In Tunisia protestors came out en masse againt Saudi Arabia's Mohammed bin Salman with signs reading "You're not welcome." (AP/Independent)
A review of The Wahhabi Code: How Saudis Spread Extremism Globally (Arcade 2018, hardback, $24.99)
By Jordan Elgrably
This is a multiple-choice quiz:
—Which country is the most responsible for terrorism worldwide:
A) Saudi Arabia
C) North Korea
D) The United States
E) none of the above
You probably caught that that was a trick question. (Guest speakers will address it on the evening of Dec. 20th in Los Angeles, when The Markaz and the L.A. World Affairs Council presents a public forum, Ending Saudi Extremism with author Terence Ward, moderated by Ani Zonneveld, the president of Muslims for Progressive Values.)
The Saudi sect of Wahhabism—an extreme and merely 200-year-old iteration on Islam—exercises a dangerously pervasive influence on imams and believers, because it is the primary conduit for would-be jihadis who are being inculcated with rarefied us-versus-them ideas in madrasas and mosques worldwide—we’re talking about feeding the base for Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Boko Harem and ISIS.
Irony of ironies, the Saudis are not the only ones producing extremists these days, for here in the U.S., anti-abortion, pro-death penalty, pro-NRA Evangelical Christians support Donald Trump, and violent right-wing Jewish settlers in the West Bank are driving Israel’s toxic 51-year-old Occupation. And these days, in a bizarre geopolitical twist, these three forces are aligned.
Would you believe?
Both Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu have been shielding Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from international condemnation for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Each insists that government relations, business deals and the anti-Iran alliance are far more consequential than the murder of the Washington Post contributor at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul on October 2nd. The Post suggests that Trump is “soft-pedaling” Khashoggi’s killing because strategic relations are more important to American interests than are human rights.
Here’s a radical proposition for you: If world opinion were informed and the United Nations had cojones, what we ought to do is resettle together the world’s Wahhabis along with the American Evangelicals and Israel’s settler population, let’s say either along Lake Constance in southern Germany, or on the outskirts of Montevideo, Uruguay. That would keep them out of harm’s way and probably force them to actually join the 21st century, in which level-headed Muslims, Christians and Jews get along harmoniously.
Meanwhile, we can read Terence Ward’s The Wahhabi Code to understand why young Muslims are fighting a war on behalf of the Saudi royal family without realizing they’re working for a corrupt monarchy. (In France they got rid of corrupt monarchs over 200 years ago. Come on, guys, remember the Bastille.)
Ward, an American who grew up in Iran and Saudi Arabia and speaks Arabic as well as Persian, quotes many sources in a book obviously born of experience and a great deal of Weltschmerz (world-weariness). He notes columnist Fareed Zakaria on Saudi Arabia, who asserts it is the country central to the spread of radical Islamic terrorism. “For five decades,” Zakaria suggests, “[it] has spread its narrow, puritanical, and intolerant version of Islam—originally practiced almost nowhere else—across the Muslim world.” Speaking as an American Muslim of Pakistani heritage, Zakaria adds that, “Saudi Arabia bears significant responsibility for the spread of a cruel, intolerant, and extremist interpretation of Islam—one that can feed directly into jihadi thinking.” He suggests that “globalized Wahhabism” has attempted to destroy “much of the diversity within Islam, snuffing out the liberal and pluralistic interpretations of the religion in favor an arid, intolerant one.”
Indeed, Wahhabism has eaten away at the religious diversity of Islam, attempting to silence or destroy more creative Muslim traditions, from Ismaili to Druze to Sufi to Yezidi to Alavi.
Ward and many of his sources argue that it is Saudi Arabia—not Iran—that is funding global terrorism.
“It is my deeply held conviction that when Europeans and Americans learn to pronounce the word Wahhabi,” Ward writes, “one and a half billion Muslims will be exonerated and freed from the cloud of guilt cast by a new breed of populist politicians who profit by spreading slander and fear.
The truth is that this severe, ultra-conservative Wahhabi sect of Islam has served both as Saudi Arabia’s official religion and the core ideology for international terror groups…”
Saudi influence and lobbying prevents much criticism from penetrating mainstream Western media. As Ward asks, why haven’t more journalists reported that Taliban and ISIS destruction of monuments from Afghanistan to Syria are inspired by the Wahhabi doctrine of Saudi Arabia, nurtured by Saudi-funded madrasas throughout the Muslim world? Why does Saudi Arabia continue to get a free pass?
In The Wahhabi Code, professor Ahmed Karima of Sharia Law at Egypt’s Al-Ahzar University, proclaims, “If the world is looking forward to uprooting terrorism, it has to stand up against Wahhabism because they are the root of all sedition and conflict.”
But as Ward discovers, Saudi Arabia spends some $1.3 million per month on PR firms and lobbyists in Washington, to line up the US against Iran and support Saudi Arabia’s criminal war in Yemen.
“The American and European multi-cultural dream is built on integration, collaboration, and equal rights under citizenship,” Ward argues. “The Wahhabi mission rejects the very cornerstones of these principles…It is time to realize that Wahhabism has been tearing apart the social fabric of the Middle East and the Muslim world.”
When Prince Mohammed bin Salman came to the world’s attention in 2017, he appeared to be a progressive who promised new religious and political reforms and wanted to fund expanded cultural outreach. But as The Wahhabi Code points out, Saudis are successfully funding “soft power” efforts “because it works…Their well-targeted funds, charities, and missionary efforts are turning entire nations into hotbeds of fundamentalist Islam (notably in Kosovo, Bosnia, Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Maldives, Somalia, Chechnya and now Indonesia).”
Jumping off from the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris that left more than 130 people dead, Ward weaves together the brief but violent history of Saudi Arabia and Wahhabism, charting its tentacles of expansion throughout the Muslim world, and among Muslim populations in Europe and the United States. He footnotes his sources throughout more than a dozen chapters and provides a bibliography.
Ultimately Ward proves himself a friend of the Muslim world, whose only wish is to call attention to moderate Islam as the religion of peace it was originally intended to be.