local Saudi values

In my preoccupation with whether Western values are Judeo-Christian or Greco-Roman in the last post, a troublesome topic I didn't touch on was Islamic values.

How compatible are Islamic values with American values? I'd like to hope that they are compatible (especially those held by moderate Muslims), but it's clear to me that the Islamic values espoused by the radical Islamists (with whom we have been at war for years) are wholly incompatible with our own. Not only do freedom of religion and freedom of speech mean nothing to them, but Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman values are seen as inimical to their culture, as heretical, even as blasphemous.

But who -- and whose Islamic values -- are we talking about?

In an earlier post, I expressed serious reservations about a Saudi madrassa which operates in my neighborhood as the "Foundation for Islamic Education" and as "American Open University." A chief reasons for my concern is the 2004 deportation of the national director of the American Open University in Fairfax, Virginia and a raid on the mosque there. Obviously, the deportation of a national director does not constitute proof of any connection between the local mosque and terrorist activities, and I never said there was.

However, there is little question that Saudi madrassas have a less than stellar track record. And you don't have to go to WorldNetDaily to get it. Here's the Philadelphia Inquirer:

WASHINGTON -- "Contending that Saudi Arabia remains a center of financing and recruitment for extremists, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) says it is time for the United States to consider ending military cooperation with the Saudis unless they crack down more forcefully on radical Islamic groups.

Lautenberg and his staff have prepared a 12-page report detailing links between extremist groups and Saudi financiers in an effort to persuade Congress and the White House to reexamine the relationship. The Inquirer was given a copy of the report, which has not yet been released.

The United States, at times formally and at other times tacitly, has committed to protecting Saudi Arabia from the threat of attack, as it did after Saddam Hussein's Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.

The report, derived largely from information gathered by the State Department, human-rights groups and others, alleges that it is largely the Saudis who finance fundamentalist Islamic schools throughout Asia and the Middle East. The schools have been accused of indoctrinating students with anti-Western views.

Lautenberg is proposing a 10-member commission that would probe ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia and recommend steps to pressure the Saudis to get tough with extremist groups.

(Original Inquirer link was here.)

The Lautenberg report is titled "In Who's Best Interest" and it is available at Senator Lautenberg's official web site. Detailing the sort of indoctrination which goes on in Saudi madrassas, the report lists the madrassa activities as among the "Top 10 Reasons to Change the Saudi-U.S. Relationship":

1. Saudi Arabia is producing the majority of foreign insurgents in Iraq
2. The Saudi government allows money to go to terrorists
3. Fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were Saudis
4. The 9/11 Commission called for a change in the U.S.-Saudi relationship
5. Saudis teach anti-American, radical Islam to children
6. The Saudi government persecutes Christians and other religious minorities
7. The Saudi government oppresses women
8. Saudi Arabia’s dictators oppose Democracy
9. The Saudi government calls for Israel’s destruction
10. The Saudi government controls the OPEC oil cartel that keeps gas prices high.

(Emphasis added.)

Reason number five is explained this way in the Lautenberg Report:
The Saudi royal family has been allowed to promote its radical version of Islam – Wahhabism – through a worldwide system of madrassas, or Islamic schools. Religious education is compulsory in Saudi Arabia, and madrassas teach the Wahabbi ideology to young Muslims in Afghanistan, the Balkans (particularly Bosnia-Herzegovina), Chechnya, Kosovo, Indonesia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the troubled Kashmir region, Yemen, and parts of North America, to name a few. Most of these schools are financed by Saudi sources.
North America?

And what are they being taught?

The Lautenberg report offers examples:

The following examples illustrate the extremist nature of Wahhabi teachings across the world:

  • Typical 9th grade boys in madrassas around the world are taught using a book called Hadeeth, that is printed by the Saudi Ministry of Education. This book discusses the victory of Muslims over Jews:
    "The day of judgment will not arrive until Muslims fight Jews, and Muslim will kill Jews until the Jew hides behind a tree or a stone. Then the tree and the stone will say, 'Oh Muslim, oh, servant of God, this is a Jew behind me. Come and kill him.' Except one type of a tree, which is a Jew tree. That will not say that."

