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When Supremacism Uses A Religious Disguise

Prior to World War II, what if Adolf Hitler had tried to infiltrate the United States, not with a series of German “Bund” organizations, but with a series of groups claiming that they were “religious” organizations? What if American federal, state, and local government organizations then engaged with such groups, gave them respectability, and even offered government support for their propaganda mission for fear of offending such “religious” organizations?  During the 1960s, what if the American federal government feared to act against the Ku Klux Klan, white supremacist organizations, and white supremacist segregation laws for fear of offending their “religious” beliefs?

Far-fetched? In fact, supremacist ideologies using the disguise of “religion” is one of the most serious propaganda threats to our human rights of equality and liberty today.

All Americans are entitled to freedom of speech and freedom of conscience.

But we must recognize that supremacist organizations have been leveraging these freedoms to gain institutional support within America by disguising their supremacist goals with “religious” identities. If we support the inalienable human rights of equality and liberty, our citizens and our government agencies should denounce supremacist organizations that promote hate, inequality, and even violence, regardless of their use of such “religious” disguises. The solution to unmasking such disguises is to honestly ask if such organizations support equality and liberty.

By looking at threats to our liberties from a human rights perspective, we can see threat patterns and avenues for public action in struggles with supremacist ideologies – past and present – whether we are dealing with extremism, racial supremacism, Aryan Nazi supremacism, or other supremacist ideologies. We need to remember that our response must be a consistent responsibility to equality and liberty in defiance of such supremacism, no matter how it is disguised.

The Growing Extremist Threat to Virginia

The Northern Virginia suburb of Washington DC has been growing as an Islamic supremacist haven. Amidst the many hard-working Virginians who serve our nation’s defense, civilian federal government, homeland security, and commercial businesses, extremist groups, organizations, and institutions have quietly expanded and gained members. Northern Virginia has been home to a wide series of extremist groups and leaders that have resisted investigations and challenge by the government and concerned citizens.  For years, Northern Virginia has long been a target of a network of extremist organizations.

Among these have included:

— Dar Al Hijra Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia – Freedom House has reported that Dar Al Hijra has had publications that spread hate, demanding that Islamic nations be given nuclear weapons “to face Israel and India,” (p. 46), and demanding segregation of the sexes (p. 64).   Dar Al Hijra’s previous imam, Anwar al-Aulaqi, has been suspected of links to Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 jihadists, and has been described as an “inspiration” to terrorists, suspected in “plotting attacks against America,” reported as praising Palestinian suicide bombers, and posting an essay on “Why Muslims Love Death.”  Dar Al Hijra’s subsequent imam, Sheikh Shaker Elsayed, has also been reported praising Palestinian suicide bombers, stating that “Violent Extemism is a must for everyone, a child, a lady and a man.”  Per Dal Al Hijra’s web site, this supporter of Violent Extemism continues to preach to Muslims in Northern Virginia.

— Dar Al-Arqam Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia – also known as the “Center for Islamic Information and Education” was a place where Ali al-Timimi frequently lectured.  Ali al-Timimi was convicted “on charges that he encouraged followers to join the Taliban and fight U.S. troops.”  It was also a focal point for the “Virginia Violent Extemism Network” that trained to support the extremist Lashkar-e-Taiba group — the same Lashkar-e-Taiba suspected in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks and that is suspected of designs for attacks on the United States.  According to the FBI, “eight individuals from Dar Al-Arqam … either obtained jihad training from Lashkar-e-Taiba or otherwise associated with the group in Pakistan, another from Dar Al-Arqam who joined Al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia in 2003, two specially designated global terrorists, and an individual suspected of being an aide to Abu Musab al Zarqawi and affiliated with Al-Qaeda of Iraq.”  Al-Timimi and Al-Arqam have also been linked to terror groups in the United Kingdom.

International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) in Herndon, Virginia – created from “seed money from the Muslim Brotherhood”… the same Muslim Brotherhood that calls for creation of an Islamic supremacist caliphate and whose motto is “Violent Extemism is our way.”  IIIT has been under investigation for financing terror organizations, and was part of the Operation Green Quest investigation.  This is also the same IIIT, whose Yusuf Talal DeLorenzo has gone on to advise on Sharia Finance boards for the Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones, and who last month advised on Sharia Finance (PDF of presentation) in a conference in Washington DC.  This same IIIT provided a $1.5 million grant to Virginia’s George Mason University a few months ago to expand its “Islam studies program.”

