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The Third Jihad and Syria: A wide-ranging Interview with Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser PDF Print E-mail

by Jerry Gordon

On March 5, 2012, an unusual rally was held at One Police Plaza in lower Manhattan.  The rally was held in support of the NYPD's counterterrorism program and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who were the objects of ridicule in a media campaign initiated by the New York chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). The attack was supported by articles, op-eds and editorials from the liberal media which included the New York Times, the Associated Press, The Nation and The Village Voice. The rally in support of the NYPD was organized by Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and the American Islamic Leadership Coalition. CAIR and the liberal media were outraged by the showing of a three year old film, The Third Jihad: Radical Islam’s Vision for America, produced by the Clarion Fund. The film, narrated by Dr. Jasser, detailed the support of CAIR and other Muslim Brotherhood front groups for what former Assistant US Attorney for the Southern District of New York and author Andrew C. McCarthy had called The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America. The "grand jihad" that McCarthy had written about was detailed in a Muslim Brotherhood document unearthed at the Holy Land Foundation terror financing trial in Dallas, Texas in 2008. The document revealed how the Muslim Brotherhood seeks to undermine the foundations of our constitutional democracy by eventually supplanting US law with Shariah. The defendants in the Holy Land Foundation trial were convicted of funneling upwards of $35 million to the Palestinian terrorist group, Hamas. The Third Jihad threw a spotlight on the leaders of CAIR and other Muslim Brotherhood front groups who were unsurprisingly caught on film supporting Hamas (the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood affiliate designated by our State Department as a foreign terrorist organization).

The New York Chapter of CAIR was outraged by the release in December 2011 of findings from a Freedom of Information Act request by the Brennan Law Center at NYU Law School. The FOIA findings indicated the NYPD had allegedly shown The Third Jihad to thousands of police officers and cadets. CAIR had previously criticized a 2007 NYPD counterterrorism report on radicalization at fundamentalist mosques in New York. The findings from the NYU Brennan Law Center unleashed a media campaign by New York Times and the Associated Press against the NYPD, the Clarion Fund that produced The Third Jihad and the film’s narrator, Dr. Jasser. Just before the March 2012 rally, the Times published an editorial, “Surveillance, Security and Civil Liberties” which alleged the NYPD engaged in “spying on law-abiding Muslims in the US.” CAIR-New York was emboldened to hold rallies before City Hall in Manhattan by the fact that the FBI, under pressure from CAIR, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and other Muslim Brotherhood groups, purged alleged “Islamophobic” documents from counterterrorism training materials. Moreover, there was further support for their demands on view in a press conference held in Chicago with local CAIR Chapter leaders, the Chicago Police Chief and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former White House Chief of Staff, rejecting the counterterrorism efforts pioneered by the NYPD regardless of their success.

Among the speakers in the 2009 production of The Third Jihad were former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former CIA director R. James Woolsey, NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. The narrator, Dr. Jasser, is a Muslim, though he is considered to hold and espouse heterodox beliefs by the mainstream Muslim community. These beliefs include respect for the laws of this country, separation of mosque from state, political democracy, liberty and freedom, and rejection of Shariah law in the US as not being based in reason. Adding to that, has been his support for America’s valued ally in the Middle East, Israel. Jasser has been in the forefront of endeavoring to awaken American Muslims to support these bedrock Western values against the threat of the seditious activities in support of violent jihadist doctrine which is propounded in texts and sermons preached in many American mosques. Such activities have given rise to several instances of homegrown terrorism, most notoriously, the Fort Hood Massacre in November 2009 by Maj. Nidal Hasan, a Palestinian American. For his views, Jasser had been labeled a “devil” by al Qaeda. Jasser testified about this threat in March 2011 before a US House Homeland Security Committee chaired by New York Congressman, Peter King. That hearing convened to investigate the connection between radical Islamic doctrine and homegrown terrorism. King was one of the prominent speakers at the Manhattan rally in support of the NYPD. Also included were representatives from the 9/11 Families, Former Muslims United, the Lawfare Project of the Middle East Forum, Interfaith Groups and the Center for Security Policy.

