Text size

WASHINGTON - When a believing Muslim is summoned to the United States due to life's circumstances, Saudi Arabian authorities disseminate through a network of major American mosques, like other religious directives, clear ways as to how one should act in his new surroundings.

Take, for example, a document signed by the cultural attache at the Saudi embassy in Washington that instructs Muslims arriving in the United States not to initiate a greeting when meeting Christians or Jews, and never to convey good wishes marking a Christian or Jewish holiday. In general, the attache recommends that the Muslim believer avoid friendships with the infidels, be careful not to imitate their customs (e.g. not to wear a cap and gown at a graduation ceremony), and try not to remain in the country any longer than required. The Saudis feel that a good Muslim can stay in America only for two reasons: acquiring knowledge and capital to promote the objectives of jihad, and lobbying the infidels to accept Islam.

The aforementioned document and dozens of other papers and books are distributed for free at major mosques throughout the U.S. This is revealed in a recent study published by the Center for Religious Freedom, which is affiliated with Freedom House, an unaffiliated organization promoting political and economic freedom around the world, partly through research studies and information dissemination.

The center's representatives went to the 12 largest mosques in American urban centers and took samples of literature distributed to all comers. The study's findings were unequivocal: All of the mosques had literature originating from Saudi Arabia that promoted extreme Islamic teachings (Wahabi) as well as the hatred of Jews, Christians, moderate Muslims and America.

The report further exacerbates the rift in America between supporters of friendship with Saudi Arabia and those calling for a forceful approach against the kingdom. While the Bush administration continues to show patience toward the House of Saud, and finds rays of democratization and the war on terror, some congressmen consider the report on Saudi incitement in the mosques as additional evidence that the country's soft-handed approach is a mistake and will not produce results.

Examination of the literature began about a year and a half ago after American Muslims informed the center about hate literature being distributed in the mosques. Although the center usually tracks religious freedoms outside the United States, since this issue involved actions taken by a foreign regime, the Saudi government, it decided to pursue the investigation.

Once the material was assembled and translated, the researchers concluded that the Saudi Arabians indeed were trying to promote an attitude among Muslims living in America that they should resist their hosts and not befriend them. "It represents an ideology in which the Muslim in the U.S. is in enemy territory," Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at the center who co-authored the report, says.

One of the documents, signed by the Saudi embassy in Washington, warns Muslim foreigners that there are no Muslim scholars in the country who might guide the visitor, and therefore, he must learn from distributed written material. The document may explain how the Wahabi followers became mainstream in America, even though they are in the majority in the Muslim world at large.

You may (and must) curse

The main message of the material examined in the study is one of hatred toward any non-Muslim. "[I]t is basic Islam to believe that everyone who does not embrace Islam is an unbeliever, and must be called an unbeliever, and that they are enemies to Allah, his Prophet and believers," one handout distributed at a San Diego mosque said. Another document, found in the Great Mosque in Washington, D.C., explains to Muslims that they must keep their distance from non-believers: "To be disassociated from the infidels is to hate them for their religion, to leave them, never to rely on them for support, not to admire them, to be on one's guard against them, never to imitate them, and to always oppose them in every way according to Islamic law." A book was distributed in another mosque containing questions and answers on matters of religion. Regarding whether it is permitted to curse Christians and Jews, the author answers it is not only permitted, but also obligatory.

Hatred aside, the literature found in American mosques clearly maps out what sort of difficulties the United States can expect when it tries to enlist the Muslim community to help in the war on terror. The Saudi literature expresses absolute opposition to any believing Muslim working for the alien government or assisting it to defend itself from its enemies.

The report's authors believe that the aim of the authors and disseminators of the documents is to intimidate Muslims living in America not to become involved in local culture, thereby ensuring loyalty to the Islamic approach represented in the literature. A booklet distributed to high-school students at a Houston mosque goes so far as to warn Muslim youth not to celebrate birthdays in an American style.