  • In a number of Afghani Wahhabi-inspired madrassas, young boys are taught that "Americans are killing Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq, and they are busy trying to poison Muslim minds everywhere with films, music, and television," inciting them to enlist in the jihad against Americans.
  • Western authors are banned and all reading is strictly controlled.
  • While I dislike appearing hysterical, I'm not terribly enthusiastic about stuff like that being taught to kids -- much less in the United States.

    So how about my neighborhood? I know, I know, I'm beginning to sound like a leftist communitarian whiner, and at the rate I'm going, I'll soon be spouting slogans like "THINK GLOBALLY, ACT LOCALLY."

    But they're trying to expand their operations, so I thought it was at least worth looking at the file.

    On Wednesday of last week, I did just that. I went down and looked at the Zoning file, and what I saw hardly instilled me with confidence in the Bush administration. (In fact, it makes me just about ready to send money to Senator Lautenberg!)

    The following I copied from the stenographic transcript of the November, 2005 hearing (which has been continued to this week):

    "The Department of State had come to the Foundation [for Islamic Education] in connection with and in conjunction with social service organizations and the Foundation having facilities asked if they would be able to house certain refugees Meshkanian (phonetic) Turks, who were coming into this country via the State Department."

    "They volunteered their facilities there and two dormitories that were left over from when this was the Northwestern Christian Junior College."

    [NOTE: The file and the above transcript are not available online, but are available to the public here. And here is the hearing notice.]

    This confirmed what I had read in the Inquirer -- that the Turks "live in dormitories on the grounds of an Islamic center tucked along the Main Line."

    But what troubles me is that Wahhabism is not the religion of ethnic Turks. Far from it. And the Foundation for Islamic Education is a strictly Wahhabist madrassa. (All five directors are Saudis.) What that means is that our State Department (i.e. Bush administration) is sending new Muslim immigrants from moderate Muslim countries into Wahhabist religious training centers.

    Now, I can hope that this is some sort of a spy operation to uncover Saudi indoctrination at the madrassa, but I have no way of knowing. It hardly inspires me with confidence that I could go to the government if, God forbid, I were to witness suspicious behavior.

    As to the curricula there, it appears to be hardline fundamentalist, but again, I am no expert. School director Mustafa Ahmad has authored scholarly works (including a Ph.D. thesis) about 13th Century Islamic hardline fundamentalist scholar Ibn Taymiyah -- considered the father of Wahhabist and Salafi thought. There's more on Taymiyah from a Shia perspective here, as well as some discussion of the difference between Wahhabis and Salafis:

    Wahhabi-salafis come in various strains, some being more lethal than others. The variety in strains is due to differences in approach of bringing the Muslims back to a state of strengthened belief based on the example of the pious ancestors. It must be emphasized that although all Wahhabis are called Salafis, all Salafis are not purely Wahhabi. Non-Wahhabi Salafi Muslims include those like Syed Qutb who wished to eradicate the supposed current state of ignorance (jahiliyya) to bring Muslims back to a state of purity – purity reminiscent of the purity of Muslims who lived in the time period of the Salaf. However, all Salafi Muslims, whether they are Wahhabi or Qutbi, admire the role models Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab, and especially Ahmad Ibn Taymiyah, whose hard-line interpretations have inspired revolutionaries today. Therefore, although all Salafis are not Wahhabis, they admire many of the same role models – role models who have been rejected and condemned by masses of orthodox Sunni scholars for their unauthentic representations of pristine Islam. All Wahhabis consider themselves to be Salafis and prefer to be called by this name (instead of Wahhabi), even though differences exist between Salafi groups.
    But what do I know about the religious intricacies, and whether they might relate to terrorism?

    I'm just upset that the federal and local governments appear to be supporting a hardline Saudi religious center right in my neighborhood.

    Yes, local government. Another irritating detail is that county school buses are required to ferry school children to and from the place. I know there are complex legal issues, but you'd think the Saudis could afford their own buses. . . Why do I have to help pay for them?

    Values are complicated. I'm distracted enough as it is by the struggle between Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman values, but at least they're both within the Western cultural tradition -- my concerns over the culture war notwithstanding.