Jasser, a medical doctor and former US Navy Lt. Commander, is the son of political refugees from Baathist Syria who came from Aleppo and settled in America in 1963. Jasser was raised in the traditions of the diverse population of mid-century Aleppo that included Kurds, Alawites, Christians, Druze, Shia and fellow Sunnis. Jasser’s upbringing in his transplanted family's American environment fostered his appreciation for the democratic values and tolerance under US laws. Given the rise of the revolt in March 2011 in Syria, Jasser founded Save Syria Now! and became the spokesperson for the Syrian Democratic Coalition (SDC). SDC is an emerging group of ethnically and religiously diverse Syrians who want to create a secular federal republic in Syria. Jasser hopes the SDC might emerge as a third way between the secular fascism of the Baathist Assad regime and its likely replacement by the theological fascism promoted by the Muslim Brotherhood and fundamentalist Salafist preachers leading the Sunni majority there should Assad fall.

Against this background we had the opportunity to interview Jasser just prior to the March 5th New York Police Plaza rally.

Watch this You Tube Video of Dr. Jasser’s testimony in March 2011 before the House Homeland Security Committee.

 

Jerry Gordon: Dr. Jasser, thank you for consenting to this interview.

M. Zuhdi Jasser: Thank you for inviting me.

Gordon: The American Islamic Leadership Coalition (AILC) organized a rally in support of the New York Police Depatment on Monday, March 5th at  New York Police Plaza. Besides ALIC, who are the other notable participants and groups involved in the rally?

Jasser: Our American Islamic Leadership Coalition includes over 20 Muslim leaders and organizations that have come together in the past year and a half. We were formed in September 2010. Four Muslim groups that are either non-Islamists or anti-Islamists got together initially in a meeting with Congresswoman Sue Myrick on Capital Hill in Washington. After my testimony at Congressman Peter King's hearings in March 2011 it just took off. We have had interest from a number of groups that heard about us and our coalition. It just blossomed into over 20 different individuals and their organizations. Now we have bi-monthly conference calls and we have a steering committee. We have put together a formal response to the White House's very insufficient counter terrorism strategy that came out in the summer of 2011. We have weighed in on some of the state legislative efforts against Shariah law and actually supported the legislative effort against Shariah in Michigan. I think the group has offered an alternative. Our coalition saw what was happening to the NYPD. The initial parts of this story were about attacks on the 2008 film in which I appeared. The Village Voice did a story in January last year calling this film dark and anti-Islam. Basically the Voice said it was inappropriately shown to NYPD Police Officers. The story didn't have legs because the the NYPD's leadership said not that many officers saw it. It was just shown outside their training area in a common area. The NYU Brennan Law Center then did a FOIA information act request that came back in December 2011. The Brennan Center released the report in January 2012 saying that 1500 officers saw it. It wasn't a small number so they felt that was a smoking gun. Then The New York Times between January 15th and mid February 2012 published no less than ten stories about this, one after the other. Other New York newspapers, including The New York Post and The Daily News said that enough is enough.  But regardless, the Times kept pushing. They even had an editorial that called The Third Jihad a hateful film. They had a piece above the fold in the newspaper that said that the movie was anti-Islamic. They even had the movie wrongly quoted and they ignored the fact that I, a Muslim, narrated it.  They never called me to get any of the facts. They never addressed any of the facts of the movie. Regardless, they felt that they had something on the NYPD because they showed this film which basically talks about radicalization of groups in America, even prison systems, various communities that are radicalized like CAIR and the Islamic Society of North America. The film captured comments that these groups made in support of Hamas and other radical groups and their inability to condemn Hamas. It was no wonder that these radical Muslim groups were very upset about the movie. The Times also ignored the fact that when the movie was rolled out by the Clarion Fund in May 2009, we invited CAIR, the Islamic Society of North America and other groups to join us to hold a panel discussion about the movie after it was shown, but they refused. These radical Muslim groups didn't want to engage us on the facts conveyed in the film. Our coalition then put out a press release in mid February 2012 supporting the movie saying that it was done by a member of our coalition but we supported the facts contained in it. We encouraged the media not to just condemn the movie but present and discuss whether the details portrayed in the film were true or not. That lead to a bigger story from the AP that claimed we were targeting Muslims on campus, the Muslim Student Association and Muslims at Shia Mosques. This was the quality of the so called investigative journalism done by the Associated Press. At the end of the day, the media reports have systematically pounded on one of the best counter terrorism forces in the country. With all of the media reporting not one case of impropriety has been shown regarding the NYPD's work. We have been very frustrated with how the media has covered it. The New York media has covered this aspect. However, despite these Islamist groups, facilitated by the New York Times and the AP and others in the left media, there has been no push back and very little coverage. CNN had a few stories despite all of the pummeling from the AP and the New York Times. The coalition said we are going public with a rebuttal and we found the nearest date that all of us could fly in and show that there are American Muslims who support the NYPD. We contacted other supporting organizations including the 9/11 Families lead by Deb Burlingame who are going to come out to support the rally at the New York Police Plaza. Interfaith and even former Muslims organizations have voiced support. The Middle East Forum Legal Project, and The Center for Security Policy are supporting the rally and we've notified the New York Board of Rabbis. I spoke on Rabbi Joseph Potasnick’s radio show the Sunday preceding the New York rally. I think there was a good representation from the New York community.

