WASHINGTON — A new report charging Saudi Arabia with funding the spread of anti-American and anti-Jewish invective in mosques across the country is prompting angry reactions in Congress and fueling legislative efforts to sanction the kingdom.
The 90-page report published by the Freedom House, a Washington-based nonpartisan institute advocating freedom and democracy worldwide, is a first-of-its-kind examination of more than 200 books, leaflets and pamphlets — almost all in Arabic — gathered from more than 15 of the largest mosques throughout America. All the publications examined, the report says, are linked directly or indirectly to the Saudi government.
Through a careful analysis of the documents, the report documents the hostility, resentment and contempt toward America and the West — and particularly toward Jews — that the Saudi-supported Wahhabi doctrine of Islam nurtures. Stating that “the spread of Islamic extremism, such as Wahhabism, is the most serious ideological challenge of our times,” the report asserts that the United States should “confront directly the teachings of Saudi hate ideology.”
All but two of the 57 publications cited in the new report were published before the 9/11 attacks, and most are believed to have been distributed before the strikes.
The report comes as officials in the Bush administration have maintained that Saudi Arabia deserves credit for stepping up its efforts to combat Al Qaeda and to curb the flow of Saudi money to terrorist entities. But some lawmakers from both parties and members of the 9/11 Commission have been calling on the White House to do more to press the Saudi government to crack down on anti-American activities. Critics are often quick to note that 15 of the 19 hijackers who carried out the September 11 attacks were Saudi nationals.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Florida Republican who chairs the House subcommittee on the Middle East, told the Forward that she is planning hearings and the introduction of a bill relating to Saudi “activities that contribute to the spread of terrorism.” The Saudis, Ros-Lehtinen said, “must end these practices.”
Rep. Steve Israel, a New York Democrat who blasted the Saudis for “proliferating words of mass destruction,” told the Forward he is circulating a letter among his colleagues, drawing their attention to the report and urging them to sign a letter to the Saudi ambassador in Washington, Bandar bin Sultan, demanding explanations. Another New York Democrat, Rep. Anthony Weiner, who in the past congressional session introduced several pieces of legislation to punish Saudi Arabia, said he is preparing new legislative initiatives. Weiner said that “congressional patience with the Saudi government is wearing thin.”
This week, six members of the House sent an angry letter to Bandar, calling on the ambassador to condemn a report in a Saudi daily alleging that American soldiers in Iraq are harvesting and selling the human organs of Iraqi citizens.
The new report was edited by Nina Shea, who works for Freedom House and is also the vice chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a government body whose members are jointly appointed by the president and Congress. The commission, Shea told the Forward, has called for a government study on Saudi militant Islamic propaganda in America. But “the government hasn’t done it, so I did it in my other capacity” at the Freedom House, she said.
“What is different and new here is that this is [Saudi] government propaganda,” said Shea, who directs Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom. “It’s a foreign government, who is our nominal ally in the war on terrorism, who is undermining us within our borders.”
Later this month, Shea said, she plans to meet with President Bush at the White House with her colleagues on the religious freedom commission and demand that a formal demarche be submitted to the Saudi government.
Late last year the commission added Saudi Arabia to its short list of 11 “countries of particular concern.” In its decision to add the kingdom to the list, the commission stated that “freedom of religion does not exist in Saudi Arabia.”
Shea said that she and her colleagues will demand not only that the Saudi government stop circulating hate-filled material, but also that it actually collect such publications from American mosques and offer Muslim sanctuaries and libraries in America literature that supports a more moderate interpretation of Islam.
A staffer in the Saudi embassy’s public information office said Tuesday that she believed her bosses had not yet had a chance to see the report, which was released January 27. Later, a spokesman for the embassy, Abdulmohsen Alyas, referred the Forward to a statement he has given to The Washington Times, saying, “Saudi Arabia recognizes that extremism is part of a worldwide problem that all nations must work on diligently to bring to an end.”
“Saudi Arabia condemns extremism or hateful expression among people anywhere in the world,” the spokesman said.
The new report chronicles how in Saudi-backed publications Muslims are warned against associating with non-Muslim “infidels” and urged to “always oppose them in every way,” as it’s put in a booklet distributed by the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C. The Saudi King Fahd financially supports the center.
According to an Islamic edict distributed by the cultural attaché’s office of the Saudi Embassy in Washington, Muslims are urged not “to become a citizen of a country governed by infidels,” such as the United States, and to resist “loyalty to their twisted beliefs and evil practices.”
A hefty chapter of the report documents the Saudi-backed publications’ vitriol against Jews. Observing that “Wahhabi hatred for Jews is primordial,” the study lays out example after example of crude antisemitic statements in Saudi publications. For example, a book published in English by the King Fahd National Library in Riyadh for the Muslim emigrant community abroad, describes the Jews as “having killed Jesus when they were victims of their self hallucination; they hindered people from Allah’s way; and by means of usury and fraud they oppressed their fellow men.”
Zionism, in these books, is described as the ultimate conspiratorial tool of world Jewry and international colonialism to destroy the Muslim nation.
Some of the books and pamphlets examined in the report are Saudi manuals published by the Saudi embassy to instruct Saudis and other Muslims residing in America on how to cope with the infidel society that surrounds them. These are collections of edicts that not only warn Muslims against integrating into American society, but also teach them in great detail how to live in cultural defiance of it.
“The message is that the peaceful coexistence of Muslim and non-Muslim in a multi-cultural state is not simply unachievable, but is undesirable and even punishable,” the report says. “Muslims content to live in the West are therefore de-legitimized, and, in fact, declared apostate. Anything positive they may say about the West is thereby discredited.”
The irony, Shea said, is that “the Saudi government itself now acknowledges that there is a need for reform, and that this kind of hate ideology does lead to the violent suppression of the other. Yet, those books are still on our shelves.”