Governor Perry's Islam Connection
The news of Governor Rick Perry jumping into the Republican nomination race for president released a media tsunami that assaulted my brain. In no time at all, people came up with a long list of negatives about him. In a democracy, honest and thorough scrutiny of anyone's records seeking a public office is not only the prerogative of the electorate, but its duty.
Being a lifelong critic of Islam, red flags popped up in my head at Perry's purported cozy relationship with Islam and prompted me to look very closely at the governor's record on this particular issue and at this specific time.
All kinds of worrisome thoughts flashed through my head. For one, I recalled another Republican Texas governor who became president and grew hoarse by so often shouting the mantra "Islam is a religion of peace." Is this another Texas Republican governor somehow beholden to oil interests and the oil sheiks of Saudi Arabia? Is he really another for-purchase politician dispensing favors to the powers that be? In this case, are deep-pocketed Muslims hell-bent on furthering Islam by exploiting the vulnerabilities of democratic societies? Are this man's sympathies with Arabs, and is he none too friendly toward Israel? I decided to strip my biases, look for facts, and let them settle these issues.
The facts are that Perry has indeed had a cordial relationship with Muslims. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims live in the Lone Star State. And a governor is to serve every segment of the population in accordance with the law. I grant that. But, is Governor Perry being even-handed with Muslims, as he is expected to be, or is he favoring them?
He is reported to be particularly friendly with the Ismailis, a relatively small sect of Shi'a Islam. Is there something fishy about that? There are roughly twenty to thirty thousand Ismailis who live in Texas, a small percentage of the Muslims in the state. Besides, if Perry wanted to curry favor with Muslims, why would he hitch his wagon to the Ismailis? Ismailis are persecuted and castigated by major Islamic sects such as the Sunnis who rule Saudi Arabia and the Twelve Imamates Shi'a who run Iran.
The Ismailis are hardly a significant Islamic force, as compared to the other sects. They number around fifteen million in the world and are splintered into several sects. By far the largest of the Ismaili sects is the Nizari Ismaili, with its followers adhering to dual loyalties. Their spiritual allegiance is to the Imam of the Time (Imam az Zaman), who is believed to be the interlocutor between Allah and the people. The position of the Imam az Zaman is hereditary from male to male, purportedly tracing back to Muhammad. Ismailis also owe allegiance to their countries as a fundamental obligation.
How militant and jihad-minded are the Ismailis, as compared to other sects of Islam? The Ismailis still hold to the notion of jihad, since the admonition is frequently stipulated in the Quran. They believe in what can be called "self-jihad" -- battling the self to become a better Muslim -- and "other-jihad," which is warring against non-Muslims. Only the Imam az Zaman can proclaim the fatwa authorizing warring against others. Since they are a small Muslim minority and widely scattered in many countries, Ismailis are less likely to be able to wage any kind of violent campaign against others. Yet, the idea of "other-jihad" is still within their belief make-up, since it is nearly a pillar of Islam. Furthermore, the notion of "self-jihad" can also be problematic, if the individual believer molds himself into a "pious" type by adopting the numerous anti-non-Muslim provisions of the Quran.
Any and all sects of Islam operate on the basis of the Quran and its various derivations, such that one and all are inimical to liberty and are violence-prone. In fairness to the Ismailis, it must be granted that they are less combative and Ummahist (international community of Islam) than other sects of Islam.
It is a fact that Perry, following the practice of a long line of other politicians such as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the late President John F. Kennedy, built a cordial relationship with the Aga Khan (Imam az Zaman) of the Ismailis.
Although Perry's cordial relationship with the Ismailis is indeed true, it hardly warrants alarm. What is more disturbing is the claim, nearly all of it originating from one source, that Governor Perry is supported by CAIR.
Facts show the contrary. There are reports that CAIR, the Islamist organization, was upset for not being invited to Perry's Response prayer event in Houston. CAIR has teamed up with the ACLU protesting the exclusion.
Another line of argument implying Perry's Islamic leanings, if not his out-and-out support, pertains to inclusion of Islam in the state's educational curriculum. I looked closely into that claim, because it is indeed a critical juncture where young minds can indeed be influenced.
The nuggets of the Muslim history curriculum Perry helped coordinate in Texas are summarized below. It says:
- Countries of Western Civilization have secular governments, which means great toleration of cultural and religious differences.
- Countries of Islamic Civilization for the most part either have religiously dominated governments or demands to make them more religious, which means less toleration of cultural and religious differences.
- Muslims often lack respect for Western traditions and points of view. The Muslim relationship to the West is colored by the belief that Western beliefs [whether Christian or atheist] are defective and therefore inferior to Islam.
No matter how I tried, I couldn't reach the conclusion that this inclusion promotes Islam or is pro-Sharia. It seems that the mere fact that Islam is included in the curriculum represents supporting it.
And with regard to the concern that the education curriculum Perry promoted is pro-Arab and against Israel, the evidence is exactly the opposite. The lesson on Israel reads:
Since the end of World War One Palestine had been under the control of Great Britain, who at first welcomed the hardworking Jewish settlers. They made the most of the harsh conditions, bringing economic success to an area that had for a very long time been poor. Arab natives also welcomed the newcomers. But as the number of Jewish settlers increased and their economic success contrasted sharply with the economic backwardness of the Palestinian Arabs, the Arab attitude began to change.
Immediately, all its Arab neighbors declared war on Israel. As a result of this war, the territory of Israel expanded somewhat, and many Arab citizens of Israel fled to a small corner of Israel called the Gaza Strip. The Arab states refused to admit these refugees, preferring them to stay there as a testimony to the evil of the Jewish state. They are still there. These Arabs began calling themselves Palestinians and demanding a state of their own.
Criticism flew Rick Perry's way fast and furiously and from all directions. Here, Alana Goodman in Commentary bats a big one down.
And Perry's stance on other Islam issues speaks for itself. When Perry was questioned about building a mosque near ground-zero in New York, for instance, he said, "To build a mosque near Ground Zero would be insensitive to the victims and families of 9/11 and would make the healing process much more difficult for everyone that was touched by this tragedy. I'm a big believer in freedom of religion but believe it would be best for all involved to put the facility elsewhere. However, zoning is a local responsibility and as a staunch supporter of the 10th Amendment, I do not think the federal government should take steps to intercede or overrule the wishes of local residents. The citizens of New York City will decide the fate of this building.
What about Perry's support for Israel? After a trip to the area in 2007, the governor supported Texas' divestment from companies that do business with Iran, a main supporter of Hamas. Also, the Texas-Israel Chamber of Commerce was created to help launch future commercial interests and solidify the strong business and cultural connections between Texas and Israel.
Governor Rick Perry was awarded the Defender of Jerusalem 2009 award during his trip when he also met with top Israeli political and academic leaders.
Unless someone can come up with solid evidence to the contrary, I feel relieved that Governor Perry is not an Islamophile. He is not even an Islamic apologist, and he can be entrusted with the responsibility of guarding our nation's priceless heritage of liberty against the assaults of Islamic fascism.
Amil Imani is the author of a new book, Operation Persian Gulf.