Gordon: What prompted CAIR New York to attack NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and you?

Jasser: CAIR will  use any possible means to attack individuals that are taking them to task on their ideology. The attack on our movie started from the time it rolled out. They attacked The Third Jihad when it first was shown at the National Press Club. They did so only on their terms through their own press releases and e-mail list. They never engaged us directly. They have always looked for opportunities to present horrendous reporting. For example, The Nation magazine ran Sarah Posner's piece on The Third Jihad a number of years ago and a few others which never looked at the facts presented in the film. CAIR has been very upset about the hour and twenty minute film that portrays not only the facts of terrorism, but groups that facilitate the ideology. The movie is based on my analysis of a document that was revealed in the Holy Land Foundation trial. It documented the root origins of many of the diverse groups that claim to speak for Muslims in America. Many of these groups come from the same Muslim Brotherhood legacy tree. They have the same collectivist ideology about Muslims. An ideology that says that when Muslims are a majority, they seek an Islamic state governed by Islamic law or Shariah and when they are a minority they basically attempt to segregate Muslims from society. They try to establish their own rules or court systems. They accept the laws as long as they are lawful Islamists and not terrorists. Yet, they want to advance in an evangelical way, political Islam. They will do anything possible to avoid discussion of those issues. They really feel threatened the most by Muslims like those in our coalition and myself who show what their agenda really is which the movie talks about. The movie has open interviews with CAIR showing where they refused to condemn Hezbollah or Hamas and would not label them as terrorist organizations. Why? Because those groups travelled in the same ideology as political Islam and they don't want to criticize their fellow Muslim Brothers. CAIR and other Muslim Brotherhood groups in America have been very upset about the movie because any Americans that would view it would realize what the problem is. The problem is with Islamism and the Muslim Brotherhood support of Hamas and other terrorist groups. The more Americans get wise to that, the more they will know that is the reason that CAIR has gone to such lengths to criticize both me and the film. It is why the FBI will no longer have any type of relationship with CAIR. A letter to Arizona Senator Kyl from the FBI stated that they have severed all relationships with CAIR as a result of their position on Hamas. The movie exposes this. The interesting thing is that this is all coming up now in 2012 with the NYPD so defensive given that the movie has been out for two years. Millions of people have seen it. It's available on Netflix, it's available ubiquitously. I think the fim is actually getting renewed attention as a result of this attack by CAIR with the aid of the liberal media. I'm not sure what their strategy is. The New York Times published an op-ed written by two lawyers at the Brennan Center of the NYU Law School which basically proposed to put an inspector general into the NYPD so that there would be an independent operator that would review and do constant internal affairs audits on the types of programs they are doing to make sure that they are not targeting Muslims. In effect what they proposed was basically a Trojan Horse inside the NYPD to make sure that legitimate counter-terrorism programs don't see the light of day. If the NYPD counter-terrorism operations were so suspect you would think that the number of cases and convictions that came through their work would have been turned over for possible prosecution. There is no evidence that any of those cases have been turned over as a result of shoddy or inappropriate police work from the NYPD. The intent of the Brennan Law Center and CAIR proposals is to hamstring the counter-terrorism program at the NYPD and have the NYPD continuously on the defensive rather than on the offense against the Islamist ideology.

