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.”

He even boasted that he could use his bass’s end pin to kill: “All I’ve got to do is, pop, flick it like, boom, move out the way. Flip, pop, pop, right in the middle of your head.” And, chillingly: “I could be joking and cutting their throats in the next second. It’s a strategy.” Shah swore an oath to al-Qaeda:

God’s pledge is upon me and so is his covenant to commit myself to the orders of the guardians of the agreement, for the misfortune and for the prosperity. And to be a loyalist to the path of jihad, and to my brothers, until God’s word is exalted. And to be protective of the secrecy of the oath and to the directives of Al Qaeda.


When he was arrested, many of his friends and supporters in the jazz world assumed his innocence and the guilt of law enforcement officials in framing or entrapping him – which is not surprising. But then Shah pleaded guilty of conspiring to aid al-Qaeda.

It’s doubtful that anyone in his professional circle saw this coming. They either assumed that Shah was a “moderate” or, given the stultifying and reflexive cultural Leftism that blankets all fields of the arts these days, shared his anti-Americanism. These kinds of assumptions are extremely common in post-9/11 America. Not long after 9/11, none other than Anwar al-Awlaki was hailed in the New York Times as one of “a new generation of Muslim leader capable of merging East and West.” In 2002 he even led Muslim prayers on Capitol Hill, with noted “civil rights activists” Nihad Awad and Ibrahim Hooper of the Hamas-linked Council on American-Islamic Relations in the crowd.

Then there was Maher “Mike” Hawash of Portland, Oregon. A well-regarded Intel executive who made $360,000 a year began around the year 2000 to become more religious, growing his beard long, rejecting the nickname “Mike,” and attending the supremacist Islamic Center of Portland. Ultimately he served a seven-year prison term for conspiring to aid the Taliban.

The most prominent example of this phenomenon in America is Abdurrahman Alamoudi of the American Muslim Council, who was the nation’s most prominent and influential Muslim (and a close friend of Grover Norquist) in the 1990s. Alamoudi, who met with Presidents Clinton and Bush, is now in prison for acting as a financial courier for al-Qaeda.


All these men were universally regarded as moderate Muslims before their actions proved otherwise. Does this mean that every Muslim who is simply living life, working a job, and taking care of the family is secretly a jihadist? Of course not. The problem, however, is that there is no way to determine the dispositions of anyone else’s heart. Many Muslims may become more religious in times of personal crisis, and in an effort to cleanse their souls and please Allah begin to pay attention they never paid before to the texts and teachings of Islam that mandate warfare against and subjugation of unbelievers. Some may have been jihad-minded all along, but waited for the right time to act.

What, then, is to be done? All of this points up to a glaring absence: even now eleven years after 9/11, and even after numerous jihad plots in the United States, Muslim organizations still have no program designed to teach young Muslims the error of the jihadist view of Islam. They have nothing in place to disabuse Muslims like Tarik Shah of what they insist is a misunderstanding of Islam. They’ve never announced that supporters of the al-Qaeda view of Islam, which they profess to reject, will be expelled from mosques.

This is revealing, especially in light of the fact that major Muslim organizations in the U.S. such as Hamas-linked CAIR have advised Muslims not to cooperate with law enforcement: while the media and government officials generally assume their moderation, they’re behaving as anything but moderate and doing all they can to obstruct efforts to fight back against their violent coreligionists.


It would be just as foolish to assume that every Muslim in America is a jihad terrorist as it would be to assume that every one is a moderate. But law enforcement officials need to require much more transparency and honesty from Muslim groups in the U.S. – or there will be many more Tarik Shahs.



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