Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Daris Long, the father of PV2 William “Andy” Long, the soldier killed in front of the Little Rock Army Recruiting Center in June of 2009. He grew up for ten years in Afghanistan where his father was serving with the USAID Program working irrigation projects in Helmand and Kandahar Provinces. After graduating from High School in Kabul, he moved to the Philippines with his father and joined the US Marine Corps. He served overseas in the Far East for almost 7 years as well as tours of duty in the Persian Gulf, Somalia and East Timor. He is a retired Marine veteran who spent ten years in the Enlisted ranks as well as 17 as an Officer. His wife, Andy’s mother, also served a tour in the US Navy. His sister married an Afghan and escaped Afghanistan immediately prior to the Russian invasion in 1979.
Long has recently helped in producing a powerful documentary, Losing Our Sons, which focuses on the tragic story of his son’s murder by a jihadist in Little Rock, Arkansas.
FP: Daris Long, thank you for joining me today.
Let’s begin with your background. After living and serving in Muslim countries, what was your view of the cultures?
Long: My view of the Afghan culture was positive. Growing up there allowed a more in depth understanding of the people and their customs. Family is very important as well as alliances between families within the various tribes. The tribal elder or clan leader had the most respect followed by the mullah. There were distinct levels of importance though based on the power and influence of a tribe. There was a definite pecking order. It was not the same as the caste system in India but more along the lines of common interest and population.
The areas I lived in were primarily Pusthun and the King was a Pushtun. There is a basic tenet of their culture which revolves around hospitality. If you were considered a guest, no harm would come to you. Living there, I fell into the guest category primarily. Despite this, you still had to be careful not to insult anyone. There were places that you didn’t go unless you were accompanied by someone who was familiar and accepted.
In Kabul, the climate was more cosmopolitan and accepting. That was not the case in Kandahar or Lashkar Gah in Helmand province, despite the long standing association with people from the foreign aid programs. For the most part, the Afghans I had contact with were Muslims of the Sunni belief. They were also primarily Sufis. There was animosity between Hazaras who were Shia and the Sunnis of the majority ethnic groups. I did not become aware of the more militant and fundamentalist Salafi Sect until I was serving in the Marines and deployed to the Middle East.
What I saw in the Persian Gulf was a completely different side of Islam that I didn’t see in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, the primary belief system was based on Pushtunwali, or the way of the Pushtun. It is not as harsh as Sharia, even though you would “hear” that Sharia was the law of the countryside. Sharia was mitigated by Pushtunwali which was used to create a more inclusive atmosphere between Afghans. I thoroughly loved my time in Afghanistan. It was once a beautiful country which has been destroyed by thirty years of war.
FP: How has your view of Islam changed as a result of the tragic death of your son?
Long: My view of Islam has definitely changed. My experience in Afghanistan was positive although we knew to be cautious around the mosques and crowds on Jummah or Friday when it was the Muslim Holy Day. There has always been the competition between the Afghan clan leaders, political leaders, and the religious leaders. If anything was going to happen, it would happen after Friday prayers when the mullahs had the attention of the attendees to take advantage of their emotions and beliefs. In Afghanistan, most of the mullahs were of the clan they ministered to and were beholding to the leader for patronage and continued appointment as the mullah.
Later, as I started to deploy to other Muslim countries, I began paying closer attention to how Islam was playing a role in the unrest we were seeing. I became aware of the Salafist version of Islam. My experience was that where violence was the norm, Salafist theology was involved. When Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad a.k.a. Carlos Bledsoe was accepted into Yemen to teach English at the City Institute in Sanaa, he had to be recommended as a good Salafi by a Salafist Imam. I wondered why someone would need to be certified as a good Salafi to teach English.
I recently read a book by Peter Tomsen entitled “The Wars of Afghanistan.” Ambassador Tomsen was the US Envoy to the Afghan Mujahidin from 1989 to 1992. In his book, he identifies the exporting of Wahhabi Salafist brand of Islam to Pakistan and into Afghanistan through Saudi funded schools, mosques, and willing holy warriors. There has really never been any great love between Afghans and Arabs and the issue has been the differences between Sufi and Salafist doctrines. Despite what you might hear from groups like CAIR, who say there is only one kind of Muslim or one Islam, there are many interpretations of Islam by its practitioners. While Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad was in jail awaiting his trial in Little Rock, he was feuding with another inmate over who was the better Muslim. The other inmate was convicted for murder and cutting his girlfriend’s throat. Abdulhakim was convicted for murder and his attack on the Recruiting Center which Abdulhakim claimed was a higher calling. He was very open about what he viewed as apostates in the Muslim community and who were therefore not considered real Muslims. This is a prevalent position of people who follow Salafist philosophy.
I am not willing to condemn all people of Muslim faith or heritage. If all Muslims subscribed to the violent ideology which condoned the killing of my son, we would be dealing with an army of 1.6 billion people. The fact that more Muslims are killed by Muslims than by people of any other religion tells me that there are differing beliefs within this “united” community CAIR so piously defends as a single entity. I have come away with the knowledge that we are in danger from violent Islamist extremism and that we are in danger from within by those who don’t have a clue about Islam but without that knowledge would defend it without understanding it or its objectives.
FP: Why are we so confused about Islam?
Long: I think we are confused due to ignorance. I believe that most people who are Muslim or of Muslim heritage are just as ignorant about their religion. There are very few who have the recognized authority to interpret Islam within the religion. Just to correlate, a true understanding of the Koran with the Hadiths and Sunna takes years of training and study. The average practitioner leaves that part of their religion to their Imam. Most people outside of Islam have no desire to know more about Islam. They are aware that it is a major religion but see no need to delve into it further because it would be a distraction to their daily pursuits. Americans or Western democratic cultures choose to see it as just another religion much the same as their own religion, a personal part of an individual’s life that should not be a part of the general conversation and the intrusion of government into religion should not be allowed by the First Amendment of the Constitution. Political leaders have fostered and accepted an expanded definition of Islam as a religion and have attempted to restrict that view of what religion can be as in other western mainstream religions.
