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The War Within Islam

Aired January 19, 2015 - 21:30   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Terror sleeper cells activated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what we've been fearing for years now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are entering a more threatening and more dangerous period in this war on terrorism.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ISIS who walk (ph), attacks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is not -- it's -- this is not the fate that we follow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a civil war taking place in Europe. The Europeans don't know who they are anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a radical ideology out there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Grievance and ideology, the two main ingredients when we're dealing with this particular threat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's about conquest in the name of Islam.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing they're doing is based and if it -- it's not connected.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Islamism would never exist without Islam.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening to you. I'm Chris Cuomo along with Alisyn Camerota.

Now, tonight we're going to take a look at The War Within Islam. The attacks in Paris that claimed 17 lives energized the debate around the word about what role Islam plays in the problem of terrorism and more importantly, the solution.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: 1.6 billion people around the world practice Islam today and most Muslims will tell you it's a peaceful religion, but still questions persist about whether there is something inherent in Islam, it lends itself through extremism.

Tonight, we explore the big questions about the conflict within the religion.

CUOMO: And let's start here. The problem has been seen too often. We see it in the terrorism that is all around the around. The solution is what's the mystery, how do we stop the violence and who is we? Is it the West, the U.S.? What about Muslims as a group? Are they doing enough to denounce these acts of terrorists? Should they have to?

Let's talk about this with people who have good take on these questions. We have Rula Jebreal, Foreign Policy Analyst. We have Dean Obeidallah, columnist for The Daily Beast and host of Sirius XM's The Dean Obeidallah Show. And Maajid Nawaz, a former Islamic extremist and chairman of the counterterrorism think tank Quilliam Foundation.

Rula, I start with you. When we talk about stopping this, all right? Other than the obvious which is, well, you have to make it less violence, that doesn't make any sense. Where do we start? Where are the big points?

RULA JEBREAL, FOREIGN PANEL ANALYST: For me, the big point is going to the source. And the source for me is the country that is spreading more extremist than any other country, the country that its religion's state is Wahhabism, Salafism, Saudi Arabia, it starts there for me. That's the first ISIS state. They are sponsoring more extremists than any other country in the world.

They are the country that gave us Al-Qaeda, Bin Laden is a Saudi, 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. These are the country, if you look at where ISIS -- what ISIS is doing, where they are inspired by, how many beheadings in Saudi Arabia versus how many beheadings by ISIS? The number of Saudi Arabia beheadings exceed by far even the ISIS one.

If you look at cities that are controlled by ISIS, Raqqah, what they are distributing, Islamic textbooks, Wahhabist, Saudi textbooks. This is the kind of exclusionary, violent kind of Islam that they are promoting. The United States, there's no standing up to them. Actually, it's time to confront Saudi Arabia, to ask them for a political reform or religious reform and to stop financing and export extremists.

CAMEROTA: OK, so that's the big picture. But, let's talk about the individual picture. And, Maajid, I wanted to bring you in because you were radicalized at the age of 16. You later came to your senses years later in prison but when you were 16, what could society or anyone have done to keep you from becoming radical?

MAAJID NAWAZ, CO-FOUNDER & FOUNDER OF QUILLAM: I just want to begin by thank Rula for raising the case of Saudi Arabia before I get to your question very, very briefly. Right now as we speak, a man called Raif Badawi is being flogged in public. He was sentenced to a thousand lashes simply for running a blog. And, you know, we were rightly so very much concerned about Charlie Hebdo in Paris but as we speak, one of the west's strongest allies is publicly flogging people for charges of blasphemy. So, I want to endorse what Rula has said. To your question, radicalization in my case an in many other cases, we study this on a daily basis through our work, it's our profession.

It usually comes down to a combination of four factors and that's a sense of grievance, an identity crisis, charismatic recruiters who provide a sense of belonging and alternative sense of belonging for a mainstream society and the role that ideology plays, ideology not just peddled by governments in the past like Saudi Arabia but also by Islamist organizations that are working on across this level across the world in Pakistan, in Egypt.

And so, this problem I want to add and emphasize isn't just constrained or restricted to Saudi Arabia.

CUOMO: What got you past it?

NAWAZ: Well, that's obviously the subject of an autobiography. It's a long story and I don't want to hug the show but...

CUOMO: But just as a concept, Maajid, so we can -- just the familiar concept for people, what breaks the cycle?

