U.S. Muslim groups say they should have had more input on the Sept. 11 commission’s final report, which they say fails to lay out a comprehensive plan to win the hearts and minds of Muslims overseas.
“Why would they fail to consult a key group who could help them understand what’s going on in the Muslim world?” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The groups, reacting to the commission’s final report, called the recommendations a “step in the right direction,” but ultimately inadequate in addressing terrorism’s root causes. Many Muslims abroad resent Americans because they think U.S. actions don’t match the rhetoric of freedom, they said.
“The report describes a message of standing for freedom and opportunity. Step number one to push any message is that we ourselves should live up to it,” said Maher Hathout, a senior adviser for the Muslim Public Affairs Council. He noted as an example the alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.
The groups cited the report’s failure to explore the impact of U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as whether the war in Iraq has made the Middle East and United States safer or at greater risk to terrorism.
In its final report, the panel of five Republicans and five Democrats recommends reshaping foreign policy with a “preventive strategy that is as much, or more, political as it is military.” To reach unanimity, commissioners avoided the contentious issue of Iraq. They also took no position on Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Khaled Medhat Abou El Fadl, a visiting professor at Yale Law School who specializes in Islamic law, testified before the commission in December on U.S. Muslim immigrants and their fears of unlawful detentions after the attacks. He did not address conditions abroad.
The commission’s report says the United States should work to spread a message of freedom and opportunity in the Arab and Muslim world so terror groups cannot find sanctuary in “lawless places” such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.
‘Hot-button’ words condemned
“We should offer an example of moral leadership in the world, committed to treat people humanely, abide by the rule of law, and be generous and caring to our neighbors,” the report states. “If we heed the views of thoughtful leaders in the Arab and Muslim world, a moderate consensus can be found.”
One step to building consensus, the advocacy groups said, is to stop identifying the 9/11 problem and its aftermath as “Islamist” terrorism, which appears to unfairly attack Islam or “Islamic” religion as a whole. In the final report, “Islamist” refers to the extremist groups bent on harming the United States.
“’Islamist’ is one of those hot-button terms that are ill-defined or not defined at all,” Hooper said. “They’re basically saying this is a label for Muslims we don’t like or agree with.”