7/19/2005

Wahhabism, The silent growing threat in America

When the horror of September 11 happened, Americans experienced a great deal of confusion and heard a great deal of speculation about the motives for anti-American terrorism. It was natural for most of us to assume that we were attacked because of who we are: because we are wealthy, because we are a dominant power in the world and because we represent ideas that are in conflict with the ideas of radical Islam. Many also assumed – wrongly I think – that it had mostly to do with the Middle East and Israel. But almost immediately a very interesting fact emerged: of the 19 suicide terrorists on September 11, 15 were subjects of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Why is this important? It is important because these were not poor people from refugee camps on the West Bank or in Gaza. These were not people who had grown up feeling some grievance against Israel and the United States because they lived in difficult conditions. These were not people from the crowded and disrupted communities of Egypt or Pakistan, or people who had experienced anti-Islamic violence in the last 20 years and had therefore turned against the United States. These people had grown up in the country that Americans often think of as our most solid and dependable ally in the Arab world – the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The ideology of Saudi hardliners is, unfortunately, of great relevance even inside the United States. One doctrine of Islam dominates in Saudi Arabia: It is called Wahhabism. Wahhabism is the most extreme, the most violent, the most separatist, the most expansionistic form of Islam that exists. It’s a form of Islam that not only lashes out at the West, but that seeks to take over and impose a rigid conformity on the whole Muslim world.

Islam was new in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s. Then, because of changes in the immigration laws, the American Muslim community suddenly became much larger. Most Muslims who came to the United States were not Arabs. The plurality have been people from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. And as Islam originally emerged as a major religion in the U.S., it – unlike other American religions – didn’t have an establishment. A disparate group of Muslims arrived and established mosques in various places. They represented different ethnic groups and lacked any structure to bring them together and unite them. But that didn’t last long. And why? Because the Saudis decided to create an American Islamic establishment based on the radical doctrines of Wahhabism. In order to bring this about, they created a system of organizations that would speak for American Muslims to the government and the media and through the educational system and the mosques.

There are three other areas where the Saudi government and its Wahhabi ideology have gained tremendous influence in the U.S. The first is in the American prison system. With one single exception, all of the federal and state chaplains representing Islam in American prisons are Wahhabis. That is, they are certified by groups originating in Saudi Arabia; the curriculum they follow was created in Saudi Arabia; and they go into our prisons and preach an extremist doctrine. This is almost the same as saying that they go into our prisons and directly recruit terrorists – although there have been cases of that. But anytime you go into a prison – an environment of violence, obviously populated by troubled people – and preach an extremist doctrine, there are going to be bad and dangerous consequences.

The second area is in the military services. Every single Islamic chaplain in the U.S. military has been certified by Saudi-controlled groups – which means that our military chaplains also hold to Wahhabi doctrines. Is it surprising, then, that we had the incident of the Muslim solider in Kuwait who attacked his fellow soldiers? Or the problems with military personnel at Guantanamo? Or the Muslim military man in Washington State who was trying to turn over useful information to Al-Qaeda?

And finally there is the problem with what are known as the Islamic academies: Islamic elementary schools, middle schools and high schools throughout the U.S. that are supported by Saudi money and preach the Saudi-Wahhabi doctrine – in some cases to Saudi expatriate children living here, but in many other cases to Muslim children who are U.S. citizens.

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