The Magazine

Paying a Call on the Saudi Embassy

The struggle for reform continues.

Nov 5, 2007, Vol. 13, No. 08 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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October 22-26 was designated "Islamofascism Awareness Week" in a series of events held at college campuses around the United States. The effort was organized by the David Horowitz Freedom Center. Predictably, the program elicited a bad reaction from Islamists. The Saudi daily Shams announced on September 4 that the Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University in Riyadh--known to moderate Muslims as the "terrorist factory"--had begun an Internet offensive against Horowitz, mentioned by name as the organizer of the campus awareness campaign. It was one of many recent signs that the Saudis are attentive to Western criticism of their doctrine and regime.

Coincidentally, even as college students and visiting speakers were exploring the concept of "Islamofascism" in an academic setting, more than 1,000 American Muslims from the Midwest and Eastern Seaboard gathered in Washington on October 22 to demonstrate outside the Saudi embassy against Saudi Arabia's support for "Wahhabi fascism." Called by a new coalition, Al-Baqee.org, the protest demanded that the Saudis stop exporting Wahhabism, the ultrafundamentalist state religion in the Saudi kingdom, and thus end support for global terror.

Al-Baqee.org is named for Jannat al-Baqi, a cemetery in Medina that housed the graves of the Prophet Muhammad's relatives and companions, and which was leveled by the Wahhabis in 1925. The Wahhabis justified this vandalism with their claim that religious honors to any human being, living or dead, even Muhammad himself, detract from worship of the one God. Al-Baqee.org was established by Iraqi-American and other Shia Muslims affiliated with moderate Iraqi ayatollah Ali Sistani.

According to the Al-Baqee leaders, the demolition of that cemetery in Arabia is a direct antecedent to the bombings of Shia and Sufi sacred structures in Iraq, such as the Golden Shrine in Samarra, blasted three times over the past two years. Their demonstration at the Saudi embassy was inspired by a report in the Saudi daily al-Watan (The Nation) in late July that Wahhabi clerics had issued fatwas calling for attacks on Shia holy sites at Karbala and Najaf in Iraq. If these sites were attacked, coalition soldiers as well as innocent Iraqis would almost certainly be killed in the chaotic aftermath.

Al-Baqee's literature provides a novel and encouraging example of American Muslim candor about the problems within Islam today. Above all, the group has no compunction about identifying radical Islam with fascism. A leaflet distributed at the protest called Saudi Wahhabism

a radical doctrine that is a dangerous and violent threat to Americans and non-Americans, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. As a close U.S. ally, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible to uphold the values of the American Constitution in defending religious freedom and providing safe spaces for worship within its borders.

A letter addressed by Al-Baqee to Saudi ambassador Adel al-Jubeir declared,

The Kingdom has neglected to provide basic civil rights to many of your citizens, and knowingly persecutes them based on their race, gender, and religion. . . . As a government, you are not fulfilling your responsibilities in providing the basic civil rights all humans deserve.

This sentiment echoed the latest report on Saudi Arabia by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, issued on October 18 (and accessible at uscirf.gov). Saudi Arabia remains a "country of particular concern" to the State Department for its violations of religious liberty. A delegation of the commission, led by Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, visited the desert monarchy in May and June to assess Saudi promises to promote greater religious freedom and abate radical indoctrination. It found most of the promises hollow.

Saudi authorities did little to facilitate the commission's work during the visit. Riyadh's officialdom refused commissioners' requests to meet with top functionaries of the religious militia or mutawiyin, formally titled the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, as well as representatives of the ministries of education and justice. Similarly, the commission's requests to the Saudi embassy in Washington for copies of current Saudi school textbooks--a major concern since older textbooks incited violence against non-Muslims--have gone unanswered.