web counter Media Lies: Saudi hate literature in the US?

Sunday, February 06, 2005

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Saudi hate literature in the US?

My readers know I have been extremely critical of Saudi Arabia's promulgation of Wahhabism and hatred. So when I saw this article in the Dallas Morning News I naturally read it immediately. By the time I finished reading the article, I wasn't too excited about the story.

Now it's hit the blogosphere, and it looks like it will create quite a stir. I am compelled, then, to explain why I didn't highlight the article right away.

Frankly, I didn't find the Freedom House study all that convincing. At first glance, it seems an important work.
We have ascertained that as of December 2004, Saudi-connected resources and publications on extremist ideology remain common reading and educational material in some of America's main mosques.
This makes it appear as if Saudis are actively distributing hate literature in the US. However......
In undertaking this study, we did not attempt a general survey of American mosques. In order to document Saudi influence, the material for this report was gathered from a selection of more than a dozen mosques and Islamic centers in American cities, including Los Angeles, Oakland, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Washington, and New York. In most cases, these sources are the most prominent and well-established mosques in their areas. They have libraries and publication racks for mosque-goers. Some have full-or part-time schools and, as the 9/11 Commission Report observed, such "Saudi-funded Wahhabi schools are often the only Islamic schools." The material collected consists of over 200 books and other publications, many of which titles were available in several mosques. Some 90 percent of the publications are in Arabic, though some are in English, Urdu, Chinese and Tagalog. With one exception, an Urdu-language document, the materials for this study were in Arabic and English. The Center had two independent translators review each Arabic document.
So the study is a small sampling of the mosques in America, and no attempt was made to make it scientific. This is a problem. We can't really know if the evidence they've adduced is typical or not.

Muslim leaders' reactions to the report have been characterized as "cautious".
"The majority of the stuff they picked is in Arabic, a language that most people in mosques don't read," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations, a lobbying group that promotes Muslim causes.

"And I think we can rely on the common sense and good judgment of the American Muslim community that, if they are reading hate-filled rhetoric, they would remove it."

Not all the examples cited in the report would qualify as hate speech, said Khaled Abou el Fadl, a professor of Islamic law at the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Abou el Fadl has written extensive critiques of Wahhabi theology.

Opposition to Israel, to colonialism and to immoral aspects of Western culture – all cited in the report – aren't evidence of Wahhabi extremism, he said.
The first argument is specious. I'm certain there are enough Muslims in America who can read Arabic quite well. The second argument cannot be accepted at face value, because we simply don't know. No one has studied the problem, and the word of CAIR is highly suspect at best.

In my mind, the most telling comment in the report is this one. (Emphasis mine.)
The bulk of the material was collected in November and December 2003. In December 2004, additional samples were collected from mosques in Washington, Falls Church, Los Angeles, Orange County and Chicago showing that the problem continues as this report goes to press. One of the documents from Saudi Arabia's Islamic Affairs Ministry bears the post-9/11 publication date of 2002, while most of the other titles were published in the 1980s and 1990s. Notwithstanding the fact that some of the titles were published by groups and entities that in the last two years have been shut down or have broken ties with the Saudi government following U.S. government terrorism investigations, and despite the Saudi government advertising campaign that their textbooks are being revised, the offensive titles and similar publications remain widely available in America, and in some cases dominate mosque library shelves, and continue to be used to educate American Muslims.
Rather than a current campaign to "infect" American muslims with the Wahhabist ideology, we have aged materials that may or may not represent present Saudi opinion. Furthermore, the study made no attempt to determine how long the materials have been in the mosques they studied, nor did they attempt to determine whether or not anyone was actually reading the material and if so, how many. (At least, if they did, they didn't bother to say it in their report.) Yet they make the fallacious assumption that the materials "continue to be used to educate American Muslims" even though they produce no evidence that this is true.

Rather than a study, what we have is an "observation", if you will. We really don't have a data with which to make intelligent judgments about the involvement of Saudi Wahhabism in American islam. Doubtless this "report" will receive a great deal of notoriety. In my opinion, a great deal more than it should. There's lots of sizzle here but very little steak.

I am a strong advocate of exposing the Saudi duplicity, but it ought to be done with honesty and with facts that are placed in their proper context.

UPDATE: Daveed Gartenstein-Ross at the Counterterrorism blog disagrees with my conclusion that the report is unconvincing, stating, "But even recognizing the limitations that Media Lies points out, this is a very powerful report -- especially for those readers who, until now, were unfamiliar with the specifics of Wahhabi teaching." Daveed's point is well taken. We in the blogosphere sometimes have a tendency to forget that not everyone is as well informed as we. On that basis, I would agree with him that the report is important — it brings the issue to the fore. I would counsel caution, however, at reading too much into the report. In fact, the report could well understate the problem. We simply don't know.