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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Fuel for Radicalism?

By Tamar Tesler

The Arab News published an article this week called “Irresponsible Statements Fueling Radicalism: WAMY" A headline that could easily be a parody in The Onion or on Saturday Night Live.

“In an interview with Arab News, [Saleh] Al-Wohaibi [Secretary General of WAMY] described Bush’s remarks [“Islamic fascists”] as being unhelpful and said they were instrumental in creating problems for a pan-Islamic organization such as WAMY, which is trying to fight extremism among the youth. ‘They make our task difficult,’ he said”

This is the same WAMY that published and distributed a book titled, Islamic Camps: Objectives, Program Outlines, Preparatory Steps, as a guide for other Muslim groups planning camps. The book lists steps for starting a camp, creating a program, inviting participants, establishing goals, and other technical advice. It also includes sample schedules, a list of sports and activities, lectures, meals and free time. In the index, Islamic Camps suggests chants such as:

“Hail! Hail! O Sacrificing Soldiers! / To Us! To Us! So we may defend the flag / on this Day of Jihad, are you miserly with your blood?!…Come! So we may revive the times the times of our predecessors!”

Yet in a previous interview in the Arab News Saleh Al-Wohaibi lamented that “WAMY and other charitable organizations suffered a loss of image as they were linked to terrorism by the Western, more specifically, the American media.” He complained that WAMY summer camps will suffer due to loss in revenue and told the Arab News that “the best way to wean youth away from undesirable activities was to install sound values based on Islamic teachings. According to al-Wohaibi, “That’s what the summer camps were about.”

WAMY does not by any means limit its teachings to summer camps. A WAMY booklet that is allegedly circulating in the US prison system is called The Difference Between The Shi'ites and the Majority of Muslim Scholars. This booklet describes Shiism as having been formed as a result of “various tribalist, racist and Jewish movements” and states that “the claim that Ali should have been the first caliph started mainly as a political claim and was designed to create discord among Muslims by agitating tribal and racial differences and hostilities.”

It is no surprise that the New York prison system, as reported by Paul Barrett in a February 2003 Wall Street Journal article, How a Muslim Chaplain Spread Extremism to an Inmate Flock, “has seen a rash of complaints from inmates who adhere to the minority Shiite sect of Islam” due to actions of some Sunni prison chaplains.

While it can be reasonably argued that the term islamofacist is shallow and without nuance but its usage, while perhaps unfortunate, does not negate the fact that WAMY and its affiliated dawah organizations need to take responsibility for fueling extremism among youth. As they are quick to point out: words matter.

These are the role models and teachers for young Muslims and they distribute their materials in many languages to countries that span the globe. If they don’t comprehend that decades of such publications are having an adverse affect on those that read it in prison or that their rhetoric in summer camp created a good portion of the extremism they decry, they are either not in touch with reality or are irreversibly lost in their divisive interpretations of religion.

Even their lobbyists and advisors in Washington, DC, who according to Wohaibi: “are doing a good job in trying to reach out to government officials, congressmen and the media as part of our effort to explain our activities and remove misconceptions” can’t erase the damage done by WAMY’s rhetoric and only serves to confirm WAMY’s agenda by representing themselves with the Muslim World League (MWL), Al-Haramain and the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) (which just had two branches designated for “facilitating fundraising for al Qaida and affiliated terrorist groups.” )

As recently as July 2005, Stuart Levey, the U.S. Treasury’s Under Secretary for Terrorism & Financial Crimes, noted that “Saudi Arabian charities, particularly the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), the World Association [sic] of Muslim Youth (WAMY), and the Muslim World League (MWL) continue to cause us concern." Perhaps if Wohaibi and company are genuinely concerned about the state of radicalism today among youth, they can clean up their act and then have room to enter a real and meaningful debate on the use of hot button words and phrases.

It is difficult to imagine a change anytime soon. According to a 2004 New York Times article “’Saying that the Jews and the Christians are infidels is part of our religious dogma,’ said Saleh S. al-Wohaibi, the American-educated secretary general of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth. Any changes in the way it is taught should be decided by Saudis, he said, adding, “It doesn't mean we try to incite hatred against others, but my religion has its own principles that should not be violated or changed.” It is very fortunate Wohaibi and WAMY do not speak for all of his religion.
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