by Belfast Plebian
The ruling authority of the Saudi Princes can be traced back to a pact made in 1774 between one dominant Arab tribe and a Shia hating religious sociopath called Muhammad ibn Abdal Wahhab (1702-1792). The encyclopaedia Britannica tells us that :
‘ Abd al Wahhab’s teachings have been characterised as being puritanical and traditional representing the very early era of the Islamic religion. He made a clear stand against all innovations because he believed them to be reprehensible, insisting that the original grandeur of Islam could be regained if the Islamic community returned to the principles as first enunciated by the prophet.’
The pact intended that the clergy would be responsible for all religious-educational matters and the Al Saud warriors would be responsible for all political and military matters, including spreading an interpretation of Islam devised by Add al Wahhab. Unfortunately he describes both Christian and Jewish believers as sorcerers and devil worshippers, although he saved his real hatred for the other Muslim sects ie the apostates.
I am going to defer here to a historian who has written on these matters. I have on my book shelf a best selling book that I bought about five years ago by a historian called Reza Aalan called No god But God : the origins, evolution and future of Islam. He tells us that if it had not been for extraordinary political circumstances, Wahhabism would have passed away as a marginal and superficial sectarian idiocy.
‘Not only was this a spiritually and intellectually insignificant movement in a religion founded principally upon spiritualism and intellectualism, it was not even considered true orthodoxy by the majority of Sunni Muslims. Yet it had two distinct advantages, first it had the good fortune to emerge in the sacred lands of the ARABIAN PENINSULA, where it could lay claim to a powerful legacy of religious revivalism. Second, it benefited from a willing and eager patron, who saw in its simple ideals the means of gaining unprecedented control over the region. That patron was Muhammad ibn Saud.’
The historian of Islam then tells us some important facts concerning the alliance between the two men, some of it is legend and untrustworthy but what we do know is:
The two men first met as Abd al-Wahhab and his disciples were tearing through the ARABIAN PENINSULA, demolishing tombs, cutting down sacred trees, and massacring any Muslim who did not accept their uncompromisingly puritanical vision of Islam….Abd al Wahhab’s holy warriors burst into the Hijaz, conquering Mecca and Medina and expelling the Sharif. Once established in the holy cities, they set about destroying the tombs of the Prophet and his first companions, including those pilgrimage sites that marked the birth place of Muhammad and his family…they set fire to every book they could find save the Quran. They banned music and flowers from the sacred cities and outlawed the smoking of tobacco and the drinking of coffee. Under penalty of death they forced the men to wear beards and the women to be veiled and be secluded.’
Then when much of the peninsula had been terrorised ‘they marched north to take their message to the Sufi and Shi’ite infidels. In 1802 on the holy day of Ashura, they scaled the walls of Karbala and massacred two thousand Shi’ite worshipper.in an uncontrolled rage they smashed up the tombs of Ali, Husayn and the Imams, giving particular vent to their anger at the tomb of the Prophet’s daughter Fatima.
What happened next was that the Ottoman Caliph sent a massive army to annihilate the Wahhabis. After some fierce battles, the Ottoman army restored the old order, ‘the Saudis had learned a valuable lesson; they could not take on the Ottoman Empire on their own. They needed a stronger alliance. …The opportunity to form such an alliance presented itself with the Anglo-Saudi Treaty of 1915. The British who were eager to control the Persian Gulf, encouraged the Saudis to recapture the ARABIAN PENINSULA from Ottoman control. To assist them in their rebellion the British provided them with shipments of weapons and gold. Under the command of Ibn Saud’s heir, Abd al-Aziz (1880-1953) the plan worked…After publicly executing 40,000 men and imposing Wahhabism over the entire population, Abd al-Aziz renamed the Arabian peninsular the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia….Here there was no debate between Modernists and Islamists, there was no debate whatsoever. Nationalism, Pan- Arabism, Islamic Socialism- none of these vibrant movements had a significant voice in the Saudi Kingdom. The only official doctrine that was tolerated was Wahhabi doctrine, any deviation was violently suppressed.’
Now here is another BBC iplayer film for the reader to take a look, it is called Bitter Lake. It tells us something of the still developing story of the connection between western imperialism and the ideological politics of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. At about 25 minutes in to the film we are presented with colour film footage of a meeting that occurred at the end of the Second World War, in February 1945 on a warship on the Great Bitter Lake, a part of the Suez Canal, between President F.D.Roosevelt and Saudi King Abd al Aziz. The voiceover says and I am paraphrasing a bit:
‘No one could possibly imagine the consequences of this meeting…The King knew that America needed oil ,Roosevelt wanted to forge an alliance between American industry and the Saudi King…The king was aware that there could be dangers posed to the customs and religion involved…we will take your technology and your money and political protection, on one condition, that you leave our religion alone’
The pact in a nutshell was that America accepted the centrality of an unreformed Wahhabi religion in Saudi Arabia in return for unhindered market access to the oil and gas reserves it required for its industries. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia represents an extreme form of what Leon Trotsky once referred to as the combined and uneven development of capitalism. A peculiar characteristic is the standing side-by-side in the same place of the very modern – advanced technology – and the pre-modern, ancient religion and barbarous customs
There is an aspect of this that is of some importance for our understanding of contemporary culture, the great divide between theoretical science and distribution of useful things. It is still the case with world culture that many societies appropriate all of the practical successes of science e.g. air travel, computer technology, phone technology, medicines, while blocking out all the theoretical innovations of the sciences that makes the many useful things available to everyone
This occurs even in America itself, most Americans are well clued into the various uses of technology, but a substantial number of them manage to completely neglect the theoretical claims of the sciences. The best example is the theory of evolution; in some surveys up to seventy per cent of Americans have dismissed it as real science. It is a happy accident that for such anti-intellectual people making use of the successes of science does not require them to know or care for the underlying theory. One result is that Wahabbis get to use modern technologies while screening their mind off from scientific theory, like evolution or the big bang. In our time we can experience the successes of science and technology without us making any intellectual effort.
