The Wahhabi Fifth Column
By: Susan Katz Keating
Monday, December 30, 2002

A clear and present danger.

The latest public relations missive from Riyadh complains bitterly that alarmist Americans "have gotten out of control" with accusations that Saudi Arabia supports terrorism. But there is good reason to state the opposite: That we ignore to our peril the degree to which the Saudis spread extremist anti-Americanism. It is particularly unsettling that the Saudis stoke such sentiments here, in our own country. They do this by funding American outposts of the intolerant, militant Wahhabi form of Islam.

The Saudis have poured an astonishing sum of money into this effort. Reza F. Safa, author of Inside Islam, estimated that since 1973, the Saudi government has spent some $87 billion to promote Wahhabism in the United States and the Western Hemisphere.

In some ways, such largesse is to be expected from the Al-Saud. This old bellicose tribe - the only ruling family in the world with the audacity to name a country after itself - owes much to Wahhabism.

 The Saudi regime first came to power via an 18th century alliance between two Muhammads: ibn Saud and ibn al Wahhab. Together, the Al-Saud and the Wahhabis commanded armies that vanquished Arabia. They pledged to form a nation based on the principles of Islam. In 1932, an Al-Saud warlord, Abdul Aziz, fulfilled his ancestor's dream; he declared himself sovereign of his own newly conquered territories, which he named the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Abdul Aziz adopted the Islamic holy book, the Koran, as his nation's constitution.

 To this day, the official constitution of Saudi Arabia remains the Koran. Saudi officials affirm that their government functions "in total adherence to the Islamic religion."

This might be little more than a political curiosity if not for two factors. First, that a geological twist of fate gave Saudi Arabia considerable prominence in world economic affairs. Secondly - and significantly - Islam is not content to coexist peacefully with other faiths or systems of government.

Says Bernard Lewis, widely recognized as the foremost Western scholar on Islam: "In time, in the Muslim view, all mankind will accept Islam or submit to Islamic rule."

Hence, while Saudi contributions toward American Islam are not surprising, they are deeply worrisome.

Of that $87 billion religious propaganda budget, the Saudis have allocated considerable line-item space toward institutions that mold minds in the model of Wahhabism.

The most malleable minds belong to children. An estimated 30,000 of them attend Saudi-funded Wahhabi day schools.

In America, parochial schools have long been noted for their high educational standards. But Wahhabi schools do not emulate other American church-based nativities of faith and knowledge; nor do they follow the American model of rigorous intellectual inquiry.

The Islamic Saudi Academy (ISA) in Northern Virginia forthrightly states that even though it exists on U.S. soil, it is "subject to the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."

Students at ISA are not required to study U.S. history or government. They do, however, receive instruction in Wahhabism.

 Outsiders are not permitted to observe Wahhabism lessons or any other classes at ISA. But early this year, students at the academy told two Washington Post reporters some of the things they learn at school. Among other things, students discover the intricacies of Judgment Day.

One event on that formidable day will be that Muslims will fight and kill Jews. The cowardly Jews will seek refuge behind trees. Much like the trees in the forest scene from the Wizard of Oz, these trees will become animated and aggressive. They will call out to the righteous: "Oh Muslim, Oh servant of God, here is a Jew hiding behind me. Come here and kill him."

Students also said they are taught "it is better to shun and even to dislike Christians, Jews and Shiite Muslims." Furthermore, students learn, it is okay to hurt or steal from a non-Muslim.

The Saudi-supplied textbooks at this and other Wahhabi schools state that Muslims are obliged to consider all infidels the enemy. Certain enemies are not even acknowledged in geography class. Wahhabi schools in America are notorious for doctoring maps of the Middle East, and hanging them in classrooms - with Israel blotted out.

Such is the curriculum of education-minded Saudis.

And what of the Saudis' contributions toward American mosques?