NAWAZ: Yes. So, I think that I often say where the hearts leads the mind can follow and Amnesty International adopted me as a prisoner of conscience in Egypt and stood up for my human rights and my dignity. And, what I would argue is that instead of more law and more war, as a government response to the Islamist ideology that's embedded within elements of our communities, what we really need to be doing is protecting our human dignity and human rights and working to build civil society resilience but does require more Muslim communities to be -- to stand side by side along with everyone else to be more vocal against this ideology.

CAMEROTA: And in fact, Dean, that's exactly what you say, you say that we all need to support moderate Muslim leaders. How would that help?

DEAN OBEIDALLAH, THE DAILY BEAST COLUMNIST: Mainstream Muslim leaders, to me, it's not moderate conservative. It's mainstream versus terrorist or extremist frankly. It's supported financially within the United States perhaps so that they can go out and reach out to people in the community, empowering them so they know what to look out for.

If someone seems to be alienating themselves, they've left the community, they are gone, maybe they can be radicalized in a computer, but it's about funding and it's not recruits. That's what terrorist groups need.

CUOMO: At least two of the four factors that Maajid mentioned have nothing with the United States. Europe states, you want to talk about Saudi Arabia and you should. However, their states are all over the region and now expanding all the time that oppress their people, they don't give them a sense of hope and that does as much to see the extremism as anything and it has nothing to do with the U.S. anymore.

JEBREAL: Chris, they didn't put $100 billion to finance that kind of ideology. What Saudi Arabia did in the last 30 years from 1979, the moment of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan till today and nobody stopped them.

CUOMO: Fund it up.

OBEIDALLAH: To me, that's the biggest thing about the United States, our DNA as being a melting pot. You know, there are not -- but not the start, there's money coming from Cotter and Kuwait going to ISIS and going to supports extremists. We have to push our allies to clamp down on that so they don't have the money to be able to recruit. That's part of it.

CAMEROTA: Rula, Dean, Maajid, thanks so much for all of your suggestions and for having this conversation with us tonight. Thank you.

What should we call these terrorists? Islamic extremists, violent Jihadists, we'll explore why the names matter.



JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We will only win the fight against violent extremism in the Middle East...

DAVID CAMERON, U.K. PRIME MINISTER: We've been in this struggle against extremist, Islamist terrorism ...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a war that the Islamic extremists are posting against the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Radical violent Jihadist in their various forms.

BARACK OBAMA, U.S. PRESIDENT: Messages coming out from these fanatics.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: That was President Obama. He stopped short of using the word Islam or Muslim in his condemnation of the terror attacks in Paris. Instead he used "violent extremism" and "fanatics". He was describing the treat that way. But why does it matter what we call this type of terrorism?

Let's bring in journalist Ahmed Shihad-Eldin and CNN global affairs analyst and managing editor for Quartz, Bobby Ghosh.

Bobby, what is the right word for this strain of terrorism?

BOBBY GHOSH, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST AND MANAGING EDITOR FOR QUARTZ: I think calling it Islamist extremism is fine. I think the train has left the station on how we describe it within the Muslim word too they have - there are different opinions about on how they should be called. Many people, if not, most called Mujahideen which is a holy warrior. So, there's an acceptance that these people are claiming to fight in the name of God even though majority of the community...

CUOMO: When you say Mujahideen, it's not like the fruit of Islam. It's not supposed to be a virtuous phrase. I mean, Ahmed, we get it on that I mean in terms of who calls them that and is that the right thing to call them because words matter. We don't want to glorify them.

AHMED SHIHAB-ELDIN, JOURNALIST: Of course words matter and I think that's exactly the point. We do not want to glorify them. We've seen Muslim leaders and, you know, moderate Muslims, if you will, to use another controversial term, condemn them.

And so I think this is an admission in some ways on the White House's part that this perpetual clash that it's been defined as which we spoke about earlier in this morning, this notion of us versus them trying to basically delegitimize their work to deal with Islam. We find that people are saying they do not speak for Islam and so therefore I think it's important that, you know, the White House is taking the step even if it seems a little bizarre because you remember at the beginning of his presidency, the Obama administration got rid of the Bush era term "war on terror".

And I think that, you know, for too long it's been framed in a way where it actually plays into the hands of the terrorist because it makes it seem to a certain extent to perhaps alienated youth around the world who are looking at this as a legitimate form of Islam when in reality it's not.