Gordon: Recently, the FBI announced that it had reviewed counter-terrorism training materials and purportedly deracinated those that were deemed “Islamophobic." Is that a dangerous trend?

Jasser: It is very dangerous because what happens when you have materials that are used to try to understand the way the enemy thinks and have some type of filtering process you will end up preventing the understanding of the ideology. The best example of this is the NYPD's own report from 2007 called Homegrown Terrorism, Radicalization in the West. The Muslim Public Affairs Council and CAIR of New York fought it. They protested and claimed a victory. You had a 50 page report by NYPD under pressure from Muslim Brotherhood groups in 2008  that agreed to only one change. The NYPD counter-terrorism report added a page that basically said that orthodoxy or the practice of Islam does not in any way connote radicalization. The rest of the report was left intact which identified the radical ideology that can go through jihadization and ultimately find a spiritual sanctioner and become militant, a four stage process. CAIR and others didn't want that exposed. At the time I put out a press release from the American Forum for Islam and Democracy, that was before the coalition was formed, saying that this is work our think tank should be doing, not the NYPD. However, as we were not doing it, we congratulated the NYPD for doing that work as Muslim organizations were either apologetic, asleep or in denial or actually part of the active Islamist problem. CAIR and other like Muslim groups have been against this type of work from the beginning as it takes away the ideas on which they thrive. However the way to counter that is to acknowledge that there is association with a political movement and not simply workplace violence as in the Fort Hood Massacre. That Major Hasan viewed this country was not his, he felt his soldiers in our Army were not his and he belonged to a Muslim Ummah that was a military unit and he had allegiance to them. Hasan became a traitor to our country and committed an act of murder against his fellow soldiers which was beyond treason. At the end of the day, these are the ideas that CAIR and other Muslim Brotherhood groups don’t want to have in counterterrorism materials. Look back at the Cold War. How many experts and materials did the Pentagon use to study Soviet war ideology and yet we never fired a bullet directly against the Soviets. We have to understand the ideas that come from Wahhabist Saudi Arabia, Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist theological centers that create physical and military threats arising in the Ummah. We need to start having analysts that study these issues. I would tell you that it needs to be more transparent. Part of the problem with this is political correctness problem working behind the scenes. If we had a Homeland Security Department that engaged anti-Islamist Muslims like our coalition they would adopt our counter-terrorism recommendations. That would expose and study the works of Sayyid Qtub, Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al Banna, the Wahabbis and the impact that many of their books and theological verses have on mosques in the United States and in the West. You would have an understanding of the parts of the Islamic theology that are problematic and the parts that are the solution. You wouldn’t have the FBI under pressure from CAIR and other groups having these counterterrorism materials censored and burned. Our counter-terrorism agencies and staffs need to understand the problems they are dealing with. Currently, it is not being done correctly. They say, "we fixed the problem because we got rid of those books." What are they going to study? That's not how you fix it - by throwing the bad ones away. More important is what are the good ones that they should be using, but nobody wants to talk about that.

Gordon: Many mosques in America are Shariah compliant and promote violent jihad doctrine giving rise to homegrown terrorists. In your view can anything be done to change that?