According to Safa, the Saudis have funded more than 80 percent of the mosques built in the United States within the last 20 years. The newcomers do not embrace the American religious community's spirit of inter-faith cooperation. They are distinctly isolationist. This attitude came to light as early as the 1990's, when Wahhabi mosques in America refused to accept help from local churches wanting to donate food to Bosnian Muslims. Apparently Wahhabis will not work with infidels, even if the purpose is to help other Muslims.

The Saudis, meanwhile, have directed considerable outreach toward the American Black Muslim community.

In one effort to showcase the bounties of Wahhabism to this target audience, the Saudis' enfeebled King Fahd pledged as much as $8 million for a lavish mosque in shabby South Central Los Angeles. The Saudis' Islamic Development Bank pledged an additional $295,000 for a school attached to the mosque.

 From the Saudi perspective, this and other similar contributions are less an expense than an investment. According to Safa, as much as 90 percent of American converts to Islam are black. According to some estimates, if the conversion rate continues, Islam could emerge as a dominant religion among urban blacks.

This is a trend worth watching. Many of America's black Muslims have harshly criticized America, and have deemed it an "immoral society." Increasingly, black Muslims oppose U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, and are adopting a Saudi-influenced view of Arab-Israeli relations.

Other Wahhabis in the U.S. advocate a Saudi-style approach to American government. Insightful Saudi-watcher Daniel Pipes reports that significant elements within American Islam seek to replace our Constitution with the Koran. A ludicrous fantasy, to be sure; but one that offers a glimpse of Wahhabi dreams for America.

 Far more troubling is the ease with which the Wahhabis use religion as a means to express and stoke violent impulses. Indeed, in the days leading up to Christmas, the Wahhabi on-line magazine Al-Islam published this religious passage from the Koran: Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies….  A particularly resonant selection, given the events of September 2001.

In the aftermath of those appalling attacks, Federal officials formed Operation Green Quest, aimed at tracing the money trail to Islamic terrorism. In the course of their investigation, agents raided more than a dozen Saudi-funded organizations, such as the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences in Leesburg, Virginia.

Investigators are still working to unravel the complicated network of financial ties between the various organizations and their charities.

One targeted group, the SAAR Foundation, had links to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is being investigated by European and Middle Eastern governments for ties to terrorist organizations, including the Palestinian Hamas. Among its many other activities, SAAR, which is now officially disbanded, helped fund a Tampa, Florida-based group suspected of having ties to the terrorist Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

 "It's like peeling an onion," said an intelligence officer familiar with Operation Green Quest. "There's always another layer."

 The organizations and their Saudi enablers proclaim both innocence and ignorance. "To hear them tell it," the intelligence officer says, "they're just a bunch of well-meaning religious folks."

As in the days of old, though, when the two Mohammads acquired territory and power via jihad, Wahhabis are as much about politics as they are about religion.

Former CIA Director James Woolsey told Congress: "One analogue for Wahhabism's political influence today might be the extremely angry form taken by much of German nationalism in the period after World War I." The former spy chief acknowledged that not all extremists of the day became Nazis. But, he added: "Just as angry and extreme German nationalism of that period was the soil in which Nazism grew, Wahhabi Islamist extremism today is the soil in which al Qaeda and its sister terrorist organizations are growing."

Much of that soil is spread across the United States. It hosts a nascent Wahhabi Fifth Column.

 Political commentator William Kristol couches the Saudi's export of Wahhabism - via its funding of schools, mosques and think tanks in America - as "a clear and present danger to the United States and its citizens."

America must respond aggressively to that threat. Rather than accept continued transparent professions of innocence, Americans must insist that the Saudis immediately stop funding Wahhabi schools, mosques, charities and think tanks in this country. We can no longer tolerate such an overt onslaught on our national values.  

Susan Katz Keating is Director of Special Projects for the Freedom Museum in Manassas, Virginia, She is the author of Prisoners of Hope: Exploiting the POW/MIA Myth in America. She also wrote a book for young readers on Saudi Arabia, to be released in the spring.