The Two Faces of Islam
by Brian Lamb and Stephen Schwartz
BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Stephen Schwartz, you say in your book, "The Two Faces of Islam," that on September the 17th, 2001, there was a news conference with George W. Bush, the president, that bothered you. Why?
STEPHEN SCHWARTZ, AUTHOR, "THE TWO FACES OF ISLAM": Well, the use of the term "crusade" I thought was unfortunate, unless we're talking -- are we talking about a news conference or are we talking about the appearance at the Washington mosque?
LAMB: Got it.
SCHWARTZ: Washington mosque appearance. Well, the only problem with the Washington mosque appearance was that the president stood up alongside of a group of American Muslim leaders who, in my view and in the view of a lot of people in the American Muslim community, are advocates for, defenders of, apologists for terrorism and for extremism. It reflected the fact that Wahhabi Islam, the official sect in Saudi Arabia that's a very extreme form of Islam, had gained a great foothold in the United States and it really dominated, to some extent still dominates the discourse on Islam in America and also to a great extent dominates the microphone, so to speak, in terms of speaking for American Muslims.
And I felt, and I know a lot of American Muslims felt, that in the situation following September 11, in the great moral challenge facing the United States and the president, in terms of defining how the republic would deal with this issue, that it was unfortunate that the first steps indicated a lack of awareness of the problem of extremism within the American Islamic community.
LAMB: Now, there are a couple other things about that particular session. How many people were standing around the president for that?
SCHWARTZ: As I recall the photograph, it was five or six people in the photograph. I was not present at the event.
LAMB: How many of them were followers of Wahhabism?
SCHWARTZ: To my knowledge, all of them were Wahhabi or what I would say Wahhabi-oriented figures. I know that Nihad Awad from the Council on American-Islamic Relations was there. I'd have to recheck the name, but someone from the American Muslim Council was there. Now, Muzammil Siddiqui of the Islamic Society of North America then appeared at the national service in the National Cathedral. All of these figures and all of these organizations -- CAIR, AMC, ISNA -- these are all Wahhabi organizations. These are organizations that are following the Wahhabi dispensation in Islam.
LAMB: You also say that Grover Norquist, who -- who is he, by the way?
SCHWARTZ: Well, Grover Norquist is a very prominent fund-raiser, and what can I say, wheeler dealer and fixer in the Republican Party, Republican circles and in the conservative movement. And Mr. Norquist is someone who had -- prior to September 11, had cultivated the Muslim leadership in the United States, the Arab-American leadership in the United States, and had attempted to bring the American Muslim and Arab-American communities into the Republican camp, kind of as a parallel, I think, to the role of Jews in the Democratic Party. And he had formed an alliance which still he maintains with, essentially, the same group of people, the same Wahhabi, Saudi-backed radical Muslim figures who have had and had taken over and continue to exercise great influence in the leadership of the American Muslim community.
LAMB: Again, what's wrong with this?
SCHWARTZ: Well, what's wrong with this is, first of all -- there are several things wrong with it. There's an abstract issue, and that is that the American republic cannot and should not take the official position or even a semi-official position that Wahhabi Islam, Saudi Islam, is the only form of Islam. This is what the Saudis and Wahhabis wanted and got, to a great extent. We cannot have a situation where the United States of America, whether as a community of believers or as an intellectual community or as a political factor, goes on the assumption that in dealing with Islam, we have to only deal with Wahhabis and Saudis. This is -- this is -- this is giving up the field to the extremists. This is giving up the field to the people who are -- were, in fact, the ideological preparers of September 11, the ideological backers and supporters of September 11.
Islam is extremely diverse. Westerners really don't get this. Malaysian Islam, Bosnian Islam, Moroccan Islam, Islam in South Africa are very different from each other -- not, of course, in the core of the religion but in the culture of the religion. All of these communities are very different from each other.
Because Islam is new to the United States and because we really weren't prepared for the great challenge that has emerged, a lot of our political leadership and a lot of our intellectuals went on the assumption that there was one Islam, that it was represented by the Saudi dispensation, that Wahhabism was Islam. I mean, I don't know how many times I heard from people, people, for example, in the Jewish lobby -- that if we're dealing with Muslims, that's who we have to deal with. Well, I'm sorry, I don't agree with this at all.
If we're dealing with Islam, we have to deal with the diversity of Islam. We have to deal with the fact that Islam has many faces. I point out two faces, but that there are -- there's a spiritual side to Islam, there's a very -- there are very rigid forms in Islam, that there are differing forms of radical Islam and that Islam is not simply one -- one sect represented by the state sect in Saudi Arabia, that we have to reach out to Bosnian Muslims, Kosovar Muslims, Turkish Muslims, Uzbek Muslims, Malaysian Muslims, and we have to understand these differences.
And we have to also understand that the type of Islam, Saudi Wahhabi Islam, that we have privileged by giving them status as the representatives of Islam to us, is the most extreme, the most rigid, the most aggressively expansionist form of Islam, and in the end, is the ideological basis for Islamic terrorism.
LAMB: You point out in your book that 15 of the 19 hijackers on September the 11th were from Saudi Arabia, that 12 of the 15 were Wahhabis.
SCHWARTZ: Well, I think it was 12 of the 15 were from Asir. The presumption is that all 15 were Wahhabis because Wahhabism is the state sect in Saudi Arabia, and anybody growing up in Saudi Arabia is or was -- well, still is -- indoctrinated in Wahhabism. And I think it's fair to say that they were Wahhabis.
LAMB: Going back to the session with President Bush -- did he know that the people there were Wahhabis?
SCHWARTZ: Oh, I don't think that -- I have to say, honestly, that on September 22nd, when my article came out in the London "Spectator" explaining the Wahhabi background of the bin Laden movement and saying really that the problem began in Saudi Arabia -- I have a sense -- an immodest thing for me to say, but I have the sense that until then, virtually nobody in the United States or Western Europe had any sense that the word Wahhabi meant anything, what it was, who they were or what relevance it had.
And I can't fault the president. The president is the president. It was and is his job to maintain civility among the religious communities. And I'm willing to accept that in that -- in service of that goal, he should meet with these people. But I have the sense that at that time, he and other people at the top level of the government didn't really have a very clear picture of what was going on in the Islamic world.
