Reading, Writing, and Extremism
TO WHAT DEGREE does the threat of global terror embody the Wahhabi beliefs taught by the official sect in Saudi Arabia, beliefs the desert kingdom still seeks to impose throughout the Muslim world and to spread to the non-Muslim world as well? And what role does the international network of Saudi-funded Muslim educational institutions play in the spread of the extremist ideology, which is a prerequisite for the recruitment of terrorists?
In answering these questions, it is worth examining the numerous such schools in the United States. They aren't madrassas, or religious schools of the kind found in majority-Muslim countries (nor are all madrassas centers of extremist indoctrination). Rather, these schools appear to be American-style religious elementary, secondary, and college-level educational institutions teaching a full range of academic subjects. Nevertheless, the views they propagate are just as conducive to political extremism and even terrorism as those taught in the extremist madrasas of Pakistan or Saudi Arabia itself. Most of these institutions call themselves "Islamic academies." And they are found all over the United States, from Baton Rouge to Sacramento, and from Huntsville, Alabama, to Aurora, Colorado.
In March 2002, the official Saudi newspaper Ain Al-Yaqeen described royal expenditures abroad for spreading the faith as "astronomical." It traced to Saudi funding no fewer than 1,500 mosques, 202 colleges, and some 2,000 schools for Muslim children "in non-Islamic countries in Europe, North and South America, Australia and Asia."
The Saudi embassy in Washington was instrumental in creating an American model program for schoolchildren in the Islamic Saudi Academy (ISA, www.saudiacademy.net), located in Fairfax County and Alexandria, Virginia. ISA withdrew from the Virginia Association of Independent Schools in 2002 after an inquiry into its funding and administration, as well as publicity in the Washington Post about the harshness of its Wahhabi curriculum. A February 25, 2002, story in the Post quoted an 11th-grade textbook, for example, to the effect that on the Day of Judgment, the trees will say, "Oh Muslim, Oh servant of God, here is a Jew hiding behind me. Come here and kill him."
The same article reported that "several students of different ages . . . said that in Islamic studies, they are taught that it is better to shun and even to dislike Christians, Jews, and Shiite Muslims." One teenager told the Post, some teachers "'teach students that whoever is kuffar [non-Muslim], it is okay for you' to hurt or steal from that person." But the embarrassment apparently was fleeting: Early in 2003, ISA received clearance from Loudoun County, Va., to construct an $80 million complex on 100 acres. ISA spent $27 million in the decade 1984-94, and reported a student body of 1,300 in 1999.
For the Saudi-Wahhabis, education and politics are inextricably merged. 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), the main organ of the Wahhabi lobby in America, for the purchase of land in Washington, to be used in the construction of "an education and research center." Similarly, front groups interfacing between Wahhabi-Saudi money movers (some of them under federal suspicion as terror backers) and the broader American public include two institutions active in the field of religious education: the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences (GSISS) in Leesburg, Virginia, and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), in Herndon, Virginia. The involvement of GSISS in the promotion of extremism is especially significant in that this school is credentialed by the Department of Defense to certify Muslim chaplains for the U.S. armed forces. Its similar role in certifying imams for work in federal and state prison systems has prompted a lawsuit by four non-Wahhabi Muslim plaintiffs in the New York prison system.
A related organization is the Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences in America (IIASA), which is operated, in apparent violation of diplomatic norms, as an ordinary American educational institution, though it is controlled by the Islamic Affairs Department of the Saudi embassy.
Islamic academies all over the United States use curricula developed by GSISS and IIASA. Many also use books disseminated by the IQRA' International Educational Foundation, Inc. and its Book Center, in Chicago. One such book, "The Clear Victory, "by Abdassamad Clarke, describes an early victory by Muslim armies, ending in a peace treaty. It includes the declaration, ascribed to a follower of Muhammad with regard to opponents of Islam, "If anyone troubles us, we will cut off his head." The "Riyadh translation" of the Koran into English, distributed to schools by IQRA', includes an appendix delivering a call to jihad. These are not messages mainstream Muslim educators wish to convey to their students.
ONE TEACHER at a non-Wahhabi Muslim school who is critical of extremism and requests anonymity explained her objections in a letter to IQRA': "We will no longer accept any books published in Saudi Arabia because of the Wahhabi mentality" found therein. The letter continues, "The Wahhabi ideology distorts the life of our Prophet in order to justify some misconstrued notion that Muslims must declare a worldwide jihad. I am more and more disgusted by this blind, political view which is not the solution to the situation of the Muslims today, but rather the cause of [our] problems."
The close relationship between schools and other Wahhabi entities is evident on their websites. Thus, the "Politics" button on the website of the Toledo Islamic Academy, in Toledo, Ohio (www.toledomuslims.com), jumps directly to the homepage of the United Muslim Association of Toledo, which as of May 2003 urges visitors to send a pre-drafted e-mail to Fox News protesting the appearance of expert Daniel Pipes and investigator Steven Emerson on Brit Hume's show. A quintessential Wahhabi rant, the e-mail calls the two men hatemongers, anti-Semites, bigots, crooks, clowns, and "despicable excuses for human beings." Pipes and Emerson are controversial; the trademark Wahhabi contribution is to dehumanize them by violent language.
Traditional, anti-extremist American Muslims are waging a concerted fight against the infiltration of radicalism into their community. Bottom line: Surely American schools should not be misused to indoctrinate young people in extremism.