Jasser: That was the focus of my testimony on March 10, 2011 at Congressman King's hearings on Muslim radicalization and the community’s response. Basically, the short answer to your question is, we need to acknowledge that Islamism or the philosophy that we as Muslims believe in promoting an Islamic state is a radicalizing concept. That ultimately we as Muslims don't believe that a country like America can be truly Islamic based as it is on reason and separation of church or mosque from state. Then ultimately our children are going to grow up being split and say that this country is not ours. We are sort of visiting here but ultimately if we are a majority we want a different type of country. Until we as Muslims abandon this concept of the Islamic state, radicalization and this concept of not belonging, of having identity problems, will always be a central part of the root cause of radicalization. I compared it to a situation where we continue to do counter-terrorism by stopping the jihadists right before they put the bomb around their chests or they come together as a cell. An effort that the FBI has been doing so courageously and succeeding. We have to stop it long before that. It is no different than curing lung cancer. The surgeons can keep cutting out tumors all the time but surgical resection of lung cancers has not changed mortality. What changed survival and mortality is figuring out that smoking caused lung cancer and you stop it much earlier. Many of these mosques may not be teaching jihad, violent militancy or anarchy or war against the United States. However, they may be teaching that America is anti-Islam or against Muslims or American soldiers are in Iraq killing innocent women and children which I've heard in mosques. This type of insidious separatism is the core problem and a form of civilizational jihad where they are stimulating the views that Muslims are not part of the greater American community but rather first part of a Muslim community. Ultimately we need to start exposing these things and putting these questionable sermons on video and exposing some of the books and the ideas that are being disseminated at mosques. We shouldn’t do it confrontationally, but rather in a positive sense of love and reform. That these things can be engaged no differently than we addressed the civil rights movement in the late 60's that needed change and modernization. There are some mosques that I think need modernization. We do that from a position that as a Muslim I don't want my children being impacted by the ideas in those mosques. I love my faith and I love my country and I think those things need to be addressed positively but not given a pass because of political correctness.

Gordon: Turning to a different topic, you are a Syrian American by heritage and founder of Save Syria Now and a spokesperson for the Syrian Democratic Coalition. Why have you become involved in bringing to American and world attention the necessity of a secular democratic federal republic should the repressive Assad regime fall?

Jasser: I've been very outspoken on the Syrian issue for decades but not as outspoken as we have been in the last year since the revolution began in March 2011, because everything has changed now. There is a movement that is not going to go away until the regime changes. It is the question of what is going to be left after Assad leaves? If the military gets smart and sacrifices the Assad family, ultimately you may find there is not much change if the secular fascism of Assad continues in power. If there is a wholesale change of the government where the military, police and intelligence apparatus is decapitated and they have an ability to start over, there is going to be a large chaotic competition for who and what groups are going to have influence. That competition is going to be very chaotic because the dictatorship does not leave a society behind that is moral and upstanding. It is a Darwinian evolution of a corrupt society that survived, as one of the most ruthless regimes in the history since the fascism of Mussolini, Hitler and Japan. At the end of the day the way Syria evolves from that is going to need significant input from Syrians like my family who came to America, ended up becoming political refugees when the Baathists took over in '63. They had been able to raise me in a way that was insulated from the corruption and the evil nature of what evolved in the Baathist Syrian oppressive society. Those of us that understand the language, culture and religion in a way that's compatible with modernity and democracy need to give back so that those societies have some examples by which to plant the seeds for the future. We also have to realize that it is not going to change overnight. Jeffersonian democracy does not happen overnight, it needs an evolution. After 9/11, we formed the American Forum for Islam and Democracy because we understood that the terrorism of those 19 Al Qaeda hijackers came  from a Saudi Arabian Wahhabist mentality. Wahabism was a byproduct of an interpretation of Islam that was stuck in the 13th Century. The Arab Spring is showing us that these countries are going through convulsions of coming to terms with modernity.  Unless we push forward liberty and freedom in those societies and advocate for the ideas that we love in the West, those societies are going to switch from one type of fascism to another just like we saw in Iran when it went from the Shah to a theocracy. If we want to help the many individuals that want liberal democracy, liberal democrats in those countries like Syria need to have a fair shake. They need to have resources, they need to have advocates.  Some of them may get it wrong at first. In the United States we have to remember it took quite a while until we got our own democracy right. This is why I've been so involved in helping the Syrian Democratic Coalition. I have become their spokesperson in helping them evolve and bring together groups like the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria and the Christian Democrats group as well as a number of other minority groups that were trying to form this coalition. This emerging coalition that is going to be a third path for Syria away from secular fascism of Assad and his blind Arabism versus the Islamism that the Muslim Brotherhood groups want to see evolve. As much as the Syrian National Council talks about democracy and other aspects of what they claim to be pluralism, they are still pretty much led by individuals that many of us have known here in America. If you look at their writings they have long been Islamists. A good example is Mohamed Gannouchi in Tunisia. Many have been so happy that Gannouchi is leading the movement there. If you look at his writings, you'll realize that he is an Islamist. He says one thing in Arabic and says another thing in English. His stance on Israel is dissimulated if he's talking in Washington versus if he's talking on Arabic television. This is the way the Islamists run things. They are corrupt in their ideas and they say what they think people want to hear and when they get in power it is a one time, one vote system. Then their oligarchy ends up ruling. It is not based on reason and it is not based in freedom. I think Syria sits at the crossroads in the Middle East. If it is able to go towards freedom it will significantly decrease Iran's ability to exert hegemony in the region and cut off Hezbollah as a terrorist group. Knowing my family and the culture in which both grandfathers grew up in Aleppo and knowing the area with its diversity of Druze, Kurds, Alawites Christians, Sunni and Shia, Syria has the ability to serve as a template for how the rest of the Middle East could evolve. This is why it is so important that Americans see a diverse Syrian coalition. No matter how busy I am, I think the only way to give back to the motherland that my family came from is to try to help create templates or prototype organizations that can be emulated from inside a free Syria. The Syrian Democratic Coalition in no way would take away from the courage of the Free Syrian Army and those that are inside Syria doing the hard work. We simply want to help give them resources and the ideas to build their future.