Three wrongs of the Jews

Much of the literature groups Christians and Jews together as "infidels" whom one is obligated to hate, but a significant amount of the material specifically refers to hatred of Jews. "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" is referred to as absolute truth and as containing basic facts about Jews, who are accused of harming Muslim values and of being infidels. One document found in Washington even enumerates the three wrongs of the Jews against religion in general, and the Muslims in particular - Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud and the industrial revolution, which brought women into the labor force and caused the loss of their modesty. "They're anti-Semitic," Marshall says. "It is beyond criticism of Israel and views on the conflict; they speak directly about the Jews in an anti-Semitic way."

The material relating to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute also is rife with harsh expressions. A fourth-grade textbook written in Saudi Arabia that was handed out at a New Jersey mosque states that Israel is "a thorn in the back of the Muslim nations, and a window through which colonialism can sneak up among the ranks of the Muslims to work on dividing them, and light the fire of hatred between them." The book explains to pupils that "the Muslims will not rest until they cut off this disease, and purify the land of Palestine from the plague of Zionism."

The researchers also discovered some discordant expressions reserved for moderate Muslims, including a definition of Muslims who exhibit tolerance for other religions as "infidels." In a similar context, threats were leveled against any Muslim who converts - such an individual faces a punishment of death.

The Saudi embassy in Washington did not deny the existence of the incitement literature in mosques, or their Saudi origin. A statement issued to several American media outlets simply stated, "Saudi Arabia condemns extremism or hateful expressions among people anywhere in the world."

The study's authors are asking American mosques to take measures to prevent the free distribution of the literature, and that minimally, it should be placed in a separate area of the mosque. But beyond that, it will be difficult to do much about the phenomenon. Marshall explains there is disagreement among people engaged with the issue over whether it is permitted to restrict distribution of such written material: On the one hand, some people believe this is an issue of freedom of expression, protected by the First Amendment. On the other hand, however, some observers believe the First Amendment does not apply to foreign governments, and therefore, the United States can prohibit Saudi Arabia from bringing such material into its borders. Due to the differences of opinion, the Center for Religious Freedom is making do with a call on the administration to lodge a protest against Saudi Arabia regarding distribution of the hate literature.

However, the situation of the Saudi Arabians in Congress is much less secure. Two subcommittee chairmen in the House of Representatives already have promised to hold hearings on the subject. And at least three congressmen, prompted by the Center for Religious Freedom report, have issued condemnations of the Saudis. A group of six House lawmakers sent a letter to the Saudi ambassador in Washington, Prince Bandar, calling on him to denounce the literature.

Congress has been pestering the administration with a lengthy list of complaints against Saudi Arabia for some time, including foot dragging in the quelling of terror, questions of human rights and democracy within the kingdom, and issues of xenophobia and incitement toward anti-Semitism. It is hard to find any real changes, however, in the administration's position. U.S. President George W. Bush did issue a rare direct call on the Saudis in his State of the Union address two weeks ago, saying, "The government of Saudi Arabia can demonstrate its leadership in the region by expanding the role of its people in determining their future." However, critics contend this was merely lip service, and the United States has little intention of altering its supportive attitude toward the House of Saud.

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the historic meeting between former U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt and former Saudi King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, a meeting that paved the way for long years of partnership between the two countries. The U.S.-Saudi relationship is still in robust condition, albeit with a sense of continued erosion: Disapproving voices in Congress, grievances of Democrats (expressed during John Kerry's presidential campaign), and the administration's desire to avoid an image of exercising double standards in its drive to realize the vision of promoting democracy around the world are jeopardizing the old friendship between the two states.

The Saudis still enjoy an open door to the administration, but now they are also appealing to the American people. For the past three years, they have invested large sums of money in advertising and public relations in the United States, and last month, a counselor at the Saudi Arabian embassy, Nail Al-Jubier, even embarked on a U.S. speaking tour with the aim of promoting Saudi interests.

Even so, the report on incitement literature is the clearest indicator of all that the Saudis have little to be concerned about. The American administration has done nothing about the report, so far. When asked about it last week, deputy spokesman of the State Department Adam Ereli said that the department is still studying the report and that it had yet to be determined that any "wrongdoing had been done by diplomatic establishments."