Stephen Schwartz, author of The Two Faces of Islam: Saudi Fundamentalism and Its Role in Terrorism, is as of today also the director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, a Muslim anti-Islamist organization with which I am connected. (See the announcement of its opening here.) Schwartz is for many reasons the right person for this position, given his dedication to fighting the spread of Wahhabism, the Saudi-financed ideology that has acquired such a powerful role internationally, and notably among American Muslims.
Schwartz has a particular interest in the Balkans, both in itself and in relation to Wahhabism. Bosnia-Herzegovina, where he lived in the late 1990s, has been the particular focus of a bold and savage Wahhabi propaganda campaign. Bosnians have returned the interest by translating and publishing his Two Faces. Resid Hafizovic of the Institute of Islamic Sciences commented in an interview about Wahhabi propaganda in the Sarajevo weekly Dani,
Everybody abhors the consequences [of Wahhabism] and nobody asks about causes. Dr. Enes Karic [a leading Bosnian Islamic author] and I are just now working on a translation of Stephen Schwartz's excellent book The Two Faces of Islam, a basic criticism of Wahhabism worldwide. In the book, the author gives information on the terrible things they do. They are fighting not only Russians and Americans, but Muslim traditionalists. Wahhabism is a phenomenon that is difficult to explain. The whole world is facing it and there is no way to stop it. To be frank, I am scared. I am particularly worried by the inertness of the system, which is unable to tackle this kind of a problem.
This is the sort of function CIP seeks to fulfill in the United States and beyond. I wish the organization a long and productive existence. (March 25, 2005)
Mar. 9, 2007 update: Stephen Schwartz today assesses nearly two years of achievement by the CIP in "The Battle for the Mosque Broadens and Deepens." In summary, he notes:
We have enjoyed significant success. But some notable obstacles remain before us. These include the vulnerability of mainstream media and even Western governments to the claims of Islamic radicals to stand as the sole representatives of the faith, and the corruption of academics that legitimize this charade. But we also must deal with serious challenges inside the Western Muslim community.
First, U.S. and UK Sunni Muslims are completely dominated by extremists - Saudi-backed Wahhabis in the first case and Pakistani-controlled jihadists in the second. Canada, which I recently visited for a series of lectures, represents an important exception to this pattern, as discussed here.
Second, Sunnis in general are taught conformity to their leadership, and stirring them to reject the radicals who exploit them is a major task.
Third, while a great number of Shia Muslims in the U.S. and Canada, with their clerics and mosques, are less orthodox in their attitudes, and sympathize with CIP against Saudi-backed Sunni terror, they are often tainted by an attraction to Iran and Hezbollah, which makes it impossible for us to sustain a cooperative effort with them.
Jan. 2, 2007 update: The Center for Islamic Pluralism has done much good work but it outdoes itself today with an article in the New York Jewish Week, "Attention Rabbi Yoffie: Please Speak To Moderate Muslims," a critique of the recently-signed "partnership" between the Union for Reform Judaism, headed by Eric H. Joffie, and the Islamic Society of North America.