The war on terror will be won only when Islam’s Wahabi heresy is defeated — by orthodox Islam. Europe’s own religious history shows why. From the latest American Spectator.
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Between 1811 and 1818, however, the Ottoman Empire struck back. To Istanbul, Wahabism and the Saudi state were identical. The Ottomans, using French military equipment and greater manpower, defeated the Saudis, leveled their capital, and took the Saudi leader, Abdullah, prisoner. They humiliated him, tortured him, beheaded him, and threw his body to the dogs.
The Ottomans, however, failed to discredit Wahabism doctrinally. They did not teach orthodox Islam and insist that it be taught, much less did they live it. Nor were they vigilant when the heirs of Abdullah came back to re-establish the family’s power base, which of course included Wahabism. So it was that by the 1830s Wahabi jihads were taking place even in the Indian subcontinent. By 1912 Wahabi cells existed as far as central Asia.
THE CONTEMPORARY SAUDI STATE arose from Ibn Saud’s alliance with the British against the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Ignorantly, the British believed the Saudis’ protestations that their hatred of the Ottomans for their Islamic impurity did not also imply enmity toward Christians. Besides, thought the Brits, what power could these or any Arabs wield against Her Majesty’s Empire? The British began to find out when, after the war, they watched impotently as the Saudi/Wahabi combination swept Britain’s Hashemite clients from the Arabian Peninsula. Unlike the Ottomans, the British were unable to mount even the military dimension much less the political and religious dimensions of the offense needed to defeat a heresy such as Wahabism.
The American policy-makers who took over stewardship of the region from Britain never understood the problem. The intelligence office of the oil company ARAMCO is said to have explained Wahabism as the Muslim equivalent of Unitarianism. Insofar as the U.S. government understood Wahabism it expected the power of the Saudi family to restrain its extremism.
That the Saudi family could mount a theological campaign against Wahabism is as inconceivable as its adopting the Spartan lifestyle that Wahabism preaches. Without the Wahabis, the Saudi royal family would not be lords of the peninsula, or of anything at all. No orthodox Muslim would accredit the Saudis’ lifestyles as Muslim. But somehow the otherwise ultra-strict Wahabis do. The notion that the Saudi royals could earn non-Islamic legitimacy as democratizers is fantasy. The Saudis are bonded to the tiger they ride.
Whereas in Londonistan, in France, or in America’s streets and prisons, Wahabism is an irritant, in the Islamic world it is one of the two main challenges to ordinary life (the other being the corrupt, Western-imported, secular, nationalistic socialism, against which Wahabism rages). From the northern edges of black Africa, to Bosnia, Pakistan, Indonesia, and the eastern islands of the Philippines, estimates of the percentage of the new mosques and schools financed to Wahabi specifications vary from a third to three-fourths. No other form of Islam enjoys anything like the flood of money that comes from Saudi sources, and almost none has developed a violent cadre to back up its demands. For any Sunni Muslim, life has to look richer, safer, more purposeful, on the Wahabi side.
ANY FAITH’S HERESIES ARE first of all problems for that faith, and only then for others. Co-religionists are the heresy’s first targets, and the only ones with the combination of knowledge, incentive, and legitimacy to deal with it. Only Christians can understand enough about what is and is not proper to Christianity. If they fail to define what it means, the heretics will do the defining.
The same goes for Muslims. It would have been impossible for the Ottoman Empire — at the height of its power in the early 16th century — to play a role in defeating the Anabaptist heresies that roiled Germany. By the same token, today the notion that secularist Americans might teach Muslims right and wrong about Islam is silly.
Nevertheless, just as the Muslim world was not entirely irrelevant to the struggles of medieval Christianity, today’s West willy-nilly has some influence on intramural Muslim struggles. Medieval Muslims, after all, gave orthodox Christianity a big, indirect hand by defeating the Crusades. If medieval Muslims had let the Christian heretics succeed against them, the heretics might have used their newfound prestige to defeat their main enemy in Europe.
In our time, however, Western civilization has not given that kind of indirect support to Muslim orthodoxy against the Wahabi heresy. On the contrary: rather than giving the Wahabis defeats, the West has given them victories that have strengthened the movement’s hand immeasurably in its decisive intramural battles. In sum, the West has let the Wahabis set up bases outside the reach of their Muslim enemies, has let its terrorism run rampant, and has safeguarded its main base, Saudi Arabia, from the natural consequences of its rulers’ Faustian bargain.
More than shielding the Saudi regime, Americans enabled it to spread Wahabism to a heretofore unimaginable extent when, in 1973, they agreed to give Saudi Arabia the power to set the world price of oil. The Saudi royals’ money, we must not forget, is theirs only because America’s best and brightest think it proper to assign property rights to persons who contribute nothing to the product. In the end, the Wahabi heresy intimidates Muslims around the world because it is fueled by U.S. money directed to them through Saudi Arabia by American judgment, the validity of which is not self-evident.
The Wahabis attract other Muslims as well as threaten them. Successful anti-Western terrorism has been its main instrument of that attraction. Weak governments cannot possibly take sides against a sect whose exploits excite their peoples’ atavistic pride more than they do. Indeed, in our time, some orthodox Muslims have forgotten how deep is the Wahabis’ hatred for them and rather take pride every time a Wahabi-inspired terrorist act humiliates and cows the West on behalf of Muslim causes. When Westerners react to Wahabi terrorist acts by indicting ordinary, traditional Muslim practices — veils, sexual customs — they make it even more difficult for orthodox Muslims to go after the heretics.
Also, the Wahabis attract all rulers of Muslim peoples who live un-Muslim lives because, just as medieval Christian heretics supported their hierarchs’ outrageous lives, they buy secular support by selling religious legitimacy. Hence Wahabi support for outrageously corrupt Saudis. The glaring case is Iraq’s Saddam Hussein — an atheist, theologically speaking the personification of everything Wahabism lives to destroy — who persecuted Islam to the limit of his power, but who nevertheless managed to make himself the leader of an Islam increasingly redefined as violent anti-Westernism. The Wahabis held their nose and supported him too.
This heresy can be defeated only after the destruction of Saudi rule — preferably by other Muslims. The Saudis’ Wahabism makes them the natural enemies of all the world’s orthodox Muslims, especially Shi’ites. Iran, the great power of Shi’a Islam, is Wahabism’s main enemy. America’s elites, however, have supported the Saudis against the Iranians because they understand only the categories of “moderate vs. fundamentalist” and see neither Shi’ites nor Wahabis, neither orthodoxy nor heresy.
In short, violent heretics are winning their war with Islamic orthodoxy. The religion is being redefined. Hijacked. That is due in part to the support the heretics enjoy, nonetheless powerful for being indirect, from the West in general and America in particular. The point of all this is that even the best and brightest of officials need to know what they are about and, with that, do no harm.
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