LAMB: You used the figure 3 million to 10 million Muslims in the United States.
SCHWARTZ: Well, this is a very controversial issue. We've heard 10 million. I mean, on September 22, 2001, when I published that article in the London "Spectator," I said 10 million. There are some who say no more than 1.5 million, some that say no more than 2 million. It's a very difficult number to fix, for one reason, because Muslims don't affiliate to mosques in the same way that Jews and Christians affiliate to synagogues and churches. So it's -- it's not really easy to track how many Muslims there are in America.
But I do accept that it -- at least until September 11, it was the fastest-growing religion in America.
LAMB: Do you know how many mosques there are in the United States?
SCHWARTZ: Well, this is another interesting question. There is a figure of 1,200 official or major mosques, and then there are, I've heard, up to 4,000 unofficial, unregistered mosques around the country.
LAMB: What's an imam?
SCHWARTZ: An imam is the leader of prayers and teacher in a mosque.
LAMB: How many of those are there in the United States?
SCHWARTZ: Well, that's a good question. I would say that there are -- I really wouldn't have a figure for that, but I -- there are certainly thousands of imams in the United States.
LAMB: Going back to your book and your statistics...
LAMB: ... you say that 80 percent of the imams in the United States are funded in some way by the Saudi government, the Wahhabi Saudi people.
SCHWARTZ: The claim has been made -- and it's a hard claim to give statistical backing for because this is a fluid and ambiguous and ambivalent situation, in many respects. It has been said, it has been charged that 80 percent of mosques in America were under Wahhabi influence, under Saudi control or reflected Wahhabi or Saudi influence or control. CAIR, which is a Wahhabi group, issued the statement -- made the claim that on the basis of a poll they had taken, 69 percent of American Muslims said they wanted Wahhabism in their mosques.
Now, this was phrased in a particular way. They said they wanted Salafism, which is a polite term of Wahhabism. It's a bit like when communists call themselves progressives. But CAIR stated that 69 percent of Muslims wanted Salafi doctrines in their mosques. I don't, by the way -- I don't believe that at all, but I would say 70 to 80 percent is a good figure for mosques under Wahhabi influence, under Saudi influence.
LAMB: I'm obviously going to get to who Wahhab was, eventually...
LAMB: ... but I want to get some of these statistics out.
LAMB: You say that the Friday afternoon or Friday evening -- when do they have their mosque sessions?
SCHWARTZ: Collective prayer is usually around 1:00 or 2:00 in the -- 1:00, 1:30 in the afternoon on a Friday.
LAMB: On a Friday. You say that the Saudi base somewhere faxes in talking points to these imams.
SCHWARTZ: Oh, they were khutbat. A khutba is -- a khutba is a sermon that's given on Friday. And yes, there were -- there were many examples of Friday sermons being faxed from Riyadh.
LAMB: This is just like the pope and the Vatican faxing into Catholic churches here in...
SCHWARTZ: Oh, no. I wouldn't say that at all. I would not say that at all. I would say it's much more like the Soviet communist party sending editorials to "The Daily Worker" about 1939.
The distinction I would make is this. Obviously, the Holy Father, the pope of the Roman Catholic church, is the recognized leader of the Roman Catholic church. And the doctrines of the Roman Catholic church are such -- the education of Roman Catholic believers is such that the pope is recognized as the spiritual leader of Roman Catholics. And the pope and his curia, his colleagues in Rome, do issue statements. They issue encyclicals. They do issue guidance. They issue statements of doctrine. But this does -- to my knowledge, I haven't heard that the Vatican fine-tunes things to such an extent that they would be faxing sermons around to churches around -- around the Western world or around the world.
And secondarily, the differences here that -- Ryadh is not the Vatican, and the Saudis are -- there's no Saudi imam or mufti or sheikh who is the pope. This is -- the difference here is that it's recognized that -- that the Holy Father, Pope John -- Pope John Paul II is the spiritual leader of the Roman Catholics. Everybody in the world knows that. The fact is, though, that in Islam, there's a contest for leadership. And when the Saudi and Wahhabi imams, muftis and sheikhs send Friday sermons out to mosques around the world, they're doing this to gain a position of power. They're not doing this because it reflects a position they already have.
LAMB: You say that between $2,000 and $4,000 a month is shipped in from the Saudis to these imams.
SCHWARTZ: The $2,000 to $4,000 a month was a figure that was being paid to numerous imams in the United States that were under Saudi and Wahhabi control.
LAMB: How do you find that out?
SCHWARTZ: You find that out by knowing people who know, whose -- sorry -- identities I can't disclose, people within those mosques, people who know what's going on in those mosques and people who know what's going on in that community.
LAMB: Go back to George Walker Bush, the president.
LAMB: You say there's a difference between him and his father. What is it, when it comes to these issues?
SCHWARTZ: Well, I have to -- here I have to be a little bit -- how would I say? I have to go away from the area of intellectual abstractions and talk in a somewhat visceral manner. I'm a Californian, and to me, George W. Bush, the son, is a Texan. And no offense to anybody. The father was -- what can I say? He was an East Coast aristocrat. I think that -- I was not a very enthusiastic fan of President George H.W. Bush, the first.
SCHWARTZ: Yes. I was not a great fan of his on many different levels. This president I am a great admirer and supporter of because he has that Texan directness, sincerity. I think he's a very sincere religious believer. And I think it's -- it's good, in the times of crisis we're in, the times of facing great challenge, to have someone who's responses are more direct and more candid, shall we say.
LAMB: You don't seem to like Dick Cheney.
SCHWARTZ: Well, I can't say I like or dislike him. I've been a great admirer of his wife. But I am concerned about what I see as the -- the probability that Vice President Cheney would be someone who, in my view, might be too open to pressure from the Saudis.
SCHWARTZ: Well, of anybody in the administration, aside from Secretary Powell, Vice President Cheney is the one most associated with the military alliance in 1991 and most associated with building up the relationship, the details of the military and political relationship.
LAMB: What's the Middle East Institute?
