U.S. Rights Appointee Zuhdi Jasser Hits Raw Nerve for American Muslims
One way to elicit a collective groan among established American Muslim leaders: Mention Zuhdi Jasser. The U.S. Senate did just that recently when it appointed the Arizona physician and activist to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
On Thursday, a coalition of 64 groups representing American Muslim lawyers, students, Arab Americans and mosques and an array of advocacy organizations called on the legislators to rescind the naming of Jasser - a controversial figure who many American Muslims see as a shill for anti-Muslim bigots.
In the letter of protest delivered Thursday, critics said Jasser’s “consistent support for measures that threaten and diminish religious freedoms within the United States demonstrates his deplorable lack of understanding of and commitment to religious freedom and undermines the USCIRF’s express purpose.” The letter was delivered to Senate leaders including Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who chose Jasser.
McConnell’s office did not respond to calls for comment on the appointment.
The commission has a backroom role in U.S. foreign policy by putting together reports for the president, the State Department and Congress on violations of religious freedom and designating “countries of concern.” Appointments for the commission’s 10 slots are divided among the president and the two parties in each chamber of the legislature. In this case, the appointment was made by Senate minority leader McConnell.
“There are a myriad of American Muslim scholars, lawyers and activists who have demonstrated clear commitments to the principles of religious freedom and tolerance and would easily qualify for this position,” said Farhana Khera, executive director for the nonprofit civil rights group Muslim Advocates and former counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Since Jasser has no such commitment and is not qualified, Sen. McConnell should rescind his appointment,” she said.