David J. Rusin is a former astrophysicist who is now the director of the Islamist Watch of the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia-based foreign affairs think tank. He recently spoke with Israel National Radio's Tovia Singer about educational work he is doing with Islamist Watch to raise awareness in the United States concerning the internal threat of Radical Islam.
Rusin explains that 9/11 was an eye-opener for him, motivating him to give up astrophysics and pursue a career in combating Islamic Fundamentalism.
He warns about the non-violent manifestations of Radical Islam as perhaps being one of the Western World's biggest threats. "Violent Islamism, terror attacks... are only part of the story," he says, "There's also what you might call a slow-motion, or stealth Jihad, which, rather than trying to blow up the foundations of our country and our civilization, seek to chip away at those foundations slowly from within."
Muslims take on US from inside
He also looks at Radical Islam in Europe and sees another warning sign that the United States and the rest of the world should take seriously. "Many of the problems with radical Islam are more advanced in Europe," Rusin admits. However, "we see radical Muslims working within the system in the United States using the media, the courts, and the government, trying to impose aspects of Islamic law into our system and into our lives. They try to win certain privileges for Muslims and try to shut down criticism of Islam."
Islamist Watch tries to rally the support of moderate Muslims, "who believe in their faith, but who also believe in tenets of freedom and liberty," in order to stand together against the threat of Radical Islam. "There is such an Islamist current in mainstream Muslim organizations in this country," Rusin explains, "that a lot of moderates are starting to step forward and say 'we need to be a little bit more proactive here.' At Islamist watch, one of our chief priorities is to promote these individuals and organizations, and promote their message."
Rusin and his organization are also concerned with governmental support going to the radical Muslim groups, rather than the moderate ones. "When you look at Muslim groups in the United States," he says, "it is the more radical Muslim groups that have risen to the surface. These are the groups, unfortunately, that both the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration always seek out when they want to do their outreach to the Muslim community.
'A big negative change'
“There is a long track record, at this point, of the Obama Administration pursuing policies that have been detrimental to our conduct of the war on terror. We're [the U.S. -ed.] not even mentioning radical or extremist Islam in our national security documents. This is a big negative change from previous years where the Bush Administration's defense and national security strategies specifically talked about militant Islam as the number one threat facing this country."
When asked what non-violent threat concerns him most in America, he answers ‘free speech’, which he believes is "under threat like never before on a number of different levels." Some examples of ways in which free speech is under threat, says Rusin, "is the UN Human Rights Council passing resolutions urging member governments to restrict speech that might be deemed offensive to certain religious groups, and one facet of ‘law fare’, the use of predatory lawsuits to try to silence researchers and activists looking into or opposing radical Islam."
An even more ominous threat to free speech, according to Rusin, is something he terms "self censorship - the belief that tolerance and diversity trumps everything and we have to try and make sure that we do not offend anybody, and therefore, we do not say the things that need to be said."
The academic world also seems to be encouraging Radical Islam, he says. "There is a strong Anti-American, Anti-Israel, anti-Capitalist culture prevalent in academia," he explains, "There is also a very strong strain of multi-cultural fundamentalism, the belief that there truly is nothing that separates us from other cultures – no culture is better than any other culture. They are not comfortable speaking out against the atrocities that we see committed in the name of radical Islam and the lack of freedom that we see characterizing societies that are governed by radical Islam."
Rusin explains that the Middle East Forum is trying to speak out against these concerns with a project called Campus Watch. "It looks at Middle East studies in the United Sates," he explains, "with an eye towards criticizing and improving them." He admits, however, that "the academic world is very, very difficult to combat.
Islamist Watch believes that the mainstream media need to be combated by alternative forms of media. As Rusin relates, "The major media not only distorts the news, but they give you some of it and hold some of it back. There are great innovations that the new media has presented, such as talk radio, cable television, and most importantly, the Internet and the blogosphere. These alternative sources fill in a lot of the cracks that the major media outlets would prefer to go unfilled."
"9/11 opened my eyes”, he concludes. “It made me question what's going on in the world. It made me see that the liberties that are so precious to us are under threat. 9/11 woke a lot of people up, and we remained awake for a year or two, but then we started bickering, and finally, we started forgetting. I hate to say it, but it may take something terrible to happen in order to open many of the eyes that have been closed."