The Saudi King and theocracy then decided that the Arab ‘socialism’ of Egypt’s Colonel Nasser was the new enemy to be contained. He had attempted to defy Britain and France by nationalising the largely British owned Suez Canal Company in 1956. The British and the French sent an army to take back the canal after conspiring with the government of Israel to instigate a phoney invasion of Egypt.
Hoping to take advantage of the instability in Egypt the Saudi’s began assisting the Muslim Brothers – who had been expelled from Egypt and from the other main Arab ‘Socialist State’ Syria. Our historian tells us that ‘the Muslim Brotherhood discovered more than just shelter in Saudi Arabia they discovered Wahhabism, and they were not alone. Hundreds of thousands or poor workers from all over the Muslim world began pouring into the Kingdom to work in the oil fields. By the time they returned to their homelands they had been indoctrinated into Saudi religiosity.’
‘Religious adherence to the Saudi model became the prerequisite for receiving government subsidies and contracts. The vast sums the Saudis paid to various Muslim charities, the foundations they established, the mosques, universities and primary schools they built – everything the Saudis did was inextricably linked to Wahhabism. In 1962, their missionary efforts gained momentum with the creation of the Muslim World League, whose goal was the spread of the Wahhabi ideology to the rest of the Muslim world…since the creation of the Muslim World League, the simplicity, certainty and unconditional morality of Wahhabism has infiltrated every corner of the Muslim world. Thanks to Saudi evangelism, Wahhabi doctrine has dramatically affected the religion of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mawdudi’s Islamic Association, the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad, to name only a few groups.’
The next episode brings us right up to date. During the American led 1991 Gulf war to turn back the ‘Arab Socialists’ conquest of Kuwait, then commanded by the dictator Saddam Hussein, a small group of alienated Saudi aristocrats calling themselves al Qaeda began to agitate for to return to the original founding doctrines of Wahhabism and turned against the Saudi Royal family itself, for permitting the corrupt treasure seeking American Crusaders open entry onto the holy land of Islam. They then defied the historical authority of the House of Saud by sending mostly Saudi born suicide fighters to crash civilian airplanes into the Twin Towers building in New York, starting a trans-national holy war against ‘Crusader Imperialism’ that has spread right across the Muslim world.
The Saudi rulers have a political/religious interest in common with the west in seeking to destroy the last bastion of ‘Arab Socialism’ in Syria. Western hostility is based on the fact that the regime is allied to both Iran and Russia. However the fighting boots on the ground that the West requires are all too frequently boots supplied with the stamp of the Wahhabi ideology imprinted on them
Today when the Gulf States are asked to explain their strategy to inquisitive western journalists about the removal of Assad and his regime they maintain that they are only financing and equipping foreign legion fighters who are deemed to be moderate in their religious belief. They say they are not helping Sunni extremists and mention various Sunni armies and militias they are not assisting. The distinctions are of little importance for it is the Wahhabi version of the Islam that unites all the fighters directly or indirectly connected to the Saudi political-religious theocracy. The division of moderates and extremists is a disingenuous western spin on the Wahhabi ideology. Behind the endless strife between many factions, micro distinctions and personal rivalries, there stands an intolerant and sectarian ultra conservative ideology.
Those western governments most engaged in the frequent desert military interventions maintain economic and personal ties to the same Saudi political regime that is primarily responsible for spreading the ultra-conservative Wahhabi ideology across the world Muslim community. The Saudi Princes deposit billions of dollars into western banks and investment funds; they maintain investments in corporations like News International and therefore in Fox News; and they buy up prime real estate like hotel chains, gulf courses and other prestigious sporting assets. At the same time they finance Wahhabi schools, build hundreds of Wahhabi Mosques, insist that only Wahhabi trained clerics staff them, and publish millions of books incubating their own very conservative version of Islam. They are estimated to be spending about six billion dollars per year on spreading educational materials. In September it was reported that the Saudi King had offered to build 200 Mosques in Germany to take care of the religious needs of the new wave of Syrian refugees entering the country. It may be a good idea for the German government to decline the offer.
This brings me back to war torn Syria. If the Western governments are unable to put fighters on the will resort to all the nefarious techniques of cheating and lying to all participants, manipulating political friends, making political promises they don’t intend to keep, blackmailing strategic allies, rearranging the order of imperial priorities, and even arranging minor carnival stunts like the revenge killing of Jihadi John to save face. Killings ground that they can control, then they will fail to realise their primary ends. Licensing the Gulf Monarchies to supply a foreign legion of sectarian Sunni fighters is no viable alternative. However the sociopath political leaders of the West are unlikely to quit what they started even though the initial plan has been thwarted. They like this attempt to say to a confused public that we are still on top of all this.