    I try to be fair about these things. But when I think about Saudi Islamic values, things like intolerance for other religions, the death penalty for apostasy, for adultery, for homosexuality, etc. loom large. Most Americans don't spend too much time worrying about how to integrate such values into the fabric of America's Judeo-Christian or Greco-Roman traditions, nor do they worry about whether Saudi values are compatible with ours, for the simple reason that Saudi madrassas are thought of as being "somewhere else."

    Unfortunately, this is a local issue for me, and I feel obligated to write about it.

    (Trust me, I'd rather have written another long post about American values and the Culture War. Call me a bigot, but a culture which debates gay marriage strikes me as more civilized than one which practices gay beheadings.)

    UPDATE: Counterterrorism Blog says that the State Department is "flirting with the Muslim Brotherhood."

    While scores of moderate Muslims and Islamic scholars, the 9/11 Commission, and European security officials point to the Muslim Brothers as the forefathers of modern Islamist terrorism, the State Department is, in fact, flirting with them. As noted by Doug Farah here, last month the State Department sent its head of counterterrorism, Ambassador Hank Crumpton, to be the keynote speaker at a conference co-sponsored by the International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIIT), an infamous Brotherhood-linked Northern Virginia outfit. And in two weeks, as Rachel Ehrenfeld reported, the U.S. Embassy in Rome will co-sponsor a high-profile two-day symposium about immigration and integration where the highly controversial Swiss scholar Tariq Ramadan has been invited as a keynote speaker.

    Isolated blunders? Unfortunately not. . .

    (Via Charles Johnson.)

    (Maybe the idea is to politely ask the Muslim Brotherhood why they hate us. Why am I not reassured?)

    MORE: Dean Esmay takes a long look at Islamophobia, and reminds readers that there's ugly stuff in Christian scriptures, and that most Muslims (along with most Christians) are not scriptural literalists:

    You'll also find parts of the Bible which say people should be stoned to death for blasphemy or adultery. Most Christians and Jews today don't take such instructions literally, and neither do most Muslims today.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    That's well worth remembering by all of us -- my uneasiness about the Saudis notwithstanding.

    I'd feel a lot more comfortable if Saudi religious training made it clear that these things should not be taken literally.

    BTW, an excellent post at Dean's World by Mary Madigan drew this huge discussion of Wahhabism. And more recently, Dave Price linked this Smithsonian article and expressed optimism about Saudi reforms.

    The more reform, the better!

    UPDATE: My thanks to Vik Rubenfeld for linking this post.

    AND SPEAKING OF REFORM: Dean Esmay also has a good post (via a link to National Review's Joel C. Rosenberg) about the solid accomplishments of Morocco's director of Islamic Affairs, Dr. Ahmad Abaddi.

    * They launched a theological training program for Imams to teach them how to promote moderation within Islam, to teach them more about Western history and the importance of Christianity and Judaism to Western social and political development, and to help them identify and oppose extremist forces and trends within Islam. Participants take 32 hours of instruction per week for a full year. The first class of 210 just graduated, and included 55 women.

    * They helped organize the “World Congress of Rabbis and Imams for Peace” in Brussels (January 2005) and Seville (March 2006) where some 150 Muslim and Jewish leaders “sit beard to beard” to explore common ground, denounce extremists, and “write declarations of peace.”

    * They launched an initiative to build a “bridge of friendship” to evangelical Christians in the U.S., including on-going dialogues with Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals, Rob Schenck of the National Clergy Council, and Josh McDowell of Campus Crusade for Christ, among others. Abaddi and his colleagues have also invited pastors and evangelical business leaders to Morocco for conferences and high-level inter-faith talks, and have even helped organize a series of concerts in Marrakesh where Christian and Muslim rock bands perform together for thousands of Moroccan young people.

    * They published a book about the importance of encouraging religious freedom within Islam and even suggested that “Muslims have the right to change their religion” if they so desire.

