M. Zuhdi Jasser has a rant typical of the National Review’s rigorous standards of misreading and knee-jerk reactions. His beef is with the Council on American Islamic Relations’ (CAIR) press release about the new season of 24. Supposedly CAIR has made the traditional announcement: condemnation without an acceptance of the reality that Islamic terrorism is carried out by Muslims.
Jasser tries to clarify that there are Muslims that do pose a threat to the US. As if CAIR did not know that. Going to their website after reading Jasser’s article I found no mention about the evils of media representation but rather I found 2 types of stories, stories about peaceful and courageous Muslim Americans and stories about the cowardice and misunderstandings of terrorists.
What makes me upset about Jasser’s article is not what he wants. I agree that there should be a more visible Muslim community preaching against Islamic extremism. But Jasser’s article is so typical of conservative articles these days – there is a ‘liberal’ statement which the conservative reduces to a caricature of the ‘typical liberal sentiment’. It is not only easy to refute these caricatures but it also continues a mischaracterization of traditionally liberal sentiments.
CAIR’s argument is not that 24 should not have Islamic extremism as its antagonist. Rather CAIR wants to caution that some viewers may not see a distinction among Muslims and Islamic extremists. Jasser, however, reduces CAIR’s argument to the more outlandish claim of villainization of 24.
Jasser calls for more Muslims to take an active role in publicly fighting Islamic extremism, which seems to be exactly what CAIR is doing. Because Jasser goes to such pleasure denouncing CAIR he cannot then offer CAIR as an example of his mission.
There is another problem with Jasser’s argument, however. His argument that there is no visible Muslim community arguing against extremism proves CAIR’s warning. CAIR is worried that such common portrayals of Muslims as extremists means people stop seeing peaceful Muslim actions as peaceful but rather as part of a conspiracy against modernity and the West. Hence any public condemnation of extremism would be dismissed and hence not carried into the mainstream press. If Jasser is correct about the irrelevancy of CAIR then that only proves CAIR’s argument.
Jasser is right, there need to be more Muslim figures decrying the evils of Islamic extremism. We also need stories about Islamic extremism, if for no other reason than because it is the source of common national anxiety. What we do not need however is this traditional conservative lashing out at traditionally liberal places. Sometimes the conservative authors are so wrapped up in their projects that they misread and misappropriate messages as a liberal conspiracy. The first paragraph of Jasser’s article demonstrates this extremism.