Saudi tendrils

Posted: Feb 18, 2003 12:00 AM
The Bush administration has been diligent in conveying its friendliness toward Muslims and for this the president is to be commended. It would be both morally and strategically wrong to suggest that the war on terror is a war against all Muslims. But in seeking out American Muslims to praise and embrace, the president has been led into a hornet's nest, as the most conspicuous Muslim-American organizations -- though not necessarily the most representative -- have intimate ties to Saudi money and are often only one step away from terrorists and their supporters. Questionable groups have obtained access to the White House, the FBI, the Bureau of Prisons and other government agencies. They've had their pictures taken with George Bush and have in turn been able to parlay these into enhanced stature within the Muslim community. Some of these groups have enjoyed the patronage of a key conservative activist with strong ties to the White House. Grover Norquist has facilitated meetings with the president, Cabinet secretaries and agency heads. A few days after 9-11, President Bush visited Washington, D.C.'s Islamic Center to meet with 15 "leaders" of the American Muslim community. The National Journal cited Norquist as the facilitator of the event. Days later, it was learned that many of those who shared the stage with the president that day and attended White House meetings were actually closely allied with radical Islam. As The New Republic's Franklin Foer reported, the president of the American Muslim Council, who sat to President Bush's left, had called members of Hamas "freedom fighters." Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, pointed the finger of blame for the Sept. 11 attacks on Israel. Another attendee had declared before a crowd chanting pro-Hezbollah slogans that "America has to learn if you remain on the side of injustice, the wrath of God will come." These groups are part of an interlocking network of Saudi-financed and directed agitation and religious proselytizing. Starting in the 1960s and accelerating as petrodollars swelled their wallets in the 1970s, the Saudis have been financing the expansion of their brand of radical Islam, Wahhabism, throughout the world. They now spend an estimated $2.7 billion annually on what has come to be called the Wahhabi lobby. An estimated 70 percent of the 1,200 mosques in the United States were built with Saudi money and are led by Saudi-influenced clerics. The same is true with fraternal organizations, student groups and political entities. Norquist's Islamic Institute received its seed money from the Saudis. This is not merely an internal religious matter because Islamism is not merely a religion. As David Keene of the American Conservative Union puts it, "Islamism is an ideology the way communism was a religion." The names of the Saudi fronts are benign, but a cursory examination of the leaders reveals their radicalism. Eric Vickers, executive director of the American Muslim Council, has refused to denounce any terror group practicing suicide bombing in the Middle East and has even declined to denounce Al Qaeda, calling it a "resistance movement." The AMC has vigorously opposed both Clinton and Bush administration anti-terror policies and encouraged visitors to its website, "Don't Talk to the FBI." Yet FBI Director Robert Mueller gave a luncheon address to the AMC last June. And in January 2003, Vickers was invited to attend a White House briefing on Immigration and Naturalization Service policies. Beyond the embarrassment of having cordial relations with terrorist-supporters, the Bush administration is making it much harder for non-radical Muslims to gain prominence within their own community. Dr. Hedieh Mirahmadi of the Islamic Supreme Council of America, a moderate Muslim-American group, told Insight magazine, "It is our patriotic duty as Americans and our duty as Muslims to speak up against any attempt by extremists to mobilize the Muslim community against our country." But, she added, her group does not get invited to meetings at the White House or State Department. Instead, the AMC, the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Islamic Institute and others lobby for weaker anti-terror legislation; more "sensitivity" on the part of the INS, the FBI and other government agencies charged with security; authority to choose chaplains for the U.S. military and federal prisons; and identification as an oppressed minority entitled to affirmative action. This is a scandal.