Youthful Heroes of American Muslim Protest
by Stephen Schwartz
In a recent TCS column, I reported on complaints of domination by Islamist ideological extremists over the Muslim student organization in a leading American college system. A courageous American Muslim woman, Fatima Agha, charged that Islamic fundamentalists maintain abusive control of elections in the Islamic Society of Rutgers University (ISRU).
These Islamist radicals represent Wahhabism, the state religion in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia -- and inspirer of al-Qaida. The Rutgers case is a microcosm of how the "Wahhabi lobby" works. This Muslim religious establishment, constructed in America with Saudi money and a commitment to violent, separatist fundamentalism, keeps the Sunni majority in American Islam silent and passive about terrorist incitement, financing and recruitment, and subjects Shia Muslims to hate speech and other forms of discrimination. At Rutgers, as elsewhere in the U.S. university system, Saudi cash is supplemented by state educational funding for ISRU as a student group.
My column elicited a number of illuminating communications from Rutgers alumni and current enrollees, who adhere to Islam and had previously protested against the Wahhabi dictatorship in Muslim student life there. I had characterized ISRU as, in effect, an island of Saudi mores on American soil. The problem has been present for a long time; since the beginning of ISRU's activities at Rutgers.
According to Rutgers 2002 alumnus Yasser Latif Hamdani, an international student from Pakistan writing in the Rutgers Daily Targum of January 26, 2001, ISRU was founded with the participation of infamous terrorist Ramzi Yousef, briefly a chemical engineering student at the university. Ramzi Yousef was the chief organizer of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. He is the nephew of Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, the captured al-Qaida leader, and was himself a principal figure in Osama Bin Laden's organization. Yousef was tried in the U.S., and found guilty of planning the 1993 bombing, as well as seditious conspiracy; he is now a federal prisoner in Colorado.
Rutgers classes in chemical engineering helped Ramzi Yousef hone his terror skills, while his involvement with ISRU reinforced his Wahhabi ideology. Commenting on the case in the college paper, Mr. Hamdani wrote of the "continuous funding from the University" handed over to ISRU, and asked if American education should support "fundamentalism and bigotry... in the Muslim community to keep it backwards forever." He went on to declare, "The mind of fanaticism and bigotry that I have seen in American Muslims came as a shock to me... ISRU is a prime example of the fanaticism that grips the American Muslim psyche. ISRU has consistently tried to hijack moderate Muslim groups such as the Pakistani and Turkish cultural clubs... It is consistent with the trends demonstrated by American mosques, which are little more than temples of bigotry." He concluded, "Therefore I appeal to the University, as a Rutgers student and as a Muslim, to either ban the Islamic Society and strengthen moderate Muslim groups... or to reform the ISRU."
Let it be noted that this letter, which anticipated the declaration of Fatima Agha, was published eight months before the events of September 11, 2001, demonstrating that not all Muslims in America accepted the yoke of the radicals, even before the crisis brought about by the horrors of that that unforgettably atrocious day.
In a second communication, published in the Daily Targum on January 29, 2001, Mr. Hamdani described ISRU as "bigoted toward people who don't think like ISRU. I am not talking about just non-Muslims, but Muslims with a variety of beliefs, such as Shia, Liberal, and Rationalist." More alarmingly, he alleged that "a certain chemical engineer" and cofounder of ISRU, whom he did not name, assisted Ramzi Yousef in his terrorist plotting. He stated "ISRU openly funds and supports religious extremists all over the United States" and "ISRU openly opposed Muslim participation in the [official American] electoral process."
When it came to the relevant doctrinal issues and manners in Islam, according to Mr. Hamdani, ISRU "promotes antisocial behavior and segregation. Speakers have repeatedly expressed their hatred of women, comparing them sometimes to cattle and sometimes to objects such as jewelry." Further, he pointed out that ISRU "has a policy of having only male speakers. It is forbidden for women to speak at meetings." In addition, he wrote, "ISRU a few years ago declared that it will never have a female president and that the president always has to be male."
