(CNSNews.com) – The Council on American-Islamic Relations urged its supporters Monday to thank their members of Congress after the narrow defeat of a legislative amendment that would have required the Pentagon to assess “the use of violent or unorthodox Islamic religious doctrine to support extremist or terrorist messaging and justification.”
CAIR says the measure, voted down Friday by the House of Representatives in a 217-208 vote, unfairly targeted one faith, and wrongly gave the government authority to define “unorthodox” religious practice.
But a prominent anti-Islamist Muslim said the measure’s failure showed how far there is to go in the move away from “the apologetic pro-Islamist era of the Obama administration.”
The amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, proposed by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), also would have required the Pentagon to identify Islamic schools of thought that could be used to counter jihadist ideology.
The required assessment, by military and outside experts, would have included identifying key leaders or proponents of the two trends – that is, the “violent or unorthodox” one associated with terrorism and extremism, as well as the counter-jihadist one.
Franks on the House floor last week described it as a “sincere effort in finally identifying our enemies, empowering our friends [in the Muslim world], and ending this evil destructive ideology once and for all.”
No Democrats voted in favor of the amendment, and 27 Republicans joined 190 Democrats voting against it. (See list of the Republican “nays” below.)
American Islamic Forum for Democracy president M. Zuhdi Jasser called it a “no brainer” that the Departments of Defense, State and Homeland Security “need to shift the axis of focus of our security apparatus from the dangerously blind and myopic CVE [countering violent extremism] to CVI [countering violent Islamism].”
“Despite the billions we spend on national security, many militant Islamists are missed despite being ‘known wolves’ because of the very fact that we are forcing our agents who protect us to predict their militancy while ignoring their Islamism,” he told CNSNews.com.
Jasser, a key figure in the establishment in 2015 of the Muslim Reform Movement, rejected claims that the Franks amendment was anti-Islam.
“In fact contrary to the Islamist opinions of grievance groups in the U.S. and globally, there is nothing more pro-Islam and pro-Muslim than for a country like the U.S.A. founded in its own struggle against theocracy, to help understand and take the side of Muslims who are against the violent theocrats who have declared war against the free world.”
Jasser said his one criticism of the amendment was choice of language such as the term “Islamic” rather than “Islamist.”
As written the measure referred to “Islamic religious doctrines, concepts, or schools of thought used by various extremist groups for specific purposes, such as recruitment, radicalization, financing, or propaganda.”
Instead, he said, it should have referred to “Islamist doctrines, concepts of schools of thoughts which drive the armed jihad of various extremist groups for specific purposes, such as recruitment, radicalization, financing or propaganda.”
Jasser said doing so would have underlined the difference between political Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood or Khomeinists and the adjective Islamic, “which refers to anything or everything related to the faith itself.”
He said Friday’s defeat of Franks’ amendment “proves how nascent yet the shift is away from the apologetic pro-Islamist era of the Obama administration, and how deep the denial of the direct connection between non-violent Islamism and violent Islamism runs in both parties.”
Jasser expressed the hope it would be “repackaged and passed over and over across government as we shift the government towards a central strategy of CVI.”
CAIR, which describes itself as “the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization,” linked its opposition to the amendment to its distrust of the president.
“CAIR does not believe that the Trump administration is capable of selecting unbiased government representatives or non-governmental experts on Islam – given that President Trump has stated that he thinks ‘Islam hates us,’ and called for a ‘total and complete shutdown’ of the entry of Muslims to the United States,” the group wrote in an earlier letter to lawmakers.
‘One spectrum of Islamist ideology’
During the debate ahead of the vote, Franks told the House he had no desire to single out any group or denigrate their faith.
“However, the reality remains there is one spectrum of Islamist ideology whose variants are responsible for the 9/11 attacks, for fueling insurgency in Iraq, the countless attacks on civilians in Europe, and the boundless evil of the Islamic State,” he said.
Franks noted that this year alone, 1,034 Islamist attacks in 49 countries have cost more than 8,000 lives while another 8,000 had been injured.
“Our allies across the world, including in the Muslim world, have now begun to study and analyze the ideology that foments Islamist terrorism so they can begin to resist it on a strategic ideological level,” he said.
“If we in America do not also address this on a strategic level, this underlying ideology that catalyzes the evil of jihadist terrorism across the world, then its list of victims will only grow longer.”
Leading opposition to the amendment, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim to have been elected to Congress, said the problem was that it targeted just one faith.
“If you select out one religion for particular scrutiny – to scrutinize their doctrine, to declare to the government what’s orthodox and unorthodox, and to identify teachers of it – you have simply abridged the free exercise of that religion.”
“That’s unconstitutional,” he added.
“Nobody is saying you can’t study terrorism,” Ellison continued. “You can study what motivates people to commit acts of terrorism – and we should. But we don’t – not equally. The fact is, this amendment singled out and stigmatizes one religious group, it’s wrong and it should be voted down.”
The 27 Republican who voted against Trent’s amendment were: Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Vern Buchanan (Fla.), Chris Collins (N.Y.), Barbara Comstock (Va.), Ryan Costello (Pa.), Carlos Curbelo (Fla.), Charlie Dent (Pa.), John Faso (N.Y.), Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), French Hill (Ark.), David Joyce (Ohio), John Katko (N.Y.), Jason Lewis (Minn.), Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), Patrick Meehan (Pa.), Dan Newhouse (Wash.), Erik Paulsen (Minn.), David Reichert (Wash.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), Steve Russell (Okla.), Mark Sanford (S.C.), Steve Stivers (Ohio), Dave Trott (Mich.), Michael Turner (Ohio), Fred Upton (Mich.), Greg Walden (Ore.) and Donald Young (Alaska).