Sunday, June 20, 2004

The Struggle for Saudi Arabia

Yesterday's barbaric murder of American Paul Johnson provides a stark reminder of the struggle against radical Islamist terror and the nature of our enemy. I offer my deepest condolences to the Johnson family. Some solace can be taken from yesterday's killing of Abdel Aziz al-Muqrin, leader of jihadist terror operations in Saudi Arabia, along with his deputy and two other terrorists. Al-Muqrin, a jihadist since the age of 17, had in recent months become the face of radical Islamist terror on the Arabian Peninsula.

The past day's events are simply the latest developments in a year long struggle between the Saudi regime and the jihadist movement. More importantly, they are the inevitable product of the devil's bargain that the House of Saud made over 70 years ago with Wahhabism. Wahhabism is a primitive Islamic sect that developed on the Arabian Peninsula starting in the 18th century. In the early 20th century, the leaders of the Saud tribe made a deal to win the support of the Wahhabi movement. The Saudis agreed to embrace Wahhabism, and the Wahhabis agreed to join the Saudi campaign to unify the peninsula under their rule. When the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was established in the 1930's, the Wahhabi version of Islam became the state religion, which it remains to this day.

PBS Frontline provides a good analysis of Wahhabi beliefs and their impact on Saudi Arabia. The main tenet of Wahhabism is that all non-Muslims, and non-Wahhabi Muslims, are "infidels" to be hated and despised. Wahhabism is taught in every Saudi school and preached in every mosque. Since the 1970's, the Saudis have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to spread Wahhabi doctrines throughout the Islamic world. The following two examples of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia are far more illuminating than any definition I can provide.

From an article entitled "New Violence, Old Problem; The Saudis Fight Terror, But Not Those Who Wage It", from the June 6, 2004 New York Times:

A recent fatwa posted on a popular Islamic Web site in Saudi Arabia explains when a Muslim may mutilate the corpse of an infidel.

The ruling, written by a Saudi religious sheik named Omar Abdullah Hassan al-Shehabi, decrees that the dead can be mutilated as a reciprocal act when the enemy is disfiguring Muslim corpses, or when it otherwise serves the Islamic nation. In the second category, the reasons include "to terrorize the enemy" or to gladden the heart of a Muslim warrior.

(Quote courtesy of Rantingprofs)

From "The Wahhabi Threat to Islam", published the same day in the Washington Post:

Two weeks before the Khobar rampage, a young Saudi friend forwarded me a copy of a fatwa, or religious ruling, issued by Saudi Arabia's senior clerics. It was a fatwa banning the giving of flowers when visiting the sick in the hospital. "It is not the habit of Muslims to offer flowers to the sick in hospital. This is a custom imported from the land of the infidels by those whose faith is weak. Therefore it is not permitted to deal with flowers in this way, neither to sell, to buy nor to offer them as gifts," the fatwa said.

This is what Wahhabism means; fatwas on when corpses can rightfully be mutilated, or forbidding giving flowers to the sick. It is Wahhabism that has inspired Osama bin Laden to wage war against America, and that motivated the fifteen 9/11 terrorists from Saudi Arabia to murder 3,000 "infidels" while sacrificing their own lives in the process. It is the ideology that has motivated thousands of Saudis to join the jihadist movement. The massive Saudi efforts to proselytize for Wahhabism throughout the Islamic world have been one of the biggest factors in fueling the growth of radical Islamism. Finally, Wahhabism is what inspired Abdel Aziz al-Muqrin and his cohorts to engage in their recent wave of atrocities within the kingdom itself.

Beginning in May of 2003, jihadist elements in Saudi Arabia began a terrorist campaign aimed at driving all foreigners from the kingdom and ultimately overthrowing the House of Saud. That the Bin Ladenites should regard the Saudi regime, with its public executions and draconian treatment of women, as insufficiently Islamic, should tell you all you need to know about their ultimate aspirations. In case it doesn't, here is an excerpt from an account of the May 29 Khobar massacre, in which 22 people were murdered, from one of the terrorists who took part:

"The four of us entered the company together. We met the Arab clerks, and greeted them. We asked them: 'Where are the Americans?' They were all in shock, and said: 'What's going on? Who are you?' We told them, 'We are Mujahideen, and we want the Americans. We have not come to aim a weapon at the Muslims, but to purge the Arabian Peninsula, according to the will of our Prophet Muhammad, of the infidels and the polytheists who are killing our brothers in Afghanistan and Iraq. We want you to show us where they are.'