ISRU has, one must admit, made a kind of progress since Mr. Hamdani wrote four years ago. As I indicated in my column about the most recent election, "When voting itself took place, it was announced at the meeting that four male positions and three female positions were contested. According to Ms. Agha... this decision... indicated that ISRU considers women students a lesser group." Nevertheless, the bottom line as revealed by Mr. Hamdani in 2001 still holds: ISRU "is run by and represents only one section of the Muslim community, the Sunni-Wahhabi-Fundamentalists. ISRU is a disgrace not only to Rutgers, but [to] the religion of Islam."
Mr. Hamdani's accusations were supported by a similar Targum letter of February 5, 2001, over the signature of engineering student Tariq Muhammad, former editor-in-chief of the ISRU magazine Nasihah (meaning: The Sincere Adviser.) Mr. Muhammad affirmed, "ISRU has a long history of being ignorant... I have observed ISRU for about eight years now, and I've realized that that ISRU represents immature, arrogant and bigoted beliefs." Mr. Muhammad identified the source of the problem as "a Wahhabi Arab community... called the Islamic Society of Monmouth County" (ISMC). According to Mr. Muhammad, Arab chauvinists in the ISMC mosque maintained discriminatory policies against non-Arabs, himself included (he is also Pakistani in origin.) These included Friday sermons exclusively in Arabic, when most mosque sermons in America are delivered in Arabic and English. The aim, according to Mr. Muhammad, was "to filter out non-Arabs from their mosque." He further asserted that the children of ISMC members ran ISRU, for obvious demographic reasons: Rutgers was their local university.
Both Mr. Hamdani and Mr. Muhammad supported the basic grievance of Fatima Agha: that ISRU conducted its affairs in a dictatorial, hectoring, "secret and deceptive," fashion.
At the beginning of the Fall 2004 academic term, new evidence of Wahhabi mischief at Rutgers appeared in the pages of the Targum, in the form of a weekly column by a Muslim political science major, Hassan Khaja. This individual published an essay on September 2, 2004, i.e. a little more than a week before the anniversary of the Twin Towers and Pentagon attacks, in which he explicitly defended Wahhabism and its founder, Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab, against detractors such as Mr. Muhammad. According to this article, Bin Laden is not even a Wahhabi. Mr. Khaja was possessed of sufficient obliviousness, or nerve, to argue "the last thing Saudi Arabia would think of doing is spreading an ideology similar to Osama bin Laden's."
Clearly, Mr. Khaja's time at Rutgers has been wasted, if he has learned so little that he cannot draw obvious conclusions from the eloquent facts that 15 out of 19 of the 9/11 terrorists were Saudi; that, as recently confirmed in a Washington Post reportage, most of the so-called "foreign fighters" wreaking bloodshed in Iraq are Saudi; and that as he himself, as a Muslim, must know, every Muslim in the world recognizes the role of Wahhabism in Islamist radicalism, and particularly in al-Qaida.
Indeed, Mr. Khaja was answered smartly in the Targum on September 7, 2004, in a counter-column by Rutgers student Daanish Faruqi, who presented a thorough indictment of Wahhabism, and denounced the former's "mindless apologia... for the hateful doctrine of Wahhabism." In an e-mail to me, Daanish Faruqi sought "to make it perfectly clear that ISRU is an extremist organization, whose members routinely speak against non-Muslims, women's rights, democracy... and who intimidate the other Muslims on campus."
As Executive Director of the new Center for Islamic Pluralism I am committed to assisting these youthful heroes of American Muslim protest against extremism. Therapeutic interventions are necessary to cure the Wahhabi illness in Islam. Most importantly, the Saudi state must be separated from Wahhabism as an official ideology, which uses religion as a cover for absolute power and extraordinary corruption and repression. But in the immediate, short term, the state of New Jersey and Rutgers should sever all funding for ISRU, and the clear-sighted young Muslims who oppose ISRU's reign of Saudi-style totalitarianism on U.S. territory should leave the organization behind and form a new open, pluralistic Muslim campus forum.
If they do so, their action could be historic, positive, and fruitful for all American Muslims, and indeed, all Muslims, and their non-Muslim neighbors, everywhere. Rutgers could be the place in the American Islamic community where the "Wahhabi wall," the Wahhabi "Matrix," and the Wahhabi mindset, begin to disintegrate.