Here’s another mendacious article from Saudi-basher extraordinaire Stephen Schwartz. Schwartz, a recent convert to Sufism, see Saudi Arabia as the font of all Islamic extremism. Never mind that his starting point—Balkan Sufism—is hardly a touchstone for a ‘median’ in Islam. Never mind that the only Saudis he talks with are dissidents. Never mind that he’s never been to Saudi Arabia. None of this matters when the point is to bash Saudis.
His rhetorical devices are deceptive. Using his logic, one would have to conclude that what racism exists in the US today is based solely on 18th C. slavery. You’d have to forget things like the US Civil War, civil rights marches, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, and the ever-changing racial and ethnic diversity of the US.
I’m definitely in favor of historic preservation, the announced goal of a demonstration scheduled to be held in Washington, DC next week. But I am not in favor of historic preservation at all costs. Having lived in houses that fall under the purview of historic preservation societies, I’m well aware of the costs of preservation. The problem with societies like these is that they act on the presumption that everyone else should assume the costs of preservation, not them.
It’s historical fact that the Saudi Ikhwan of the early 20th C. destroyed historically important structures in Mecca and Medinah. They saw building associated with the Prophet Mohammed and his early followers as idolatrous: people worshiping buildings rather than God. They were, I’m sure, overconfident in their assessment. But they weren’t entirely wrong, either. Veneration of saints and holy places is not part of strict, Sunni Islam.
In any event, the Ikhwan were suppressed violently in the latter half of the 1930s. They do have spiritual descendants, but these have nowhere near the power of the originals. Instead, there is a different kind of power that is influencing decisions to destroy or preserve particular buildings: economic development.
Not all historically interesting buildings can be preserved, in Mecca as well as in New York City. Some would like to save everything, turning entire areas into museums. Others want to see the old disposed of in favor of the new. That’s what historic preservation societies try to sort out.
Mecca is growing by leaps and bounds, not only due to the Haj and Umrah pilgrimages, but also because of exploding Saudi populations. Monuments and buildings considered of lesser importance do fall to bulldozers. It’s possible that religious antipathy on the part of extremists plays a role in this, but the Saudi government and its own historical preservation societies are not extreme. They are instead focused on mainstream Sunni Islam and its rituals, not those of smaller or more heterodox groups.
Even purely civic buildings of historic interest fall to the bulldozers. There’s a terrific struggle to save Old Jeddah, for instance, from being redeveloped into high rise office buildings like those that surround the area.
Schwartz’s problem is that because there are some bad Saudis (he provides examples), then he concludes that all Saudis must be bad. If there are bad ‘Wahhabis’, then all ‘Wahhabis’ must be bad. His argument fails simple logic. But bashing-Saudis is still a good way to earn a quick buck. Attitude, not knowledge, is all that’s required.
SAYING ‘NO’ TO THE SAUDIS
NEXT Monday, Al-Baqee – a new coalition of American Muslims – will take an initiative that other citizens and leaders of our country should have begun immediately after 9/11: The group has called a protest against Saudi Arabia’s support – by preaching, money and recruitment – of terrorism in Iraq.
The demonstration is set for 1 p.m. outside the Royal Saudi Embassy in Washington next Monday.
Al-Baqee takes its name from a historic cemetery in Mecca devastated by fundamentalist radicals – the forerunners of al Qaeda – 200 years ago and again in the 1920s, when the House of Saud took over the Muslim holy cities of Arabia.
At albaqee.org, the group describes itself as “a coalition of concerned American Muslims across America which promotes the preservation of the religious, architectural and cultural heritage of Islam by fostering and advancing a peaceful understanding of Islam and denouncing acts of terrorism, vandalism and radicalism in the name of Islam.”