Frontpage Interview’s guest today is David Yerushalmi, General Counsel to the Center for Security Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based national security think tank founded and headed by former Reagan administration official Frank Gaffney. He is considered an expert on Islamic law and its intersection with Islamic terrorism and national security. In this capacity, he has published widely on the subject, including the principle critical scholarship on sharia-compliant finance published in the Utah Law Review (2008, Issue 3). He has also designed and co-authored (with Mordechai Kedar) a ground-breaking peer reviewed empirical investigation on sharia-adherence and the promotion of violent, jihadist literature in U.S. mosques published in the Middle East Quarterly (Summer 2011).
FP: David Yerushalmi, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Yerushalmi: Thank you, Jamie.
We began this study in 2007, with a careful and rigorous methodological design. The purpose was to measure sharia-adherence (or Islamic legal orthodoxy) among worshippers and their imams at U.S. mosques (i.e., the independent variable) and to measure that against both the presence of violent and jihadist literature and, more, the actual promotion of that literature by the imam (i.e., the dependent variables). We took four years to conduct the study because we need a large enough random sampling of mosques across the U.S. to be able to say with some certainty that we can speak about U.S. mosques generally and because we understood that we would need to confirm our data during a subsequent survey so that we could be certain of the integrity of our results and so we were not merely taking a one-time “snap shot” of these mosques.
After surveying 100 mosques randomly chosen across the U.S., and after “auditing” our data, our results were troubling, to say the least.
First, of the 100 mosques surveyed, 51% had texts on site rated as severely advocating violence; 30% had texts rated as moderately advocating violence; and 19% had no violent texts at all. Mosques that presented as Sharia adherent were more likely to feature violence-positive texts on site than were their non-Sharia-adherent counterparts. In 84.5% of the mosques, the imam recommended studying violence-positive texts. The leadership at Sharia-adherent mosques was more likely to recommend that a worshipper study violence-positive texts than leadership at non-Sharia-adherent mosques. Fifty-eight percent of the mosques invited guest imams known to promote violent jihad. The leadership of mosques that featured violence-positive literature was more likely to invite guest imams who were known to promote violent jihad than was the leadership of mosques that did not feature violence-positive literature on mosque premises.
FP: Were the results of the study a surprise?
Yerushalmi: Not for us in this field. For example, Shaikh Hisham Kabbani, a well-respected Sufi leader in the U.S., has reported to the Department of State that his personal research (albeit not based upon a rigorous empirical design) evidences that hard-core Salafists from the Wahhab sect of Saudi Arabia have taken control and spread “extremism” in 80% of U.S. mosques. (See here and here.)
In addition to this anecdotal evidence, the very credible Freedom House under the direction of Nina Shea conducted a serious survey of major mosques in U.S. urban environments and found Wahhabi-Saudi jihad literature literally permeating these mosques. Again, while the study was of select mosques and not a random survey, it suggested a major infiltration that supported Kabbani’s reports.
Our findings that 81% of U.S. mosques contain this literature, while troubling, would not be considered surprising. What is surprising, was the degree to which the presence of this literature was correlated with the imams actually promoting this jihad hate literature. In other words, one might expect a mosque to have some of this material but as reference literature, not as something the imams would actively promote. What our study found was that mosques with this literature were not merely repositories but incubators for the messaging of this material.
FP: Are the findings of your research consonant with surveys among Muslims globally?
Yerushalmi: Yes, and again, this speaks to the fact that our findings are not necessarily surprising. For example, the World Public Opinion survey conducted out of the University of Maryland found that majorities or near-majorities in so-called “moderate” Muslim countries desire an al Qaeda like strict sharia to be imposed, a Caliphate to replace national sovereignty, and a rejection of Western values:
Following this survey, Pew conducted its own opinion research in 2010 among “moderate” Muslim countries and found that majorities favored sharia’s criminal punishments including death for those who wish to engage in freedom of worship by leaving Islam (i.e., apostasy).
These results clearly suggest that Muslims around the world take sharia seriously and they know what it is and what it stands for.
FP: Based on these findings, what are some of the lessons for counter-terrorist experts and professionals in the field, and indeed, for the layman?
Yerushalmi: We should, all of us in this field, pay special attention to the lessons learned from this study. First, researchers need to get more serious about studies that examine the jihad “threat doctrine.” All of the important research informs us that the jihadists around the globe base their violence and terrorism on sharia and its doctrine of jihad. Most label their jihad defensive and some offensive, some use aggressive global violence to pursue their ends (i.e., al Qaeda), others a more nuanced nation-by-nation strategy with a mix of political maneuvering with violence and/or the threat of violence (i.e., the Muslim Brotherhood). But, they all tell us that their driving doctrine is sharia and its call for a global Caliphate order by Islamic law.
Unfortunately, many researchers shield themselves from this brute fact out of a fear of being labeled an Islamophobe and the rest of the epithets hurled by the Leftist and Muslim Brotherhood academic and political machinery. In a word, P.C. rules in this field and that is never good for scientific inquiry.
Second, experts and professionals in this field must extend the results of this study by furthering the research to attempt to understand how sharia is actually taught to young Muslims and what it says about citizenship in the West.
Third, experts and professionals in the field must take their research seriously. For example, the New York Police Department invested tremendous resources in an ex post facto examination of the “radicalization” process in the important study titled, “Radicalization in the West: the Homegrown Threat.” This study found that mosques were one of the main incubators for jihad recruitment. The study also found that one of the early indicators was “Salaf” behavioral profiles. Unfortunately, what the authors did not fully understand was that these “Salaf” behaviors were really Sharia-adherence. In other words, the researchers saw the relevant facts but had not actually studied the other research in the field that links Islamic terrorism, at least doctrinally, to Sharia and the call for global and regional jihad.
We hope this study provides an important link and serious step for researchers and professionals alike to examine the role sharia plays as a legal-political doctrine and system with a long historical pedigree in the Islamic world and as the primary doctrinal and legal impetus for terrorism in the name of Islam.
FP: David Yerushalmi, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview. We encourage all of our readers to check out David Yerushalmi’s ground-breaking co-authored investigation here.