The Weekly Standard

Wahhabis, Go Home

From the March 7, 2005 issue:

Confronting Saudi evangelism in Kuwait, Europe, and the United States.

by Olivier Guitta

03/07/2005, Volume 010, Issue 23

 

IN THE PAST FEW WEEKS, Kuwait has been waging its own war on terror at home. The police have engaged in five fierce and bloody gun battles with extremists since January 10, as reported by the Associated Press. Five policemen have been killed in these encounters, along with four security men and two bystanders; foreign observers described police conduct as "ham-handed." But the police also managed to kill 9 suspected terrorists and arrest more than 40.

Jolted by this first serious clash with Islamist terrorists, Kuwaiti authorities acted swiftly to tackle the root of the problem: They are closing down unlicensed mosques and barring Saudi imams, the tireless purveyors of Islamist extremism, from preaching inside the emirate. In addition, the AP confirms that Kuwaiti authorities are blocking Islamic websites that incite violence, seizing radical books from mosques, and purging textbooks of extremism.

Expressing the nub of the new policy, former Kuwaiti oil minister Ali al-Baghli wrote in the Kuwait daily Al Qabas on February 2: "What is needed is to cut off the snake's head, namely the masters of terror and all those who propagate terror in mosques and the media."

Yet even as tiny Kuwait, a Muslim country, confronts the problem of Saudi-funded propagation of extremism, European governments continue to treat it with something like benign neglect.

Or worse: In Germany, Wahhabi materials (produced by the extremist Saudis also called Salafis) are used to teach about Islam in public schools. To be sure, this came about by inadvertence. German law allows schools to offer optional religious instruction, so long as it is provided not by state authorities, but by the various religious communities themselves.

As Bernard Lewis, the doyen of Middle East scholars, explained recently at the Hudson Institute, when Germany's large Turkish minority applied for the inclusion of classes on Islam in schools, they offered to supply textbooks from Turkey. As these were government textbooks, they were deemed unacceptable by the German authorities, who requested materials produced by the local Islamic community. The result, Lewis says, were materials produced by private Muslim institutions--funded by Saudi Arabia. As always, he says, it was "the Wahhabis who had the necessary combination of passion, money, and a complete lack of scruples.

"So the Islam that is taught in Turkish schools is on the whole a modernized, secularized, sanitized version of Islam. The Islam which is taught in German schools is the complete Wahhabi version." And Lewis adds this footnote: "As an interesting result of that, of 12 Turks arrested so far who have active membership of al Qaeda, all 12 were born and brought up in Germany, none in Turkey, which I think is rather remarkable."

In Spain, where the very large Islamic Center of Madrid has been directly financed by Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism is on the rise. As long ago as 2002, the Spanish secret services were worried about the radicalization of the local Muslim community. It came as no surprise when, after the March 11, 2004, train bombings in Madrid, a link was established between a Madrid mosque and the men arrested for the bombing.

Meanwhile in France--which hosts the largest Muslim community in Europe, somewhere between 5 million and 8 million people--the link between radical mosques and terrorism is strong. As Louis Caprioli, former head of the counterterrorism unit of the DST, the French equivalent of the FBI, put it, "Behind every Muslim terrorist is a radical imam."

One such, imam Chelali Benchellali, has been preaching jihad since 1991 in Vénissieux, a suburb of Lyon. Apparently his message is getting through. Three of the seven French prisoners held at Guantanamo are from Vénissieux, including Benchellali's own son. Two other men from Vénissieux were arrested by the DST on November 5, 2002, and charged with terrorism; both are relatives of Nizar Nawar, the suspected mastermind of the terrorist attack on the Djerba synagogue in Tunisia, which killed 19 people on April 11, 2002.

The DST finally arrested imam Benchellali on January 6, 2003, along with his wife, another son, and a Vénissieux pharmacist suspected of planning a major chemical attack in France. Only this month, the daily Le Parisien reported that a group of newly arrested Islamists have confirmed that Benchellali had installed a chemical lab in his apartment and was on his way to manufacturing bombs containing the deadly poison ricin.

