Out of the poison cabinet of intellectual history: The reign of terror
“Saudi Arabia takes action against the IS but at the same time supports its intellectual paradigm” was an article I came across in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. In the translation below, the article states that there wouldn’t exist any IS without a Wahhabi state doctrine.
Saudi Arabia not only raise the sword in their flag, but also against their own people: In 2015 the country chopped off more heads than the IS.
It was in the year 1801 when Saud ibn Abd al-Aziz ibn Muhammad as-Saud attacked the Iraqi city of Karbala with a mounted army and slit the throats of some 4000 people. The sacred sites of the Shiite inhabitants were destroyed, their houses raided. One year later, as-Saud conquers Mecca and Medina, his band of horselords devastates supposedly ‘heretic’ constructions in order to ‘clean’ the sacred sites of Islam. The defeated are not allowed to smoke any more, to make music, to wear eye-catching clothes, or to neglect prayer. Violators are whipped, mutilated, or put to death. Not by chance, it is a dominion that brings to mind the ravage of the IS two centuries later: Welcome to the first State of the Saudis built on terror.
In the year 2015 Saudi Arabia is still an absolutist ruled kingdom. The Saudis can do without raids meanwhile, because they are among the 20 most important economies in the world. They flood the globe with oil and a very special model of Islam (sometimes called Petro-Islam). They claim a leading role in international diplomacy, but execute their own citizens by the sword. They punish theft by chopping off the right hand, adultery by stoning, and homosexuality with 7000 lashes of the whip. The Saudis still destroy cultural heritage in their own country, consider the Shiite as apostates, despise other religions, and degrade women as second-class humans. Saudi Arabia imports Western technology, builds impressing glass towers, and treats modern age as a shopping experience: Welcome to Saudi Arabia of the 21. century. Freedom of faith for everyone? Felony!
In what way did the religious culture change since the devastation of Karbala in 1801? It did not. Preachers like Abdallah ad-Dosari call the shots. He proclaimed the recent pilgrim accident in Mecca with hundreds of Shiite fatalities as God’s gift to the world. The Saudi grand mufti Abdelaziz bin Abdallah appealed for the destruction of all churches on the Arabian Peninsula. Salah Bin Muhammad al-Budair, a current imam of the Grand Mosque in Medina and a judge of the high court, pulled the trigger of the howitzer himself when inspecting Saudi troops at the Yemen border. Reformation of Islam may come from outlying areas or the West, but for sure not from Saudi Arabia, which 2015 chopped off more heads than the IS. The Saudis preserve an extreme regressive, intolerant, and sectarian interpretation of faith, and even worse, export it throughout the world.
Their doctrine is also known as Wahhabism. The followers call themselves the ‘Muwahhidun’ (Unitarians). Wahhabism is named after an eighteenth-century preacher and scholar, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703–1792). He started a revivalist movement in the remote, sparsely populated region of Najd, advocating a purging of practices such as the popular ‘cult of saints’, and shrine and tomb visitation, widespread among Muslims, but which he considered idolatry, impurities and innovations in Islam. Wahhabism is causing disunity in Muslim communities by labeling Muslims who disagreed with the Wahhabi definition of monotheism as apostates (takfir), thus paving the way for their execution for apostasy – the equivalent of a death sentence. It is no coincidence that today’s Salafi movement makes good use of the verdict in order to justify the murder of their fellow Muslims – a form of a Muslim Ku Klux Klan.
Eventually Abd aw-Wahhab formed 1744 a pact with a local leader Muhammad bin Saud, offering political obedience and promising that protection and propagation of the Wahhabi movement would mean ‘power and glory’ and rule of ‘lands and men’ – a pact that persists down to the present day. This duality of sword and Islam has been eternised on the Saudi Arabian flag, and the alliance between followers of ibn Abd al-Wahhab and Muhammad bin Saud’s successors (the House of Saud) proved to be a rather durable one. The house of bin Saud continued to maintain its politico-religious alliance with the Wahhabi sect through the waxing and waning of its own political fortunes over the next 150 years, through to its eventual proclamation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, and then afterwards, on into ‘modern’ times. Today, Mohammed bin Abd Al-Wahhab’s teachings are state-sponsored and the official form of Sunni Islam in 21st century Saudi Arabia. Open critique on the theocratic alliance are prosecuted – a fact that dissidents like blogger Raif Badawi learn the hard way. He demanded equal treatment of Muslims, Christians, Jews, and atheists. For the Wahhabi judiciary, Badawi’s contravention was worth ten years of confinement plus 1000 cane strokes.
After 9/11 many political scientists asked for change in the Saudi Kingdom – the renunciation of institutionalised hatred on Shiite Muslims, Jews or the West, coined in Schoolbooks of even first graders. But nothing changed. The world wide Wahhabite proselytisation was pursued consequently like in earlier decades, financed by Saudi petro-dollars and brought forward by mosques, preachers, schools and charities who also supported terror organisations. Today, with the appearance of the IS – the other small Islamic state – the Saudis see themselves confronted with the same inconvenient questions.
In order to illustrate the unholy alliance between petro-dollars and radical thinking, Bernard Lewis (2004) suggests to imagine that the Klu Klux Klan took absolute power over Texas and started to proselytise with support of oil capital. The 20 November 2015 issue of the New York Times featured an Op-Ed Opinion piece by Algerian writer Kamel Daoud with the title ’Saudi Arabia, an ISIS That Has Made It’, where he warned that one has to live in the Muslim world to understand the immense transformative influence of religious television channels on society by accessing its weak links: households, women, rural areas. The Saudi royals are caught in a perfect trap: Weakened by succession laws that encourage turnover, they cling to ancestral ties between king and preacher. The Saudi clergy produces Islamism, which both threatens the country and gives legitimacy to the regime.
[…] As an ally of the US in its struggle against terrorism, Saudi Arabia has to restrain its revolutionary children of Wahhabism. Riyadh even created an ‘Islamic coalition against terrorism’ but left it totally open to interpretation how they look at ‘terror’ or how this coalition would ever take action. In order to draw a line towards the IS, Saudi clergy produce doubtful arguments. They state that for hundreds of years the Khawarij were a source of insurrection against the Caliphate and that they are responsible for the terror. In contrary Islam of Saudi Arabia, goes the argument, is renowned for its purity and peacefulness – could it be more ironic? Maybe a moderate Wahhabism?
So far the article in the magazine quoted. Daoud observes that the West’s denial regarding Saudi Arabia is striking: It salutes the theocracy as its ally but pretends not to notice that it is the world’s chief ideological sponsor of Islamist culture. Once more, the world is suffering from US foreign policy.