December 09, 2006
By Scott P. Richert
The arraignment Friday December 8 of a Muslim convert on charges of planning an act of "violent jihad" at the largest mall in Rockford, Illinois, has left many people asking how such a thing could happen in this "middle-sized town in the middle of the Middle West."
They shouldn't be so surprised.
For almost five years now, I've been writing about the presence of Islam here in the Heartland, most recently in the December issue of Chronicles. Yet even today, people want to believe that the Islamic threat is entirely external. After all, President Bush and supporters of the war in Iraq have told us that "We're fighting them over there so that we don't have to fight them over here."
Apparently, someone forgot to explain that to Derrick Shareef.
This 22-year-old black man converted seven years ago to the Nation of Islam. Over 24 hours after the first news reports, his race and the black Muslim connection are still missing from national news reports, though I had reported them on Chronicles' website by 3 P.M. Friday. According to the Chicago Daily Herald (which picked up this angle several hours later), Shareef's father and several of his father's relatives are also members of the Nation of Islam.
It would be a mistake, however, to view this as an isolated incident, unrelated to "mainstream Islam," the "religion of peace." From the details federal prosecutors have released, it appears that Shareef, like an increasing number of black Muslim converts, has embraced a more traditional version of Islam than that typically associated with Louis Farrakhan's organization—in dress (robes rather than suits), in physical appearance (Shareef has a long, flowing Arab Muslim beard, in contrast to the generally clean-shaven members of the Nation of Islam), in language (the federal affidavit entered at his arraignment includes numerous conversations in which Shareef speaks freely in Arabic Muslim terms—Umma, Kafirs, masjid, Jumma, mujahideen, And his mother told the Chicago Sun-Times today that he considered himself a Sunni Muslim.).
At one point, Shareef discussed attacking a synagogue "down the block" from a masjid (mosque) in DeKalb, where he seems to indicate that he has worshipped. The only mosque fitting that description is the Islamic Society of Northern Illinois University Mosque, which is not affiliated with the Nation of Islam.
Why is this important? Because we're being assured that Shareef "acted alone"; that he had no contact with a "broader group"; that any threat to Rockford-area shoppers this Advent season ended with his arrest.
The first of those three claims seems technically true; but in a broader sense, it and the other two claims are meaningless. When a suicide bomber blows up a café in Israel, do we place him in a different category depending on whether he acted alone or had some contact with a broader group? Does the Israeli government tell café-goers to relax, because any threat to them perished along with the bomber?
Of course not. Yet Americans—from the man in the street on up to President Bush—insist on seeing Islam in America as somehow less dangerous to us than Islam in the Middle East. But they may have it precisely backward. Shareef's "weapons of mass destruction" were four hand grenades—but they could have caused far more deaths and wreaked more havoc than Saddam's nonexistent ones. And while Shareef had no contact with Al Qaeda, his vision of Islam (unlike Saddam's) is shared with Osama bin Laden. In the end, that could have been enough to destroy the lives of several dozen Rockfordians and their families.
How many other Muslims like Shareef are there in America? It's impossible to know, and that very fact highlights the failure of U.S. immigration policy. Some percentage of Muslims—foreign-born, as well as native-born; "cradle Muslims" as well as converts—share Shareef's willingness to fight "violent jihad." Generally, however, they don't go around advertising it. That's why the only sensible policy today, as Chronicles' foreign-affairs editor Srdja Trifkovic has argued, is to treat adherence to Islam as grounds for an automatic denial of entry to the United States.
Otherwise, we'll always have doubts. In February 2002, Chronicles' associate editor Aaron Wolf and I spent an entire day at the local Muslim school and mosque here in Rockford. We didn't know what to expect going in; after all, the local media and the Chicago Tribune had all portrayed the mosque and school as "moderate" and run stories on how the backlash from September 11 had affected them.
Some of it was different, however, such as when a group of students, ages six to ten, began singing us a Muslim rap that they had learned for a recent talent show held at the mosque:
Give me, ya-Allah, Give me Iman and victory.
Give me, ya-Allah, give me strength to set us free,
As we struggle on your path,
Grant us, ya-Allah, the eyes to see your light,
And show us, ya-Allah, what is wrong and what is right
As we walk along your path, Siratul Mustaqeem . . .
Help us, ya-Allah, to spread this blessed deen
And help us, ya-Allah, help the Muslimeen
And help us, ya-Allah, overcome the Mushrikeen . . .
Make us, ya-Allah, fighters for your deen,
And make us, ya-Allah forever Mumineen
And do this, ya-Allah, despite the kafireen . . .
Or when we found, on the walls of the library where the children sang us this song, videotapes from the Islamic Propagation Centre International, founded by Muslim scholar Ahmed Deedat and based in Durban, South Africa. On September 16, 2001, the Sunday Times of South Africa revealed that Deedat has received millions of dollars from Osama bin Laden's family and has named his headquarters, bought with those donations, after the bin Ladens. [SA Activist's Bin Laden Ties, By Buddy Naidu]
The videotapes sported such titles as Should Salman Rushdie Die? (the text on the case makes viewing the tape unnecessary: "The Holy Qu'ran says that any such blasphemer should be killed or crucified, and his hands cut off") and Crucifixion or Cruci-FICTION? (Muslims believe that Christ not only did not rise from the dead but was not even crucified).
In that same library, we interviewed the principal of the school and the chairman of the board of directors, who was also the assistant director of neonatology at Swedish-American Hospital in Rockford. The principal told us that "We don't even deal with radical Islam, because we do not know what it is." Explaining his colleague's statement, the chairman, who represented the mosque at an interfaith memorial service in Rockford for the victims of the September 11 attacks, used the image of a pendulum, which can "swing to the extremes and come back to the middle, but you are still within the boundaries" of Islam. Any discussion of radical Islam, he claimed, also depends on your perspective: "You can believe someone is a terrorist, and I don't."
To prove his point, he cited the example of Osama bin Laden—five months after September 11.
Friday night, WIFR-TV in Rockford had me on for a five-minute segment on the ten o'clock news to discuss the Shareef case in light of the broader question of Islam in Rockford. As I explained my experiences at the mosque and school to Bryan Henry, the anchor, he replied, "But aren't we talking about a select few extremists?" I pointed out that the local media have always treated the mosque and the school as representative of "moderate" Islam.
They still do: Right before my segment began, WIFR turned to Shpendim Nadzaku, the latest imam at the Rockford mosque. "Whoever this Derrick person is is out of his mind," Nadzaku claimed. "This is not what the Muslims that we know in Rockford are about, nor the teachings that they have, et cetera."
So there we have it: Osama bin Laden, good; Derrick Shareef, bad. I'll leave it to the reader to puzzle out the logic.
September 11, 2001, should have brought about a change in American immigration policy toward Muslims. Instead, while we're spending our blood and treasure fighting an unnecessary and unjust war in Iraq, we're inviting Muslims into the United States as permanent legal residents at the greatest numbers ever in our history—nearly 96,000 in 2005 alone—apparently forgetting that every single one of the September 11 hijackers was here legally.