The Magazine

Wahhabis in the Old Dominion

What the federal raids in Northern Virginia uncovered.

Apr 8, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 29 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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Front groups interfacing between the Wahhabi-Saudi money movers under federal suspicion and the broader American public include two institutions active in the religious field: the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) and the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences (GSISS). The involvement of GSISS with the financing of extremism is especially startling in that it alone is credentialed by the Department of Defense to certify Muslim chaplains for the U.S. armed forces. Barzinji has appeared on the boards of both.

The day of the raids, Barzinji appeared on U.S. television news insisting he knew of no questionable behavior by the groups under scrutiny, and promising full cooperation with the authorities. But in a familiar pattern of duplicity, he expressed himself quite differently in the Islamic media. Barzinji told the Internet news service Islam Online (www.islam-online.net) he believed the investigations fulfilled the will not of the Bush administration, but of "elements within the government, media, and [academia] who were unhappy with the positive attention being given to Muslims." This tortured formulation, repeated in several variations, embodies the Islamist fantasy that every doubt cast on the activities of the Wahhabi lobby is the product of Jewish influence.

Speaking to Islam Online, Barzinji spelled out his anxieties. He alleged that the real powers behind the raids were "self-styled Middle East 'experts,'" individuals "who do not want to see Muslims develop such excellent relations with the government, assuming political rights." This line simply dumbs down one peddled by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which condemns any challenge to the Wahhabi lobby as a product of "right-wing commentators."

Barzinji, CAIR, and their cohort give the impression of living in their own conspiratorial world, divorced from reality. For them to imagine that the aftermath of September 11 has been anything but disastrous for the image and credibility of American Muslims is absurd. The presumption that anybody outside government dictates policy to the Treasury, however, is only the classic supposition about alleged Israeli influence that infests the Arab mind.

Perhaps it's to be expected that the Wahhabi lobby would react to a federal investigation with its usual combination of pseudopatriotic protest, claims of innocence, and paranoia. But perhaps the White House might suggest to friends like Norquist that they should stop trying to protect enablers of terrorism.

Otherwise, more and more people will wonder whether the administration really understands the problems afflicting Islam in the United States, and whether it really is united in resisting the influence of the extremists.

Stephen Schwartz's new book, "The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa'ud From Tradition to Terror," is forthcoming.