Wahhabi Responsibility

Perhaps because I so resent identification of “Christians” with “Christian fundamentalism” (you know, as in “Christian” music and “Christian movies” and “Christian schools”), I really feel for Muslims who are being indirectly blamed for the barbaric acts and atavistic beliefs of their nominal co-religionists. At The Nation today, Laila Lalami pointed a very direct finger at one kind of Muslim source of violence: the Wahhabi sect that has received vast subsidies from the Saudi government to spread its beliefs via propaganda, mosque construction, and “good works” in a not-so-good cause.

We must call to account the Saudi kings—Salman, Abdullah, and Fahd—whose funding of Wahhabi doctrine gave rise to the scourge of Islamic extremism.

When I was a child in Morocco, no clerics told me what to do, what to read or not read, what to believe, what to wear. And if they did, I was free not to listen. Faith was more than its conspicuous manifestations. But things began to change in the 1980s. It was the height of the Cold War and Arab tyrants saw an opportunity: They could hold on to power indefinitely by repressing the dissidents in their midst—most of them secular leftists—and by encouraging the religious right wing, with tacit or overt approval from the United States and other Western allies. Into the void created by the decimation of the Arab world’s secular left, the Wahhabis stepped in, with almost unlimited financial resources. Wahhabi ideas spread throughout the region not because they have any merit—they don’t—but because they were and remain well funded. We cannot defeat ISIS without defeating the Wahhabi theology that birthed it. And to do so would require spending as much effort and money in defending liberal ideas….

 The beheadings, the crucifixions, the destruction of cultural heritage that ISIS practices—none of these are new. They all happened, and continue to happen, in Saudi Arabia too. The government of Saudi Arabia has beheaded more people this year than ISIS. It persecutes Shias and atheists. It has slowly destroyed sites of cultural and religious significance around Mecca and Medina. To almost universal indifference, it has been bombing Yemen for seven months. Yet whenever terror strikes, it escapes notice and evades responsibility. In this, it is aided and abetted by Western governments, who buy oil from tyrants and sell them weapons, while paying lip service to human rights.

You do have to wonder if we would be experiencing any of the kind of horrors that struck Paris last week if not for a nineteenth century alliance between the Wahhabi sect with the House of Saud long before the latter took control of unimaginable oil wealth. I wonder how all those Republicans screaming for the president to condemn “radical Islam” would feel about an alternative and significantly more precise labeling of the menace as Wahhabism, which would not tar a billion and a half other Muslims. But I guess some of these birds look forward to cutting oil deals with our fine Saudi allies, right?

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.