: Faulty Generalizations: Freedom House Cries Wolf

: Faulty Generalizations: Freedom House Cries Wolf February 4, 2005

How would the Christian or Jewish communities feel if a research group of some repute visits a dozen of churches or synagogues, finds few books out of several thousands that includes questionable statements about people of other faiths, and then produces a report entitled “Hate Ideology Fills American Churches and Synagogues?” I am sure Christians and Jews would be outraged by such a sloppy and irresponsible conclusion.

This is exactly what the Freedom House has done in a recent publication entitled “Saudi Publications on Hate Ideology Fill American Mosques.” The Freedom House Report confuses two separate questions: (1) are there Muslims who espouse bigoted views? And (2) are these views widespread or are they confined to a minority within the Muslim community? In failing to make this distinction, the Freedom House unfairly smear all mosques and all mosque goers in the United States.

American Muslims are aware of the shallow understanding of Islam that characterizes some of the writings that comes out from Saudi religious scholars. These writings speak more to the peculiar socio-cultural experience, and the lack of meaningful exposure to the rich experience of diverse societies by some Saudi writers, than to Islamic teachings. One of the most known and respected Muslim scholars of the 20th century, the late Muhammad Al-Ghazali, labeled such writings on Islamic law as the “Bedouin jurisprudence,” a decade prior to the critical review Wahhabism received in recent days. Most American Muslims abhor and reject the bigoted and mean-spirited statements cited in the Report.

I personally experienced such bigotry in the mid-1980s, when a group of Wahhabi-leaning students vigorously protested the inclusion of a Shi’a religious scholar on a panel addressing a large Muslim gathering, and tried to oust me from my position as the president of the Muslim Students Association in Detroit. There design was ultimately defeated by the Association’s general body that rejected their bigoted views.

But to say that Muslims, like any other religious community, have their own bigots is far cry from claiming that hate literature fill all mosques in America, and implying that mosque goers tolerate hate and bigotry. The Freedom House Report fails in making this important distinction.

I was puzzled, as I was going through the report’s findings, as to how can any one who took an introductory course in research methods, let alone professional researchers hired by an organization that sets criteria for deciding who is free and who is not throughout the world. I kept asking myself how could anyone conclude that “Saudi publications on hate ideology fill American mosques” after discovering few copies of Saudi publications in 15 Mosques throughout the nation. There are more than 2000 mosques in the United States. 15 out of 2000 mosques constitute less than 1% of all mosques in the country. How could such insignificant number allow anyone to claim that Saudi hate publications are “spread from coast to coast and now fill the libraries and study halls of some of America’s main mosques.”

Many of the sloppy statements and erroneous conclusions are the result of failing to consult with mainstream Muslim organizations, and neglecting to understand the dynamics within the American Muslim community. The authors of the Report are unable to distinguish between main and obscure mosques in the American Muslim community. The King Fahd Mosque in Los Angeles is a large and well-endowed mosque, but is hardly representative of the LA Muslim community. Mosques that are part of the main stream American Muslim community in LA would include the Islamic Center of Southern California, the Islamic Center of Orange County, and the Islamic Center for Riverside, but hardly just the King Fahd Mosque.

The Report’s main conclusions are at odd with some of its findings. The Report rightly points out that most American Muslims are “upstanding, law-abiding citizens and neighbors,” and that they “decry the Wahhabi interpretation as being foreign to the toleration expressed in Islam and its injunction against coercion in religion.” The authors do not, however, bother to explain the discrepancy between the reality of the American Muslim community and claims against American mosques. They never discuss the extent to which what they have picked from the shelves reflects the attitudes and values of Mosque goers.

Evidently, the authors of the Freedom House Report never stopped for a second to ask: How has the presence of the Saudi literature impacted the attitudes of the mosque goers? Nor have they considered asking the leaders of the Islamic centers about their views and activities, or how the Saudi material was used. One would think that this is the most reasonable and sensible thing to do in a study that aims at ascertaining the truth and enhancing understanding.

The discrepancy between the Report’s claims and the reality it purports to describe is evident, for example, in the case of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS), which the Report frequently refers to as the “Herndon Mosque”. ADAMS is one of the most vibrant mosques, with an active interfaith program, and an exemplary program for developing civic awareness and public service. It has organized, in 2004 alone, more than 20 interfaith meetings, bringing Muslims into friendship and dialogue with people of other faiths, including the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation, St. Thomas ooks in Mosques: Are American Mosques Promoting Hate Ideology?
Fri, 04 Feb 2005 09:58:00 -0500



What’cha reading there?

A new study entitled “Saudi Publications on Hate Ideology Fill American Mosques” (download full .pdf version here) was recently released by the conservative watchdog organization Freedom House. Whether the study is accurate or not, it will certainly invite greater governmental scrutiny on the American-Muslim community.

