On July 1, William Safire published a column denouncing the Voice of America for providing a soapbox to supporters of Islamic terrorism. Safire was particularly exercised about the firing of VOA staffer Stephen Schwartz, which Safire attributed to the fact that Schwartz
is an outspoken dissenter from the news director’s views. Schwartz, a contributor to the conservative Weekly Standard, is critical of Saudi and Syrian support of terror: in September, Doubleday will publish his likely best seller, The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Saud From Tradition to Terror. The abrasive reporter, 53, who covered the war in Bosnia and Kosovo firsthand, was unpopular with deskbound colleagues. Nor did he join the 100 V.O.A. employees who signed a petition last year supporting the news director’s defense of its offer of a platform to [Yasir] al Serri and Mullah [Muhammed] Omar.
A wrinkle of which Safire was probably unaware, however, is that Schwartz, blistering critic though he is of Islamist terrorism, is himself a convert to Islam. To Schwartz’s mortification, a statement he made about his conversion has found its way onto the Web and has become the source of some shock to his erstwhile neoconservative allies.
One neocon who isn’t at all shocked is Weekly Standard editor William Kristol. “I don’t think it’s at all fair to say he’s anti-Islamic,” Kristol told Chatterbox, noting that Schwartz has long had extensive ties to Muslims opposed to the Saudi regime. Schwartz is an outspoken critic not of Islam but of Islamic fundamentalism and Islamist terrorism. The branch of Islam that Schwartz has embraced, Sufism, is a notably peace-loving sect. Here is what Schwartz himself has to say (he says he will say no more on the subject):
One, my religious views are mine alone. They are personal to me, and I’m not prepared to discuss them in public at this time.Two, I am a Sufi, and as a Sufi I believe in the ultimate unity of the Abrahamic faiths. Three, there is no contradiction whatever between being involved in Sufism and opposing Saudi-funded or other forms of Wahhabi terrorism.Four, I stand by all my journalism as honest and accurate reportage on the topics I have covered and I reject the notion that my personal religious beliefs are relevant to the public any more than anyone else’s.
Chatterbox finds little to argue with here, except perhaps Schwartz’s prior reluctance to identify himself as a Muslim—and even there, Chatterbox blames not Schwartz, who is welcome to his privacy on such matters, but the broader taboo within much of the Muslim world against criticizing Islamist terrorism. (Schwartz himself made a related point in a Nov. 12 Weekly Standard piece titled, “In Search of the Moderate Sheikh.”) Is that taboo the reason Schwartz stayed silent? Or was he worried about the corresponding (less openly acknowledged) taboo within the neoconservative world against associating with Muslims? Schwartz is precisely the sort of Muslim of whom neoconservatives are always saying there are too few of in public life. If they shun him now, it will be hard to attribute it to anything other than religious bigotry.