CAMEROTA: Bobby, can we cut Islam out of our description? Can we just call them extremists or Jihadists or must we say Islamists, because that's who they say they are?

GHOSH: Yeah, I think it's fine to call them Islamists as long as we add the caveat that they don't speak for the whole of the faith and it's not a very long caveat. I think it served us well so far. And this business of not using the word war, again, who are we kidding? They think it's a war. And are not using that word is not going to change how they feel about us.

SHIHAB-ELDIN: You know, Bobby, I agree with you and I understand to certain extent why you think perhaps we can continue to use the term Islamist or war. But at the same time, you know, this is also a war on Islam. This is - A lot of Muslims feel...


SHIHAB-ELBIN: ... as though not only our Muslims the biggest victims, you know, in Syria, everyday in Iraq, as we said in Yemen on the same day that this happened, we saw 35 people killed outside a police station. We've seen what's happened in Nigeria. So, you know, I think a lot of Muslims feel as though to call them Islamist, to call them Muslims even though they self identify as that is problematic because it plays into this notion that this is strictly a war between the west and its sector, the values in Islam.

CUOMO: But here is the problem that we're seeing now in the micro with the White House because yours that's a macro issue, right?

SHIHAB-ELDIN: Right, of course.

CUOMO: 1.6 billion people in terms of the fight for their own faith. But here when you ignore Islam, when you ignore that they say they are Muslim, it feeds the phobia of Muslims in this country because they say...

CAMEROTA: If you can't utter the word.

CUOMO: Why aren't they saying it? Why won't they say it? They're hiding the fact that they're Muslims.

SHIHAB-ELDIN: I understand. Yeah. Politically, I understand that but in the same vein wouldn't you - wouldn't you also agree that by using the term Islam and by using the term Islamist that also feeds though I mean it's kind of like either way you can...


SHIHAB-ELDIN: Either way you can't ...


CAMEROTA: So, does Jihadist win and shall we just - it's important because in the media we need to know what to call this. Shall we say Jihadist?

GHOSH: Well, you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. The original meaning of Jihad is not especially by the way these people use it and it's become common place now to use it in that way is very violent (ph).

So I think if we will tie ourselves up and parsing the language, we're missing the bigger point which is that we have this vast faith that is being as you said being attacked by it's own, by these people who are committing incredibly horrific acts against fellow Muslims and there needs to be a way to deal with the problem and I don't think terminology is necessarily -- we'll solve it one way or another.

SHIHAB-ELDIN: Yeah, yeah. I agree with that point.

CAMEROTA: Yes, we just need - we're trying to get it right. So, what I hear is Islamist, Jihadist that might be the best we can do right now.

CUOMO: Right. And what I'm hearing is it's not about the vocabulary, it's about what message it sends. That's why we care.

SHIHAB-ELDIN: Yeah. CUOMO: It's not about getting it right in terms of, "Oh, they don't want to be called this anyone." It doesn't matter what they want.

CAMEROTA: Of course.

CUOMO: It's what indicative language we use to suggest what we think about the group we're talking about.

CAMEROTA: And how we don't malign other Muslims at the same time.

CUOMO: Right. Right.

CAMEROTA: Gentlemen, thanks so much. Great to have this conversation with you.

CUOMO: And we'll keep going also.

Now, Islamist, extremist, whatever you want to say, those people who are worried about hurting others often "Islam's Holy Book" to defend their acts of bloodshed. And many point to the same book as proof that Islam is inherently violent. But what is really in the Quran? We'll find out ahead.


CUOMO: Do you remember this video? It was just from right after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. You'll see one of the gunmen there, one of the terrorist saying what says on your screen. We've avenged the prophet. He said it three times, which has some kind of talismanic quality for him within his own perverted faith.

Now the question is, "Why did he say that?" and "What it means?"

CAMEROTA: The terrorists often claim that carry out their violence in the name of Islam. So are their action supported by Islam's sacred scripture, the Quran?

Let's bring in the mayor of South Windsor Connecticut, Dr. Saud Anwar and Dasiy Khan, the executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement to ask both of you your thoughts on what's in the Quran. Great to have both of you with us.

Let's start with that video. So the terrorists claim that they avenging the prophet Muhammad because he had been blasphemed by the cartoons. Daisy, is blasphemy in the Quran?

