The Magazine

Wahhabis in America

A Saudi export we could do without.

Nov 5, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 08 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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SECRETARY OF STATE Colin Powell thinks "it's a little odd" for the United States to be telling our Saudi allies that they should "muzzle dissent, . . . muzzle those [in Saudi Arabia] who are speaking out against us" and our campaign in Afghanistan.

But the main public critics of the United States in Saudi Arabia are no ordinary "dissenters." They are the Islamofascist imams and muftis of the Wahhabi sect, the ideological arm of the Saudi royal dictatorship. Secretary Powell's solicitousness for the rights of these extremists seems to be based on two unfortunate misconceptions. One is that the Saudi regime is, and should be, part of an alliance with the United States. The other combines a misplaced belief that American standards of free speech should extend to those who plot our destruction, with obliviousness to the global reach of the Wahhabi-Saudi network.

As Powell should be aware, the Wahhabi-Saudi establishment subsidizes terrorism while seeking to control Muslim religious institutions and activities around the world. Saudi influence reaches even the overwhelming majority of mosques in the United States. The issue, therefore, is not muzzling the Wahhabis, but removing the muzzle from their victims, over whom they exercise an abusive control.

There are many critics of Wahhabism-Saudism among American Muslims, but few who are willing to speak out by name for the record. Most have been intimidated into silence. In addition, among the enemies of the Wahhabi-Saudi conspiracy, some of the angriest, most knowledgeable, and most forthcoming with information are not pro-American; they are angry at Riyadh for its compromises with the West. Yet their rage at Saudi duplicity leads them to publicize damaging and verifiable information about Saudi mischief.

Sheikh Hisham Kabbani of the Islamic Supreme Council of America is one critic of Wahhabism who falls into neither of these problematic categories. He is an eloquent public opponent of Wahhabi efforts to regiment American Muslims; and he fully supports American democratic values, as well as a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict. In 1999, Kabbani warned that 80 percent of mosques in the United States are subject to Wahhabi manipulation, through financial subsidies. More recently he wrote of the spreading influence of Wahhabis, who often go by the cover name "Salafis": "Supported by certain regimes pursuing specific ideologies, 'Salafis' are taking over the mosques built in Europe and North America, mostly by Indian and Pakistani immigrants, by means of elections and funding."

But Wahhabi domination involves much more than control over money and the elected governing assemblies of mosques; it also means dictating the curriculum for the training of imams, setting the tone and content of sermons, deciding what books and periodicals may be read in mosque libraries or sold in mosque bookshops, and excluding or otherwise suppressing dissenters.

Wahhabism is based on the justification and promotion of violence against all, including Muslims, who do not share the Wahhabi outlook. Kabbani has called this its "most harmful legacy to society." Pious youths from Muslim countries, sent to be educated in the Gulf states, are brainwashed. On returning to their homes, they brusquely reject the traditional Islam of their parents. Further, they are taught to abstain from all participation in society outside Wahhabi mosques and organizations. For American Muslims this means, Kabbani notes, that they must not vote, serve on juries, or join in interfaith activities. Such strictures prevented the numerous imams and activists associated with Wahhabi mosques in the United States from joining forces with Jews, Christians, and others in behalf of the Muslim victims of the Balkan wars.

The Wahhabi worldwide offensive does not end with such manipulations. Rather, it comprises, in Kabbani's words, "heavy financing, deviant teaching, Internet and book publishing, and biased editing." The Wahhabis are particularly known for the free distribution and dumping on the book market of their literature, including tendentious translations of the Koran, the Islamic scripture. Such materials have included the writings of a Wahhabi bigot, Hamd ibn 'Abd al-Muhsin, who demanded that women who drive automobiles in Saudi Arabia be charged as prostitutes.

Dr. Gibril Fuad Haddad, a Lebanese writer and opponent of Wahhabism-Saudism, has placed nearly the whole Islamic establishment in America and other Western countries on the roster of Saudi-subsidized propagandists. This includes the functionaries who stood alongside President Bush at the Washington Islamic Center soon after September 11. Haddad's condemnation encompasses the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which exercise immense influence over mosques, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, and numerous other incarnations of this hydra-headed beast. According to one informant who requested anonymity, Wahhabi imams in American mosques until recently received salaries of between $2,000 and $4,000 a month from the Gulf states.