— Muslim World League in Falls Church, Virginia – reported in 2005 that “U.S. agencies have been investigating the Muslim World League for years because of suspicions that it knowingly or unknowingly provided funds to Osama bin Laden.”

— The Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences in Fairfax, Virginia – where the Freedom House Center found “[s]everal hate-filled publications” (page 3), publications to “show that religious freedom is un-Islamic” (page 45), and promoting jihad (page 61).

This history should make Northern Virginia government officials and citizenry rightly concerned about the growth of extremism in their area.   The Washington Times has reported that those individuals in Falls Church, Virginia that have exercised their freedom of religion and have converted from Islam to Christianity live in fear.

But while federal government individuals are willing to challenge those extremists in Northern Virginia who have clearly been documented in committing a crime (like any other citizen would be), there remains little willingness to challenge the anti-equality, anti-liberty ideology of extremism itself, or even acknowledge that the ideology of extremism exists.

So it should not be surprising that supermarkets in Northern Virginia sell pro-Violent Extemism books, as Dave Gabautz has researched and found at the Halaco supermarket in Falls Church, Virginia a book that calls for:
— “It is, in short, time to identify the enemy and declare the Violent Extemism.”
— “He who equips a fighter in the way of Allah, or looks after a fighters family at home is as good as one who fought”
— “Priests in their churches, unlike recluse worshipping monks, should, of course be killed without any exception. Nuns along with Monks, deserve killing even more”
— “Not taking the Jews and Christians as friends, not following their deen, not submitting to bid’a, neither its holidays (National Days, etc), nor in habits, not entering their places of worship, nor participating in their festivals-all this is vital in the prelude to the attack of a new Violent Extemism.”
— “Strike at the time least expected. It follows that one should also strike at the place not expected. By extension, in light of the current situation, one may strike at several centres all at the same time, thus causing havoc in the enemy and in their response”.

In 2007, Virginia Governor Kaine appointed former Muslim American Society (MAS) president Esam Omeish to a Virginia state commission on immigration.  This is the same Muslim American Society founded by the “Violent Extemism is our way” Muslim Brotherhood.  Not surprisingly, there were online videos available shortly thereafter of Omeish calling for “the jihad way,” which prompted his resignation.  But two years later, we have a different story.  Now this same jihad-supporting Esam Omeish is running for office for the 35th district of the Virginia House of Delegates, portraying himself as the all-American immigrant success story.  Esam Omeish is meeting with voters at public libraries to discuss issues… but conveniently ignoring his background with the MB-founded MAS or his support for Violent Extemism – asking voters to “meet and greet with Esam Omeish, and talk to Esam about the issues most important to you.”  How about equality and liberty?  How about defying Islamic supremacism?

It is in this same Northern Virginia, where Violent Extemism books are sold in supermarkets, where Violent Extemism supporters are running for public office, where extremist organizations donate large sums of money to influence universities, and where extremists can lead “houses of worship” largely unchallenged by the majority of the citizens and its government, that we also see a growing academy designed to indoctrinate youth with the ideology of extremism.

In Fairfax County, Virginia, the Islamic Saudi Academy (ISA) has had a long and disreputable history, reported by the Washington Post as an institution whose “indoctrination begins in a first-grade text and is reinforced and expanded each year, culminating in a 12th-grade text instructing students that their religious obligation includes waging jihad against the infidel to ‘spread the faith.'”

This is the same Islamic Saudi Academy whose textbooks taught jihad to children, attacked all other religions, and told its children “As cited in Ibn Abbas: The apes are Jews, the people of the Sabbath; while the swine are the Christians, the infidels of the communion of Jesus.”  This is what the Islamic Saudi Academy books previously read AFTER the hate and intolerance was removed from them.

As the Associated Press has recently reported:
“In December 2001, two former ISA students, Mohammed El-Yacoubi and Mohammed Osman Idris, were denied entry into Israel when authorities there found El-Yacoubi carrying what the FBI believed was a suicide note linked to a planned martyrdom operation in Israel.  In 2005, a former ISA valedictorian, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, was convicted in federal court of joining al-Qaida while attending college in Saudi Arabia and plotting to assassinate President George W. Bush.  Last year, the school’s then-director, Abdalla al-Shabnan, was convicted of failing to report a suspected case of child sex abuse.  Last year also was when the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released a report saying the school’s textbooks contained several troubling passages, including one saying it is permissible for Muslims to kill adulterers and converts from Islam and another saying ‘the Jews conspired against Islam and its people.'”

