Stephen Suleyman Schwartz

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Stephen Suleyman Schwartz
Stephen Suleyman Schwartz, San Francisco, 2013.jpg
Stephen Suleyman Schwartz in 2013.
Born (1948-09-09) September 9, 1948 (age 66)
Columbus, Ohio, U.S.
Occupation Journalist, writer
Religion Sufi Islam[1]

Stephen Suleyman Schwartz (born September 9, 1948) is an American Sufi[1] journalist, columnist, and author. He has been published in a variety of media, including The Wall Street Journal.[2] He is the executive director of the Washington, D.C. based Center for Islamic Pluralism. In August 2011 he was elected as member of Folks Magazine's Editorial Board.[3]

He has been a student of Sufism since the late 1960s and an adherent of the Hanafi school of Islam since 1997.[1] He is a critic of Islamic Fundamentalism, especially the Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam.


Schwartz was born in Columbus, Ohio. His father, Horace Schwartz, was an independent bookseller and of Jewish belief. His mother, daughter of a Protestant preacher, was a career social services employee. Schwartz later described both of his parents as "radical leftists and quite antireligious",[4] his father a "fellow traveler", his mother a member of the Communist Party. So even though he was baptized in the Presbyterian church as an infant, he received no religious instruction during childhood. Neither was he informed that he was half-Jewish until late in childhood. Over time, he however became very interested in spirituality and discussed religion at lengths with his mother, however not with his father.[4]

The family moved to San Francisco when he was young, where Horace Schwartz became a literary agent.[5] Departing from Protestantism, at 17 Schwrtz became engaged with Catholicism and prepared to convert, but was dismayed by his severely adverse surroundings.[4] Attending Lowell High School[5] Schwartz made his first serious writing attempts, focusing initially on poetry. Schwartz increasingly took an interest in Trotskyism between high school and college. He would later call himself a communist "red diaper baby" and supporter of the Soviet Union whose views evolved away from Stalinism to Trotskyist Marxism during his college time.[6] He later remained affiliated with Leninist communism until 1984.[4]

Catholic spirituality and especially the writings of Catalan philosopher Ramon Llull brought him into contact with Sufism. He researched the interfaces between Sufism and shamanism in North Central Asia as well as surviving indigenous American religions such as the shamanism of the Pomos in California, the religions of the Hopis and Zunis in the Southwest and of Mexican communities such as the Yaquis, Mayos, and Coras. In 1979, Kabbalist Ariel Bension also raised his interest in Sephardic Judaism.[4]

It was in Sarajevo at the end of 1997, when he recognized Sufi Islam as the religion he believed in. He spoke the Shahada and decided he had to quit his career as a San Francisco Chronicle reporter.[4]

Labor activism and literary career[edit]

After college, Schwartz became involved in the labor movement, in the Sailors' Union of the Pacific, and as a member, officer, and employee of locals affiliated with the AFL-CIO. Among others, he founded a small semi-Trotskyist group FOCUS.[7] As Schwartz focused increasingly on making a career as a writer, he returned to these roots to write Brotherhood of the Sea: A History of the Sailors' Union of the Pacific, a book commissioned by the S.U.P. as part of its of 100th anniversary commemoration in 1985. By this time Schwartz identified as a member of the Social Democrats USA, following a path similar to other Trotskyists who shifted from left- to right-wing politics.

In 1988, while a fellow at the Institute of Contemporary Studies in San Francisco, Schwartz published a review in the New York Times Book Review in which he claimed that an associate of Sigmund Freud, Max Eitingon, was a key figure in a team of Soviet agents who carried out assassinations in Europe and Mexico,[8] including the murders of Ignace Reiss, General Yevgeny Miller, and Lev Sedov. The review, based on the work of several Russian historians, sparked a debate that drew responses from Theodore Draper[9] and Walter Laqueur.[10][11] Robert Conquest noted that although there is no direct proof of Eitingon's involvement in the murders, his financial interests in the Soviet Union and connections with key members of team were serious grounds for suspicion.[12]

In the 1990s, Schwartz spent a decade as a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. He was a member of the local union at the Chronicle, a branch of the Newspaper Guild. Later he wrote about his dissatisfaction with the union’s national leadership, particularly its president, Linda Foley, for emphasizing political concerns such as ethnic diversity and concentration of media ownership over traditional union issues of wages, job protection, and working conditions.[13]

