Andrea Elliott is the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter who wrote the sympathetic three-part series on the inner life of a mosque in Brooklyn and the imam at its center (Sheik Reda Shata). At points Elliott seemed to be writing from within the perspective of her subject.
I thought the descent to dhimmitude was notable in Elliott’s series. In the first part of the series, for example, Elliott wrote: “Like many of their faithful, most imams in the United States come from abroad. They are recruited primarily for their knowledge of the Koran and the language in which it was revealed, Arabic.” It’s hard to imagine the Times incorporating the tenets of any faith into the text of a news story, but there it was. Diana West in addition indicted Elliott for a stunning lack of curiosity in the series.
Elliott returned yesterday in the long cover story of the New York Times Magazine with a profile of a leading American Muslim cleric. In “Why Yasir Qadhi wants to talk about jihad,” Elliott presents Qadhi as a sophisticated young Muslim clerical leader struggling to balance conflicting demands on his teaching.
According to Elliott, Qadhi is “the rare Western cleric fluent in the language of militants” but who “speaks for the nonmilitant majority[.]” Elliott portrays Qadhi as caught increasingly between a suspicious U.S. government that alternately sees him as either an ally or a threat and a large following looking to him for answers about the modern meaning of jihad.
Elliott holds that “[a]rguably few American theologians are better positioned to offer an authoritative rebuttal of extremist ideology. But to do that, Qadhi says he would need to address the thorny question of what kinds of militant actions are permitted by Islamic law. It is a forbidden topic for most American clerics, who even refrain from criticizing their country’s foreign policy for fear of being branded unpatriotic.”
As in her Pulitzer Prize-winning series, Elliott’s curiosity is limited at crucial points. Elliott forces readers to read between the lines, but the task really isn’t that hard. On the one hand, Elliott quotes Qadhi as urging “a jihad of the tongue, a jihad of the pen, a jihad that is not a military jihad.” (I feel better already.) This seems to impress Elliott.
On the other hand, Elliott notes that Qadhi’s students read him differently. Indeed, they seem to read him more acutely than Elliott:
Some students inferred from Qadhi’s silence a tacit support for militant groups. “Everyone was always like: ‘We know he believes it. He can’t say it publicly,’ ” recalled Lauren Morgan, who is 26 and a former student of Qadhi’s. She said she and other students had openly sympathized with militants. “I think if you’re going down the Salafi interstate, the jihadi exit is open for you,” Morgan said. “It’s there.”
Elliott contrasts Qadhi with Anwar al-Alawki. To the extent they differ, it is on means, not ends. Qadhi seeks to subvert America peacefully and render it Islamic from within while exploiting its freedoms. Alawki has gone to war against America to bring her within the realm of Islam. Of the two, Qadhi seems to me to present the more serious long-term danger to the United States.
Elliott states that “[t]he central contest between Qadhi and militants like Awlaki hinges on a rather abstruse point: how to define America in Islamic terms. Qadhi likens his country to Abyssinia, the seventh-century African kingdom that gave refuge to the prophet’s followers. In exchange for upholding the laws of the land, they were allowed to worship freely — a contract Qadhi equates to an American passport or visa. Breaking the contract by joining militant groups at war with America constitutes treachery, Qadhi says, which is forbidden in Islam. Awlaki, by contrast, compares America with ancient Mecca, where the prophet’s followers were persecuted, forcing them to flee and later fight back.”
But Qadhi’s silence is telling. “Critics take issue with the technical nature of the debate. Qadhi’s students, they argue, could conclude that joining a militant group is permissible provided they renounce their citizenship. This is further complicated by his refusal to address whether the Islamist uprisings in Iraq and Afghanistan constitute legitimate jihads.” It isn’t that difficult to read between the lines, is it? A number of his former students have in fact taken “the jihadi exit.” Qadhi has four former students who have been arrested on terror related charges, including the would-be Christmas bomber Umar Abdulmutallab.
Elliott is a good reporter. She supplies sufficient information for an intelligent reader to draw his own conclusions about Qadhi. Elliott’s profile warrants a close reading. In criticizing Elliott’s article, Patrick Poole seems not to have read it, though he highlights items that Elliott quickly passes over. Rusty Shackleford comments helpfully on Elliott’s article, and the Investigative Project on Terrorism provides an excellent critique of it, much of which is drawn from the article itself.
Poole’s 2010 Pajamas Media column on Qadhi is also useful. Poole drew attention to the CNN report that Qadhi was a leading participant in the U.S. Counter-Radicalization Strategy conference organized by the National Counterterrorism Center in the summer of 2008. As Poole notes, the NCTC might have found Qadhi by plucking him off the terror watch list. (Elliott notes Qadhi’s complaint about his presence on the terror watch list, but I think she omits his participation in the NCTC conference.)
Whatever its limits, Elliott’s article is a deeply disturbing portrait of an American Muslim leader. The continued welcoming of Muslims with Qadhi’s beliefs to the United States is just the latest twist on the story told by James Burnham in Suicide of the West.