How Wahhabi Spin Conquers the West
by Stephen Schwartz
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Last week, I published an FSM column titled "How the Wahhabi Lobby Spins Islam." There I described a media assault on me by Hadia Mubarak, a former leader of the Saudi-founded Muslim Students Association of the U.S. and Canada (MSA), present board member, i.e. top-level representative, of the Saudi-financed Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and associate of Georgetown University's Saudi-supported Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (CMCU).
I protested against Ms. Mubarak's libelous accusation that I have "a deep hatred of Islam," since I have been Muslim myself since 1997. I sought to demonstrate how a powerful lobby in the West aligns with the radical Wahhabi sect that is the state religion in the Saudi kingdom. The Wahhabi lobby targets as "enemies of Islam" all Muslims, as well as non-Muslims, who criticize fundamentalism and other extremist trends in the faith of Muhammad.
In that column I pointed out that from the campus agitation of MSA to the Wahhabi advocacy of CAIR and thence to respectability at Georgetown-CMCU is a path worn smooth by young American Islamists. Such career progress also illustrates why Western mainstream media, academia, and government "experts" have been so vulnerable to the argument that Saudi radicalism represents the sole legitimate form of Sunni Islam. The Wahhabis and their allies have gained a monopoly on Sunni opinion in the West, and it is natural but abominable that non-Muslim media, academia, and even government turn to them for guidance.
But while it is legitimate to question the role of the Saudis in Western perceptions of Islam, as well as to reply critically to such questioning, the Wahhabi lobby exposes its totalitarian nature when it shuns debate and immediately turns to personal abuse. Hadia Mubarak clearly had no idea that open controversy is a major feature of Islamic intellectual history – in the classic manner of a Hitlerite or Stalinist, she interpreted any challenge as an enemy attack.
Yet little did I know how brief a time I had to wait before receiving fresh and dramatic evidence of the success the Wahhabi lobby has enjoyed in spinning Islam globally as well as in the U.S. I have now been honored with a similarly libelous blast from the Parisian monthly Le Monde Diplomatique, a periodical stratospherically higher than the internet media and low-circulation Muslim community journals to which Ms. Mubarak and CAIR most often have recourse.
In its November issue, LMD, as it prefers to be called – perhaps in imitation of WMD, perhaps out of nostalgia for the drug LSD, which produced similarly hallucinatory effects – published a long article by someone named Stefan Durand, identified in the paper as nothing other than a "researcher." The topic was the concept of "Islamofascism," on which I have published extensively. I first used the term in print only 11 days after September 11, 2001, in referring to the Saudi-Wahhabi cult that inspires al-Qaida. While a historian of the Arab world and Islam, Malise Ruthven, had previously employed it 1990, to describe the dictatorships prevalent from Morocco to Pakistan, I developed it much further, in my book The Two Faces of Islam.
In my view, "Islamofascism" implies an extensive and serious sociological and historical theory, concentrating on the political role of frustrated elites in the Muslim world. The growing middle class of Saudi Arabia, as well as their aspiring but impoverished peers in Egypt and Pakistan, are drawn to radical, violent, paranoid, irrational politics in the same way the ruined middle class in Germany, after the first world war, was lured into Nazism.
"Islamofascism" is, then, neither one of the many "sound-bite" comments on the conflict over the future of Islam, nor a political slogan.
French "researcher" Stefan Durand, however, had a different approach to the matter. The Durand essay was advertised with a garish red headline on the paper's front page, "Is Islamism Fascism?" A mutilated translation was posted on LMD's English-language website (but on some servers is only available to the paper's subscribers.)In the English version, Stefan Durand's punch-line appeared at the top of the long, laborious piece. First, he was mainly exercised at the use of the term, or a variant thereof, by President George W. Bush. Second, he claimed to have traced a connection to the White House, which he painted as sinister.
According to the French researcher, my argument about Islamofascism was communicated to the chief executive of our country by Bernard Lewis, the Princeton historian of Islam. In the world of LMD, Lewis is an "orientalist" – a term employed as an insult in the impenetrable and contemptible scratchings in ink by the late Arab author Edward Said. And LMD reveals that Professor Lewis is an "advisor to the White House." Further, our intrepid Frenchman reports, I, Stephen Schwartz, consider myself a disciple of Lewis. In the words of the ridiculous Durand, Bernard Lewis and I share "great hostility toward Islam."
Whoops, there it is… again! An analyst of "Islamofascism" must be hostile to Islam, according to the prestigious LMD! The content of the theory of Islamofascism is ignored; neither Durand nor any of the other drive-by polemicists who have assailed it (in such leftist tabloids and pulp magazines as In These Times and The Nation) have pretended to address it.
Stefan Durand is not, one must admit, much of a researcher. His research did not disclose to him that I am a Muslim, and therefore should not be accused of hostility to my faith. Nor did it impart to him that Bernard Lewis is controversial in France because of his defense of the Turkish authorities against a charge of deliberate genocide in the massacres of Armenians at the end of the first world war. Lewis's view of the Turkish-Armenian tragedy is hardly a position characteristic of those hostile to Islam. I cannot blame researcher Durand for not anticipating that I would have published an article in The Weekly Standard (issue dated November 20, 2006) criticizing the record of Turkey in dealing with Muslim as well as non-Muslim minorities, which might be construed as opposed to the stance of Bernard Lewis. For the French researcher, it suffices to condemn The Weekly Standard because it is edited by William Kristol.
I do not deny, however, being a disciple of Bernard Lewis, as well as of William Kristol. Professor Lewis is the dean of historians of Islam in the West, and notwithstanding the cheap insults directed against him in the past by Edward Said, all who write on Islamic history today owe him a debt. Professor Lewis is even quoted by intellectuals in Iran, although they disagree with him on numerous issues.
All that counts to the protectors and apologists for Islamofascism is that Schwartz be personally discredited, and the line of attack is automatic and obvious: I am yet another foe of Islam. And thus it is that the schoolyard tactics of Hadia Mubarak, MSA, CAIR, and the Georgetown pro-Wahhabi crowd ascend to the journalistic heights of Le Monde Diplomatique! The success of the Wahhabi lobby in misrepresenting Islam to the West has seldom been better illustrated.
I have no need of insisting that I am no enemy of Islam. I have just returned from the Balkans, where I work closely with anti-radical Sunni Muslims targeted (literally) by gunfire from Wahhabi infiltrators. Recently a Bosnian Muslim cleric, Mustafa Susic, protested that nobody invited the Wahhabis to the Balkans, and the same may be said of Saudi-Islamist agents in Western Europe and North America. No Muslims asked these Saudi religious colonialists to subvert American Islam. Mustafa Susic had simple advice for young Muslims anxious to improve their study of religion: "do not go to Saudi Arabia!" Susic went on forthrightly, "Al-Qaida started from the [Wahhabi] movement – I do not see any other movement in the Islamic world that could produce such a thing."
I know for certain that neither Wahhabi lobby functionaries like Hadia Mubarak nor French researchers like Stefan Durand – neither the lurkers in the abyss nor the imagined astronauts of journalism – will pay attention, as I do, to the anti-extremist struggle of a Muslim cleric in a distant, poor, and tormented land, like Mustafa Susic. I am a friend and peer of those Muslims, who, to apply in a new context the words of a California ethnic journalist of the past century, Katayama Sen, are "mute… silent from despair… stammering… grumbling, murmuring… so degraded by suffering and ignorance that they have no strength to speak out."
I will be a voice for those Muslims. To further paraphrase, I will be the bleeding mouth from which the Wahhabi gag has been snatched. I will say everything.