Wednesday, January 14, 2015
The Problem Is Wahhabi Extremism
The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.
And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
In the preamble to the story of Noah and the flood, the narrator tells us that God was grieved to his heart by the wickedness of humankind. The prehistory of Genesis is rich in symbolism and there are times when the narrative soars with the vast possibilities of creation, but there is a recurring sub-plot of God’s deep despair at the moral failures of his human children.
We may recoil at the behavior of primitive peoples thousands of years ago, but the stories still speak to us because there are still times when it seems like we have learned so little.
The horrible killings in France and the gruesome beheadings by ISIS in the Middle East have focused our attention again on the specter of human evil. And in the wake of those great evils there has been a renewed argument about how we should confront the problem.
In the current debate, the problem has often been defined as “Islamic Extremism,” and some have argued that we cannot really confront the issue until we name it for what it is. Not surprisingly, this has led to a backlash against Muslims in America and in Europe.
Defining the problem as “Islamic Extremism” is at once both too narrow and too broad. It is too narrow because it leaves out the many other forms of religious and secular extremism that are problems around the world. And it is too broad because it shames a religion of 1.7 billion followers for the actions of a small number.
Last Sunday on “Meet the Press,” host Chuck Todd asked Reza Aslan, a Muslim scholar and writer, whether we should be at war “with a strain of Islam.”
“There’s no question that there has been a virus that has spread throughout the Muslim world, a virus of ultra-orthodox Puritanism,” Aslan responded. “But there’s also no question what the source of this virus is — whether we’re talking about Boko Haram, or ISIS, or al Qaeda, or the Taliban.”
And then he narrowed the focus from the world wide and diverse Muslim faith to a relatively small but very influential sect: “All of them have as their source Wahhabism, or the state religion of Saudi Arabia,”Aslan continued. “And as we all know, Saudi Arabia has spent over $100 billion in the past 20 or 30 years spreading this ideology throughout the world.”
ISIS, Boko Haram, and the 9/11 bombers are all products of Wahhabism.
Americans were outraged by the beheadings of Western journalists and aid workers at the hands of ISIS. But with exceptions like Amnesty International, we have turned a blind eye to the dozens of beheadings carried out as public entertainment in Saudi Arabia. Under current laws, strongly influenced by Wahhabism, the death penalty is allowed for such varied offenses as homosexuality, atheism, adultery, apostasy, and murder. For a thorough discussion of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia by Alistair Crooke, click here.
Wahhabism takes its name from its founder, Abd al-Wahhab 1703-1792, a preacher and scholar who led a revivalist movement in what is now Saudi Arabia. He stressed a return to a purer form of Islam and denounced more typical Muslims as imposters. Crooke writes, “Abd al-Wahhab demanded conformity -- a conformity that was to be demonstrated in physical and tangible ways. He argued that all Muslims must individually pledge their allegiance to a single Muslim leader (a Caliph, if there were one). Those who would not conform to this view should be killed, their wives and daughters violated, and their possessions confiscated, he wrote. The list of apostates meriting death included the Shiite, Sufis and other Muslim denominations, whom Abd al-Wahhab did not consider to be Muslim at all.”
In terms of geopolitics, it is as if Saudi Arabia lives a double life. And the United States turns a blind eye.
On the one hand, they export Wahhabi extremism around the world. They fund world-wide terrorism. They distribute books and videos that are virulently anti-Semitic and anti-western. They subject dissenters to incarceration and public flogging. On the other hand, they have supported our interests in the Middle East and have been our allies (depending on how you define “ally”) since President Roosevelt met with the Saudi king on his way back from Yalta in World War II.