The webinar “9/11: American Muslims Twenty Years Later” does not concern “who did it, was it Mossad, the CIA, and how did bin Laden get operatives in the building to orchestrate a controlled demolition,” stated Zaytuna College co-founder and professor emeritus Zaid Shakir. On 9/11’s twentieth anniversary, he and his fellow panelists spun absurd conspiracy theories about the terrorist attacks, while doing their best to obscure the plain facts of Al Qaeda’s guilt.
Shakir, who organized the webinar on behalf of the radical, anti-Israel Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA), has long embraced conspiratorial nonsense. After the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, he wrote that “some [unnamed] observers” said it “was undertaken by the Zionist forces” in order to “intensify their anti-Islamic propaganda campaign.” Admitting he “was an extremely anti-American person” when 9/11 happened, he stayed true to form by expressing his desire to focus the webinar on 9/11’s subsequent effects on the American Muslim community, “regardless of who is responsible” for the attacks.
Post 9/11, Shakir noted the political quandaries traditional Muslims including him face in the modern West. The number of American Muslim politicians has grown and they have been “doing some great things, especially in terms of foreign policy,” he said. By contrast, he lamented, “in terms of domestic policy” these policymakers “have almost universally . . . adopted a progressive, leftwing agenda that advocates for things that Muslims traditionally have held to be forbidden and/or repugnant.”
Leading American Muslim scholar Yasir Qadhi tried (and failed) to simultaneously condemn and embrace 9/11 conspiracies. Despite Shakir’s earlier statements, Qadhi quipped to him that “even you and I have a redline that we are not going to cross” regarding theories about 9/11 that they would discuss publicly. “We are not going to go down certain things,” Qadhi said, before claiming that 9/11 still presented “a lot of unanswered questions.”
Qadhi likewise raised questions about Islam’s relationship to democracy while discussing Muslim Americans in the two decades before 9/11. Back then, the “norm was to hear this notion of voting is haram [forbidden], it was the default in most suburban masajid [mosque]. And our imams and sheikhs from Al Azhar and from other places [said] there was this identity, we shouldn’t really get involved in the system too much,” he said. Post-9/11, “that’s literally out the window,” for Muslims realized the necessity of political engagement for protecting their civil rights. Although Qadhi condemned 9/11 as “un-Islamic; it was unethical, it was unjust, regardless of whatever political grievances that existed before,” he argued that 9/11 brought “Islamophobia,” the “demonization of the ummah, of our texts, of even our prophet.”
Howard University assistant Dean for religious life Nisa Muhammad expressed similar sentiments. She is a follower of the rabidly antisemitic Louis Farrakhan, who inspired her to abandon her Baptist roots and convert to Islam as graduate student at Howard University. Muhammad is a writer for Farrakhan’s Final Call magazine and a television host for the Islamic Republic of Iran’s antisemitic Press TV.
After 9/11, she said, the “entire faith of Islam was blamed for the actions of a few. This was unheard of when the Ku Klux Klan terrorized black people in America. The entire faith of Christianity was never condemned or criticized.” She never explained which Christian doctrines justified racism or how she, Farrakhan, Al Qaeda, and Iran’s Islamic Republic represented just a “few” marginal extremists.
Saafir Raab II, a former consultant to President Barack Obama, also questioned 9/11’s historical record. Raab organized Obama’s 2016 visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore, a mosque under FBI surveillance because of links to jihadists and a past imam who preached that suicide bombings were justified. Raab described 9/11 as an exceptional event involving a “few individuals who are clearly mentally deranged, whoever was involved with that effort, those are people who are not mentally fit for civility . . . whoever they were.”
University of Southern California professor Sherman Jackson, bemoaned that 9/11 opened Americans’ eyes to what most recognize as the dangers presented by sharia. “Before 9/11 we could say all kinds of things, and America was kind of an ideological playground,” he stated, before adding “9/11 said, no, no, no, you can’t do that anymore, you now have to be more disciplined and more measured in what you say.” He then offered a back-handed compliment to restrictions of traditional Islam by complaining that “given the levels of literacy we have within institutions we have today, the Prophet himself would have been condemned.” “Cancel culture would have affected him,” Qadhi agreed.
Jackson defends Critical Race Theory (CRT), a radical leftist ideology that considers racism intrinsic to American institutions and life. He falsely analogized opposition to CRT to the resurgent Taliban’s abolishment of female education. “We can complain about that and yet turn around, have state legislators say, we are not going to have Critical Race Theory taught in our schools, and not see the double standard,” he said.
While the webinar participants emphasized Muslim victimhood, their own comments clearly showed that Muslim self-reflection would have been a more appropriate response to 9/11. The panelists’ conspiracy mongering, prejudices, and troubled relationship to democratic participation exposed their conflicts with America’s constitutional regime and civil society. That several are professors of Islamic and Middle East studies demonstrates the toxic nature of academe and makes clear the urgent need for thoroughgoing reform.
Andrew E. Harrod, a Middle East Forum Campus Watch Fellow, freelance researcher, and writer, is a fellow with the Lawfare Project.