Interview with Stephen Schwartz

The National Review has an interview with Stephen Schwartz about his new book “The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa’ud from Tradition to Terror.” I’ll have to check out the book. The interview by itself is informative. He gives a rundown of wahhabi influence country by country around the globe, clarifies the reasons behind 15 of the 19 hijackers being from Saudi and, most importantly, answers the question everybody seems to be asking: “why aren’t more Muslims vocally renouncing the Wahhabists?” I hope you don’t mind if I quote his full response:

Nobody can say that Wahhabism or any other form of Muslim religious radicalism, is “not Islam,” anymore than one can say that one or another extreme element in Judaism or Christianity do not belong to those faiths. Islam includes many strains. Over 1,000 years, pluralism within the faith was the norm, and traditional Muslims shied away from arguing that what they disliked was “not Islam,” or that Muslims they opposed were “unbelievers.” But with the rise of Wahhabism and, particularly, the benefits of petrodollars, the Wahhabi-Saudis have arrogated to themselves a position of leadership in the world Islamic community or umma. Their claim of preeminence is not Islamically sound, in the opinion of many scholars.

Leading Muslims outside the U.S. denounce Wahhabism, and many denounced the atrocity of 9/11. Unfortunately, however, most of U.S. media is completely incompetent in finding, listening to, or understanding these voices. U.S. media does not interview anti-Wahhabi sheikhs or imams or muftis in the Islamic world. U.S. media paid no attention when the head of Bosnian Islamic scholars, Mustafa efendija Ceric, preached eloquently against terrorism. U.S. media did not notice when an Albanian daily — in a country with a Muslim majority — hailed the U.S. action in Afghanistan last year with the headline “Nobody Veils the Statue of Liberty’s Face.” Nobody in the U.S. media has followed up on reports by myself and others showing that Kosovar Albanian Muslims would like to fight for the West in Iraq. Worse, U.S. media has reported very little of the mobilization of 70 million Indonesian Muslims against extremism in the aftermath of the Bali horror.

U.S. media listens to the so-called “Arab street,” which is essentially irrelevant, filled as it is with yelling loiterers, or engages in polling exercises asking loaded questions. This, of course, reinforces the view of Muslims as unanimous haters of the West and America. To understand the struggle of the world’s traditional Muslims against Wahhabism, you have to get away from the “Arab street” and meaningless people wandering around. You have to sit down with serious Islamic clerics and thinkers and dialogue with them in a way they understand and respect. I did this in the Balkans. This is one of several reasons I never tire of pointing out that, just as Orwell went to Spain, not Russia, to understand Stalinism, I went to Sarajevo, not Riyadh, to learn about Wahhabism.

I have never seen a single serious interview with an Islamic religious figure on Western television. This is in itself a shocking fact. Of course, first an interviewer would have to know who to interview and what questions to ask. But if you don’t know who or what to ask you have no business proclaiming how much of the Islamic world hates us and supports terror. Proper media coverage of Islam, meaning the views of serious clerics and intellectuals, seems unlikely to happen in a media industry where Barbara Walters remains transfixed by Saudi princes handing out charity and Bill O’Reilly preens himself by referring to Islam as “the enemy’s religion.” In the wars with Japan and Vietnam, Buddhism was the religion of much of the enemy, but we never saw wholesale smears against Buddhists in the U.S. public square.

Of course, for much of the media, the primitive and simplistic image of Muslims as uniformly extremist and terrorist is easier to report, more popular, and “better TV” than that of a complex conflict inside a world religion. It also supports the left-wing claim that it’s all our fault, or Israel’s. It’s so much easier to say they all hate us because of our hegemony and Zionism than to say, as I do, that they don’t all hate us, and that the real issue is the battle for the soul of Islam.

As for the situation in the U.S., condemnation of Wahhabism and even of terrorism have been sparse for the following reasons:

Wahhabis (CAIR, etc.) are granted status by U.S. media as the main Islamic spokespeople. They issue ameliorative statements intended to end discussion of the problem, and they closely watch the community and prevent traditional Muslims from expressing themselves openly about Wahhabism and its involvement with terrorism. The U.S. media let them get away with this.

Most immigrant Muslims in the U.S. came to this country to get away from extremism and are horrified to see that their faith is in extremist hands here. They believed, before coming here, that the U.S. government would never permit such a thing to happen. However, their children are often indoctrinated and radicalized by extremists operating through Muslim schools, Islamic Sunday schools, and radical campus groups. That the U.S. government turned a blind idea to the Wahhabization of American Islam is deeply shocking and disturbing for them. They feel intimidated and defeated. The fact that the U.S. political and media elite have done almost nothing to enable traditional Muslims in this country to oppose Wahhabism makes the situation that much worse.

Traditional Islam rejected involvement in politics, especially radical politics. For this reason also, traditional Muslims in this country have been slow to rally against Wahhabi influence.

[Less charitably, most muslims immigrated here for material reasons, not religious ones, so religious activism wasn’t a high priority. – BG]

Finally, traditional Muslims in this country and around the world were devastated by 9/11. Their reaction was one of shock, horror, and deep depression. Even many of those who tried to deny Muslim involvement in 9/11 did so because the alternative, admitting the role of terrorism in Islam today, was almost inconceivable. This is not because of agreement with the terrorists, but because of revulsion from them. Islam may not appear as “the religion of peace” to others, but most ordinary Muslims believe it is such. The evidence of 9/11 was so overwhelmingly negative many of them can best be described as profoundly demoralized.

Published by bingregory

Official organ of an American Muslim in Malaysian Borneo, featuring plants, pantuns and pictures from the Malay archipelago. Oversharing since 2002.

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  1. That’s an interview worth pondering, cheers for pointing it out. I’ve just translated a French article on the Muslim Chams of Cambodia, their persecution by the Khmers Rouges and the current attempts of the Wahhabis to ‘convert’ them, if you’re interested.

  2. Very interesting and thanks for making us aware of the interviewee. By December I should have up-dated my website, substituting the current articles with fresher ones on Sufism, focusing on the Malay Archipelago insya-Allah (i.e. God willing).

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