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The Questions Nobody Wants to Ask About 'Moderate Islam'

Tarik Shah is a formidable jazz bassist who has recorded with a number of luminaries, including Pharoah Sanders and Abbey Lincoln. He is also prisoner number 53145-054 at the medium security Federal Correction Institution in Petersburg, Virginia, where he is serving a fifteen-year sentence for plotting to provide combat training to al-Qaeda jihadists. His sad and tragic case points up again lingering questions about Islamic moderation that have never been answered.

In 2004, Shah made the acquaintance of a man he thought was an al-Qaeda member, but who was actually an FBI informant. Shah, a martial arts expert as well as a jazzman, offered to help train jihadis. He made no mistake of his intentions, asking the informant:

You really want to learn how to rip somebody’s throat out? I’m talking about damage to the inside so they drown on their own blood. You give them internal bleeding. It fills their lungs with blood.

Nor did Shah make any secret of his allegiance. Tapes that the FBI informant made of his conversations with Shah show the bassist full of complaints. He disliked having to pay “taxes to infidels.” He was angry with the United States for toppling the Taliban, the “only Islamic government of Afghanistan.” He claimed that non-Muslim Westerners “have been killing Muslims on a consistent basis for almost 200 years. They have been at war with us, which means we are at war with them.”