    * Abaddi also confirmed rumors swirling about in the Arab press that his government is quietly laying the groundwork with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to hold a new round of high-level peace talks in the Kingdom in the near future. He noted that King Hassan II—the late-father of the current monarch—opened secret talks with the Israelis as far back as the early 1970s and that Morocco was the first Arab government after Egypt to welcome an Israeli Prime Minister for a public visit (Shimon Peres in July 1986).

    (More here.)

    "religious classes to teach Imams the history and virtues of the West, and dramatic new initiatives to build ties to Rabbis and evangelical Christians"?

    That is real progress.

    Is it too much to hope for the same from the Saudis?

    posted by Eric on 05.08.06 at 03:46 PM


    Listed below are links to weblogs that reference local Saudi values:

    » State Dept. Provides Wabbist Madrassas in U.S. with Potential New Converts to Radical Islam from The Big Picture
    Eric Sheie at Classical Values is reporting that Moderate Muslim immigrants from Turkey, arriving in the U.S., are being sent by the State Department to Wahhabist training centers in the U.S., which teach (per a report from Senator Lautenberg that Eric... [Read More]
    Tracked on May 9, 2006 2:34 PM


    Funny how Islam is described as a "Abrahamic" religion, but is so far removed from basic Judeo-Christian values as they have a historic hostility to the "people of the book" they believe have "strayed".

    What I have always admired about Judaism is their ability to survive within larger, dominant cultures while keeping their values/religion/traditions alive in the micro and many times hidden behind closed doors. Christianity inherited some of this with the "render unto Cesar" ethos, even if they took it as a mission to witness and spread The Good Word. Certainly, some historical Christian movements attempted conversion by the sword, but most of the spread has been merely by persuasion.

    Darleen   ·  May 8, 2006 7:34 PM

    No matter how many times the phrase is repeated, "Christian holy war" will always have an oxymoronic ring to it -- mostly because of the inescapable pacifism of Jesus.

    "Muslim holy war," on the other hand, can be reduced to a single, well-known word.

    Eric Scheie   ·  May 8, 2006 10:42 PM

    A Jew tree killed my parents. Ever since, I've been on a mission of revenge.

    Who can read such things without either laughing or going mad?

    Jon Thompson   ·  May 9, 2006 1:20 AM

    Two points:

    1) Please keep posting, and please don't worry about being pegged as an alarmist/extremist. You are simply a truth-teller.

    2) I have a special, deep, bitter-ironic laugh that I laugh when reading self-congratulatory posts about how peaceful-n-tolerant Christians are...

    ... maybe that has something to do with the fact that my father had to flee the Nazis when he was 8 years old. Or that the traditional Jewish prayer book includes elegies to Jews killed in massacres - from the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by "tolerant, Western" Romans, through Medieval blood-libels and host-desectration-libels, the Inquisition (which was basically a pre-poison-gas Holocaust with lace collars), continuing on up to the Chmielinski massacres of the 1600s, and the Russian pogroms that brought the other side of my family to the US at the turn of last century.

    These are just the highlights.

    Oh, and the war between Catholic and Protestant nations that bled Europe dry, and the founding of the original US colonies due to violent sectarian persecution (and the lynching of certain Christians by OTHER Christians in the early days of those colonies...).

    Christian pacifism? yeah,right...

    Ben-David   ·  May 9, 2006 8:51 AM

    Ben-David has it right about the Christian past - there's been plenty of blood spilled over the Bible. The difference is that Christians today are increasingly embarrassed by this past. The question is how to make Muslims embarrassed by what's going on on their behalf in the present.

    A big part of the Greco-Roman vs. Judeo-Christian culture war is the shaming or mocking of Judeo-Christians who are backwards enough to take every word of the Bible literally. When do the anti-Judeo-Christians find it in themselves to be as dismissive of Koranic literalists? While some like Christopher Hitchens are equally at home blasting Mother Theresa or Osama Bin Laden, too many others find that the only real danger posed by Osama is that he provides a (potentially phony) justification for Bush having more power.

    We will do well when we reconcile Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian values by adopting those elements of the thinking therein implied that best enable us to live, function and grow in the world we inhabit today. Islam, likewise, will be able to count itself a religion for grownups when it becomes the consensus among followers that it shows a path for living today rather than the need to recapture a lost time - and when Muslims are as embarrassed or naive about the ugly bits in the Koran as today's Christians and Jews are about the more awful stuff in the Bible.