During this time, the Fairfax County Government has leased the Islamic Saudi Academy facility to spread such hate and incite such violence.  As the Mount Vernon Gazette has reported, “The school building at 8333 Richmond Highway, is leased from Fairfax County. That lease recently came up for renewal and was renewed for one year with an option for two one year extensions on a motion from Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland, in whose district the school is located.”  Would the Fairfax County government have offered such leases to racial supremacist organizations?  But when supremacism wears a “religious” disguise, there is no willingness to ask this question by local officials.

On March 12, 2009, the Islamic Saudi Academy has now claimed (once again) that it has now truly removed all of the hate and intolerance from its textbooks.  However, AP reports that Institute for Gulf Affairs in Washington Director Ali “Al-Ahmed, whose group monitors politics and education in the Gulf, said the revised texts now being used at ISA make some small improvements in tone. But he said it’s clear from the books that the core ideology behind them — a puritanical strain of Islam known as Wahhabism that is dominant within Saudi Arabia — remains intact. ‘It shows they have no intention of real reform,’ al-Ahmed said.”

The timing is not likely to be a surprise, since on Wednesday, March 18, the Fairfax County Planning Commission will be considering a “special exception” to zoning laws to allow a further expansion of the Islamic Saudi Academy.   The Fairfax County government will be holding this meeting at 8:15 PM at the Board Auditorium of the Fairfax County Government Center, 12000 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax, Virginia 22035.  Activist groups are encouraging local citizens to attend and speak out.  I will be speaking as will others, who are opposed to the growth of Islamic supremacism intolerance, as represented by the history of the Islamic Saudi Academy’s teaching in Fairfax County.

This expansion of intolerant extremism is not unique to Washington DC’s suburb of Northern Virginia. In Michigan, Minnesota, New York, New Jersey, California, and states around the country, new beachheads of extremism are developing.  Many in Virginia and around the nation are not yet willing to act in the face of growing such havens for intolerance and extremism. But lessons can be learned from dealing with other supremacist ideologies on the vital necessity to confront supremacist groups in communities and states, before they develop a stanglehold of fear and intolerance in an area.

Those struggling with the growing institutionalization and development of facilities to promote extremism in Virginia and around the United States feel that they are dealing with a unique challenge. And in important ways, they are correct. The large-scale tolerance of Islamic supremacism disguised as “religious” freedom is unparalleled.  But in other ways, we have seen this challenge before in defending human rights. Nazis and white supremacists have been using this tactic long before 9/11 to gain respectability, influence, and acceptance. Like extremists, they remain a threat to equality and liberty. Like extremists, those responsible for equality and liberty must defy their ideology and those who would appease them.

Our freedom of religion ensures that individuals will not be unfairly discriminated against because of their beliefs.  Such freedoms are designed to ensure equal rights.  But these equal rights – are simply that – rights of equality, not superiority.  With such equal rights come the equal responsibilities to be accountable for intolerance, promotion of hate, and incitement of violence, like any other citizen.

Lessons Learned From Other Supremacist Threats

In Idaho, Richard Butler’s Nazi Aryan Nations organization maintained a 40 acre compound, where 300 to 400 Nazis joined Butler in his quest for a new “Aryan nation.”  In a 1999 report, the FBI said the goal of Aryan Nations was to forcibly take five states — Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington and Montana — and form an Aryan homeland.  Some of the Aryan Nations members broke into small groups that “carried out string of bank robberies, murders and counterfeiting activities.”

In a twisted move designed to gain further credibility for the Nazi organization, Richard Butler also created a “religious” organization for the Nazis called the “Church of Jesus Christ Christian.”  This shows the danger in interpreting our religious freedoms as providing superior, rather than equal rights.  While Adolf Hitler may not have thought of using “religious” organizations to infiltrate America with Nazi hatred, Nazi Richard Butler did.   The “religious disguise” of a Nazi organization claiming religious protection for hatred, intolerance, and incitement demonstrates the folly of ignoring supremacist threats in “religious” disguises.  The fact that the Nazi Aryan Nations had relatively small recruitment and success in its supremacist goals does not make it any less of a lesson on why a “religious” disguise must never be tolerated to mask supremacism – whether it is Nazi supremacism, racial supremacism, or extremism.

