From the same team that gave America Relentless: The Struggle for Peace in the Middle East and the award-winning Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West comes a new blockbuster “documentary”: The Third Jihad: Radical Islam’s Vision for America. Undeterred by the thorough debunking Obsession received following its mass distribution in American newspapers last year (financed by the eminently shady Clarion Fund), producer Raphael Shore and director Wayne Kopping are back with more of the same in their latest offering.
The Third Jihad’s vortex of fear-mongering centers on the Muslim Brotherhood’s so-called “Explanatory Memorandum on the General Strategic Plan For the Group in North America,” a document dating back to 1991 that supposedly outlines the Muslim Brotherhood’s manifesto of “grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western Civilization from within.” (The memorandum is available exclusively on the website of Steve Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism.) The Third Jihad premiered in Canada on Wednesday May 20 to a sold-out crowd at Toronto’s Eglinton Grand theatre; I attended the premiere to discover what my “radical” co-religionists envision for America. As the film’s narrator Dr. Zuhdi Jasser so ominously put it, “We all know about terrorism; this is the war you don’t know about.”
An exhaustive treatment of the film’s contents lies beyond the limits of this piece, and so what follows is an assessment of its most salient assertions and an analysis of the function those claims serve in The Third Jihad’s broader propagandic narrative.
“Where are the Muslims? Where are they in speaking out and condemning terrorism?” – Dr. Zuhdi Jasser
In Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror, anthropologist Mahmood Mamdani described the American endeavor to discriminate the “good” Muslim from the “bad” Muslim. This distinction is political, rather than religious or theological: as Mamdani explained, “Even when Bush speaks of ‘good’ Muslims and ‘bad’ Muslims, what he means by ‘good’ Muslims is really pro-American Muslims and by ‘bad’ Muslims he means anti-American Muslims.” The Third Jihad shamelessly exploits this bifurcative dynamic to cast suspicion on the majority of the American Muslim community – belying its opening disclaimer that it is only about the “small percentage” of Muslims embodying “the threat of radical Islam” – while propping up its Muslim cheerleader for American neo-conservatism, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser.
Dr. Jasser, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), is The Third Jihad’s narrator and central protagonist. He is described in the film as “a devout Muslim,” as if his pious Muslim-ness qualifies him to speak authoritatively on global and local Islamic politics and history (it obviously doesn’t, given the quality of the political and historical analysis The Third Jihad offers; see sections below). Moreover, it is obvious that what characterizes Dr. Jasser as a “good” Muslim is not his devotion to his religion, but rather his uncritical devotion to the neo-conservative agenda: AIFD’s list of core principles includes an affirmation that “as United States citizens we support our American armed forces,” and expresses a commitment to “work to express the consistency of the principles of Islam with economic principles of free markets and capitalism.” The film ends with an American-as-apple-pie scene of Dr. Jasser playing soccer with his children and exhorting people to “stand up for the freedoms and liberties our forefathers fought to create.”
The Third Jihad’s promotional material bills Zuhdi Jasser as “the one person who is not afraid to tell you the truth” about “the jihadist quest to rule America.” He is also apparently the only Muslim willing to condemn terrorism: “Where are the Muslims?” Dr. Jasser wonders in the film. “Where are they in speaking out and condemning terrorism?” (To relieve his bewilderment he could refer to the lists of anti-terrorism statements issued by Muslim leaders and organizations, compiled by Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Sheila Musaji.) Mainstream American Muslim organizations, including the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and the Muslim Students Assocation (MSA) are cast in the role of “bad” Muslim, working to undermine Western society from within while deceptively “presenting themselves as moderate.” While it is true that the Muslim Brotherhood named ISNA and the MSA as possibly friendly organizations in their putative “General Strategic Plan,” the film gives no evidence to suggest that the organizations are indeed participants in the Brotherhood’s nefarious “grand jihad” plot, or are vitiating American society in any other way.