SCHWARTZ: Well, the Middle East Institute is a -- is a think tank here in Washington that carries out educational think-tank activities, that strangely enough, happens to very often support the Saudi point of view.
LAMB: Where do they get their money?
SCHWARTZ: They get their money from a range of private donors and Middle East business and American business interests.
LAMB: You seem to be critical of the chairman and the president and people that work there, meaning Wyche Fowler.
SCHWARTZ: Oh, I'm very critical of Wyche Fowler.
LAMB: Wyche Fowler is...
SCHWARTZ: He -- look, Ned Walker and Wyche Fowler are perfect examples -- the syndrome of U.S. ambassadors to Saudi who come back as honorary Saudi ambassadors to the United States. Wyche Fowler, I have to say honestly, is one of the worst in this regard. Wyche Fowler -- I witnessed Wyche Fowler calling a very distinguished American scholar a liar to his face...
LAMB: By the way, he's former senator from Georgia, a Democrat.
SCHWARTZ: Former U.S. -- Democrat senator from Georgia. This is an interesting aspect of the whole thing to me because, frankly, I don't understand why a U.S. senator from Georgia with no apparent knowledge or competence or expertise in these areas would have been appointed U.S. ambassador to our most important ally in the Arab world. But you know, I witnessed this man call a very distinguished American scholar a liar to his face.
This man himself became -- how should I say -- beside himself with rage, shouting at me because I -- I happened to characterize the Wahhabi clerics of Saudi Arabia in a way that he found distressing. I think that most of these former U.S. ambassadors to Saudi come back as honorary Saudi ambassadors to the United States, and they -- they quite boldly and brashly and unashamedly promote Saudi interests here. And I just don't think that's acceptable anymore.
I would, by the way, mention Hume Horan as a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi who has taken a very different path and is much more critical and I think much more concerned about U.S. interests.
LAMB: You throw Richard Murphy's name in there.
LAMB: Former ambassador.
LAMB: You throw Thomas Lippman's name in there, former "Washington Post" reporter.
SCHWARTZ: Well, Mr. Lippman is the person who put into print really outrageously -- I mean, we have a situation where Wahhabism, this very extreme, rigid form of Islam that is this -- the official sect in Saudi -- the Wahhabis in Saudi benefited not only from a blind eye on the part of Western academic and journalistic experts, but they also benefited from a really deliberate policy, a deliberate campaign to make Wahhabism look like something it wasn't.
I mean, Thomas Lippman in his book, "Understanding Islam," basically described the Wahhabis as if they were, say, Methodists or Presbyterians, as this rationalizing and clarifying form of Islam that made Islam compatible with science. I mean, these are outrageous comments to make about Wahhabism.
SCHWARTZ: Because none of it's true! Look, Saudi Arabia is Saudi Arabia. This is a country where women aren't allowed to drive. The idea that the official Islamic sect of Saudi Arabia represents a rationalizing and modernizing trend in Islam is just an absurd lie. It's on the same -- it's a lie on the same level as -- you know, if somebody said, Well, you know, when -- when Jorg Haider said, the Austrian right-wing politician, said, Well, Hitler solved the unemployment problem -- you know, OK, these -- this is not the way we deal with the historiography of the Hitler regime.
And we shouldn't be dealing with the Saudi regime by taking Wahhabism -- a very violent, extreme, exclusionary, separatist form of Islam -- and telling the West that it represents something comparable to the Protestant Reformation. It doesn't! Certainly, there are lots of abstract parallels between Wahhabism and Protestantism, in terms of trying to get rid of certain spirituality -- certain spiritual practices, and so forth. But Wahhabism is not comparable. It's not a rationalizing and modernizing trend in Islam. It's a deeply reactionary, backward, oppressive and negative force in the Islamic world.
LAMB: You're critical of Barbara Walters.
SCHWARTZ: Well, you know, it does seem to me -- and here I would speak more as a journalist myself. Look, we had September 11, the most shocking experience of my lifetime, especially shocking for me as a person who had traveled a lot among Muslims, who was very concerned to help head off the clash of civilizations. In the wake of that, what did I see? I saw American journalists going to Saudi Arabia and not asking any of the questions that needed to be asked. Barbara -- Mrs. -- Ms. Walters went to Saudi Arabia and essentially presented us the typical picture of the gracious desert sheikhs riding their camels and handing out gifts to the people.
Now, this isn't what -- this isn't what we need now. We need people who can go to Saudi Arabia and ask questions that need to be asked, and not all of them are hard questions, but one might say they're sophisticated questions. There are questions that need to be asked. They're not rude questions. They're not leading questions. They're not questions that have anything to do with Israel or the Iraqi war. But I think that my colleagues, the community of Western journalists, need to learn more and learn the questions that need to be asked.
LAMB: One last one. You're critical of Daniel Yergin for not dealing with it in his big book.
SCHWARTZ: Well, he also was one of these people who skipped over Wahhabism and the history of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia with a few lines that essentially, once again, glamorized or prettied up Wahhabism in a way that's just not acceptable to me, any more than it would be acceptable to me if it were done with the topics of Nazism or Stalinism.
LAMB: So if you put all this list together, you've got George Herbert Walker Bush, you've got Thomas Lippman, former ambassadors Walker and Wyche Fowler, who was a United States senator, you've got Barbara Walters, you've got Daniel [Yergin] -- what is it that you know, why is what you're saying accurate and why are all those -- have fairly distinguished records -- not right?
SCHWARTZ: OK, let me make a distinction here. I'm not putting President George Walker Bush in the same company with the rest of those people. President George Walker Bush is not little Stephen Schwartz.
LAMB: George Herbert Walker Bush or...
SCHWARTZ: No, the present -- our present...
SCHWARTZ: Our present commander-in-chief. President Bush is not Stephen Schwartz. President Bush is a man with more responsibilities on his plate, more work on his plate, more day-to-day concerns on his plate than any other individual on this planet. He's not required to be an expert on the history of Islam. He's required to make the right decisions for our country.
I think that he -- I do not reproach President Bush. I think that it was an error to make those -- to have made these public statements and to have gone to these public events that seemed to be privileging the Wahhabis. He's not doing this anymore. I think he was -- he -- it was a long learning curve for him, but I think -- for him, but I think he's learned. And I think that he's essentially a wise man who will make the right decision.
