May 08, 2006
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.(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 IraqReason 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: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."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.(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.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.
* 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.(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
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