Indeed, the multifarious Wahhabi entities spend money like, well, a Saudi oil prince--some of it on political lobbying. In 1999, the Saudi embassy in Washington announced a grant by the Islamic Development Bank of $250,000 to the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) for the purchase of land in Washington, to be used in the construction of "an education and research center." CAIR is, without doubt, the most obnoxious front for terrorist apologetics to be found in the United States; even since September 11, it has relentlessly sought, on the pretext of promoting "sensitivity," to dictate how Islam may be discussed in American media. Its methods are anything but subtle, usually featuring peremptory demands and even threats, and until recently it was notably successful. (CAIR, incidentally, is but a minor line item in the Wahhabi budget. The Saudi embassy statement announcing the grant to CAIR also reported gifts of $395,000 for the construction of a school in Tanzania and $30 million for "Islamic associations in India.")

Wahhabi-Saudi lobbying is nothing if not bold. In 1999, Saudi "relief agencies" were on the scene in Kosovo within a month of the end of the NATO intervention, showering money for Wahhabi indoctrination. The Saudi embassy in Washington proudly declared, on that occasion, that a goal of the effort was "promoting Islamic curricula as a mandatory component in Kosovo schools." But while Kosovar Albanians are Muslims in their majority, they include a significant Catholic minority, especially prominent in intellectual life.

It was no wonder, then, that on December 29, 1999, the Kosovapress news agency, media arm of the former Kosovo Liberation Army, issued a strong denunciation of the infiltration of Wahhabi-Saudi missionaries. It declared, "For more than a century, civilized countries have separated religion from the state. . . . We now see attempts, not only in Kosovo but everywhere Albanians live, to introduce religion into public schools. . . . Supplemental courses for children have been set up by foreign Islamic organizations who hide behind assistance programs. Some radio stations . . . now offer nightly broadcasts in Arabic, which nobody understands and which lead many to ask, are we in an Arab country? It is time for Albanian mosques to be separated from Arab connections and for Islam to be developed on the basis of Albanian culture and customs."

The Saudis also use their control over the city of Mecca--destination of the hajj pilgrimage that is one of the five pillars of Islam, obligatory for all who can afford it--as an opportunity for political shenanigans. In their hands, the hajj frequently becomes a paid junket useful for recruitment purposes. In 2000, the Muslim World League (much overdue for a full investigation into its funding of Osama bin Laden, but omitted from the president's list of groups whose funds have been frozen) hosted 100 prominent American Islamic personalities on hajj. They were accompanied by a delegation of 60 Latin American "academics and specialists." All expenses for the latter were paid by Prince Bandar Ibn Sultan Ibn Abdul Aziz, Saudi ambassador to the United States. Last year the Saudis advertised their subsidy of 1,500 pilgrims from Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America. In 1999, the Saudis paid for 100 influential American Muslims to "make hajj." The list of such expenditures seems limitless.

Resentment of this religious colonialism is rife among American Muslims, however subdued its expression now. One authoritative source who also asked to remain nameless but who was long courted by the Islamic Society of North America told me, "American Muslims are getting real sick of Wahhabi domination." Others, however, note that ISNA has recently feigned openness to non-Wahhabi Muslims, just as its leaders portrayed themselves as "anti-terrorist" to President Bush.

For Wahhabis everywhere, the party line is laid down in Riyadh, which simultaneously foments terrorist teaching and disclaims any responsibility for Wahhabi atrocities, exemplified by those of bin Laden. Saudis corrupt Muslims abroad in exactly the way that the Soviet Union once bought the loyalty of foreign intellectuals, labor leaders, and guerrilla fighters, and for the same ends. This worldwide subversion can be combated only as fascist and Communist sedition were once fought: with courage and determination, and in full solidarity with the Muslim heroes in the forefront of resistance to it.

Stephen Schwartz is writing a book to be titled The Two Faces of Islam.

November 5, 2001 - Volume 7, Number 8