I guess what it has to do with, to answer the other question, is this. I said in the introduction to my book that I learned about this the way Orwell learned about Stalinism in the Spanish Civil War. I was an intellectual questioner, seeker, poet. I was always interested in Islam. As a journalist, I went to the Balkans during the Bosnian war, Croatian-Bosnian-Kosovo wars. I saw a very terrible tragedy. I saw what to me was the horror of a repetition of the Holocaust in the slaughter of a non-Christian population in Europe.
And I encountered Islam in the streets of Sarajevo. And when you encounter Islam in the streets of Sarajevo, you learn much more about Islam than if you are doing the usual type of journalistic research. And from the very beginning of my -- my real encounter with Islam in the Balkans, I heard about the problem of Wahhabism and the problem of the Saudis and of the Saudi desire to Wahhabize world Islam.
So I think that's the difference. I mean, the difference is I was just a guy who happened to stumble into this out of personal curiosity, out of -- on the steps of a personal journey. But what I learned about Islam, I learned from ordinary Muslim believers. This is one of the biggest problems today, and you know, our journalists are going to have to -- I'm not holding myself up as an example to anybody, but I would say this. Our journalists have to be able to break down these barriers. It's not just a matter of going out on the street and saying, Why are these people yelling at us? Our journalists, our media have to begin to be -- learn how to talk to ordinary Muslims throughout the Muslim world.
And I'll give you an example of this. I mean, I've never seen on American TV a substantial interview with a non-Wahhabi imam or mufti, a sheikh from Morocco, from Bosnia, from Uzbekistan, from Malaysia. Our media needs to learn how to talk to ordinary Muslims, what questions to ask. And our media needs to learn about Islam from ordinary Muslims. It's very important to read the academic works. It's very important to interview the politicians and the major -- the major experts and figures. But the one thing that I did is I -- as I said, to repeat, I learned about Islam in the streets of Sarajevo.
LAMB: Where are you from?
SCHWARTZ: You mean where was I born?
SCHWARTZ: Columbus, Ohio.
LAMB: How long did you live there?
SCHWARTZ: About a year-and-a-half. My parents took me to San Francisco when I was very small.
LAMB: And how long did you live in San Francisco?
SCHWARTZ: Fifty years. Fifty years, yes.
LAMB: You still there?
SCHWARTZ: Well, I still have an apartment there, but I'm essentially here in D.C
LAMB: Where'd you go to college?
SCHWARTZ: UC Berkeley.
LAMB: What'd you study?
LAMB: And how -- what have you been doing in San Francisco all these years?
SCHWARTZ: Well, I started out as a poet. I was associated with the circle of beat writers and -- grew up in that circle, actually. My father had been the first publisher of the poetry of Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Started out as a poet, was very involved in various forms of radical left-wing politics, wrote a lot on various different issues -- poetry, politics, history. From 19 -- I guess the most -- single most important experience is that from 1989 to 1999 I was a staff writer at the "San Francisco Chronicle."
I was also -- and I'll stipulate I'm fairly conservative on a lot of issues, but I remain pretty left-wing on labor issues, and I was secretary of the Newspaper Guild in San Francisco. But with the emergence of the crisis in ex-Yugoslavia, I began going to Yugoslavia and then began going to Bosnia. And as I said, I'd always had this interest in Islam. I was always interested in the interrelations of Jewish, Christian, Muslim mysticism, Jewish, Christian, Muslim literature, borderland experiences such as in Spain. And so I started going to Yugoslavia, and I saw the breakup of Yugoslavia, and I saw the horror -- I saw the emergence of the horror of the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo.
LAMB: So you left the "San Francisco Chronicle" in '99?
SCHWARTZ: In '99, I retired from the "San Francisco Chronicle."
LAMB: And what kind of things were you writing all those 10 years?
SCHWARTZ: Well, I was a general assignment reporter, staff writer. I did a bit of everything. Let's see. I mean, I did quite a number of stories on religious issues because, to be perfectly frank, in San Francisco the "Chronicle" religion editor was more -- kind of more interested in cults and scandals. So I did a lot of what we call bread-and-butter religious issues, going out and reporting on what was going on in the Catholic churches, in the mosques and various synagogues, and so forth. I did a lot of crime reporting. I did the full -- you know, I did what any general assignment reporter does. I also did a certain amount of foreign affairs writing.
LAMB: Are you religious?
SCHWARTZ: Yes, I am.
LAMB: What kind of -- I mean, are -- conservative, liberal? I mean, what kind of a religion do you follow or...
SCHWARTZ: Well, I'm a Sufi. And in my view, being a Sufi means that I aim striving to -- to bring together the three branches of Abrahamic monotheism -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
LAMB: Where's the word "Sufi" come from?
SCHWARTZ: The Sufi -- the word "Sufi" is usually traced to the word "suf," which is an Arabic world meaning "wool" because the early Islamic mystics were ascetics and were known for wearing these woolen garments. There's another -- there's another derivation of the word "Sufiyya," or Sufism, that it comes from the Greek "sophia," for wisdom. But that's what the word "Sufi" means.
LAMB: What's the button in your lapel?
SCHWARTZ: Well, it's the Arabic word "Allah," "God," because as Sufis, remembrance of God is what guides us and what carries us forward.
LAMB: And when did you -- when would you say you began to be a Sufi?
SCHWARTZ: Well, I had become -- I was very interested in Sufism very early. I -- last -- very recently, I went back to San Francisco and looked through some of my old papers, and I think I was only 17 when I first read Catholic mystics who were writing about Sufism. This greatly excited me.
Here I was in California, had grown up in this environment with -- filled with Spanish names. I was learning Spanish, was very drawn to the Latin American left, was very drawn to Spanish poetry. And in reading Spanish poetry and reading Spanish literature, I found this tremendous fusion of the Islamic, the Jewish and the Christian in the Spanish heritage. And when I was 17 I read one of the great Spanish mystics, who said -- one of the great Spanish Catholic mystics, who said that his path was deeply influenced by that of certain Islamic mystics known as the Sufis.