The Third Jihad’s portrayal of the American Muslim community as a towering fifth column is a potemkin construct of half-truths. For instance: The film shows extensive footage of the Islamic Thinkers Society (ITS) proclaiming their desire to institute Shariah law in America, but it doesn’t reveal that the ITS membership is “less than a handfull [sic] of Muslims” localized in Jackson Heights, New York City. The film asperses CAIR because it was founded in 1994 by three former leaders of the Islamic Association for Palestine (described as a front group for Hamas), but it conveniently neglects to mention that support for Hamas wasn’t illegal when the CAIR founders were IAP members.
“In today’s context there are actually two different types of jihad. There’s the violent jihad, where the Islamists use violence and terror to try and overthrow their enemy. And then there’s what has been termed the cultural jihad, where these Islamists use in a most duplicitous way the laws and the rights they are given in our society to try and work against society and overthrow it.” – Dr. Zuhdi Jasser
The promotional material accompanying The Third Jihad notifies that “radical Islamists are taking advantage of the United States of America’s democratic processes, and using them to destroy the American way of life.” The film provides several sinister (European) instances of this “cultural jihad”: toy pigs being banned in a British office because they offended a Muslim employee; Burger King recalling a desert because its logo resembled the Arabic script for “Allah;” a Turkish lawyer attempting to sue a soccer team because its jerseys displayed a Crusader-like cross. (Interestingly, Barbara Kay trots out many of the same examples in her National Post article on “soft jihad.”)
While these cases may indicate the oversensitivity of individual Muslims to insult of Islam, they are hardly signs of a concerted strategy to “try and work against society and overthrow it,” much less the most serious current threat to liberal democracy and society. If a ban on toy pigs is a troubling assault on rights and freedoms, then where do you rank the USA PATRIOT Act, which permitted the indefinite detention of non-citizens upon secret evidence and extensive government surveillance of communications? Or the judgment of Guantanamo inmates in secretive military commissions, contravening all notions of fair trial? Is the American state also waging a “jihad” on Western civilization?
“The clash between Islam and Christendom has now been going on for 14 centuries.” – Dr. Bernard Lewis
The Third Jihad condenses 1400 years of Islam into three jihads, rendering history thus: The first jihad was the 7th century spread of Islam out of Arabia (and “that was obviously not done by peaceful persuasion,” comments Bernard Lewis), and the second jihad was the Ottoman expansion beginning in the 15th c. CE. According to Zuhdi Jasser, “we’re [currently] in the third and final phase of their mission to bring about the domination of their version of Islam.” The graphic accompanying this cobbled-together history shows a map progressively covered by metastasizing star-and-crescent symbols, until the whole world is dominated by Islam. This domination is portrayed as a cumulative process, leaving one with the erroneous impression that the Ottoman Empire still exists and controls significant portions of the globe. One is also left puzzling when the Islamists conquered the continents of South America, Australia, Asia, and Africa, since the film deals mainly with North America and Europe.
Edward Said remarked in Orientalism that the Orientalists (including Bernard Lewis) saw Islam as a “ ‘cultural synthesis’ . . . that could be studied apart from the economics, sociology, and politics of the Islamic peoples . . . The impact of colonialism, of worldly circumstances, of historical development: all these were to the Orientalists as flies to wanton boys, killed – or disregarded – for their sport.” And so The Third Jihad draws straight, spurious lines of continuity from the Ottoman Empire to the modern day, blithely ignoring pesky historical “flies” such as the emergence of the modern system of nation-states, the colonial and post-colonial encounters between “Islam” and “the West,” the Cold War, and the processes of modernization and globalization that have been so instrumental in shaping the contours of political Islam. Juan Eduardo Campo makes an incisive analogy: “One can only imagine the objections that would be raised if a respected American Studies scholar were to interpret Chicano or African American gang activity in American cities in terms of ancient Aztec or African warrior religions, while neglecting to discuss the immediate social, cultural, and economic causes.”
