It happened again this week. I came out of the office to find a flyer under my windshield wipers inviting me to a special informational presentation on God and family values, and how to bring them back to the forefront in America.
I’m a parent so the flyer caught my interest. But as an analyst for the Northeast Intelligence Network, my eyes were riveted to the address on the flyer: The session was being held at a nearby mosque.
Curiosity got the better of me, and I decided it would be a good time for some onsite investigations of the mosque. In order to not attract undue attention, I dressed conservatively, wearing a navy jumper with a long sleeve white blouse, and low heels. I debated whether or not to put on a hijab (head scarf) then decided not to – after all, I was going to “learn,” not to pretend I was a Muslim.
I checked the mosque schedule on the Web, and discovered there was going to be an Arabic language session an hour before. So I showed up an hour early. The imam met me at the door, and told me that the presentation didn’t start for an hour, and suggested I come back in an hour. Fortunately, I had anticipated this. I explained that since I had quite a bit of reading to do for a class I was taking. “Can I just sit here and read?”
He hesitated a moment, then agreed. I sat in the back of the room, with my book open, and made a mental note to remember to turn the pages every so often, as I listened to the speakers in Arabic.
The first speaker was the head of the Muslim Students’ Association at the nearby university. Although I missed the beginning of the discussion, I caught up quickly. He was talking about the problems he had encountered on a recent trip, when TSA flagged him for extra screening. He joked about the fact that they had stopped him for extensive screening. He had anticipated that he would be screened and he had filled his carryon luggage with printouts of the Quran from the Internet, and had 15 or 16 CDs labeled in Arabic, and he had a notebook computer with him.
As he expected, he was delayed – he thought it was very amusing that while several TSA personnel were scrutinizing his personal belongings that his classmate from Jordan was able to walk through security, along with his American girlfriend, without any problems whatsoever.
One of the men said, in Arabic: “Blonde Americans are good for something!” Another man advised him to be cautious, since there was an American woman in the room. The imam spoke up and told everyone I didn’t speak Arabic.
At that point, another student took the podium. His name was Khaled, and he began to recount his recent trip to New York City. Khaled and three of his companions had gone to New York for several days in January. He told of how uncomfortable his trip up to NYC had been. He felt like he was being watched, and thought he was the victim of racial profiling.
Khaled and his friends were pretty unhappy about it, and while in New York, they came up with a plan to “teach a lesson” to the passengers and crew. You can imagine the story Khaled told. He described how he and his friends whispered to each other on the flight, made simultaneous visits to the restroom, and generally tried to “spook” the other passengers. He laughed when he described how several women were in tears, and one man sitting near him was praying.
The others in the room thought the story was quite amusing, judging from the laughter. The imam stood up and told the group that this was a kind of peaceful civil disobedience that should be encouraged, and commended Khaled and his friends for their efforts.
He pointed out that it was through this kind of civil disobedience that ethnic profiling would fail.
One of the other men, Ahmed from Kuwait, gave a brief account of his friend Eyad, who had finally gone to Iraq. Ahmed was in e-mail contact with Eyad, and hoped by the following week to be able to bring them more information about the state of the “mujahideen” in Iraq.
As the meeting drew to a close, the imam gave a brief speech calling for the protection of Allah on the mujahideen fighting for Islam throughout the world, and reminded everyone that it was their duty as Muslims to continue in the path of jihad, whether it was simple efforts like those of Khaled and his friends, or the actual physical fighting of men like Eyad.
As the meeting broke up, several women in hijabs came in the room, and two of them sat with me. They were very warm and friendly and welcoming, and appeared to be clearly thrilled that I was there. They asked me questions about who I was, and why I was interested in the session.
By the time the session began, there were half a dozen American women, four of them African-American. Where the previous session had definite anti-American tones, this session was all American and Apple Pie. The earlier session had been in Arabic – this one was in English.
The woman leading the session, Nafisa, told of the concerns she had regarding her daughters in the public-school system. She complained about the influence of the MTV culture, and seemed concerned about the rampant sexuality that pervaded all facets of American life, from television to movies and on into the school system.
She explained her personal solution – the local Islamic school, beginning with kindergarten. Instead of worrying about her daughters dressing provocatively and behaving inappropriately with boys, she talked about the modest school uniforms they wore, and the single-gender classes her daughters attended.
She then began to discuss Islam, focusing on the commonalities it has with Christianity. The sales pitch had clearly begun. While in the previous section, the men had quoted over and over again sura from the Quran calling for violent jihad, the women’s session focused on the “gentler” side of Islam.
The same imam who demanded that the men continue in the path of jihad did a complete 180-degree turn in this session, stressing instead the suras that promoted the “brotherhood” between Muslims, Christians and Jews. “After all, we worship the same God, and follow the teachings in the books he gave each of us. We are all the same, we are all People of the Book,” he stressed.
The differences between the sessions were striking. Clearly the second session was a recruiting session.
Were the women aware of what was being taught in the first session? Certainly those women who spoke Arabic should have been.
The reason for concern is obvious: Two different doctrines are being promoted. One peaceful, friendly, warm and fuzzy doctrine is being used to draw people in, with a focus on the well-being of their children.
But the Arabic-speaking sessions clearly have an anti-American tone.
It shows clearly that as much as we’d like to pretend it hasn’t, jihad has reached Small-Town, USA. This mosque isn’t in Washington, D.C., or New York City. This is a small mosque in a small town in the deep South.
And if it’s in this tiny little quiet southern town, it’s probably in your hometown, too.
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Laura Mansfield is a freelance writer with over 20 years of experience dealing with Middle East issues. She is fluent in written and spoken Arabic, and has an excellent understanding of the complex cultural, religious and historical issues. Her experience includes nearly seven years living and working in the region for a wide range of private and government clients.