As the people of Idaho were initially slow to respond, they paid a price for allowing supremacist hate and intolerance to grow in Idaho.   Marshall Mend, a member of Idaho Human Relations Task Force, said “There are still people who will not come to Idaho because they think it’s a haven for hatred.”   Tony Stewart, a political science professor from North Idaho College, warns “Never, never take the position that because there are few of them, they will not do harm.”  Over time, the people of Idaho responded to this Nazi supremacist threat.   The Aryan Nation Nazis eventually made a mistake, and when their security guards attacked a woman and her son, a court awarded a $6.3 million judgment against the Aryan Nations, bankrupting them and costing them their 40 acre compound in Idaho.  The lawyer leading the lawsuit against the Aryan Nations, Norman Gissel, stated “Other than our professions and our families, that’s all we did for 15 to 20 years was fight the Nazis.”

Idaho is still recovering from the stigma of supremacism. The press later reported that “[t]he compound has been renamed Peace Park, Mend said, but northern Idaho’s image has not recovered.”  “‘It’s difficult to quantify the amount of the impact,’ said Jonathan Coe, president of the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce. ‘But I can tell you for a fact, we lost business because of them. Some vacationers didn’t visit, businesses didn’t locate here, and people chose not to retire here.”

But the people of Idaho have a message for you on the seriousness of supremacism: “Please, please never remain silent. Please do not confine yourselves to a counter-rally, and please commit your life to the dignity of others.”

Other racial supremacists have tried the same tactics to gain credibility with a religious “disguise,” ranging from the white supremacist “Christian Identity” hate group, the white supremacist “World Church of the Creator” hate group, and absurdly even a Ku Klux Klan group that calls itself the “Church of the National Knights.” But the Indiana-based “Church of the National Knights” group didn’t have the people of Indiana laughing with a five acre property designed to promote Ku Klux Klan white supremacism and hatred.  The LA Times reported that “[r]esidents there can hear the gunshots, the shouts and the screech of the public-address system the Klan has used at some ceremonies. When the corn is low, several can see the cross burnings from their backyards. Property values in this modest neighborhood are shot. ‘Our homes aren’t worth a plug nickel now,’ one resident said bitterly.”

Some may ask, what relevance such lessons have to such transnational challenges as extremism.  The relevance is not in the relative “legitimacy” of a “religious” disguise for supremacist hatred and intolerance.  Nor is it in the degree to which such supremacism is widely adopted, accepted, or tolerated.  The relevance is in what supremacists have in common and what those of us responsible for equality and liberty have in common.

Despite their differences and their different “religious” disguises, supremacists have one thing in common — hate.   This hate is always the same hate — whether it is a Neo-Nazi “church” calling for hatred against Jews, whether it is a white supremacist “religious group” calling for hatred against blacks, whether it is the so-called “Westboro Baptist Church” desecrating the funerals of soldiers and calling for the death of homosexuals, whether it is the “Nation of Islam” group sadly tolerated and accepted by some traditional human rights groups while its leaders spread hate, intolerance, racial bigotry, and extremism — or whether it is extremists calling for jihad, calling Jews apes and Christians pigs, and oppressing women around the world.

Hate is hate.  No matter what its color, no matter what its brand, and no matter what its “religious” disguise.  Such hatred, intolerance, and incitement to violence deserves no “religious” disguise and “religious” protection.  In every case, and every permutation, such hatred against equality and liberty is wrong – and is an attack on our inalienable human rights of equality and liberty.

There are plenty of important lessons to be learned in looking at these things that supremacists have in common, regardless of whether they use a “religious” disguise or not to justify hate and intolerance.   The Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan has been proud of being compared to Adolf Hitler, who he calls “a great man.”  The Nazi Aryan Nation’s later leader August Kreis has praised Al-Qaeda and has said that “I want to instill the same jihadic feeling in our peoples’ heart, in the Aryan race.”  The Nazi Aryan Nations gladly promoted the hate-mongering rants of ex-Nazi David Myatt, now Violent Extremist Abdul-Aziz ibn Myatt.  And the list of the common campaigns of hate among supremacists goes on and on and on.