In 1998, Schwartz used his knowledge of the labor and radical movements in California to write From West to East: California and the Making of the American Mind. New York Times literary critic Michiko Kakutani was critical of the book. She called the title deceptive for a book "so narrow and so selective that one comes away with a warped caricature of California as a hotbed of radicals, bohemians and New Age eccentrics," and described it as "reductive and highly dogmatic." She argued that it ignored the significant conservative side of California thought, as reflected in figures like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.[14] California state librarian Kevin Starr suggested that the title and marketing were the publisher's attempt to lend national significance to the history of the radical left in California. Starr praised the book’s account of the utopian ideals that spurred the early California left; the rest he saw as a personal quest to show how the Soviets corrupted these ideals.[15] Harold Meyerson also found it to be heavily focused on anti-Stalinism, fused with a hatred of Los Angeles, which Schwartz held responsible for transforming the utopian left into "elitist but mediocre left-liberalism." Meyerson felt this, and speculation about Stalinist conspiracies, undermined the value in the book’s account of the San Francisco Renaissance centered around poet Kenneth Rexroth, an associate of Schwartz’s father.[16]

In 1999, Schwartz left the Chronicle, and moved to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, living and traveling in the Balkans for the next 18 months. He had previously visited the area in 1990 to do research, and maintained ties through an Albanian Catholic institute connected with the University of San Francisco.[17]

After his return, Schwartz gained some attention for a speculative theory that the Jewish Marxist intellectual Walter Benjamin might have been assassinated. Writing in The Weekly Standard, he proposed that Stalinist agents in Spain might be responsible, questioning evidence that Benjamin committed suicide to avoid being handed over to the Nazis. He had little evidence to support his speculation, and critics noted that unlike other assassination victims, Benjamin was never a Communist Party member. Schwartz defended the article as "just asking questions that should be asked."[18]

As he continued writing for various publications, Schwartz strongly supported the Iraq War, identifying with other former Trotskyists who supported the war, including Christopher Hitchens and Kanan Makiya. Schwartz found support for this, among other reasons, in Trotsky’s internationalist outlook.

Schwartz is a sometime literary critic. He has written essays about Philip Lamantia, Roberto Bolaño, J.M.G. Le Clézio, Jean-François Revel, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Philip Lamantia, and Saul Bellow, among others.[19][20][21][22][23][24][25]

Views on Islam[edit]

Schwartz's exposure to Islam began with the study of Sufism during his early years, and he describes himself as a disciple of Ibn Arabi. His biography at the Center for Islamic Pluralism adds that he's been "an adherent of the Hanafi school of Islam since 1997."[1] As his religious choice became publicly known, Schwartz expressed concern that he was sometimes seen as "a Trojan horse for Islam," despite his support for American policies in the Middle East.[26]

Schwartz published a book on the subject called The Two Faces of Islam. The book blamed Islamic terrorism on the religious establishment fostered by the Saudi government, and also criticized Bush administration officials for their associations with Saudi Arabia. Shortly before it came out, Schwartz was dismissed from his position as a news writer for Voice of America. The stated reason was that his work was not competent, although his sympathizers claimed the real motive was his differences with the news director and official concern about his increasing criticism of Saudi Arabia. Schwartz's personality was also said to have ruffled some colleagues. He then became a senior policy analyst, and the director of the Islam and Democracy program at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a conservative think tank. Schwartz annually leads a protest at the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington DC with notable Shiite Muslims such as Maulana Dr. Sakhawat Hussain Sandralvi, to denounce the destruction of Janaat-ul Baqi, a graveyard in Medina, by the Wahhabis in 1925.[27]

The Two Faces of Islam received mixed reviews. Paul Marshall, in the Claremont Review of Books, described it as an "otherwise good book...marred by Schwartz's almost Manichaean approach wherein all bad things in the Muslim world are ascribed to the work of the Wahhabis."[28] But, New York Times book critic Richard Bernstein said the book demonstrated "a comprehensive mastery of history and historical connections, as well as a deep humanistic concern for those who have been oppressed by Wahhabi ruthlessness." However, he questioned whether Schwartz had not overstated its significance compared to other extremist elements in Islam, such as the Iranian role in supporting terrorism.[29] Clifford Geertz described Schwartz as "a strange and outlandish figure" and concluded that the book was on a "conflation of Wahhabism with Islamism generally".[30]

