What’s up with Stephen Schwartz?

Yesterday I was alerted (via al-Zawiya) of an astonishing article by Stephen Schwartz, known as a follower of Shaikh Nazim, in the Weekly Standard which is edited by William Kristol (former leader of the Project for the Republican Future, and chief of staff to Reagan’s education secretary William Bennett and also to Dan Quayle). He is also a frequent contributor to David Horowitz’s FrontPageMag.com, well-known for its pro-Israel and anti-liberal bias. Schwartz has long preferred to write for right-wing and neo-conservative journals rather than the liberal ones preferred (at least in the UK) by most Muslims. Haneef James Oliver, the author of the tract of “Salafi” apologia The “Wahhabi” Myth (aimed at disproving ideological links between his sect and al-Qa’ida) noted that Schwartz had contributed a piece claiming that there was no more of a moral distinction between the Wahhabis and al-Qa’ida than there was between the Nazi party and the SS to the National Review, “the same publication which, on March 3, 2002, suggested the possibilty of striking Makkah, Islam’s holiest city, with nuclear armaments” (p6, footnote 12).

He has a vast library of articles in Front Page. He commonly airs his hatred of Wahhabism calling it (26th November 2002) a “death cult” representing “naked Islamofascism”. He commonly alleges close Saudi ties to al-Qa’ida and terrorism, that various Islamic charities in the USA are simply fronts for terrorist groups, including CAIR and the MSA. In a piece on the Brandon Mayfield case, he cites the following as “troubling”:

As a law student at Washburn University, in Topeka, Kan., he helped organize a branch of the Muslim Student Association of the U.S. and Canada (MSA), which was set up by agents of Saudi Arabia’s official Islamic clerical establishment to propagate the extremist doctrines of Wahhabism.

In this, he conveniently ignores the fact that most American college Islamic societies are connected with the MSA. These groups may take funding from rich overseas Muslims, and some may have Wahhabis or Hamas sympathisers on their boards. A lot of Palestinians support Hamas. But that doesn’t make them Hamas or otherwise terrorist front groups. Without CAIR, who would defend the rights of Muslims in the USA to live according to their religion? Who would defend the worker sacked because of his beard (or his religion), or refused the right to pray the Friday prayer, or the schoolgirl expelled or woman denied a driving licence for wearing hijab?

In a piece on Yusuf Islam (Is Cat Stevens a Terrorist?, 23rd Sept 2004), he alleges that while “probably not” a terrorist, and perhaps not as much of an “active sympathizer” of terrorist groups as he was in the past, “Yusuf Islam is most certainly a fundamentalist Muslim, whose views are radical enough to set him at odds with the great majority of the world’s Islamic adherents, and they are no better expressed than in his comments on his own field of expression: music”. He then proceeds to “enlighten” us about the music of Bosnia with its violins and accordions. He forgets that mainstream scholars, including Sufi shaikhs who are also scholars of Islam, regard instrumental music as haraam. This is the majority position on all four madhhabs, and the only exception is for the daff drum.

What shocked me about his most outburst in the Weekly Standard, however, was the slander against Shaikh Hamza Yusuf. It’s worth noting that the people who listen to Shaikh Hamza also listen to scholars like Nuh Ha Mim Keller and Zaid Shakir, neither of them regarded as violent, “radical” or “jihadist”. In fact, Wahhabis reject him; there is a passage denouncing him in the notorious In Dispraise of Hawa (Desire), attributed to Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya but in fact, in the well-known English edition, mostly given over to an attack on Shaikh Nuh Keller by one Dr Saleh al-Saleh. In a tape on hajj which I have in my possession, Shaikh Hamza noted that the Ka’ba is sometimes opened up to allow various “dignitaries” in, and added words to the effect that many of the “dignitaries” are in fact thugs who achieved power by killing and kicking heads in, and that a dog is more worthy of the title “dignitary” than some of these people.

In the present article he scorns Shaikh Hamza’s complaint of harrassment by American border guards at Toronto airport, calling him “a one-trick pony” who “spent a good deal of time, before September 11, 2001, preaching violent jihad against the West”. He cites as “evidence” a lecture he gave in 1991, a “classic oration” titled Jihad is the Only Way; this was arranged, he claims, by “a local group of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), an arm of the Jama’at-i-Islami movement in Pakistan, which in turn is an al Qaeda ally”. The claim about the Jama’at-i-Islami is a dubious one at best; both Wahhabis and traditional Sunnis in Pakistan regard the group’s founder, Abu’l A’la Mawdudi, as a heretic. But nowhere in this attempt at demonstrating guilt by association does Schwartz elaborate on the content of the Jihad lecture. What might have seemed appropriate in 1991 (given the situation in Bosnia) would certainly not do now. Way back before 9/11, Schwartz himself had a song published in The Muslim Magazine, published by Shaikh Nazim’s followers, praising Imam Shamil of Daghestan and the mujahideen of Chechenia of the mid-1990s (to the tune of Woody Guthrie’s Pretty Boy Floyd!).

Aside from this, Shaikh Hamza is no common-or-garden Madina University or Ibn Saud University graduate “scholar”. His history of study with scholars across the Arab world, including in difficult places like Mauritania, is well-known. The great scholars of some of these places have become known to the outside world partly as a result of his work. Shaikh Nuh defended Shaikh Hamza, in the pages of Q-News magazine, after one of their reporters published a piece slandering him. Shaikh Nuh called him an Islamic scholar, “for someone with his authorizations (ijazat) from shaikhs cannot be called anything else”.

Does Schwartz dare slander Shaikh Nuh? One notices how loose his tongue is with the reputations of Muslims. I wonder where on Earth he is coming from. Is he really deluded that the Bush gang want to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq and any other Muslim country they decide to invade? Is his extremism in apparently supporting anything which “opposes Wahhabism” provoked by their undeniable role in bringing down both Chechenia and Afghanistan, and their attempts to infiltrate Bosnia (and their vandalism in “restoring” mosques there) also? Even so, it does not justify his cosying up to the extremist neo-con lobby and giving them ammunition with which to attack other Muslims.

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