DAISY KHAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR MUSLIM ADVANCEMENT: There was no reference in the Quran which prohibits Muslims from drawing a cartoon or an image of the prophet. This ruling came from the prophet himself who was actually concerned about people idolizing him or worshipping idols. He was surrounded by idol worshippers and so he told people, "Do not make any images of anything. Any, you know," and it's similar to what's in the 10 Commandments, which says, "Do not create, engrave in images."

So really the ruling came from that then the scholars extended it to saying that we should prohibit all images of all prophets and God. 1,400 years, we have not been creating images of prophets or God and...

CAMEROTA: But it didn't start in the Quran?

KHAN: It did not start in the Quran, it is a prophetic saying.

CUOMO: And is it taught that you're supposed to kill people who do it?

KHAN: No. It's actually -- The Quran actually says that if somebody, you know, mocks your religion you should go -- either walk away from them or dialogue with them.

CUOMO: Right. Look, Doctor, this is what you deal with as a politician. You have a diverse community where you are...


CUOMO: You have people coming up to you and saying, "Look, I don't mean any disrespect. I know you're a Muslim but your book is all about violence. Your faith is about violence." And they reference these types of perversions of what they see is being in the book or the book itself. What do you say?

ANWAR: Well, it's important to know about the context. Every time there's a context of conversation you have to look at what is the context, why are we talking about that specific thing?

So if you look at the Quran in the broader sense, 114 times it's mentioned in the Quran that God is the most gracious and the most merciful. So when I want to tell my children about something I'll repeat something which is very important. So 114 times in the Quran it says, "God is the most gracious, most merciful. Most gracious, most merciful," and that's the understanding of the whole concept.

With respect to the prophet, in the Quran it says that he is supposed to be loved more than ourselves, our family and our children and like all other prophets. So there's a love and respect and that can cause emotions but if God permit somebody and uses those emotion in a negative way to try and hurt the others, there's no room for hurting other fellow human beings. You cannot hurt any innocent individual at all because that's like killing a whole mankind.

CAMEROTA: And yet the terrorists have co-opted what they say is in the Quran, they bastardized it. But they say that the killing of non- believers and infidels is justified and they use this passage in the Quran. "Slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them and lie and ambush everywhere for them." They believe that that justifies the killing. Ms. Khan.

KHAN: So nothing justifies killing because in Islam, Islam is a religion of law and there's a due process. So these...

CUOMO: But it's a literal interpretation. KHAN: It's a literal interpretation but it's also contextual. So it may have happen in a specific incident where the prophet was being attacked, so he was given permission to fight those particular people.

However, there are rules of engaging people in combat. And the rule is you do not kill non-combatants. You do not kill innocent people. You do not destroy property. You do not commit rape. You do not terrorize people. And you do not declare war without -- you actually declare war, you do not do, you know, clandestine type of operations. So they're breaking all the rules of warfare.

And so even though the Quran gives permission to -- for self-defense and fighting your enemies it does not say that you have to take matters into your own hands. And -- You -- Surely, you have to follow the rulings there the scholars have established for the last 1,400 years. Imagine if we didn't have these rulings we would've had mayhem all these years.

CAMEROTA: Very helpful context. It's so interesting to hear what the Quran really says and means rather than what the terrorist claim it does.

ANWAR: Can I just had one little thing here?

CAMEROTA: Very quickly. Yes.

ANWAR: So if you look at the life of a prophet, it's important to recognize that when the times where challenging for the Muslims at that time he actually asked the Muslims to immigrate to a Christian country, a country where there was a Christian king and asked that they are just people over there, they will take care of you. And in the same way when he went to Medina there were Jewish tribes and he had asked and then said in the constitution that was laid out that the rights of Muslims and those of the Jews in that area are going to be the same.

CAMEROTA: Daisy Khan, Dr. Saud Anwar thanks so much for coming in.

ANWAR: Thanks for having us.

CAMEROTA: When we come back we will have some closing thoughts on "The War Within Islam".


CAMEROTA: We took one small step tonight trying to explore the complicated issues concerning the war within Islam. Ultimately, of course, there is no simple answer to preventing the threat of Islamist extremisms.

CUOMO: Now this conversation, all of it, here and on new day in the morning it's only as good as it is helpful to you. So tell us what you get, differ with and you still want to know. Go to or you can just tweet us here @CNN as well.

Thanks for watching. CNN Tonight with Don Lemon starts right now.