When it comes to terrorism, US foreign policy, US military operations, the true nature of Islam and the extent of Islamic radicalization, there are no shortages of opinions. As a survivor of the 9/11 attacks and a former US soldier, I certainly had my own. But when it came to discussing Islam intelligently, I had more questions than answers. Frustratingly, most interviews I’ve read or seen were apologias for Islam; of course, a few were reflexively anti-Islamic shoutfests.
So it was with an eye towards conducting a challenging, clarifying conversation that I asked Sayed and Deen, two Muslim-American veterans, to sit down and talk with me. We bonded quickly, the way soldiers do, over jokes, bullshit and some shared bitching. I was impressed with their thoughtfulness and their passion. But our goal was understanding, not agreement. I found, in their answers, cause for both optimism and concern. This interview is hardly the final answer on many of these subjects — we spoke for three hours and we could have spoken for twelve. But hopefully, over the course of this nine-part interview, we’ve managed to shed a little more light than heat on a range of subjects that sorely need it.
— Christopher Paul Meyer
CPM: You guys are really ticked off about Saudi Arabia, but I’m not hearing your opposition to, say Iran or Daesh. Why not?
Deen: I’m not saying that Iran is not an issue, but everything starts with Saudi Arabia and the monarchy. That’s the enemy. All the other groups that we hate, from ISIS to al-Qaeda to the Muslim Brotherhood are motivated by the Saudi government. They hate the monarchy — that hatred drives their recruiting. Islam is in flux with itself. The US or no other Western nation can fix this. It has to be done internally.
Sayed: I don’t like Iran. They’re like an aggravated version of Russia during the Cold War. But you’ve got to realize that Iran says a lot of things against America, against Israel — but who is really threatening Iran? Saudi Arabia has called for them to be wiped out. Saudi Arabia has made it their goal. They don’t like Iran. They threaten Iran all the time.
Look, it doesn’t matter where you go, in any part of the world, people love the American culture. People love America. They want to buy American things. That’s no different in Iran. We can open it up, use our soft power. What if we could tell Iran, “Listen, the guy messing with you [Saudi Arabia] is not going to be long in the neighborhood?”
We do have a very rocky history in Iran. We supported the Shah. Look how that worked out for us. The monarch in Saudi Arabia, to Iran, it’s just the Saudi version of the Shah. I’m not saying we should go over there and overthrow the Saudis. But we should say, “Listen, you guys are on your own. Figure this stuff out. You got to get rid of all this Wahhabism and extremism. You’ve got to moderate.”
Deen: The Saudis hate the Iranians because of the Islamic Revolution. The revolutionaries called for the ousting of kings, which is a huge part. The Saudis, you can’t fault them. They’re going to do anything they can to keep their grip on power. If that means that buying politicians, they’re going to do that.
CPM: You mean US politicians?
Deen: Yeah, they buy think tanks, corporations. The King of Saudi Arabia has billions of dollars to put to use.
CPM: Let me throw another point of view at you. I look at Iran and I see a state that has bankrolled terrorism since 1979 and caused so much death and destabilization throughout the world — including killing its own college students during 2009’s Green Revolution because they didn’t want to tolerate any kind of insurrection. To me, a non-Muslim American, Iran seems as culpable in perverting Islam, if not more so, than Saudi Arabia. Am I missing something?
Deen: I’m not saying that that’s the way you’re supposed to run a government or that’s the way you’re supposed to interpret Islam. But, if you look at the two countries, of how they’re set up, the perversion of Islam is Saudi Arabia.
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