The stated purpose of the study is to “probe in detail the content of the Wahhabi ideology that the Saudi government has worked to propagate through books and other publications within [U.S.] borders.” Its conclusions and recommendations are of vital concern to the American Muslim community. The American-Muslim leadership in particular needs to analyze the study and to respond quickly and effectively.

If this study’s conclusions are accurate, then the American-Muslim community needs to undertake a monumental overhaul of its institutions and the management of its resources and infrastructure. On the other hand, if there are errors, inaccuracies, methodological problems or additional relevant facts not considered in the study, then it behooves the American-Muslim leadership to correct the record. In either case, the failure to act by American-Muslims will be extremely deleterious to the community’s safety and well-being.

Who Is Behind The Study?

The study was done by Freedom House and its Center for Religious Freedom. Freedom House describes itself as a non-partisan, non-profit organization working to advance worldwide economic and political freedom. It is headquartered in New York City.

Founded over 60 years ago by Eleanor Roosevelt, Wendell Wilkie and others, today it is led by a board of trustees that includes, among others, R. James Woolsey (former CIA Director), Steve Forbes Jr. (President of Forbes, Inc.), Samuel Huntington (Harvard professor), Farooq Kathwari (President of Ethan Allen Interiors, Inc.), Jeane Kirkpatrick (former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. ), Mara Liasson (NPR White House Correspondent), Azar Nafisi (Johns Hopkins University professor), P.J. O’Rourke (journalist), and Bill Richardson (Governor of New New Mexico).

The “Saudi Publications on Hate Ideology Fill American Mosques” study was funded by two foundations. The first is the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation is a private grant-making organization founded in 1985. According to the Foundation’s website it is “devoted to strengthening American democratic capitalism and the institutions, principles and values that sustain and nurture it” and its “programs support limited, competent government; a dynamic marketplace for economic, intellectual, and cultural activity; and a vigorous defense at home and abroad of American ideas and institutions.”

However, Mark O’Keefe of Newhouse News Service reported about the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation as follows: “Name a conservative idea – whether it’s school vouchers, faith-based initiatives or the premise that there’s a worldwide clash of civilizations – and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation is apt to have its fingerprints on it.”

Furthermore, In June 2003 Salim Muwakkil of In These Times wrote that the “Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation has been the economic fount for the neoconservative notions of global affairs now ascendant in the Bush administration” and that “[a]ccording to a report by Media Transparency, from 1995 to 2001 the Milwaukee-based foundation provided about $14.5 million to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the think tank most responsible for incubating and nourishing the ideas of the neocon movement.”

The JM Foundation is reported as the other source of funding. JM Foundation is headquartered in New York City. Its stated objective is to “encourage market-oriented public policy solutions; to enhance America’s unique system of free enterprise, entrepreneurship, private property ownership, and voluntarism; and to strengthen American families.” Many of JM Foundation’s other grant recipients can also be found in People for the American Way’s “Right Wing Watch” list.

How Did They Do The Study?

By its own admission the study is not a general survey of American mosques. In fact, it actually looked at only 15 mosques throughout the United States. No explanation has been proffered as to how these particular mosques were targeted.

The libraries and book collections of the selected mosques were inspected in November and December 2003 and again in December 2004. Seven of these mosques were on the East Coast (NY, NJ, D.C., VA). Three mosques identified in this study were from Texas. On the West Coast there were four mosques in California. From the Midwest there was only one mosque from Illinois in the study. The report includes a list of the mosques and their respective addresses.

Some 200 books and publications were collected. However, only 57 of these books and publications were used in the study. All of the 57 books and publications used in this study were written in Arabic or English. In the case of the Arabic literature, the texts were translated into English. Interestingly, the translators identities are withheld. This is reportedly for safety considerations. The study includes a bibliography of the books and publications used.

In addition to the texts, the study cites newspaper and magazine reports, books and journal articles, interviews and online resources. Some of the more interesting and or well known individuals cited include Khalid Du’ran, Stephen Emerson, Stephen Schwartz, Hisham Kabbani, Cheryl Benard and Fouad Ajami. The study’s report includes four pages of citation notes.

What Did These Books and Publications Say?

The cited materials are, as a matter of fact, extreme, incendiary and vitriolic. The study divided the subject matter of these books and publications into 7 categories of “hate ideology”. The categories are: (1) Christians, Jews and Other “Infidels”, (2) Jews, (3) Other Muslims, (4) Anti-American, (5) Infidel Conspiracies, (6) Jihad Ideology, and (7) Suppression of Women.

One document states that it is a Muslim’s duty to cultivate enmity between oneself and unbelievers and that hatred of unbelievers is proof that the Muslim has completed disassociated himself from the unbelievers. Another document state’s that Muslims may have non-Muslim domestic workers in their homes, but that the Muslims must hate their “infidel” domestic workers and not treat them as they would another Muslim.