Schwartz followed this with a pamphlet, An Activist's Guide to Arab and Muslim Campus and Community Organizations in North America, written under the name Suleyman Ahmad al-Kosovi. This covered a number of organizations he identified as being part of the "Wahhabi lobby" in the United States, including the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Arab American Institute, the Muslim Student Association, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the American Muslim Council, and the Islamic Society of North America. According to Schwartz, these groups were "crafted in direct imitation of the leading American Jewish organizations." However, he contended that they lacked the diversity of the Jewish groups because they were all dependent on Saudi money, and their ideology made them see the Jewish groups as "all controlled and coordinated by a single, commanding power, i.e. the Israeli embassy."[31]

To counter this perceived influence and promote "moderate Islam", Schwartz launched the Center for Islamic Pluralism on March 25, 2005. The Center is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., with Schwartz as executive director.

Schwartz has called Wahhabism "the syphilis of Islam.".[32]

Views on Israel[edit]

Schwartz contends that Israel is the "historic, sacred land of the Jews ... given to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by the Almighty as their eternal home."[33] He bases his view on "the following unequivocal statements" from the Qur'an:[33]

  • Children of Israel, remember the blessing I have bestowed upon you, and that I [the Almighty] have exalted you above the nations. [Chapter 2, verse 47]
  • Bear in mind the words of Moses to his people. He said, 'Remember, my people, the favor which [the Almighty] has bestowed upon you. He has raised up prophets among you, made you kings, and given you that which He has given no other nation. Enter, my people, the holy land which [the Almighty] has given you. Do not turn back, or you shall be ruined.' [Chapter 5, verse 21]
  • [The Almighty] said to the Israelites, 'Dwell in this land. When the promise of the hereafter comes to be fulfilled, We shall assemble you all together.' [Chapter 17, verse 104]

Published works[edit]


  • A Sleepwalker’s Guide to San Francisco: Poems from Three Lustra, 1966–1981. San Francisco: La Santa Espina, 1983.
  • Brotherhood of the Sea: A History of the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1986. ISBN 0-88738-121-9.
  • Spanish Marxism vs. Soviet Communism: A History of the P.O.U.M (with Victor Alba). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1988. ISBN 0-88738-198-7.
  • A Strange Silence: The Emergence of Democracy in Nicaragua. San Francisco: ICS Press, 1992. ISBN 1-55815-071-4.
  • From West to East: California and the Making of the American Mind. New York: The Free Press, 1998. ISBN 0-684-83134-1.
  • Kosovo: Background to a War. London: Anthem Press, 2000. ISBN 1-898855-56-0
  • Intellectuals and Assassins: Writings at the End of Soviet Communism. New York: Anthem Press, 2001. ISBN 1-898855-55-2.
  • The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa'ud from Tradition to Terror. New York: Doubleday, 2002. ISBN 0-385-50692-9. (Note: The subtitle on the paperback version was changed to Saudi Fundamentalism and Its Role in Terrorism.)
  • Sarajevo Rose: A Balkan Jewish Notebook. London: Saqi Books, 2005. ISBN 0-86356-592-1.
  • Is It Good for the Jews?: The Crisis of America's Israel Lobby. New York: Doubleday, 2006. ISBN 0-385-51025-X.
  • The Other Islam: Sufism and the Road to Global Harmony. New York: Doubleday, 2008. ISBN 0-385-51819-6.


