[This is my first blog post ever – from February 2005]
By Junaid M. Afeef Published by AltMuslim.com , Institute for Social Policy & Understanding & Muslim Journal
A new study entitled “Saudi Publications on Hate Ideology Fill American Mosques” was recently released by Freedom House. Whether the study is accurate or not, it will certainly invite greater governmental scrutiny on the American-Muslim community.
The stated purpose of the study is to “probe in detail the content of the Wahhabi ideology that the Saudi government has worked to propagate through books and other publications within [U.S.] borders.” Its conclusions and recommendations are of vital concern to the American-Muslim community. The American-Muslim leadership in particular needs to analyze the study and to respond quickly and effectively. If this study’s conclusions are accurate, then the American-Muslim community needs to undertake a monumental overhaul of its institutions and the management of its resources and infrastructure. On the other hand, if there are errors, inaccuracies, methodological problems or additional relevant facts not considered in the study, then it behooves the American-Muslim leadership to correct the record. In either case, the failure to act by American-Muslims will be extremely deleterious to the community’s safety and well-being.
A SUMMARY OF THE STUDY
Who Is Behind The Study?
The study was done by Freedom House and its Center for Religious Freedom. Freedom House describes itself as a non-partisan, non-profit organization working to advance worldwide economic and political freedom. It is headquartered in New York City. Founded over 60 years ago by Eleanor Roosevelt, Wendell Wilkie and others, today it is led by a board of trustees that includes, among others, R. James Woolsey (former CIA Director), Steve Forbes Jr. (President of Forbes, Inc.), Samuel Huntington (Harvard professor), Farooq Kathwari (President of Ethan Allen Interiors, Inc.), Jeane Kirkpatrick (former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. ), Mara Liasson (NPR White House Correspondent), Azar Nafisi (Johns Hopkins University professor), P.J. O’Rourke (journalist), and Bill Richardson (Governor of New New Mexico).
The “Saudi Publications on Hate Ideology Fill American Mosques” study was funded by two foundations. The first is the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation is a private grant-making organization founded in 1985. According to the Foundation’s website it is “devoted to strengthening American democratic capitalism and the institutions, principles and values that sustain and nurture it” and its “programs support limited, competent government; a dynamic marketplace for economic, intellectual, and cultural activity; and a vigorous defense at home and abroad of American ideas and institutions.” However, Mark O’Keefe of Newhouse News Service reported about the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation as follows: “Name a conservative idea — whether it’s school vouchers, faith-based initiatives or the premise that there’s a worldwide clash of civilizations — and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation is apt to have its fingerprints on it.” Furthermore, in June 2003 Salim Muwakkil of In These Times wrote that the “Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation has been the economic fount for the neoconservative notions of global affairs now ascendant in the Bush administration” and that “[a]ccording to a report by Media Transparency, from 1995 to 2001 the Milwaukee-based foundation provided about $14.5 million to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the think tank most responsible for incubating and nourishing the ideas of the neocon movement.”
The JM Foundation is reported as the other source of funding. JM Foundation is headquartered in New York City. Its stated objective is to “encourage market-oriented public policy solutions; to enhance America’s unique system of free enterprise, entrepreneurship, private property ownership, and voluntarism; and to strengthen American families.” Many of JM Foundation’s other grant recipients can also be found in People for the American Way’s “Right Wing Watch” list.
How Did They Do The Study?
By its own admission the study is not a general survey of American mosques. In fact, it actually looked at only 15 mosques throughout the United States. No explanation has been proffered as to how these particular mosques were targeted. The libraries and book collections of the selected mosques were inspected in November and December 2003 and again in December 2004. Seven of these mosques were on the east coast (NY, NJ, D.C., VA). Three mosques identified in this study were from Texas. On the west coast there were four mosques in California. From the midwest there was only one mosque from Illinois in the study. The report includes a list of the mosques and their respective addresses. Some 200 books and publications were collected. However, only 57 of these books and publications were used in the study. All of the 57 books and publications used in this study were written in Arabic or English. In the case of the Arabic literature, the texts were translated into English. Interestingly, the translators identities are withheld. This is reportedly for safety considerations.
The study includes a bibliography of the books and publications used. In addition to the texts, the study cites newspaper and magazine reports, books and journal articles, interviews and online resources. Some of the more interesting and or well known individuals cited include Khalid Du’ran, Stephen Emerson, Stephen Schwartz, Hisham Kabbani, Cheryl Benard and Fouad Ajami. The study’s report includes four pages of citation notes.
What Did These Books and Publications Say?