"We turned to go upstairs. The building included a number of companies, and there were a number of doors. Each time we opened a door, we found a large hall, and in it several offices and a head office with a glass window.

"We entered one of the companies' [offices], and found there an American infidel who looked like a director of one of the companies. I went into his office and called him. When he turned to me, I shot him in the head, and his head exploded. We entered another office and found one infidel from South Africa, and our brother Hussein slit his throat. We asked Allah to accept [these acts of devotion] from us, and from him. This was the South African infidel.

The terrorist goes on to describe further killing of unarmed, defenseless "infidels" with obvious pride:

"We went to one of the buildings. Brother Nimr, may Allah's mercy be upon him, shoved the door until it opened. We entered and in front of us stood many people. We asked them their religion, and for identification documents. We used this time for Da'wa [preaching Islam], and for enlightening the people about our goal. We spoke with many of them.

"At the same time, we found a Swedish infidel. Brother Nimr cut off his head, and put it at the gate [of the building] so that it would be seen by all those entering and exiting.

"We continued in the search for the infidels, and we slit the throats of those we found among them. At the same time, we heard the sound of the patrols and the gathering [of the security personnel] outside. These cowards did not dare to enter. About 45 minutes or an hour had passed since the beginning of the operation.

"We began to comb the site looking for infidels. We foundFilipino Christians. We cut their throats and dedicated them to our brothers the Mujahideen in the Philippines. [Likewise], we found Hindu engineers and we cut their throats too, Allah be praised. That same day, we purged Muhammad's land of many Christians and polytheists.

Please note that these actions were absolutely NOT due to anger over the Abu Ghraib scandal, invasion of Iraq, or any other pretext. The terrorists gleefully murdered Filipinos, a Swede, and even Hindu Indians. Just being an "infidel" was reason enough for the jihadists.

After many years of living in denial and continuing to play a double game with the United States and the Wahhabists, the Saudi regime has finally been forced to confront the consequences of its own actions. In the last year, the Saudis have waged a forceful campaign against the jihadists, killing or capturing dozens. The regime has also begun an unprecedented level of cooperation with the US on counterterrorism, and has even begun to crack down on Islamic charities that raise funds for al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. According to a new report from the Council on Foreign Relations, the Saudi efforts are a major improvement, but there is still more that they need to do.

The current terrorist campaign in Saudi Arabia is unfortunately just the tip of the iceberg. Sadly, the jihadists are not a small minority. A recent poll found that nearly half of all Saudis agree with the pronouncements of Osama bin Laden. After eight decades, it is becoming abundantly clear that Wahhabi domination of Saudi life cannot go on. In the words of one Saudi resident, quoted in the article "The Wahhabi Threat To Islam":

"I am scared," a Saudi man told me after the Khobar attacks. "There is no clear vision to where my country is heading. We want to progress, but we also want to live like the good Muslims did 1,400 years ago. We want to change, but we believe that change is the road to hell. We want the people to have a role in leading the country, but we don't want democracy. We want to have dialogue with the West, but our preachers are preaching every Friday that all westerners, or non-Muslims, go to hell."

There are signs of hope beginning to emerge. Many Saudis who bought into bin Laden's Wahhabist rhetoric are having second thoughts after the jihadists began putting that rhetoric into practice within the kingdom itself. After decades of Wahhabist indoctrination, Saudi teachers and parents are beginning to speak out against the "culture of death" taught in Saudi schools, the hatred for "infidels" that produces future jihadists. The US must suppport such efforts at reform, and push the Saudi regime to do the same. Until the House of Saud finally stands up to the Wahhabis in earnest and begins a genuine, meaningful process of reform and social modernization, Saudi Arabia will continue to produce more bin Laden's and al-Muqrin's. If the Saudis prove incapable of reform, the Wahhabis will continue to spread their ideology of death until the House of Saud is ultimately consumed by it. Confront Wahhabism or be destroyed by it, this is the choice facing Saudi Arabia.

For more background on Saudi Arabia, I recommend the following sources:

PBS Frontline: Saudi Time Bomb?

Michael Scott Doran, "The Saudi Paradox", Foreign Affairs, January/February 2004


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