Khaled Abou El Fadl (Photo: PBS)
"Professor Khaled Abou Al-Fadl," according to MEMRI, "originally of Egypt, was appointed by President George W. Bush to the Commission on International Religious Freedom, where he is the only Muslim member. Recently he gave an interview to the Egyptian government weekly October in which he strongly criticized the American president."
Al-Fadl is more commonly El Fadl, and he is a leading Muslim "moderate." That may be why Bush was in a hurry to appoint him. But El Fadl has always seen Bush as an opponent. He says: "During the election campaign, Bush gave the Islamic leaders a certain status... They lost their equilibrium. They did not listen - not only to me, but also to someone like Ralph Nader, who was a presidential candidate of Arab origin. He met with them and all but pleaded with them not to vote for Bush. He all but kissed their hands so they wouldn't. We told them that he [Bush] is a Christian religious fundamentalist and that the group around him, of the likes of Paul Wolfowitz and others, hold the same beliefs that accompanied colonialism's entrance to the Muslim countries in the 19th century."
Also this highly tendentious charge: "When Bush came to the presidency, there was a revolution in American policy. He brought in religious Christian people. In the field, Bush permitted missionaries into Iraq before medicines. He is the first president in the history of America whose policy includes supporting Christian missionaries and applying pressure through them on some countries. He links them with continued American aid to some countries.
"Bush says that he respects Islam and wants to spread democratic standards in the Islamic countries. When we ask him what exactly these democratic standards that he calls for are, he has no answer, as if Islam was permitted to exist only provided that it was Islam according to American standards. I say also that unfortunately, there were at first some hesitations in the American administration regarding the raid on Afghanistan, but when it was carried out, it cost much less than they expected, and this spurred them on, in a way reminiscent of intoxication and drunkenness, to start thinking of invading Iraq, Syria, and Iran, and of changing the map of the region."
Regarding "other Islamic voices in America," El Fadl says: "We in America are harmed greatly by the likes of Fouad Ajami, who presents himself as a Lebanese citizen, and many other secular individuals present themselves as if they wanted to purge the Arab world of Islam. They cause us damage, because they present a deviant, erroneous, and distorted picture of the Islamic states..."
El Fadl may despise Ajami because for years Ajami has been, in the words of Muslim writer Marwan Al-Kabalan, "arguing against the widely accepted view that US policies in the Middle East are the main bone of contention with the Arabs." In other words, he is willing to grant that some of the trouble in the Middle East may come from radical Islam, and that Muslims aren't just the aggrieved victims of American imperialism.
Moreover, there are other troubling indications that El Fadl is not as moderate as he seems, and that his explanations of troubling aspects of Islamic militancy are misleading. Much of this I discussed in Onward Muslim Soldiers. For example, he says that "Islamic tradition does not have a notion of holy war. Jihad simply means to strive hard or struggle in pursuit of a just cause." In light of the elaboration of Islamic theology and law regarding violent jihad, it must be asked: is El Fadl trying to reform Islam, or to deceive outsiders -- in line with the Islamic tradition of taqiyya, dissembling to protect oneself when the Islamic faith is challenged?
It looks as if his appointment by Bush may have stemmed more from a frenzy to assert that "Islam is peace" and that the U.S. is not at war with Islam than from a careful assessment of El Fadl's views.
UPDATE: I have just heard from an associate of El Fadl that El Fadl himself denies that he gave this interview. He says that the whole piece is fabricated. He specifically said that he did not oppose Bush's election, did not call him a Christian fundamentalist, did not say anything about mental illness of troops, etc. He will be issuing a written statement and he plans to sue. We will keep you posted.