 18, 2006 13:37||43489|
|Is this the same Khaled Abou El Fadl? [407 words]|
w/response from Daniel Pipes
|Michael Voytinsky||Nov 13, 2005 13:32||28326|
|Wondering if Mr. Pipes has had occasion to read The Great Theft yet? [60 words]||Adam||Jan 17, 2011 11:15||28326|
|Constitutional Rights Foundation. [329 words]||Tom Laichas||Oct 31, 2005 02:08||27537|
|Another excellent article. [20 words]||nat||Jun 1, 2004 09:18||15472|
|Not merely an Islamist problem [280 words]||Rory Ward||Jun 1, 2004 03:19||15468|
|ambiguity [245 words]||John W. McGinley||May 31, 2004 15:50||15457|
|A voice in the wilderness [17 words]||E.K. Woods||May 31, 2004 08:41||15447|
|Taking Action [97 words]||DontRest||Mar 1, 2008 15:21||15447|
|??? [92 words]||Frank Brady||May 31, 2004 01:59||15444|
|Thanks again, Dr. Pipes [121 words]||Morgaan Sinclair||May 30, 2004 16:41||15433|
|Even al Buraq leaves a mess of horse feces [60 words]||Walton Cook||May 30, 2004 13:08||15427|
|1||The camel's nose is in the tent! [219 words]||Richard Rheiner||May 30, 2004 12:28||15426|
|1||The real terror. [58 words]||Stealth Islamist: Khaled Abou El Fad!||May 30, 2004 11:47||15425|
|I agree with your assessment of Mr. El Fadl [217 words]||Nonie Darwish||May 30, 2004 11:36||15424|
|1||Brothers, Cousins, Neighbors, World [178 words]||Peter J. Herz||May 30, 2004 00:38||15422|
|Tip Of The Iceberg [81 words]|
w/response from Daniel Pipes
|yonason||May 29, 2004 23:39||15421|
|Abou el Fadi [33 words]||Milton Weiss||May 29, 2004 21:50||15420|
|1||Stealth Islamists [87 words]||Darwin Barrett||May 29, 2004 19:49||15418|
|Excellent [18 words]||Richard Ong||May 29, 2004 19:07||15417|
Support Daniel Pipes' work with a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum. Daniel J. Pipes