So I began to read about Sufism pretty seriously quite a while ago and read Idris Shah, who is a very famous writer on Sufism and these were very exciting ideas for me. All of it had to do with border lands. All of it had to do with Spain as a place where the three faiths came together.
Central Asia is a place where the faiths came together and in my own way I saw California that way, as a place where ideas came together. And, as I've said to others, you know, I'm about breaking down barriers. That's what I want to do. I want to break down barriers.
LAMB: Does the Sufi have a church?
SCHWARTZ: No. No, Sufis - well, Sufis can follow an individual path. Most - many Sufis - most Sufis belong to Sufi orders which usually meet regularly for what's called a zikr or a collective ritual of the remembrance of God, but you don't have to have an organizational affiliation to be a Sufi.
LAMB: This book on the back is endorsed by three people, William Kristol, Christopher Hitchens, and Ali Al-Ahmed, Saudi Institute for Development and Studies.
LAMB: Who is he and what's the Saudi Institute for Development and Studies?
SCHWARTZ: My friend and brother, Ali, is a leading representative of what I would call the new intellectual class, the new intellectuals, the dissident intellectuals in Saudi Arabia.
LAMB: Based there?
SCHWARTZ: He's here. There's no legal oppositional activity in Saudi itself. Ali is based here, goes back and forth between here and Europe and he's one of the main figures in the West in defining the future of society in that country.
LAMB: Christopher Hitchens says, "Islamic culture is man made, it has created great splendors as well as great miseries. Stephen Schwartz' work is exemplary in illuminating intra-Muslim distinctions."
And William Kristol says, "The war against terror is the war against radical Islam and on behalf of civilized Islam no one has done more to expose the radicals of Saudi Wahhabi fascism than Stephen Schwartz." Those two men probably don't agree on a whole lot.
SCHWARTZ: Well, I think they agree on more these days. Christopher, who is a good friend of mine is a pretty strong supporter of the U.S. position on Iraq and I think that there is a coalition today. I call it the new 1941 coalition.
There's a coalition today of supporters of democracy, supporters of democratization in the Islamic and Arab worlds and it's not a coalition in which everybody agrees on everything, but it is a coalition in which there is agreement on the basic goal.
LAMB: You worked when for the Voice of America, doing what?
SCHWARTZ: Not for a very long time. I worked for several months for the Voice of America in 2001 and 2002.
LAMB: Doing what?
SCHWARTZ: Writing - first writing short news briefs and then writing editorials.
LAMB: You did what and when and worked for the Jewish "Forward" when?
SCHWARTZ: Well, I started writing for the Jewish "Forward" in 1992 from San Francisco. I wrote on a pretty wide range of topics. I wrote a lot about Jewish culture in the Balkans. I wrote a lot about literature and also just general news reporting from the West Coast.
And, I didn't, and I kind of - let's see. I guess it was about '94, '95, maybe '95 I kind of stopped writing for "The Forward" for a while but when I went to Bosnia to live in 1999, which is what I did after I retired from "The Chronicle," I started submitting pieces to "The Forward" again and then I came back to the United States for a bit and worked for "The Forward" from Washington.
LAMB: Roughly a billion Islamic people in the world.
SCHWARTZ: A billion to maybe 1.3.
LAMB: OK but the reason I point at that, how many of them are Wahhabis?
SCHWARTZ: That's an interesting question. Right after September 11, a total of about 15 percent was being thrown around. I think I would have gone along with that. But as the crisis has continued, I'm getting the sense that there are a lot fewer Wahhabis than we thought.
I would say maybe ten percent under pressure would define themselves as Wahhabis but - or define themselves as Salafis using the term they prefer to use but it's not a very large proportion of Muslims in the world.
LAMB: When did Wahhab live?
SCHWARTZ: Wahhab emerges in Central Arabia in Nejd in the middle of the 18th Century, the middle of the 1700s.
LAMB: Who was he?
SCHWARTZ: He was a local kind of obscure local figure in a place called Uyayna in Nejd, which is a fairly obscure part of Central Arabia.
LAMB: Why has his name survived all these years? What year did he die?
SCHWARTZ: Wahhab died, as I recall it was in 1799. You know because of the disparity...
LAMB: 1792 I got.
SCHWARTZ: Sorry, 1792. Because of the disparity of the calendars sometimes these dates get a little fuzzy. Wahhab emerges at a time when the Ottoman Khalifat, that is the Ottoman Empire and the Islamic Khalifat, which were really the same thing but which the Ottoman Khalifat was this single authority for Sunni Muslims in the world.
The Ottoman Empire was in crisis. The Ottoman Khalifat begun to enter in the crisis and Wahhab emerges in Central Arabia and begins to preach that the crisis of Islam is not caused by any geographical or political problems but it's caused by insufficient purity of faith, and he advocates and preaches for an extremely simplistic, stripped down, ultra puritanical form of Islam from which essentially 1,000 years of Islamic civilization, custom, habits, and culture would be removed.
LAMB: You say that he found himself equal to the prophet Mohammed?
SCHWARTZ: Well, yes. Critics of Wahhabism have always pointed out that even though Wahhab really viewed himself as a figure as great as Mohammed and in some respects I would say yes, greater than Mohammed. I mean the Wahhabis really, as I say in my book, they take Mohammed the prophet out of Islam.
And, one of the strong arguments in my book is that in traditional Islam Mohammed the prophet is presented as a figure of goodness and mercy and of compassion, and that Wahhabi Islam really takes the mercy and compassion out of Islam. It is a very rigid, very puritanical, very demanding form of Islam that removes everything that made Islam a world spanning civilization.
LAMB: You say that Mohammed died in 632.
LAMB: He was 63 years old. Again what relationship does he have to Islam?
SCHWARTZ: Well, Mohammed received the revelation of Quran and this was the basis of creating the community of Islam, the community of believers, Islamic believers.
LAMB: How did he receive this?
SCHWARTZ: He received it from the angel Gabriel.
SCHWARTZ: In a little cave on a mountainside near Mecca.
LAMB: And part of what you say is that here is all over the Mecca, Medina worlds [sic]. Explain that and how do they fit into this to the - you know, where does Wahhab come in and how do they relate to Mecca and the whole Wahhab vision?