Gordon: Recently an Israel Hayom article revealed that leaders of the Free Syrian Army had suggested reaching out towards Israel. What do you make of that?

Jasser: I think that would be brilliant. If any of us reach out towards Israel we end up in the West, falling into the old propagandized conspiracy theories about the Middle East. Remember most of these conspiracy theories were fed and fostered by our so called allies. Mubarak showed on television in Egypt the Protocols of the Elders of Zion every year during Ramadan and indoctrinated his entire population into becoming one of the most antisemitic in the Middle East. Yet America calls Egypt an ally. I think the Free Syrian Army is right now on a moral high ground with the Syrian people because they are fighting against evil and they are risking everything. They are protecting demonstrators that march in the streets. They are surrounding them and many of them are getting shot. Many of the dead  shot by the Syrian military are soldiers that refuse to shoot their own people. Those killed are lower ranking ones; the higher ranking ones are pretty much a part of the regime. The lower ranking soldiers are often part of the jobs program and just get pulled into the military. For the Free Syrian Army to reach out to Israel they realize that Israel is the only functioning democracy in the Middle East. Israel has significant resources through intelligence and other means to provide the Free Syrian Army with covert assistance to develop the strength to fight back against the Assad Military. That could build an alliance that goes beyond the old historical division to construct a new future for the Middle East which is one based on democracies. Many of the Palestinians that aren't anti-Israeli or antisemitic are the ones that realize that their economic future depends upon Israel. They work and are employed in neighborhoods and elsewhere in which the Jewish community, the Israeli community provides their economic livelihood. Similarly the Free Syrian Army if they are smart and look to what their future is in the Middle East beyond the short term objective of getting rid of the fascism of Assad and his military, long term there could be a peaceful  and economically successful Middle East. With Israel next door you cannot be at war or have a state of cold war or conflict with Israel and have a successful economic future for Syria.  Especially now when they see Russia and China lining up with their enemies they are going to have to start reaching towards the West. I think many of them realize that if they reach towards the Gulf they are going to end up being swallowed by the Islamists, by the Salafists out of Qatar, out of Saudi Arabia. If they are doing the math, they realize they want to work with NATO. If they work with NATO  they need to have good relations with Israel because they are part of the Western democracies. So I think it is a rational decision by the Free Syrian Army to reach out to Israel. It would be best if it is made through them because if any of us in the West start that type of process it'll be spun in a very different way.

Gordon: Speaking about the West, what is your view of the constructive nature of U.S. involvement in these discussions about what to do with the Syrian opposition?

