Senate Panel Takes on Saudi Radical Islam
by Adam Daifallah
WASHINGTON - A senate subcommittee yesterday examined the growing influence of Wahhabism, the radical, Saudi-sponsored stream of Islam, in a sign that Congress intends to take the issue more seriously.
The Wahhabi brand of Islam, which teaches hatred toward Christians, Jews, and even other types of Muslims, has been spreading in America, terrorism experts and critics of Saudi Arabia say. Left unchecked, it could present a national security threat, they warn.
The hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on terrorism, technology, and homeland security saw experts and senators urge that action be taken to stop the extreme ideas of Wahhabism. Senators laid plenty of blame on Saudi Arabia.
Senator Schumer, a Democrat of New York and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that the pact between the House of Saud and the Wahhabi clerics that glues Saudi Arabia together as a nation is "nothing short of a deal with the devil."
"Wahhabism is an extremist, exclusionary form of Islam that not only denigrates other faiths but also marginalizes peaceful followers of Islam like the Shia and moderate Sunnis," Mr. Schumer said. "The Saudis give the Wahhabis protection and support in exchange for the Wahhabis promising not to undermine the Saudi royal family. The Wahhabis get to preach the hate and extremism that form the core tenets of Wahhabism without consequence."
Mr. Schumer said he has written numerous letters to the Saudi government asking it to denounce hateful Wahhabi teachings - specifically at the madrassahs they run - but has yet to receive any response indicating a change in policy.
One witness at the hearing, Alex Alexiev of the Center for Security Policy, said: "Without the exorbitant sums of Saudi money spent on supporting extremist networks and activities, the terrorist threat we are facing today would be nowhere as acute as it is. The evidence of conscious Saudi subversion of our societies and values...is so overwhelming that to tolerate it further would be unconscionable."
Another witness, the director of the Islam and Democracy program at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, an anti-terrorism think tank, Stephen Schwartz, said that the Saudis are "two-faced."
"Wahhabi-Saudi policy has always been two-faced: that while Wahhabis preach hostility and violence against non-Wahhabi Muslims, they simultaneously maintain a policy of alliance with Western military powers - first Britain, then the U.S. and France - to assure their control over the Arabian Peninsula," Mr. Schwartz said.
Mr. Schwartz cited several organizations as being involved in disseminating the Wahhabi ideology in America, several of which claim to be mainstream Muslim groups. He said the Islamic Society of North America; the Council on American-Islamic relations,; the American Muslim Alliance, and the American Muslim Council are a "Wahhabi lobby." He said both ISNA and CAIR maintain "open and close relations with the Saudi government."
Mr. Schumer, a frequent critic of the Saudis, said he is particularly cocerned by the influence of Wahhabi clerics in federal prisons and in the armed forces, and has written to the inspectors general of the Department of Justice and the Pentagon.
In response to a question by the subcommittee's chairman, Senator Kyl, a Republican of Arizona, about the breadth of Al Qaeda activities in America, the assistant director of counterterrorism at the FBI, Larry Mefford, said that the FBI has ongoing operations in 40 states against the terrorist group and its suspected members.
Mr. Kyl said that yesterday's hearing was the first in what would be a series of hearings examining Wahhabi influence in America.
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