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Carton problems: By a Moderate Muslim


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February 10, 2006, 9:30 a.m.

Dreams & Realities

Cartoon problems.

By M. Zuhdi Jasser

It seems the issue of cartoons is much in the news these days. As a devout moderate Muslim, I was just recently portrayed in the local Muslim newspaper, Arizona Muslim Voice, as a ravenous dog — on the leash of our state newspaper, and devouring an imam.

Despite the fact that being portrayed as a dog is profoundly offensive if not downright hateful in our Middle Eastern culture, there was hardly a ripple of outrage in the local Muslim community. It seems that in the local Muslim community it's all right to make a vilifying cartoon of me, a former U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander and medical officer, but certainly not one of bin Laden or al-Zawahiri. I have yet to see them publish one cartoon against the enemies of America in this so-called Muslim newspaper.

Only a few weeks after my caricature, the riots around the Danish cartoons erupted across the globe. True to form, the eruption came months after their printing, only after many so-called imams acting as warlords took the cartoons to the Muslim mimbars (pulpits) of the Middle East.

As many this week have said, this is not about cartoons. This all got me thinking about what drives people. I was born in America, raised a Muslim and a conservative. I have long struggled with what it is that makes my own reflexive passions, and my primary mission, so different from those of the mobs and even from so many of my Muslim neighbors in America. What is the fuse that, once ignited, turns normal people into a mob clamoring for Islam and often for blood?

This question leads me to the subject of our dreams. There are some in my faith who dream of a new Caliphate, a world ruled by and for Islam. It is a seductive call to many in my faith, as dreams always are. But it is anathema to me. I do not believe that we were meant to be one thing, because that, in itself, takes away our free will. My dream can only be real if it is only mine — if it is rooted in the individual success. Once the community or the so-called ummah takes it on as a communal success, it is no longer a dream but an imposition, a violation of freedom and liberty.

Dreams are a funny thing. For example, it is a dream for me that I may one day make the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. But the very thought of living there, makes me feel all hollow inside. Is that not a peculiar thing — that the holiest place for me to visit would not be a holy place for me to live.

That is because the hajj is a dream of mine, a pillar of my faith, but living there would be my reality. The difference between a dream that is fleeting and one that is real always comes down to the question of free will. If I would live there, I would not be free and no devotion that is coerced can ever be true.

That is why my first allegiance is to this country. Without its freedoms and protections, my faith would be something much smaller. That is also why my dream has always been one of a pluralistic, democratic society where all religions and people can feel welcome. Islamists, from the radical to the moderate, would argue that in their dream the will of the majority and the Islamic state become one. What instilled my intense love for the United States from a young age was that our democracy has a Bill of Rights that upholds minorities, prevents oppression by the majority, and keeps religious scripture out of government — the antithesis of Islamism.

The Muslim mobs we see inflamed are not al-Qaeda, but they are enraged Islamists driven by a fear of losing the ideological world war to the West. They fear the West, which honors the individual first and the community second — put another way, America first, and the ummah second. They fear more than anything having to compete in a non-theological legislature by the legal merit of the logic of their principles, rather than from behind the corrupt cloak of their theological monopoly on sharia.

The next question flowing from all this is, "How can we create a new dream for people so driven towards rage?" Dreams are the product of our imagination. If we can visualize something, then we can imagine it becoming a reality.

And that is why I am so enthusiastic about the liberation of Iraq.

If I were to live in the Middle East, all I would see around me in government would be thugs, despots, oil monarchies, and radical theocrats ruling the people in a sea of corruption. How would I be able to imagine freedom where there is none to be found? That is what we are doing in Iraq. We are giving people in that region a sense of what could be. Without a reality in which liberty can thrive, the vacuum is filled by corruption. The reality is replaced by false dreams of a world in which no freedom-loving Jeffersonian Muslim would ever want to live.

I would like to end with my own cartoon. In it, I see all the compassionless theocrats and obscenely rich despots on a ship named al-Titanic leaving the Middle East forever — and, on the shore, the Muslims, Jews, Christians, and all people of faith joyously dancing in victory for the advent of a new Middle Eastern pluralism. Now, that would be a cartoon worth getting excited about.

— M. Zuhdi Jasser is the chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy based in Phoenix, Ariz

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