WAHABISM IN AMERICA
by Matthew Mainen
Traditionally in international politics, the word “invasion” is used to describe a situation in which a state forcefully penetrates the territory of another. But in a world in which non-state actors, especially terrorist organizations, play an increasing role in international politics, the word “invasion” can be used to describe far subtler actions.
Recently, a number of anti-Western texts, many of which were distributed by the Saudi Embassy, were discovered among authentic Muslim works at prominent Muslim institutions in the United States. This tactic carried out by extremists within the Saudi government represents an invasion on two fronts: the Muslim religion and the sovereignty of the United States. Although there is no evidence that Saudi Arabia has directly sponsored terrorism, it nonetheless is the largest contributor to the faith that breads it: Wahhabism, a fringe Islamic sect created more than 1,000 years after the time of Muhammad.
When such ideas posing as authentic Islam enter the United States, it can only serve to sabotage long-lasting American values. If the goal of social upheaval is achieved, it will be far more damaging than any incendiary device used in acts of terror.
The threat posed by Saudi Arabia’s interference in America’s religious affairs is not to be taken lightly, and requires immediate attention at the high levels of office.
The First Amendment guarantees religious freedom in the United States. Nearly 200 years after the Bill of Rights was ratified, the ideals of religious freedom and tolerance were codified in the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights. Although attempting to argue that Saudi Arabia is legally bound to respect religious tolerance is an arduous task, there is another option: Saudi Arabia, like all other countries, is legally bound to respect the sovereignty of the United States. By playing a direct role in the distribution of texts designed to erode domestic religious harmony, Saudi Arabia is illegally interfering with America’s internal affairs.
Wahhabism, especially as it attempts to influence American Muslims, is best described as a cult and should be dealt with as one. After all, fatwas published in materials distributed by the Saudi Embassy exhibit signs of fundamental cult practices. Muslims living in the United States are instructed to progressively isolate themselves for the sake of their purity. First, they must have almost no contact with non-Muslims. After this separation is complete, they are then instructed to distance themselves from Muslims who do not share the extreme beliefs of Wahhabism. Finally, they are to undergo a breaking down of their identities; such practices as celebrating a birthday are strictly forbidden. Young Muslims looking for spiritual guidance are duped into believing that these distorted teachings are the true path of Islam.
Once a person is stripped of their identity and the included morals, he becomes a puppet to the masters of whichever ideology is controlling him. None of the September 11 hijackers were born terrorists; they went through a similar process as what is being advocated to American Muslims by Saudi religious leaders. Cults, when they become dangerous to society, are not protected by the Constitution or international convention, and neither is Saudi Arabia’s role in bringing the philosophy of this cult to the United States.
In response to Wahhabist terrorism, non-Muslim Americans will often misdirect their aggression against Islam as a whole instead of the fringe faith. An increased amount of acts of intolerance against peaceful Muslim communities such as the burning of Korans in front of mosques is evidence of this. Thus, the Wahhabist claim that the West is waging a war against Islam becomes a fulfilled prophecy, giving extremists an opportunity to recruit more adherents at the expense of mainstream Islam. Once the belief of victimization becomes prevalent, acts of intolerance on the part of Muslims are all the more likely to occur. Thus, the cycle repeats itself, and at each successive stage, the prospects of violence increase.
So far, the American Muslim community has almost single-handedly protected the United States from such social turmoil by reporting to the proper authorities when they find extremist texts. But without the help of a higher power, the U.S. government, there is nothing guaranteeing that mainstream Muslim institutions will forever remain impervious to this invasion.
Even at the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union was unable to penetrate the United States with its ideology to the degree Saudi Arabia has. This issue cannot be ignored, as Wahhabist infiltration of mainstream Islam in the United States affects all people, not just Muslims. The foundation of terrorism is not the tools used to carry out attacks but its driving philosophy. The American Muslim community recognizes this; it is time the U.S. government recognize the same.
Matthew Mainen is a policy analyst at the Institute for Gulf Affairs.