Provided with no description of the different ways Islam has been interpreted and enacted throughout its history, the unfortunate viewer of The Third Jihad is left to imagine that the “version of Islam” spread through subsequent jihads is synonymous with the worst behaviors of Muslims documented in the film: extremism, oppression, and intolerance. (Incidentally, the branch of Islam that seems to constitute The Third Jihad’s greatest concern – Wahhabism – only achieved prominence in the early 20th c. CE, a period entirely elided in the film’s telescoped history. Wahhabism was considered a form of heresy by the 18th-century Ottoman Empire.) Moreover, the film’s insinuation that Islam as a religion was spread purely by the sword is misleading: even Daniel Pipes notes that in the prevailing classical conception of jihad, its purpose was “political, not religious. It aim[ed] not so much to spread the Islamic faith as to extend sovereign Muslim power.” Bernard Lewis’ castigation of the Muslim empires for using means other than “peaceful persuasion” to expand is historically anachronistic – is there any empire which extended its sovereign power without using force?
The film situates this piecemeal history within a cosmic clash between two “religiously-defined civilizations” which will only end when “they [the Muslims] triumph universally” (according to Bernard Lewis). The “clash of civilizations” thesis has been discredited ad nauseum (see, for instance, Francis Robinson’s “Islam and the West: Clash of Civilizations?”), so I will refrain from entering into a full rebuttal of it in this piece. However, one wonders if Zuhdi Jasser realizes that if Bernard Lewis was correct – that the “Islamic” and “Western” civilizations really are fundamentally incompatible – his dream of creating “a world where my children can grow up, and there’s no conflict in their hearts between being American and being Muslim” would be unattainable.
“The real war is not a war against a bunch of terrorists. It’s a war between the values of freedom and democracy, and the values of barbarism.” – Dr. Tawfik Hamid, “former Jamaa Islameia terrorist”
The Third Jihad plays as fast and loose with contemporary politics as it does with history to extend its Manichean grand narrative to the current age. Sundry conflicts are stripped of their contexts and presented as fronts in a unified Islamist movement. In Dr. Jasser’s analysis, “When we look at the conflicts in India, Chechnya, Indonesia, Gaza, Iraq, Somalia, and countless other countries,” what’s at root is “the quest for Islam to become the dominant religion.” No allusion is made to the history of violence between Muslims and Hindus in India, or the brutal repression of Chechen separatists by the Russian government, or America’s pre-emptive war in Iraq, or the 60-year Israel/Palestine conflict. The Muslim actors in these theaters are robbed of all rational political motivation: “It’s an entire movement,” states Rudy Giuliani, “and the idea of it is hatred for our way of life.”
But as writer Melanie Phillips suggests in The Third Jihad, “surely it’s more sensible to look at what they [radical Muslims] actually say they’re doing.” For example, Al-Qaeda’s 1998 declaration of jihad “against the Jews and the Crusaders” outlined three goals of the jihad: the withdrawal of American troops from Saudi Arabia, an end to sanctions against Iraq, and the establishment of Islamic control over holy sites in Jerusalem. These objectives were obviously not driven by abhorrence for American “freedom and democracy,” but rather by specific elements of American foreign policy that have crippled freedom and democracy in parts of the Muslim world. Portraying the situation as an ineluctable “clash of civilizations” – in which the enemy “hates us for what we are, not what we do” – may provide absolution for America, but it does nothing to address the root causes that give rise to violence. Obviously violent Islamism and anti-Americanism do exist, but The Third Jihad mischaracterizes both its motivations and its scale.
“Islamism is like cancer. You either defeat it or it will defeat you.” – Dr. Tawfik Hamid
Ironically, The Third Jihad mirrors the “us-against-them” logic and rhetoric of the anti-American radical Islam it so decries. And its farrago of innuendo and half-truth is extremely persuasive. Following the screening, a member of the audience stood up and drew a parallel between Islamism and Nazism, arguing that Islamists have to be destroyed as the Nazis were – a dangerous proposition, considering the blurry line the film draws between radical Islamists and the rest of us Muslims. But that is the inescapable conclusion of The Third Jihad’s perverted message. If the dog is to be put down, it must first be declared sick.