    I write, by the way, as a Christian who's vague on doctrine but thinks the "love one another" shtick isn't a bad first principle for building a civilization.

    Geoffrey Barto   ·  May 9, 2006 1:36 PM

    The single and most important difference between Christian atrocities and Muslim atrocities is that the founder of one (Jesus Christ) did not advocate violence in his name. But the founder of the other (Muhammed) not only advocated it but practiced it. So when Christians kill in Jesus' name, they are hypocrites/charlatans/liars/murderers. When Muslims kill in Muhammed's name, or Allah's, they are fulfilling Allah's mandate, through Muhammed's work. It is that simple. Why is this so hard for attackers of Christianity to understand?

    Rob   ·  May 9, 2006 1:52 PM


    How do you get the Roman destruction of the Temple as evidence of Christian non-pacifism? You realize, of course, that Christians were just as likely to feel the Roman foot and sword as were Jews, seeing that Christianity was just a Jewish cult to them. And during moslem domination, Jews and Christians were both subject to the rules of dhimmitude.

    And please do not equate Nazism with Christianity! Indeed, Righteous Gentiles were the heroic embodiment of Christian values.

    No one has been "patting themselves on the back" about Christian 'pacifism', and as Geoffrey points out, contemporary Christians do NOT celebrate that part of their history that was brutally aggressive.

    And yes, I too have a Jewish family branch that fled Russia in the early 1900's.

    Darleen   ·  May 9, 2006 3:13 PM

    How do you get the Roman destruction of the Temple as evidence of Christian non-pacifism?
    - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    OK - so I generalized a bit. It's all part of a self-congratulatory stance struck by the West - an attitude which ignores that its own violent, intolerant past lasted a heckuva lot longer than its Enlightened equality phase seems to be lasting...

    Ben-David   ·  May 11, 2006 2:40 PM

    Considering the nature of people, I don't think Christianity inherently equals pacifism. Christians are human beings, and even if Jesus was himself a pacifist (some would argue otherwise), I think it's pretty clear he didn't expect even his original followers to live up to his own impossibly high standards (much less the followers who came later).

    Eric Scheie   ·  May 11, 2006 3:42 PM

    Muslim values, for anyone who's actually studied them, are quite obviously just about inseparable from Judeo-Christian values. Wahabbism/Salafism looks very much like Martin Luther's protestantism did: very intolerant, quite dogmatic, and quite murderous (people don't know about Luther's killings, but there were lots of them).

    Also anyone who's studied the Koran and the history of Islam knows that it's not inherently violent. For example, violence done by Muhammed was quite tame compared to almost any conqueror at the time. Furthermore, read your Bible and ask what it was that Jesus was doing to those moneylenders, and read the book fo Revelations for a description of the Warrior Christ.

    The problem here we have with muslims is twofold, as I increasingly see:

    1) We have radical violent dogmatic lunatics within Islam, and

    2) We have Christians (and a few Jews but mostly Christians) who are bigots about their own faith, who eagerly write and read all sorts of vicious and one-sided things about Islam and portray that as their simply being "politically incorrect" and telling the truth, thus doing everything they can to alienate those decent Muslims that we want to be our friends.

    Most of group 2 lack any sense of introspection or willingness to even talk to Muslims let alone ask them penetrating questions or read their blogs.

    Dean Esmay   ·  May 13, 2006 4:45 AM

    Thanks Dean! Good points all -- especially about Luther, whose appalling views rivaled the Salafi/Wahhabists. (He said synagogues should be burned and Jews killed. The Nazis revived his supposedly "medieval" anti-Semitism.)


    Eric Scheie   ·  May 13, 2006 11:53 AM

    thank you for an excellent post. we often talk a lot about saudi this and that but rarely have documentation. i might rip off some of this post for my own purposes. i'll be sure to credit. my latest post is also an attempt to describe western muslim values. a different perspective than yours. different concerns, as well.

    eteraz   ·  May 15, 2006 1:10 PM

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