Completing the picture, three young French Muslims died recently fighting the Coalition in Iraq, and three more were arrested by American troops in Falluja. All six had attended the same mosque in Paris and answered the call to jihad of the imam, who has since been arrested. The mother of one of them told a reporter her son had been brainwashed and manipulated by an Islamist guru.

The vast majority of the imams preaching in France are foreigners, and most are in the country illegally. Back in May 2004, I asked Jean-François Copé, chief spokesman for the French government, whether it would make sense to deport them, particularly those preaching hatred. He answered that most have been in the country some time, have their families and their lives in France, and cannot be easily deported. Nevertheless, France has started to expel the most outrageously extremist imams: a total of five in 2004.

In a country with 1,500 imams, this is a drop in the sea. Even deporting the most virulent will scarcely make a dent in the growing radical movement, considering the hold Saudi Wahhabism has on French Islam. As long ago as May 2001--before 9/11--King Mohammed VI of Morocco warned the French interior minister of the danger posed by the influence of Saudi Arabia through French mosques. To no avail.

Indeed, Saudi Arabia is omnipresent. It financed the luxurious Institute of the Arab World in Paris, the Lyon mosque, and the King Fahd Islamic Center of Mantes-la-Jolie. When asked about Saudi influence in France, Jean-François Copé brushed off the question, stating it was irrelevant. He added that the French government was determined to encourage the emergence of a French Islam and to insist that from now on imams at least speak French (as only half do today).

Yet the development of Saudi institutions in France continues apace. A new school for training French imams will be financed by the Saudi-sponsored Islamic Countries Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization (ICESCO), reports the Arabic newspaper Al Watan. Just last week, Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin told Le Figaro Magazine that a decision of the European Court of Justice prevents European governments from barring the foreign funding of mosques. So much for a truly independent French Islam.

Finally, the government of the Netherlands has been on a steep learning curve since the murder of Theo Van Gogh, on November 2, 2004, by an Islamist following the release of Van Gogh's documentary critical of Islam. The government has just issued a report on "Saudi Influences in the Netherlands: Links between the Salafist Mission, Radicalization Processes, and Islamic Terrorism" (available in English on the website of the Dutch Interior Ministry). It documents the usual patterns of funding and incitement, including "sermons and prayers [in Dutch mosques] that showed overt jihadist features, in which for example Allah was asked to 'deal with the enemies of Islam,' namely Bush, Sharon, and the 'enemies of Islam in Chechnya and Kashmir.'"

WHAT ABOUT THE UNITED STATES? A landmark report initiated at the request of American Muslims has just been released by Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom. The report, edited by the center's Nina Shea and Paul Marshall and available on the web, meticulously documents the presence of Saudi government propaganda in mosques and Islamic centers in Los Angeles, Oakland, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York. Researchers confirmed the availability, as recently as December 2004, of over 200 books and other publications teaching the Wahhabi ideology of hatred, intolerance, and sometimes violent jihad.

One small sample from a book for high school students published by the Saudi Ministry of Education and found at the Islamic Center of Oakland, California: "To be true Muslims, we must prepare and be ready for jihad in Allah's way. It is the duty of the citizen and the government. The military education is glued to faith and its meaning, and the duty to follow it."

It is telling that the researchers, translators, and principal analysts of this material have chosen to remain anonymous. Even in the United States, those who take on the Islamic extremists must live in fear.

The fact that Islamofascist ideology is being propagated within our borders is, as the Freedom House report underscores, a national security concern. That this is being done through the agency of an allied foreign government points to the need for strong diplomatic action.

There is good reason to believe the public would support this. An August 2004 poll by Luntz Research found that 82 percent of respondents want the president to put much more pressure on Saudi Arabia in the fight against terror. Now that Freedom House, a private organization, has further exposed this urgent problem, it is up to Washington to take vigorous action. If Kuwait can do it, why not we?

Olivier Guitta is a freelance writer specializing in Islamic radicalism and Europe.

 

 

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Olivier Guitta