SCHWARTZ: Well, OK, Mecca is...
LAMB: First of all, this is a very complicated story as you know.
SCHWARTZ: Yes, of course.
LAMB: And that's what your book deals with.
SCHWARTZ: Right. Right.
LAMB: I just need enough of it so we can get started.
SCHWARTZ: Mohammed the prophet emerges in Mecca and offers Islam to the Meccans and is rebuffed.
LAMB: Where is Mecca?
SCHWARTZ: Mecca is in Hejaz, which is an area on the western coast of Arabia, the Red Sea there.
LAMB: Saudi Arabia, right on the west coast?
SCHWARTZ: Yes, it wasn't Saudi then. It was just Arabia then.
SCHWARTZ: Now Saudi Arabia, yes and near the west coast, and he offers Islam to the Meccans and is rebuffed and he then is invited to go to the town of Yathrib which was a town of a fairly substantial Jewish population which was favorable to his monotheistic message and he goes to Medina, Yathrib which is renamed Medina or known as Medina, the city of the prophet, and he essentially writes a constitution and creates an Islamic community there.
And, you know, one of the five pillars of Islam is to make the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, at least once in your lifetime if you can afford it. And so, Mecca remained to a very great extent remains the heart of world Islam.
The Wahhabis were from nowhere near Mecca. They were from Nejd which is a fairly distant area in Central Arabia, but when Wahhabism emerges and it forms the religious creed, the religious group of Wahhabis form an alliance with the family of Sa'ud and in the 19th Century and then again in the 20th Century they take over Mecca and Medina as part of their campaign to take over world Islam and they impose new rules on the Hajj.
This is very interesting. This is a topic I've mentioned to a lot of people. There's an interesting trivia fact here. Let's say 1.3 billion Muslims in the world yet only about a million foreign Muslims make the Hajj to Mecca every year. Why is that? Are Muslims all poor? No by no means. Is international air travel prohibitively expensive? Not at all.
Now, the Saudis will tell you they don't have the facilities to allow more than this relatively small number of people to come to make the Hajj.
LAMB: Do they go at the same time?
SCHWARTZ: Well, there's a Hajj month, yes. There's also a custom called the Umra which is a lesser Hajj, which individuals make but the Saudis claim they don't have the facilities for this, but one would think that considering that this is the heart, you know, this is the geographical heart of Islam that they would go to - make the effort to make it easier for more people to come.
The fact is the Wahhabi rules for the Hajj, before the Wahhabis, the very puritanical Wahhabis took over in Mecca, for example, the Egyptian Muslims and the Iranian Muslims would come with music and with flags and celebration.
Wahhabis don't approve of this. If you make the Hajj today you're making it under Wahhabi rules, except for a group of Iranians who are exempt for diplomatic reasons. But even the Iranians, they don't do it the way they used to do it. They don't do it in the sense of celebration.
Another thing which is very, very important to understand is this. Before the Wahhabis took over in Mecca, Mecca I called it a permanent county fair of world Islam.
In Mecca before the Wahhabi takeover every Islamic sect was represented. Every Islamic school of jurisprudence was represented in Mecca. Every Sufi order was represented in Mecca. The Wahhabis wiped all of that out. They wiped out the representation of the Islamic jurisprudential schools. They wiped out the representation of the Sufi order. Sufism is banned in Saudi Arabia and they imposed a rigid Wahhabi conformity on the Hajj and on Mecca.
So, what had been in effect a kind of - almost a permanent convention where all Muslims could come and share their traditions, their customs, their culture, became a very conformist and rigid institutional setting for the Hajj.
LAMB: So, "The Two Faces of Islam," the title of your book means what?
SCHWARTZ: "The Two Faces of Islam" are on the one side Saudi Wahhabi extremism and on the other traditional Islam and above all Ottoman Islam which is spiritual, pluralistic, open, and which has always engaged with European civilization and with other civilizations in a very different way than Saudi and Wahhabi Islam have engaged with the rest of the world.
LAMB: If you're a Sufi, does that make you a Muslim?
SCHWARTZ: There are distinctions especially in the West. You don't have to become a Muslim to call yourself a Sufi but in the Islamic world a Sufi is someone who's made the profession of faith.
LAMB: So you couldn't make the Hajj though because you're not a Wahhabi?
SCHWARTZ: I could not make the Hajj because - I could not make the Hajj because I'm not a Wahhabi, though recently one of the Saudis here in Washington was kind of pushing me on this. Why don't you do it? Why don't you apply? Why don't you see if they'll let you in?
And, I said look I don't want to get into funny negotiations with these people. Certainly if I could have the opportunity to interview Crown Prince Abdullah I would take it, but I want issues to be a little better settled before I actually go onto the territory of the kingdom.
LAMB: You infer that Crown Prince Abdullah is not a Wahhabi.
SCHWARTZ: This is one of the most interesting issues that's going on now is that Crown Prince Abdullah excites a lot of admiration and I would say confidence among people in the kingdom and people in the worldwide Islamic community because of the very widespread belief that he is not a Wahhabi, that his mother was a Syrian, possibly an Alawite, which is a very heterodox form of Islam, and that he wants to extricate the Saudi regime from Wahhabism.
What we do know about Crown Prince Abdullah is that his rhetoric on the Middle East has always stressed peace over war. We do know that his circle was the circle that reached out to a fairly distinguished group of American Jewish intellectuals and invited them to the kingdom, and we know that he does seem to represent a current of opinion that wants to move the regime away from Wahhabism.
Also, after the girl's school fire, which was a very traumatic event last year in Saudi, I suppose most of your viewers will know that in the city of Mecca there was a fire at a girl's school and 14 girls died because in trying to escape the fire they left the building without coverings, and the mutawiyin, the religious militia, forced them back in the building and they died.
This was a very shocking incident in the kingdom and after that Crown Prince Abdullah took girls' education away from the Wahhabis and put it under the state.
I can't judge Crown Prince Abdullah right now but it does - I will say there's an awful lot of people out there who believe that this man represents a new direction for the kingdom even though, you know, he's pretty old himself.
LAMB: And there's no guarantee that he would end up with the crown.
