Muqtedar Khan of the Brookings Institution has announced, in a recent article in the Daily Times of Lahore, the coming into existence on Dec. 13, 2004, of yet another organization of American Muslims claiming to be moderate. It does not lack for ambitions: "Now with the constitution of the American Muslim Group for Policy Planning, Moderate Muslims in America have a name and an address." Unfortunately, in its initial form, the AMGPP does not at all appear to be moderate.
Rather, it resembles the Progressive Muslim Union (which opened its virtual doors a month earlier, and which I have analyzed in a lengthy blog entry). The two organizations have overlapping personnel, some on the left (Ahmed Nassef) and others Islamist (Salam Al-Marayati). They share an American feel to them (in contrast to many other Muslim organizations, with their more immigrant-like quality). Their main difference seems to be that PMU is based in New York and AMGPP in Washington; this means that while the one has a regular feature on "Sex and the Umma," the other includes the phrase "policy planning" in its name. The one tries to be hip, the other to be influential.
AMGPP's naked bid for power is of particular note. On the one hand, it offers to help the U.S. government:
AMGPP is willing to play a very active role in helping improve US image and counter the tide of extremism and anti-Americanism in the Muslim World. The group is eager to take a leadership role on issues of public diplomacy and outreach on behalf of the State Department and to act as a spokesperson for American policies, concerns and interests.
On the other, it seeks to extract maximum advantage:
However in order to be able to play the role of an honest broker, AMGPP must be convinced that the policies it is willing to defend and explain are deserving of defence. This can be accomplished only by the inclusion of American Muslims in the policymaking process. American Muslims cannot explain or defend policies that they disagree with and have had no hand in making.
In other words, only if the U.S. government gives us authority over issues we care about will we help it. The AMPGG's offer, which sounds more like a threat than an opportunity, raises the obvious question: what mandate can it claim to oversee policy?
Like the PMU and Islamist organizations, AMGPP persists in the stale, discredited notion that "Islam and Muslims are being demonised in the US, their civil rights situation is terrible and Muslims are routinely excluded from policy deliberations." Khan also carries on with the old trope of a "rising Islamophobia in the US." In reality, hate crimes and cases of provable discrimination against Muslims are extremely rare – numerically, for example, much fewer than anti-Jewish incidents.
Were AMGPP truly moderate, it would recognize, along with Abdel Rahman al-Rashed, that while not all Muslims are terrorists, "it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims." Al-Rashed insists that, as Muslims, "We cannot clear our names unless we own up to the shameful fact that terrorism has become an Islamic enterprise; an almost exclusive monopoly, implemented by Muslim men and women." AMGPP's owning up to this problem would point to moderation. Hiding it suggests the opposite.
Further, Khan does not criticize the regnant Islamist organizations in the United States but, in stating that many moderate Muslims "have been working as individuals or as part of mainstream American Muslim organizations," rather condones them. If there is any single requirement of a would-be moderate organization, it is to denounce, explicitly and specifically, the Wahhabi lobby that dominates the American Muslim scene.
Also disturbing are those individuals associated with the AMGPP in its initial stage, including Yahya Basha (president of the now-defunct American Muslim Council), John Esposito (radical Islam's leading academic apologist), and Hadia Mubarak (president of the Wahhabi Muslim Students Association).
The AMGPP's appearance comes at a time of increasing confusion as to who really is a moderate Muslim. I have proposed some questions as a preliminary test to distinguish between real moderates and the fake ones, and these already have one prominent success. But much more work is needed, for the separating of friend from foe cannot be done casually or quickly. It is the task of many anti-Islamist hands over many years.