Muslim Immigrant: Don’t let terrorists define American values

The events in Paris and San Bernardi­no were outra­geous. There is no way to predict when or where the next atrocity will occur. My first reac­tion was to bomb the Islamic State into oblivi­on, cut off their money supply and destroy their leadership. I sounded like some of our Republican presidential candidates who serve up promises of instant gratification to a frustrated electorate.

I, too, want swift justice and an end to this sense­less savagery. The ex­treme acts of violence committed by the Islamic State, such as beheadings, intentionally and rightful­ly provoke our most vis­ceral instincts. I believe we should be doing all of the above. Yet, I know the evil we face is multifacet­ed and will require long­term, broad-spectrum approaches to extinguish it.

We already have seen how knee-jerk reactions can backfire. Although the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein, dismantling the infra­structure and government of Iraq and then carrying out a poorly conceived post-invasion plan sup­plied the Islamic State with a workforce of young Iraqi soldiers seeking leadership, according to Richard Clarke, our na­tion’s counterterrorism expert under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

I write this as a Muslim immigrant from Iran who came to Fresno in 1978. I became a U.S citizen in 1992 by choice. This is my home and my coun­try. I see myself as an American, who like many, adopted the religion of his parents. I don’t see my religion as defining the person I am, but rath­er, as my spiritual guid­ance system and connec­tion to God.

My goal is to help my fellow Americans dis­tinguish between Islam and the misguided creed that fuels the Islamic State. I know there is much confusion about Islam. I would also like to suggest ways to defeat terrorism and forge stabil­ity in the Middle East.


Let’s start with this: The apocalyptic belief system of the Islamic State is directly linked with Wahhabism, a cult that has hijacked the religion of Islam. Islamic scholars worldwide agree that the Islamic State has nothing to do with Islam, and refute the religious arguments used to justify their ghastly actions.

The vast majority of terrorists in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and North America subscribe to the ideologies of Wah­habism – funded and most active in Saudi Ara­bia, a close ally of the United States.

Founded in the 18th century in Arabia by Mu­hammad ibn Abd al-wah­hab, Wahhabism spreads hatred of western values and modernization, and calls for the purging of Jews, Christians and non­Wahhabi Muslims. Just as we would never link the Ku Klux Klan with Chris­tianity, Wahhabism is not Islam. In fact, I am con­sidered to be an infidel by Wahhabis.

As one of the three Abrahamic traditions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam), Islam proclaims the value of all human lives. Murder is not sup­ported by Islam. On the contrary, any murder is seen as equivalent to killing the whole of humanity. Islam is a religion that not only stands on the concept of peace and justice, but also on the idea that every Muslim ought to live in a state of balance.

While we mistakenly declare war on Islam, Muslim refugees and mosques, and alienate Muslims in the United States, Wahhabism is expanding. Today, Wah­habi schools (madrassas) and mosques worldwide, from Islamabad to our own backyard in Culver City in Southern Cali­fornia, are funded by Saudi-Wahhabis. To read more about this violent cult, see Ambassador Curtin Winsor Jr.’s essay.


Genuine solutions will be challenging, costly and will require long-term resolve. There are no shortcuts to lasting change in the Middle East. It cannot be ac­complished single-hand­edly by any nation. Multi-faceted, geo-global part­nerships are critical for striking at the heart of the Islamic State, and stabiliz­ing the region.

A coalition of nations, including the European Union, allies in the Mid­dle East, Iran and Russia, must pressure the Saudi government to stop fund­ing Wahhabi schools and mosques in the U.S. and across the world. A strong coalition could collab­orate to remove the lead­ership of the Islamic State, cutting off its pet­roleum-based money supply and putting boots on the ground to develop a safe zone in Syria. The negotiated removal of Assad from power, while leaving the government infrastructure in place, is key. Iraq and Syria must be rebuilt, as Germany and Japan were rebuilt after World War II.

Without major bounda­ry revisions that recognize and restore the Middle East’s organic frontiers, peace will never be seen there. With the participa­tion of local Arab tribal and ethnic leaders, the boundaries of Iraq and Syria can be redrawn to recognize and restore the cultural and religious boundaries that have been in place for centu­ries.

In this process, a new country of Kurdistan, which is our biggest ally in the war against the Islamic State, can emerge. With our help to jump-start economic engines, opportunities will be cre­ated for young Arabs to reduce the widespread poverty that exists in the region. Equally essential will be to provide a frame­work for public education and good governance, neutral of Anglo-Amer­ican and Israeli agendas.

These objectives, al­though tremendously challenging, are critical. The contemporary Middle East is exploding. The Islamic State preys on the impoverished and dis­enfranchised, much as gangs do in the U.S. Al­though the Islamic State does not follow Islam, the group pulls exponentially on young Muslims who have lost faith and have no hope for the future.

For those who have only experienced chaos, violence and civil war, the Islamic State’s offers of power, inclusion, sex, value and salvation are intoxicating. It is human nature to turn to religion, even a false religion, when faced with constant pain and suffering.

Muslims in the U.S. are deeply horrified over the atrocities committed by the Islamic State. And yet, I can vouch that many Muslims feel a sense of alienation just watching the presidential debates. Do we really want to treat our Muslim neighbors differently because of their religion? In truth, our Muslim neighbors are our greatest allies against the Islamic State in the United States. And collab­oration with local Muslim communities is one of the most powerful solutions for safety at home.

Muslims comprise 1 percent of the U.S. pop­ulation and represent 10 percent of America’s physicians. As a group that has successfully assi­milated and integrated with U.S. culture, Muslims are in the most potent position to recognize early signs of radicalization among members of the faith, and notify law en­forcement.

Members of the Muslim community have more frequent contact with such individuals, and within a context most Americans do not yet understand. In fact, up to 42 percent or roiled pa­dist plots in the U.S. were reported to law enforce­ment by Muslims, accord­ing to Mohamed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America and a Virginia-based Imam who has advised the Obarna administration on radicalization.

In the same manner that the FBI befriended the Italian-American community in the early 20th century to track down the Mafia, law en­forcement should work closely with members of the Muslim community to identify those showing signs of radicalization.

As well, the Muslim community has a strong obligation to identify and report signs of radical­ization wherever it exists, whether within local mosques or when demon­strated by individuals. Additionally, Muslim scholars must put aside denominational differ­ences and clearly artic­ulate for Muslim youths the basic tenets of Islam, including a strong procla­mation of what is not Islam.

AN AMERICAN’S HOPE America is the greatest nation on earth because or our opportunities and freedoms to express our­selves openly and practice the religion we choose. There are no limits to our imagination in this coun­try. When our reactions are misguided, based solely on fear and anger, we jeopardize the very freedoms we love. Worse, we become like those committing the atrocities, and like the brutal dicta­torships from which so many immigrants have fled.

I became a proud U.S. citizen because of Amer­ica’s values, the opportu­nities it provides for all of its citizens, and for its respect for human dignity. We cannot allow terrorists to reshape the values we hold most dear.

These times test our political and moral char­acter. Will we betray the heartfelt ideals our nation was built upon?

As an optimist, I believe that we will reject dema­goguery and fear monger­ing. As Americans, we must lead. I remain hope­ful our strong values and courage to insist on “jus­tice for all” will prevail.

Darius Assemi of Fresno is a builder, farmer and philanthropist.