How the Wahhabi Lobby Spins Islam
by Stephen Schwartz
SARAJEVO — I recently attended an event cosponsored by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), a parasitical attachment to the White House and Congress that has produced a notably repellent record of meddling here in the Balkans. The topic of the conference was Islam. Because it was held under "Chatham House rules," under which participants can be quoted only with their permission, I will not discuss any of the proceedings.
I cannot, however, remain silent on an aspect of the meeting that I found outrageous. A female attendee, Hadia Mubarak, identified herself there as a researcher for the Gallup polling organization and affiliate of Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (CMCU), an academic entity best known for its whitewashing of Saudi-sponsored Wahhabism, the most extreme, violent, and fundamentalist sect in Sunni Islam.
Ms. Mubarak said almost nothing to me at the event. However, no more than three days had passed when I read an online statement by her, included in a Christian periodical called Church Executive. Because I have repeatedly criticized the Muslim Students Association of the U.S. and Canada (MSA) as an entity founded with Saudi money and supporting the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, Ms. Mubarak denounced me as, in effect, a liar, who bears, according to her specific words, "a deep hatred of Islam."
Furthermore, the article described Ms. Mubarak as a member of another pro-Wahhabi group, the notorious Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
At this point, I am uncertain which aspect of this incident is more despicable: that Ms. Mubarak might parade in a policy forum under false colors, or the public disclosure of a link between MSA, CAIR, and CMCU, or the personal insult to me.
Let us begin with MSA. There is simply no denying that MSA was founded in 1963 in cooperation with the Muslim World League (MWL), a Saudi-Wahhabi organization that has been investigated by global authorities as a terror financier. MSA enjoyed and continues to avail itself of significant funding. Opponents of Wahhabism who are themselves no friends of the U.S., and whose opinions are therefore of interest, have pointed out that MSA has banned criticism of the Saudis and Wahhabis, as well as non-Wahhabi Islamic literature, from its college branches (which exist throughout North America). MSA officially endorsed Wahhabism, and in 1980 produced an edition of the perverse ramblings of Muhammad Ibn abd al-Wahhab, the 18th century founder of the crazed sect.
Wahhabism is totalitarian and MSA's extreme proclivities continue to be displayed on numerous campuses. Only last year, a significant controversy occurred inside the MSA at Rutgers University over antidemocratic practices imposed on its members. Arguments by Ms. Mubarak and others will not change this; only abandonment of the Wahhabi orientation will improve the situation.
Let us then examine Ms. Mubarak and her double, or multiple, or consecutive memberships. From MSA to CAIR to CMCU is a predictable path seen by those of us who understand how each of these efforts has benefited from Saudi-Wahhabi backing. But the spin seemingly put on her associations by Ms. Mubarak is troubling, to say the very least. Maybe she realized, or was told, that as obtuse and absurd as USIP is, it cannot benefit from consorting with CAIR. So perhaps she was guided by that consideration in putting her CMCU affiliation first.
But now I must express myself about myself. I do not bear any hatred for Islam, whether deep or shallow. I became a Muslim in 1997. I have written extensively in defense of the faith of Islam. And indeed, even before I became Muslim, I was known for my sympathy for Muslims and interest in Muslim history and culture. My encounter with Islam began when I was a mere teenager, forty years ago. During the crisis of former Yugoslavia I was the first American journalist to report on Islam in Bosnia-Hercegovina and its indigenous, European character. Since I believe that journalistic objectivity requires accuracy in reporting on evil, rather than neutrality, I publicized the suffering of Bosnian Muslims in their defense of their survival.
The real message of Ms. Mubarak is the classic Wahhabi spin on Islam. That is, only one interpretation of the religion is acceptable, that propagated by the Saudis, and anybody who disagrees with the Wahhabi doctrine is an enemy to be attacked. With dreadful results, this view of Islam, denying its vital internal diversity, has come to dominate Muslims as well as non-Muslim so-called experts on Islam in the U.S.
I will not be silenced by such tactics, and so long as there is breath in my body, I will not permit the Wahhabi spin on Islam to prevail before the Western public. Of that Ms. Mubarak and others like her may be very, very sure.