The cited materials are, as a matter of fact, extreme, incendiary and vitriolic. The study divided the subject matter of these books and publications into 7 categories of “hate ideology”. The categories are: (1) Christians, Jews and Other “Infidels”, (2) Jews, (3) Other Muslims, (4) Anti-American, (5) Infidel Conspiracies, (6) Jihad Ideology, and (7) Suppression of Women. One document states that it is a Muslim’s duty to cultivate enmity between oneself and unbelievers and that hatred of unbelievers is proof that the Muslim has completed disassociated himself from the unbelievers. Another document state’s that Muslims may have non-Muslim domestic workers in their homes, but that the Muslims must hate their “infidel” domestic workers and not treat them as they would another Muslim. The study cites many other, similarly obnoxious pronouncements such as the prohibition of Muslims initiating greetings with non-Muslims and the prohibition of Muslims greeting non-Muslims on their holidays. However, the study also cites to some other, more serious examples of hate in which Muslims are commanded to “spill blood” of infidels and apostates.
The Study’s Conclusions & Recommendations
The study concluded that American mosques are filled with Saudi publications that promote hate ideology. All of the books and publications were found to have some connection to Saudi Arabia. According to the study, these publications advanced a “dualistic worldview in which there exist two antagonistic realms or abodes that can never be reconciled – Dar Al-Islam and Dar Al-Harb, or Abode of War…and that when Muslims are in the latter, they must behave as if on a mission behind enemy lines.” The study also concluded that these publications “pose a grave threat to non-Muslims and to the Muslim community itself.”
The study further found that the “spread of Islamic extremism, such as Wahabbism, is the most serious ideological challenge of our times” and that “[t]he Saudis’ totalitarian doctrine of religious hatred – now planted in many America mosques – is inimical to our tolerant culture, and undermines the war on terrorism by providing the intellectual foundation for a new generation of Islamic extremists.” Preempting any constitutional defense that might be proffered from “marketplace of ideas” types, the study places these Saudi publications outside of First Amendment protection. The study argues that these publications are beyond even protected hate speech because “it is a totalitarian ideology that can incite to violence.”
Given the strong language used in the report, one might fully expect that the study calls these documents a clear and present danger to the United States. The study makes several recommendations based on its conclusions. First and foremost, the study recommends that the United States “take into consideration the high-stakes struggle over ideology within Islam and the central role Saudi Arabia continues to play in it” when formulating foreign policy. Other recommendations include: (1) an “official study of the Saudi export of hate ideology around the world”, (2) “an official protest at the highest levels of the Saudi government about its publications and fatwas lining the shelves of some of our most important mosques”, (3) a call for “mosque leaders to remove these hateful publications and materials” and (4) a call for “private sources of financing” to replace the Saudi publications in American mosques with “textbooks and tracts that emphasize religious toleration and the principles of individual religious freedom and other basic human rights.”
The study clearly shows that these 15 American mosques included some very hateful books in its libraries. However, to suggest that all American mosques are filled with such publications is a stretch. While the title does not technically use the phrase “All American Mosques”, the implication is evident. The concern is that these “hate ideology” tracts are influencing American-Muslims. However, this is probably not likely since, as the study found, 90 percent of the books and publications found were written in Arabic. The majority of American-Muslims are not of Arab descent and certainly a majority of American-Muslims do not read and understand Arabic. So, even as these books sat on bookshelves in the 15 mosque libraries, very few people could actually read them.
The study did not assess or evaluate the other books in the mosque libraries it investigated. Were there other books and publications that espoused views different from those spotlighted in the study? After all, in the “marketplace of ideas” the best way to counter hateful ideas is to inject speech that counters and challenges such ideas.
Another issue is the frequency with which these mosque libraries were actually used. These issues should have been addressed. They were not, and that certainly has an impact on the credibility of the study’s conclusions and recommendations. Another problem with this study is its uncritical inclusion of Hisham Kabbani and Stephen Schwartz’s claims that 80 to 85 percent of American mosques are controlled by Wahabbis. This claim is unsubstantiated. As a matter of fact, there is good reason to believe that radical, salafist/wahabbi views represent a very small segment of the American-Muslim community.
In the summer of 2004, several months prior to the release of the Freedom House study, the “Detroit Mosque Study” by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding found that only 6 percent of Detroit’s mosque-attending population espoused salafist/wahabbi views. In fact, the study concluded that the vast majority of Ameican-Muslims eschew extremist views. ISPU’s “Detroit Mosque Study” received significant media attention. It has even been favorably cited by the U.S. State Department. The “Detroit Mosque Study” certainly should have been considered by Freedom House in the interest of producing fair and balanced research.
The last concern is one that should resonate with critics who find nefarious undercurrents in the alleged presence of Saudi money in American-Muslim institutions. This study was funded by foundations that have clear right wing agendas. The cited experts have a history of being inimical to Islam in general and American-Muslims in particular. The lack of balance puts significant portions of the study under a dubious light. American-Muslim leaders must thoroughly scrutinize this study.
Despite its limitations, the study highlights an ugly undercurrent in modern Islamic discourse that American-Muslims must openly confront. However, in the vigor to expose strains of extremism, we must not forget that open discussion is the best tool to debunk the extremist literature rather than a suppression of First Amendment rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.