February - 2003
Vol# 19 - Issue# 70
Roots of “Islamic” Terrorism
-Interview conducted by Kathryn Jean Lopez (National Review Online)
Kathryn Jean Lopez: What is Wahhabism?
Stephen Schwartz: Wahhabism is an extremist, puritanical, and violent movement that emerged, with the pretension of “reforming” Islam, in the central area of Arabia in the 18th century.
It was founded by Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, who formed an alliance with the house of Saud, in which religious authority is maintained by the descendants of al-Wahhab and political power is held by the descendants of al-Saud: This is the Wahhabi-Saudi axis, which continues to rule today. From its beginning, Wahhabism declared the entirety of existing Islam to be unbelief, and traditional Muslims to be unbelievers subject to robbery, murder, and sexual violation. Wahhabism has always viewed Shia Muslims genocidally, as non-Muslims worthy of annihilation. Wahhabism has always attacked the traditional, spiritual Islam or Sufism that dominates Islam in the Balkans, Turkey, Central Asia, India, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Wahhabism and neo-Wahhabism (the latter being the doctrines of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and the Pakistani Islamists) are the main source of Islamic extremist violence in the world today. Wahhabism represents a distinct, ultraradical form of Islamism. Wahhabism is completely subsidized by the Saudi regime, using oil income.
Wahhabism has always maintained a two-faced policy regarding the West. It has always depended on the armed forces of the Christian nations — Britain, the U.S., and France — to secure its domination in the Arabian peninsula, while it violently attacks Jews, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists, as well as traditional Sunnis, Sufis, and Shias, throughout the rest of the world. Thus, the presence of U.S. troops guarding the Saudis did not begin with the Gulf War in 1991. From 1946 to 1962 the U.S. maintained an airbase in Saudi Arabia, and before that the British assisted the Wahhabi-Saudi alliance against the Ottomans. When the Saudis needed to clear the Grand Mosque in Mecca of protestors in 1979, they employed French paratroops to kill Muslims within the walls of the mosque.
Lopez: How widespread is it?
Schwartz: Wahhabism is official in Saudi Arabia. It is influential in Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. It has a substantial following in Yemen, which also has many Shia Muslims. It is unpopular in Bahrain and irrelevant in Oman.
Outside the Peninsula, Wahhabism is generally unpopular. But where trouble is found, Wahhabism may thrive. Hamas in Israel represents pure Wahhabism. Forms of neo-Wahhabi or Wahhabized ideology have been powerful in Egypt (the Muslim Brotherhood) and in Pakistan — in both countries neo-Wahhabis lead attacks on other Muslims and other faiths. But in both countries mainstream Muslim scholars continue to struggle against Wahhabism. Wahhabi aggression was defeated in Algeria and Tajikistan.
Wahhabi infiltration continues in Chechnya, to the detriment of the just struggle of the Chechens against Russian imperialism, and in Kashmir, where it is an obstacle to resolution of the conflict. Wahhabi extremism and terrorism continue to plague Nigeria, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, and the Philippines, although its real supporters in these countries are few in number.
But Wahhabi infiltration failed in Bosnia-Hercegovina and suffered a smashing repudiation in Kosovo. Albanian Muslims in Macedonia and Albania dislike Wahhabism, more intensely in the former than in the latter. Wahhabism and its surrogate, the Deobandi ideology of the Taliban, has been defeated in Afghanistan. Wahhabism has no real following in among the Muslim masses in Francophone West Africa, Morocco, Libya, the rest of Central Asia, India, or Malaysia.
As to other Middle Eastern regions and states: Saddam Hussein has used Wahhabism to give his regime an Islamic cover, but Wahhabism is deeply unpopular in Iraq.
Kurdistan is mainly Sufi in its Islam and aside from a handful of mercenary extremists, Kurds reject Wahhabism.
Syria, although a radical Arab state, is Islamically p