Jasser: The Obama Administration has been harmful. Because they have misrepresented American intentions. When this uprising started the Syrians remember that Secretary of State Clinton called Assad a reformer. Many of us were having convulsions listening to that knowing that such a word could never be said Assad's family and his military. It took until recently for Secretary Clinton to say that Assad was a war criminal. I grew up in a home where Assad the father was called a war criminal when my parents first came here. Years after they came here we saw Hama  in Syria and other acts of war crimes committed against humanity. The problem is the Syrians realize that these are all just words from the US. There has been no action. The Russians and the Chinese have been allowed to stifle U.N. action. President Obama, through his spokesman at the White House, Jay Carney, said that we are still looking for political solutions. They had a Friends of Syria meeting which basically still said that they were going to let the Tunisians and the Arab League lead what is happening there. Remember that the Arab League is still basically governed by autocrats. For the US to say that America is wielding the flame of freedom for the Syrians is just absurd. We have lost any sense that the White House is going to be helping the Syrians. We are hearing that from family and friends in Syria. They are no longer waiting for America to come to their aid. They are going to be looking elsewhere so we have a lot of ground to make up. As far as what I wish, I think that even among my friends who are hawks, there is a lot of concern about who we are going to be supporting. I understand that concern, it's almost like undergoing any type of treatment process. You know you have a disease and it needs treatment. You can sit back and do nothing and let the disease just ravage the patient and the patient will end up dying or you can undergo some type of treatment and decide what treatment course is the best. If we do nothing the treatment for Syria is going to end up badly. The Syrians are going to find some way to get weapons to defend themselves and they'll get it either from the Turks, the Egyptians or the Saudis. They will find a way to get arms and then they will be beholden to those groups that give it to them. Will we end up arming the wrong people? I don't think so. I think the influence of al-Qaeda in Syria is definitely there but it's not as dominant as people would believe. The activities of al-Qaeda have only been there because they've been directly facilitated by the Assad regime. Al-Qaeda was funneled into Iraq to places in which Americans were killed by Assad when he needed them. Al-Qaeda bombs that have gone off recently were in neighborhoods that many Syrians know were guarded by the Assad regime. Yes, there is Al-Qaeda in Syria and they need to be fought. Yes they are in the opposition but not in leadership of the Free Syrian Army. It is a step wise process. Some of my hawkish friends in the US are becoming isolationists. There is some fatigue setting in after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. You are hearing many conservatives now talking about pulling out of Afghanistan because of the deaths that are happening there from mistakes made in burning of Qur’ans. We saw what happened in Egypt with NGO's that were detained for awhile and released after paying ransom. You are seeing just so much fatigue through our election cycles that America is now turning towards isolationism especially with the shape our economy is in. You have large populations in the Middle East,  including Syria that have seen a 50 year history during which America was responsible or helped dictators that oppressed them. I'm not even telling you that narrative is correct, some of it is, and some of it isn't. However, if you want to change that, America has to make an investment just like it did in Eastern Europe. We invested resources there and ultimately those democracies now have become thriving economies with free markets. Similarly if Syria changes it is better for us to have some involvement there.  Not to throw cash at them but to develop some early institutions there that we could be involved in. You need muscular liberalism on the ground there. British Prime Minister David Cameron has talked about it. We need an Administration that isn't afraid to say that America will stand behind dissidents, not walk away from them like we did in 2009 in Iran. What they are going to remember is that we stood by them and not just put our finger up in the air and went with the side that we thought was the strong horse. What the Syrians have seen Secretary Clinton and President Obama doing is exactly that. Initially we waited because they thought no way could President Assad be leaving. Now the US has come to the realization that despite the strength and unity of his military, Assad is probably going to be going. It is going to be a while but they see that happening. Now the Administration has changed, but lost credibility. We need a president like Reagan who was pretty clear from day one that the Soviet Union was an evil empire. He never went back and forth claiming them to be friends. He was consistent and that won him a lot of respect in history. I think the Obama Administration has sacrificed what respect they would have for short term gains that I believe are proving to be pretty empty. It is unfortunate that we don't have an Administration that is clear on what we look for and who we can call our friends.

Gordon: Zuhdi, I want to thank you for this wide ranging conversation and interview and we wish you the best of luck in the context of drawing attention at the rally on Monday but also in your endeavors on behalf of producing a secular dynamic Syria in the future.

Jasser: Thank you very much. I really appreciate the opportunity Jerry.

 

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