Suspect Sayfullo Saipov’s devastating vehicular jihad in Manhattan — killing eight and injuring a dozen last week — has the hallmarks of Islamists operating in Europe.
The 29-year-old Uzbek came to the United States in 2010 with the incredible good fortune of a green card lottery, only to incubate lethal jihadism straight out of the Islamic State playbook.
The investigation is underway, and authorities will look into how his jihadism developed. Sadly, the patterns are all too predictable. The seminal book “A Mosque in Munich” detailed the sophisticated and intimate contact the future 9/11 hijackers had to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood in Germany, effectively the incubator the hijackers needed before they launched their lethal plan.
Those acquainted with Saipov express concern about his journey to extremism, including fellow Muslims who tried, but failed, to steer him away from radicalization.
This is how Islamism operates in the West, under the eyes of the state and a welcoming public. As a Muslim committed to fighting Islamism, I appeal to you: The need for strong surveillance of Muslim communities in the West has never been greater. Islamism preys and nests among us, including in Muslim communities.
Fortunately, Muslims are well-placed to combat Islamism. From inside the communities where Islamists hide, we can deter Islamism.
The Quran demands Muslims condemn and fight injustice, even if it entails testifying against one’s own family members. Exposing injustice is the bare minimum of a Muslim’s faith and part of Islam’s mandate of the Muslim’s duty to society. Islamist jihad targets civilians, the elderly and the vulnerable — grave injustices in the eyes of Islam. The Quran is not ambiguous: “Be strict in observing justice, and be witness for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or against your parents or kindred.”
We must examine sanctuaries for Islamism and Islamist sympathizers in mosques, centers and neighborhoods. Counterterrorism experts and politicians must know that far from being Islamophobic, the scrutiny is supported by Islam.
Nations seasoned in combating Islamism — most recently, Egypt almost fell prey to Islamist rule, escaping only through a massive public counterrevolution — have identified mosques as critical nerve centers for Islamism. Mosques in Egypt, for example, are monitored by the state. I have testified on Capitol Hill that the United States needs similar surveillance to expose domestic radicalization.
Also, the state must outlaw Islamist groups. To Saudi Arabia’s dismay, Britain failed to outlaw the Muslim Brotherhood despite evidence of the Brotherhood’s actions on British soil. America refuses to consider this an option despite sensible efforts by some members of Congress, even though President Donald Trump’s designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a foreign terrorist organization sanctioned a powerful Islamist paramilitary group.
Rather than accept the Islamist narrative of the victimization of Muslims by the West, in combating Islamism, Muslims will discover our wherewithal to help protect the nations where we make our homes. In doing so, we will become more invested in our adoptive nations and safeguarding ourselves from the marginalization Islamists seek to exploit.
Sadly, the Manhattan attack will not be the last vehicular jihadist attack on an American public, but as Muslims in America, we can say: Islamists, we underestimate you no more. We are coming for you in your midst.
Islam itself demands no less.
Qanta A. Ahmed is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She is the author of “In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom.”