Several years ago, when first in the United States on a teaching scholarship, one issue leapt out. A man asked an innocent enough question: Where I was from? I told him; then, as a courtesy, asked him the same question.
"I am a Muslim," he smiled.
Thinking that perhaps he had not understood the question -- he sounded American or English -- I asked if he was from the United States.
"I am not American," he said again; "I am a Muslim."
I subsequently learned that he was an Islamist, a preacher of strict religious teachings, and that many of the people to whom he preached held the same views.
In Iran and Syria, where I was born and raised, I had never before heard this answer.
Later, while speaking in Europe, these notions kept resurfacing. Radical Islamists, particularly in Britain and France, proclaim themselves first to be Muslim. Even when they speak with English, French or American accents, they do not name their countries -- even to me, someone from the Middle East.
Their response signals a reason for concern in the countries they live in now. To begin with, for Islamists, non-Muslim land is different from Muslim land. Many can never identify themselves with a Western land -- or with a flag or nationality -- even though they may have been born in that land and their families may have lived there for generations.
This view is far different from that in the Middle East.
One day, I asked an American imam why he did not identify himself as an American. Millions of people, I said to him, dream of coming to the US and becoming Americans; why would anyone want to reject this?
He quoted said one of the founding fathers of Islamist thoughts, Sayyid Qutb:
"The homeland of the Muslim, in which he lives and which he defends, is not a piece of land; the nationality of the Muslim, by which he is identified, is not the nationality determined by a government; the family of the Muslim, in which he finds solace and which he defends, is not blood relationships; the flag of the Muslim, which he honors and under which he is martyred, is not the flag of a country; and the victory of the Muslim, which he celebrates and for which he is thankful to God, is not a military victory."
What became apparent was that Western Islamists were far more strict and fundamentalist than the Islamists in the Middle East with whom I had grown up. Once, when I mentioned the name of a deceased imam in a casual conversation with an American Islamist preacher and some of his followers, I forgot to attach a piece of religious praise to the name such as "Allah's peace be upon him." There was a chill. The conversation came to a halt. The American Islamist preacher and his followers did not hesitate to express their anger.
What you end up seeing is that when people are brainwashed not to identify themselves with a flag and a nationality, it disrupts the human connections and communications that need to take place within communities. It pits the indoctrinated person against the entire society and his own countrymen, and develops an "us versus them" mentality. The indoctrinated group then wants to create its own group. For Islamists, it is an ummah (borderless Islamic community). Emotion and sympathy for fellow countrymen disappear; people feel isolated from other citizens, and view themselves as separate. Respect for the social order and the laws of the land vanish, as Islamic laws become more vital and obedience is then just to shari'ah.
Islamist teachings in the West appear to focus on indoctrinating followers to identify themselves with Islamist ideals rather than with a nationality. Moreover, Islamist beliefs are supposed to take priority over anything else, including family and friends.
The teachings of these Islamist preachers further echo what Sayed Qutb said:
"A Muslim has no relationship with his mother, father, brother, wife and other family members except through their relationship with [Allah], and then they are also joined through blood. A Muslim has no country except that part of the earth where the Shari'ah of God is established and human relationships are based on the foundation of relationship with God; a Muslim has no nationality except his belief, which makes him a member of the Muslim community in Dar-ul-Islam; a Muslim has no relatives except those who share the belief in God, and thus a bond is established between him and other Believers through their relationship with God."
Do these Western Islamists then ever identify themselves with their land and flag? Not, according to their teachings, until the law of the land is shari'ah. As Syed Qutb also stated:
"The fatherland is that place where the Islamic faith, the Islamic way of life and the Shari'ah of God is dominant; only this meaning of 'fatherland' is worth of the human being. There is only one place on earth which can be called the home of Islam (Dar-ul-Islam), and it is that place where the Islamic state is established and the Shari'ah is the authority and God's limits are observed, and where all the Muslims administer the affairs of the state with mutual consultation. The rest of the world is the home of hostility (Dar-ul-Harb). A Muslim can have only two possible relations with Dar-ul-Harb: peace with a contractual agreement, or war. A country with which there is a treaty will not be considered the home of Islam."
This view brings with it a wish for waging jihad (war in the cause of Islam) against one's birth country. It creates the priority -- if the country attacking it is ruled by shari'ah -- of joining the enemy to fight against one's birth country.
"The honor of martyrdom is achieved only when one is fighting in the cause of God, and if one is killed for any other purpose, this honor will not be attained."
When people are brainwashed not to identify themselves with a flag and a nationality, it disrupts the human connections and communications that need to take place within communities. It pits the indoctrinated person against the entire society and his own countrymen, and develops an "us versus them" mentality. Pictured: Muslims demonstrate in Sydney, Australia, September 15, 2012. (Image source: Jamie Kennedy/Flickr)
Western governments need seriously to address these prevailing extreme Islamist beliefs, which have significant social, political, and security implications in their countries. These beliefs are the foundations of disrupting the social order, peace, freedom, democracy, human rights, and security. If allowed to continue, these beliefs will become more rampant, and the consequences more severe.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, is a business strategic advisor, Harvard-educated scholar, political scientist, board member of Harvard International Review, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He is the author of "Peaceful Reformation in Iran's Islam". He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@Post.Harvard.Edu.