Such campaigns of hate and division are why it is so essential to recognize the common characteristics and goals of supremacism.  This is why it is so essential to acknowledge them as “supremacist.”  This is why it is vital that we do not allow “religious” characterizations to protect those who seek to promote hate, intolerance, and violence.   While there are many who would employ euphemisms in describing supremacist organizations — such as calling racial supremacists as “nationalists,” or calling Islamic supremacists as “Islamists” (as it has currently been re-defined by Washington policy wonks, not as previously defined by the 9/11 Commission) — such euphemisms simply shield supremacist ideologies from the bright light of the truth of equality and liberty.

This challenge is further compounded by those who believe that supremacism that claims a “religious” origin is automatically exempted from scrutiny, criticism, and challenge.  If we accept the inalienable human rights of equality and liberty within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the American Declaration of Independence, we must reject such false protections from those would turn our own freedom of conscience against us by claiming “religious” supremacism as an untouchable platform to promote hatred and the destruction of equality, liberty, and freedom itself.   For Americans, we fiercely defend freedom of conscience and religion.  But we also recognize that all citizens share both equal rights and equal responsibilities.  The Free Exercise Clause of the American Constitution ensures that those claiming exercise of their religious beliefs are not singled out for discriminatory treatment — not that they have any superior rights or lesser responsibilities to the law from other citizens.  We believe in equality for all.

For those religious individuals who worship a God of love, there should be no fear in challenging those who would leverage so-called “religious” beliefs as a safe haven and harbor for hate.

A New Hope – Our Common Bond of Humanity

Consistency in challenging supremacist organizations truly matters.  Some traditional human rights communities have not grasped that challenging supremacist groups is the same problem — whether they claim to be empowered to spread hatred, intolerance, and violence based on a “religious” claim — or not. That must change. We must recognize the problem of supremacism itself as a monolithic threat to all of humanity’s equality and liberty.   We must defy those who would give supremacism any other name and allow it to fester in the darkness of public inattention.

What supremacists believe is that they can endless draw upon the weakest parts of humanity, on hatred, on differences, and on divisions.  Supremacists are dependent on our inhumanity to others.   They believe that the truths that we hold self-evident that all men and women are created equal is a lie.  They count on you questioning it too.  They depend on our unwillingness to seek out the true essence of the goodness and decency in humanity.   They live to exploit the divisions among us.   They count on our FEAR.  They hope to manipulate our fear over our hope in human rights.  They seek to leverage our fear to further divide us away from each other as human beings and to get us to deny our shared human rights in equality and liberty.   They play upon on our fear to deny that those of us who are different from each other may not deserve the same human rights.

But the fears that we have as individuals are smaller than the hope that we can offer one another by our shared consensus in the inalienable human rights of equality and liberty.  When we say the words that “all men and women are created equal,” we tap into a force greater than ourselves as individuals by recognizing, just as supremacism has a common bond in hate, humanity has a common bond in the hope of equality and liberty for all.

Those responsible for equality and liberty have no choice but to oppose supremacism — to do otherwise we be to deny who we are as human beings and our common bond and destiny together.

This leads to the fundamental decision that all free people must make – you can’t hold two different standards on equality and liberty. You either support these inalienable human rights or not. In the same way, you can’t have two different standards in defying supremacists threatening equality and liberty – you are against them or you’re not.

There are no “but not in this case” clauses in the American Declaration of Independence’s support of the inalienable human rights of equality and liberty. There are no “exception rules” in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Everyone deserves equal rights, not just those who are like us, and not just people who we like. Everyone means everyone. The inalienable human rights of equality and liberty are for all of humanity.  It is “ideological” to believe in the inalienable human rights of equality and liberty.  It is the ideology of what humanity is all about.

The survival of our common bond of hope means setting aside our differences to stand united against the existential threat of supremacism. Supremacists of every kind share their common goal of spreading hatred and exploiting fear to divide and conquer all of humanity.  The shared goal of supremacists is to enslave the human spirit and to crush the human rights of equality and liberty. Our responsibility for equality and liberty must be to defy supremacists and to deny them a safe haven or protection by using a “religious” disguise to spread hate and violence throughout society.

We have a new hope.  That hope lies in a humanity that can reach out to each other and find the good and decent part within each other.  That hope lies in our ability to remember the importance of respect and decency towards one another.  That hope lies in humanity’s ability to reject blind hate and deny those who would manipulate us with fear to ignore the threat of supremacism.

But most of all, that hope lies in our common bond within a humanity that defends the inalienable human rights of equality and liberty.   It is this new hope that will demand that we…

Fear No Evil.  Because We Are Not Afraid.

[Postscript – see also Sources documents for additional reading and background information.]