The study cites many other, similarly obnoxious pronouncements such as the prohibition of Muslims initiating greetings with non-Muslims and the prohibition of Muslims greeting non-Muslims on their holidays. However, the study also cites to some other, more serious examples of hate in which Muslims are commanded to “spill blood” of infidels and apostates.

The Study’s Conclusions & Recommendations

The study concluded that American mosques are filled with Saudi publications that promote hate ideology. All of the books and publications were found to have some connection to Saudi Arabia. According to the study, these publications advanced a “dualistic worldview in which there exist two antagonistic realms or abodes that can never be reconciled � Dar Al-Islam and Dar Al-Har, or Abode of War�and that when Muslims are in the latter, they must behave as if on a mission behind enemy lines.”

The study also concluded that these publications “pose a grave threat to non-Muslims and to the Muslim community itself.” The study further found that the “spread of Islamic extremism, such as Wahabbism, is the most serious ideological challenge of our times” and that “[t]he Saudis’ totalitarian doctrine of religious hatred � now planted in many America mosques � is inimical to our tolerant culture, and undermines the war on terrorism by providing the intellectual foundation for a new generation of Islamic extremists.”

Preempting any constitutional defense that might be proffered from “marketplace of ideas” types, the study places these Saudi publications outside of First Amendment protection. The study argues that these publications are beyond even protected hate speech because “it is a totalitarian ideology that can incite to violence.” Given the strong language used in the report, one might fully expect that the study calls these documents a clear and present danger to the United States.

The study makes several recommendations based on its conclusions. First and foremost, the study recommends that the United States “take into consideration the high-stakes struggle over ideology within Islam and the central role Saudi Arabia continues to play in it” when formulating foreign policy.

Other recommendations include: (1) an “official study of the Saudi export of hate ideology around the world”, (2) “an official protest at the highest levels of the Saudi government about its publications and fatwas lining the shelves of some of our most important mosques”, (3) a call for “mosque leaders to remove these hateful publications and materials” and (4) a call for “private sources of financing” to replace the Saudi publications in American mosques with “textbooks and tracts that emphasize religious toleration and the principles of individual religious freedom and other basic human rights.”


The study clearly shows that these 15 American mosques included some very hateful books in its libraries. However, to suggest that all American mosques are filled with such publications is a stretch. While the title does not technically use the phrase “All American Mosques”, the implication is evident.

The concern is that these “hate ideology” tracts are influencing American-Muslims. However, this is probably not likely since, as the study found, 90 percent of the books and publications found were written in Arabic. The majority of American-Muslims are not of Arab descent and certainly a majority of American-Muslims do not read and understand Arabic. So, even as these books sat on bookshelves in the 15 mosque libraries, very few people could actually read them.

The study did not assess or evaluate the other books in the mosque libraries it investigated. Were there other books and publications that espoused views different from those spotlighted in the study? Afterall, in the “marketplace of ideas” the best way to counter hateful ideas is to inject speech that counters and challenges such ideas. Another issue is the frequency with which these mosque libraries were actually used. These issues should have been addressed. They were not, and that certainly has an impact on the credibility of the study’s conclusions and recommendations.

Another problem with this study is its uncritical inclusion of Hisham Kabbani and Stephen Schwartz’s claims that 80 to 85 percent of American mosques are controlled by Wahabbis. This claim is unsubstantiated.

As a matter of fact, there is good reason to believe that radical, salafist/wahabbi views represent a very small segment of the American-Muslim community. In the summer of 2004, several months prior to the release of the Freedom House study, the “Detroit Mosque Study” by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding found that only 6 percent of Detroit’s mosque-attending population espoused salafist/wahabbi views. In fact, the study concluded that the vast majority of Ameican-Muslims eschew extremist views.

ISPU’s “Detroit Mosque Study” received significant media attention. It has even been favorably cited by the U.S. State Department. The “Detroit Mosque Study” certainly should have been considered by Freedom House in the interest of producing fair and balanced research.

The last concern is one that should resonate with critics who find nefarious undercurrents in the alleged presence of Saudi money in American-Muslim institutions. This study was funded by foundations that have clear right wing agendas. The cited experts have a history of being inimical to Islam in general and American-Muslims in particular. The lack of balance puts significant portions of the study under a dubious light.

American-Muslim leaders must thoroughly scrutinize this study. Despite its limitations, the study highlights an ugly undercurrent in modern Islamic discourse that American-Muslims must openly confront. However, in the vigor to expose strains of extremism, we must not forget that open discussion is the best tool to debunk the extremist literature rather than a suppression of First Amendment rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

Junaid M. Afeef is an attorney & an ISPU Research Associate. Junaid can be reached via email at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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