SCHWARTZ: No, there's no guarantee.
LAMB: Go to today though and the Wahhabism. Are there madrassas in the United States and is that the way you pronounce it?
SCHWARTZ: Medresa, madrassa, there's different pronunciations.
LAMB: And what are they?
SCHWARTZ: A madrassa is an educational school. It's a school that teaches Quran and it teaches basic Islam and prepares people.
LAMB: Who runs them?
SCHWARTZ: Well, teachers, Muftis.
LAMB: Are they all Wahhabis throughout the world?
SCHWARTZ: No. Oh no, no, no. There are many non-Wahhabi madrassas around the Islamic world.
LAMB: But in this country, what do the Wahhabis teach? I mean what is it that - do they teach terrorism? Do they...
SCHWARTZ: First of all they teach that there is a line of blood between Wahhabi Islam and the other Muslims. They teach that Shia Muslims are not Muslims. They teach that...
LAMB: Those are the southern Shia Islamics in Saudi Arabia and in Iraq that live in the south?
SCHWARTZ: Yes and southern Iraq is Shia. Iran is Shia. Yemen was historically Shia. Bahrain is Shia. The eastern province of Saudi has a Shia majority. The Shias are a minority in world Islam that follow a particular interpretation, spiritual and religious interpretation of Islamic history.
The Wahhabis teach that the Shias are not Muslims. Wahhabis teach that non-Wahhabi Muslims are not Muslims meaning Sunni Muslims from the rest of the international Muslim community who are not Wahhabis are not Muslims.
LAMB: So they wouldn't like the leadership in Iraq?
SCHWARTZ: Well, it's very interesting this whole question of the Wahhabis and Saddam Hussein because the Wahhabis and Saudis their main fear in the world has been Iran since 1978 and '79 and they view Saddam Hussein as their bulwark against Iran.
Now, Saddam Hussein coming from the Baathist Party, which is a secularist, really fascist, kind of fascist Stalinist party, certainly doesn't represent the traditional image of an Islamic leader but the Saudi Wahhabis have used him against Iran and he has given his regime a sort of a thin covering of Wahhabi style Islamic oil one might say.
LAMB: You have throughout the book a list of a lot of different organizations that you say are here in the United States.
LAMB: And I'll mention some of them, World Assembly of Muslim Youth in Falls Church, Virginia.
SCHWARTZ: Absolutely. That's a branch of the Saudi government that widely distributes Wahhabi hate literature in the United States, including a really outrageous little pamphlet that describes Shia Islam as a Jewish conspiracy.
LAMB: What do they think of Jews?
SCHWARTZ: They're not too happy with the house of Israel, the Sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I mean Wahhabism preaches that there's, you know, there's a line of blood between Wahhabis and non-Wahhabi Muslims and there's a deep line of separation between, in their view, Muslims and the other monotheistic believers, Jews and Christians.
LAMB: What's the Council on American Islamic Relations?
SCHWARTZ: The Council on American Islamic Relations is a very interesting organization that emerged in the United States at a time when there was no Islamic establishment. There was no set of Muslim organizations, advocacy organizations in the United States. It's essentially a front for Hamas and for the Saudi Wahhabi bureaucracy in the United States.
LAMB: Who is Hamas?
SCHWARTZ: Who is Hamas?
LAMB: Yes, what are they?
SCHWARTZ: Hamas is a Saudi-backed Wahhabi terrorist organization that operates in Israel.
LAMB: Who's the Muslim Students Associations?
SCHWARTZ: The MSA was a very fairly large and widespread group on campuses that from very early on reflected a Wahhabi viewpoint.
LAMB: I can hear people watching who are Muslims.
LAMB: They're saying why are we relying on Stephen Schwartz to tell us all this stuff?
SCHWARTZ: If they think this is lies, let them challenge what I'm saying.
LAMB: Has anybody tried?
SCHWARTZ: No. No.
LAMB: Nobody has challenged this book?
SCHWARTZ: They don't challenge this book, no. They challenge - they make outrageous statements about me but they don't challenge the book, no.
LAMB: What do they say about you?
SCHWARTZ: Oh, you know, the things that you would expect someone to say, you know, he's - let me think. Since we're discussing negative comments about myself, I guess I have to put the best construction on it. You know they say well he's crazy. He made it all up. It's Zionist propaganda, I mean pretty low class stuff, nothing of - nothing that left a glove or a mark on me.
LAMB: Are you a Zionist?
SCHWARTZ: Am I a Zionist?
SCHWARTZ: Well, I believe that the state of Israel has the right to exist.
LAMB: Who is the Muslim Public Affairs Council?
SCHWARTZ: The Muslim Public Affairs Council is a political body that was formed to advocate for American Muslims in the political sphere. It's impact, I think is somewhat in crisis. Some of these organizations in the wake of 9/11 are trying to redefine themselves and find a new space for themselves.
LAMB: Who pays for all these groups?
SCHWARTZ: Well, CAIR received a large cash donation from the Saudi government in order to buy a building in Washington, D.C.
LAMB: How do you know that?
SCHWARTZ: That was announced on the Saudi Embassy's public relations Web site. It's in my book.
LAMB: And all these groups, do they have to register somewhere in the country and are there forms that you can go in...
SCHWARTZ: Well, they register as corporate entities, yes. They don't have to register as agents of a foreign government.
LAMB: What's the Islamic Association for Palestine?
SCHWARTZ: This was basically a pretty radical, pretty extreme Palestinian group operating in the United States.
LAMB: What's the World Assembly of Muslim Youth in Annandale, Virginia?
SCHWARTZ: That's an agency of the Saudi government that spreads Wahhabism worldwide.
LAMB: And you say the president is listed as Abdullah bin Laden, the younger brother of Osama bin Laden?
SCHWARTZ: Yes. Abdullah bin Laden is no longer the president of WAMY to my knowledge but he was one of the founders of it.
LAMB: So what does all this say and what are we supposed to do with this information in your opinion?
SCHWARTZ: The first thing we're supposed to do is we're supposed to find out what's really going on in the Muslim world, find out what's really happening among Muslims, understand the distinction between extremist Islam and traditional Islam, and then we, and when I say we I don't mean the government of the United States.