Our mainstream media outlets are anything but mainstream. In general, one side of the story is told. If it does not fit into their mold, it doesn’t get told. When some media outlets were reporting the attack in Little Rock on an Army Recruiting Center by a Muslim convert named Abdulhakim Muhammad where one soldier was killed and another was wounded and his actions were Islamic justified, NBC’s Ann Curry reported only that there was a shooting in Little Rock with one person dead and another wounded and that the incident might have religious overtones. Amazing how the story was sanitized into nothingness.
We have the political leadership of the country saying we are at war with al Qaeda, but then refuse to say that the violent extremist ideology at the core of their philosophy might be grounded in the perpetrator’s interpretation of Islam. I can only say that there appears to be a willful blindness born out of political correctness and a fear of being honest regarding the discussion of violent Islamic extremism. Islam is more than a personal relationship with a god, as many would not have you believe. The evidence to the contrary is in the political statements of CAIR, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the books on Muslim jurisprudence and the actions followed by justifications made by the perpetrators of violent acts. Islam extends into the political, social, economic, legal and military aspects of life by its more radical practitioners, well beyond what is accepted as religion in the West. You won’t see that in the press and not out of the mouths of politicians pandering for a vote.
FP: Crystallize the essential problem for us.
Long: The easy answer would be to blame radical Islam. The honest answer is to blame poor leadership on our side. Too many of our leaders are not leading and therefore they give free reign to those who would do us harm. An example would be how the United Nations after years of studies, information, and direct results of terrorist activity have yet to agree on a definition of terrorism. The same could be said about the United States leadership as there are several definitions of terrorism of which the four primary ones are Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, Department of Justice and Department of State who all deal with terrorism only each definition reflects their view of the picture. They are not united in their definition even though the Patriot Act gives a basic definition.
Then there is the issue of domestic vs. international. Where is leadership when you can’t even get a consensus from within the Departments of our own Federal Government?
We have the Constitution waved at us when we discuss terrorism and are accused of playing into the hands of terrorists when the objective is to get at the root of the terrorist phenomenon. We can’t get there if we are not allowed to discuss it in an honest frank way. On 9/11 the blinders should have been removed from everyone’s eyes. Even if a person didn’t have an opinion before that day, there was enough evidence to establish one afterwards. The primary job of our leaders contained within the Constitution is to defend the country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. It seems as if our leaders are more concerned about other issues, including bullying states out of state’s rights, in order to deflect or pass the buck until after the next election cycle, maybe hoping to ensure the continuation of their personal careers. Defending the Constitution is contained in their statutory oaths of office, but appears that too many missed that class.
FP: How has your view of our government changed since Andy’s death?
Long: My view of government has been diminished. What I see coming out of this administration is confusion. The president puts out a press release yet it isn’t on the White House website. The president will increase troops in Afghanistan, the war this administration had said was the one the last administration “took their eye off the ball,” yet at the same time say they are pulling the troops out. This same administration says “not to spike the football” but then won’t stop crowing after the Bin Laden raid.
Leaks of highly classified information abound, yet the source is denied when it is obvious where it came from.
DHS has been consistent in denying that terrorism played a part in Little Rock and Fort Hood, and it said the same thing right after the attempted Christmas Day bomber, and Times Square attack in the first hours of reporting only to be proven wrong when the facts became evident. Yet, in the cases of Little Rock and Fort Hood there’s a continuation of portraying them as a “drive by” and a case of “work place violence” even though there are volumes of evidence to the contrary.
I think that it is all about a narrative and not what is real.
Andy was killed by a violent Islamic extremist who was on the federal radar screen while still in Yemen.
Nidal Hassan was on the federal radar screen for a significant amount of time before he killed 13 and wounded 32 others at Fort Hood. He even made a statement on the day my son was killed to fellow Army Officers that that is what Muslims should do, pick up a gun and kill soldiers.
There have been at least fifty reported terrorist cases in this country since 9/11 where the Federal Government has indicted, convicted or received guilty pleas from individuals in failed, attempted and thwarted acts for what Abdulhakim was successful in accomplishing, yet, in his and the Fort Hood case, the federal indictments are noticeably absent. Normally these two events would have had federal fingerprints all over them. I can only conclude that what happened in Little Rock and Fort Hood were justified under the freedom of religion aspects of the First Amendment.
Long: Out of the blue, Charles called me in the spring of 2011. We talked on the phone and he gave be some sites to go to where I could look him up and find out about his organization, Americans for Peace and Tolerance. We talked again a couple of weeks later and I agreed to let him interview me. It was just before Abdulhakim Muhammad’s trial in July of 2011, so I wanted assurances that nothing would come out until after the trial. I had promised the prosecuting attorney that I would limit my comments to the media in an effort not to compromise his work. He came down to Little Rock and we spent the afternoon together with his crew. My concern that I might have agreed to something I would regret later was put to rest after being able to sit down and speak with Charles. Later, Charles told me that he had placed Andy’s name with a prayer in the Western Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. He has become a great friend. I am grateful that he called when he did even though he wasn’t sure how I would receive him.
FP: Tell us what steps you took to get the whole story out? Did you speak to the media in Little Rock or Nashville?
Long: We did very few interviews with the press right after the shooting as Janet, my wife, was a potential witness for the prosecution at the eventual trial and we felt it important to keep a barrier between us and the press in order not to undermine the Prosecution’s case as well as not to provide the defense with ammunition in support of their client.