  • Schwartz, Stephen. An Activist's Guide to Arab and Muslim Campus and Community Organizations in North America.
  • Schwartz, Stephen. "Defeating Wahhabism". FrontPage Magazine, October 25, 2002.
  • Schwartz, Stephen. "A Different Kind of Filial Piety". Wall Street Journal, February 10, 1999.
  • Schwartz, Stephen. "Ground Zero and the Saudi Connection". The Spectator, September 22, 2001.
  • Schwartz, Stephen. "Spanish Revision". The Weekly Standard, June 1, 2009.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "About Us". Center for Islamic Pluralism. 
  2. ^ E.g., see Schwartz's Intellectuals and Assassins (2001).
  3. ^ Magazine, Folks. "Folks Magazine". Retrieved 28 August 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Schwartz, Stephen (2007-02-19). "Why I Chose Islam Instead of Judaism". Jewcy. Retrieved 2014-12-27. 
  5. ^ a b Reidel, James (2002). "Ex-Libris Weldon Kees". The Cortland Review (Fall 2002). 
  6. ^ Schwartz, Stephen (2003-02-20). "Remembering an SLA Terrorist". FrontPage Magazine. Retrieved 2014-12-27. 
  7. ^ Alexander, Robert International Trotskyism: a documented analysis of the world movement Durham, Duke University Press 1991 p.943
  8. ^ Stephen Schwartz, "Intellectuals and Assassins – Annals of Stalin's Killerati," New York Times Book Review, January 24, 1988, pp. 3, 30–31.
  9. ^ Theodore Draper, "The Mystery of Max Eitingon," The New York Times Book Review., April 14, 1988, pp. 32–43.
  10. ^ Stephen Schwartz, Vitaly Rapoport, Theodore Draper, and Walter Laqueur, "'The Mystery of Max Eitingon': An Exchange," New York Review of Books, June 16, 1988, pp. 50–55.
  11. ^ Draper, Theodore, 'The mystery of Max Eitingon', New York Review of Books 35: 6 (14 April 1988), 32-43. Stephen Schwartz, Vitaly Rapoport, Walter Laqueur and Theodore H. Draper, 'The Mystery of Max Eitingon': An Exchange, New York Review of Books, 16 June 1988.
  12. ^ Max Eitingon: another view, The New York Times Book Review., 3 July 1988
  13. ^ Schwartz, Stephen. "Follies of the MSM". Tech Central Station, June 15, 2005.
  14. ^ Kakutani, Michiko. "Anatomy of the Left Coast without the Sunshine." New York Times, April 7, 1998.
  15. ^ Starr, Kevin. "Leftovers; From West to East: California and the Making of the American Mind". Los Angeles Times, March 15, 1998.
  16. ^ Meyerson, Harold. "Red Sunset". New York Times, March 15, 1998.
  17. ^ Schwartz, Stephen. "Behind the Balkan Curtain". San Francisco Faith, May 2000.
  18. ^ Rothstein, Edward. "Connections; A Daring Theory that Stalin Had Walter Benjamin Murdered". New York Times, June 30, 2001.
  19. ^ Schwartz, Stephen (July 21, 2010) "In Memoriam: Philip Lamantia (1927-2005)." Contemporary Poetry Review. (Retrieved 3-18-2013.)
  20. ^ Schwartz, Stephen (October 7, 2010) "Roberto Bolaño, Missed by the Nobel Committee." The Weekly Standard. (Retrieved 9-3-12.)
  21. ^ Schwartz, Stephen (October 16, 2008) "Ignoble Prizes." The Weekly Standard. (Retrieved 9-3-12.)
  22. ^ Schwartz, Stephen (May 15, 2006) "Jean-François Revel, 1924-2006." The Weekly Standard. (Retrieved 9-3-12.)
  23. ^ Schwartz, Stephen (March 25, 2005) "The Voice of Cuba." The Weekly Standard. (Retrieved 9-3-12.)
  24. ^ Schwartz, Stephen (May 30, 2005) "A Mystic and Tormented Believer." FrontPage Magazine. (Retrieved 9-3-12.)
  25. ^ Schwartz, Stephen (April 19, 2005) "Saul Bellow, Trotsky, and Mexico." FrontPage Magazine. (Retrieved 9-3-12.)
  26. ^
  27. ^ Schwartz, Stephen (Nov 5, 2007). "Paying a Call on the Saudi Embassy". Weekly Standard. 
  28. ^ Marshall, Paul. "Reading Up on Islam". Claremont Review of Books, Fall 2003.
  29. ^ Bernstein, Richard. "The Saudis' Brand of Islam and Its Place in History". New York Times, November 8, 2002.
  30. ^ Geertz, Clifford. "Which Way to Mecca? Part II". The New York Review of Books, July 3, 2003.
  31. ^ Schwartz, Stephen (2003). The Two Faces of Islam: Saudi Fundamentalism and Its Role in Terrorism. Random House. p. 339. ISBN 9781400030453. 
  32. ^ Schwartz, Stephen Suleyman (May 2, 2005) "Wahhabism -- the Syphilis of Islam." FrontPage. (Retrieved 2-11-2014.)
  33. ^ a b Schwartz, Stephen (June 23, 2006). "An Islamic Defense of Israel".  Excerpt from the book What Israel Means to Me edited by Alan Dershowitz (John Wiley and Sons, 2007; ISBN 978-0-470-16914-8).

External links[edit]