But I mean we as believers in the West, as people of good will and as defenders of democracy, we must do everything we can to support, to enable and to assist the traditional Muslims in maintaining control of their religion or, as some would say, taking their religion back from the extremists.
LAMB: You say that the United States Army says there are 4,100 Muslims in the army and there is a chaplain who is a Muslim and you say what about all this? And you say there may be more than that. Some groups say there are 12,000 in the army.
SCHWARTZ: Well, I mean, you know, I mean there's a demographic representation in the army I'm sure just as there is with every other religious community.
LAMB: But the issue you bring up is whether or not Muslims should fight against Muslims.
SCHWARTZ: No, that wasn't an issue I brought up. The issue I brought up was the fact that the chaplain had gone for a decision on this to essentially Wahhabi clerics. The chaplain had asked Wahhabi clerics in the United States and eventually in the Middle East for a ruling on whether American Muslims should fight in the U.S. Army.
I think this is very questionable. I don't think, you know - you know it's very, very doubtful to me that a rabbi serving in the American Armed Forces would ask the government of Israel for guidance on the loyalties and responsibilities of a Jewish-American. It is extremely doubtful to me that a Catholic priest serving in the armed forces would consult the Vatican on the responsibilities, rights, and duties of a Catholic serving in the American Armed Forces.
And I think it's a very negative situation when a Muslim chaplain in the American Armed Forces goes to Wahhabi clerics and extremist clerics in the Middle East like Yusuf Al-Qaradawi for a judgment on the rights and duties of American Muslims.
You know this goes to an issue that I've said a lot about to people. Islam will flourish in the United States and should flourish in the United States because the United States is - represents a big table of the world's religions but it has to - it will only do that if it operates according to the same rules as the other religions.
That means American Islam has to be - excuse me. American Islam, exactly the way that Bosnian Islam is Bosnian Islam and Malaysian Islam is Malaysian Islam. It has to be an Islam rooted in American culture, in American values and American rights and responsibilities.
The problem with groups like CAIR is that when they came into the United States in the '70s and '80s, they didn't ask for a place at the table. They asked for their own table. Their attitude was that America had to deal with Muslims separately than the way it dealt with the other religions.
I mean I can go into a long explanation of this and some of this is in my book but my point is an American Muslim serving in the armed forces of the United States has to be on the same status as an American Jew, an American Catholic, an American Buddhist, unless of course the person wants to claim an exemption as a conscientious objector or whatever, but generally that doesn't occur in a volunteer army.
My point is Islam can, will, and should flourish in the United States as American Islam, playing by American constitutional and political rules.
LAMB: Go back to all those people we talked about, Grover Norquist, and Richard Murphy and Wyche Fowler and George Herbert Walker Bush, the president 41. How much of their relationship do you think is solely based on the money that Saudi Arabia is willing to pay them to do all these deals and everything?
SCHWARTZ: I don't think it's a question of personal corruption on the basis of money. I think, however, that a culture of compliance, a culture of accommodation built up in Washington, D.C. in relationship to the U.S.-Saudi alliance.
I think we have a situation in Washington, D.C., and especially in the Executive Branch, where it has simply become a habit to let the Saudis have what they want and to give the Saudis a pass.
SCHWARTZ: Well, I think that the - cheap oil, cheap gas. Wyche Fowler - not Wyche Fowler but one of his admirers in one event I was present at referred to "a constitutional right of American citizens to cheap gas." The fact is that this - the whole role of big oil, of the Aramco partners of big oil has been enormous in maintaining a situation where essentially Saudi Arabia gets what it wants in Washington.
And, I wouldn't point a finger. I don't make claims of direct personal corruption. I don't think that somebody calls these guys up when they need to pay off their mortgage and says, you know, well we'll help you with your mortgage if you'll do X, but I think that a culture of accommodation has grown up in Washington.
LAMB: What evidence do you have that George Walker Bush is going to be tougher than all the rest of these folks?
SCHWARTZ: Only my sense that a Texan is a better guy to deal with these issues than an East Coast aristocrat. I mean again I don't mean to offend anybody with this but, you know, he's a Westerner. He's a Texan. I've said to people he's like a popular jock in the high school. He's a guy you look at him and you may not have a lot in common with him but you know where he stands and he's a very forthright guy, and I think also he's a sincere religious believer who will do the right thing.
LAMB: Where do you go from here with all this? Do you write another book?
SCHWARTZ: Well, we're discussing some other book proposals, some other book projects.
LAMB: What's your reaction to the reaction of this book?
SCHWARTZ: Well, the reaction has been pretty good. I mean I - the reaction has been pretty good. Most of the reviewers and most of the people who've dealt with this book and have dealt with me have found what I've had to say very interesting and consider it an important part of the public dialog we're involved in right now.
LAMB: How about verifying all this information? Did you go to any lengths to do that to make sure that you...
LAMB: How did you do it?
SCHWARTZ: Well, everything in this book has been checked and rechecked. Every factual statement can be traced to a solid source, and I don't use shifty sources or ambivalent sources.
For example, to give you the worst example is the enormous amount of disinformation that comes out of Russia and the Balkans, anti-Islamic disinformation, claims that every Muslim in the world is a Wahhabi. Everybody's a terrorist, et cetera, et cetera.
I know very well what sources to stay away from. Every factual statement in the book is backed up with a solid respectable source, plus I worked with Muslim scholars and Saudis, Saudi subjects who checked and rechecked the manuscript.
LAMB: We're out of time. This is the face of the book called "The Two Faces of Islam, the House of Sa'ud from Tradition to Terror" by Stephen Schwartz. We thank you for joining us.
SCHWARTZ: Thank you, sir.
Related Topics: Albanian Muslims, American Muslims, Balkan Muslims, Bosnian Muslims, European Muslims, Saudi Arabia, Sufism, Wahhabism receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free center for islamic pluralism mailing list
© 2023 Center for Islamic Pluralism.
home | articles | announcements | spoken | wahhabiwatch | about us | cip in the media | reports
external articles | bookstore | mailing list | contact us | @twitter | iraqi daily al-sabah al-jadid