Dallas News – October 31, 2007
America needs to start a discussion
with the Muslim world
As a carefree teenager working behind a fast-food register, I was excited to open my first account with $50. As I sat with a friend at the Richardson Mosque, a man came up and engaged us in conversation about a conflict thousands of miles away and explained how it was our responsibility to stand up and help our fellow Muslims.
That man, I would later learn, was Shukri Abu-Baker, the CEO of the Richardson-based Holy Land Foundation. I was very moved by his passion and, at the same time, the plight of 400 Palestinians deported by Israel to a no-man's land between Israel's northern border and Lebanon's southern border. They faced cold conditions, lack of medicine and scorpions. Not only did I sign over my $50 as a donation, but I signed up for a monthly auto-draft that would continue uninterrupted until the foundation was shut down by a presidential executive order in December 2001.
After 9/11, I conducted my own investigation, retracing some of the alleged "conspiracy" social networks the government presented in open court, not only in Dallas but around the country, because it scared me to think that a syndicate could be controlling my environment and my children's future.
I traveled to Israel and Palestine myself, much to the fear of my family, to see what the reality was on the ground in the Palestinian territories and how their social activist networks functioned.
I met many influential people these past few years in and out of our government's intelligence community whom I've engaged over counter-terrorism policy discussions.
I've listened to arguments from influential opinion makers laying out how folks I grew up watching, like Mr. Baker, were actually clandestinely the "heads of Hamas in America," or that community-based American Muslim organizations today were actually front groups for the International Muslim Brotherhood.
We as Americans are at a crossroad, because our government is playing a post-9/11 script it played in the 1960s against the Mafia, but this time against a social network it calls the "International Muslim Brotherhood." People like me know of the brotherhood group in a much more personal manner then the Average White Guy, who has no more insight than what's available in the media.
I've debated with its members in Dallas, around the country and as far away as in its birthplace of Cairo, Egypt. While to most Americans the subject of "Islamism" and "Islamist" groups is largely tangential, to a national security policy analyst it is mighty important to understand the varying nuances so that he can advocate for policies he truly believes will improve our security situation.
This has often left members of my community angry at me for publicly calling Hamas a terrorist organization so long as it continues to use suicide bombings or intentionally target civilians, and I've frustrated influential public-opinion makers for advocating allowing Hamas to participate in the Palestinian elections as a representative of their electorate.
So what did I find in all my research as a former donor to the Holy Land Foundation, highly moved by its humanitarian mission of "Need not Creed" and wondering what happened to my donations all those years? I found the Shukri Abu-Baker in whom I placed my trust 15 years ago to be an open book and not what has been fed to the media and the jury by our government. I found, much like the jury decided when presented with all the evidence, absolutely nothing "criminal" and a case largely built on associations to convict First-Amendment-protected rights, whether we share those views or not.
Now is the time for us, as Americans, to recognize that our "group think" mentality on WMDs didn't just land us into a quagmire in Iraq, but into spending hundreds of millions in various courtrooms.
This global war on terror needs a new strategy, because we're destroying ourselves more than Al-Qaeda ever could. The time has come for an honest discussion with the Muslim world, delivering a message of co-existence and mutual prosperity, not one of belligerence and humiliation.
That discussion can begin here in Dallas, for, as Mr. Baker told me during our coffee the day before the jury verdict: "How does America expect to be able to reach a middle ground with overseas Islamists against the violent extremists when it can't even dialogue with its own Islamists at home?"
Mohamed Elibiary is president and CEO of the Plano-based Freedom and Justice Foundation. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.