May 24, 2004
Author's note: In the last three years, to expand a long fascination with Mid-East and Central Asia, I have read literally hundreds of books, reports, analyses and articles. While this commentary is condensed from many sources, I am relying on two key resources. First, the cardinal reference to the Mid-East: A Peace to End All Peace, The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, David Fromkin, Avon, New York, 1989, ISBN 0-380-71300-4. Second, The Two Faces of Islam, the House of Sa'ud from Tradition to Terror, Stephen Schwartz. Doubleday, New York, 2002, ISBN 0-385-50692-9.
Finally, long connected patterns are being noticed.
In one sense, Watergate saved us from Nixon. Perhaps Abu Ghraib may yet save us from Bush.
Slowly, slowly, major publications are getting closer to core actualities. Newsweek has gradually broken ranks during recent months. In the May 17th issue, a strong sidebar reversed out of a black background is headlined "Questions of Justice, The Abu Ghraib abuses are part of a deeper crisis." Notice that the subhead is not a question.
"One by one, the reasons for sending America to war in Iraq seem to have crumbled." p. 35
The Financial Times of London, the world's Wall Street Journal, formerly a strong investor in Bush/Blair, has backed off, now quite firmly. Martin Wolf, a key columnist and editorial voice, headlines an op-ed piece for Wednesday, May 12, "The Saviour of democracy is run by a unilateral bully." Wolf says,
"I am a huge admirer of the U.S. Freedom and democracy survived the 20th century only because of American actions and values . . . . I am also neither hostile to Republican administrations nor opposed to the use of force . . . . So what is wrong with this administration? Put simply, it fails to understand the basis of US power, mis-specifies US objectives and is incompetent in executing its intentions. As a result, the position of the U.S. -- and so of the west -- is worse, in significant respects, than it was the day after September 11, 2001. Then, a huge proportion of humanity viewed the U.S. as the victim of an outrage. Today, after the revelations of the treatment of prisoners in Iraq, it is seen as the perpetrator of them. Then, it had the support of all its allies, now it can rely on the public's sympathy in very few . . . . The world is too complex and dangerous for the pious simplicities and arrogant unilateralism of George W. Bush."
In a point-by-point indictment of Bush policy published in the May 13th edition of The New York Review of Books, Peter W. Galbraith writes,
"The American involvement in Iraq will be a defining event for the US role in the world for the coming decades. Will it be seen as validating the Bush administration's doctrines of preventive war and largely unilateral action?
"In my view, Iraq demonstrates all too clearly the folly of the preventive war doctrine and of unilateralism." p. 46
How come? What is lurking within the Bush administration? Why does so little of the Bush agenda compute or yield to reasonable analysis or historical patterns? Why do media pundits insist, even in criticism, that the Bush agenda fits standard shibboleths? Do they write in fundamental ignorance of Islam?
With the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire after WW I, "European officials at the time had little understanding of Islam . . . . Had they been able to look into the last half of the twentieth century, they would have been astonished by the fervor of the Wahabi faith in Saudi Arabia, by the passion of religious belief in warring Afghanistan, by the continuing vitality of the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere in the Sunni world, and by the recent Khomeini upheaval in Shi'ite Iran." (1) This quote from the bible of mid-eastern studies published in 1989 shows there are resources available which are clearly much ignored. Is there another agenda at work?
Deeply rutted tracks link Islamic extremism now called "Terrorism" with the Wahabi fundamentalists of Saudi Arabia. Tight, stark, factual.
"On September 17, 2001, President George W. Bush stood in the Islamic Center of Washington, the capital's most important mosque . . . . 'The face of terror is not the true face of Islam,' he said . . . .
"The president's intention . . . . was laudable. But when he stood up in the mosque, he was accompanied by a group of men and women unfamiliar to the wider public. These were the self-appointed representatives of American Islam, and in allowing them this photo opportunity, Bush unintentionally undermined the positive message he delivered. Far from being firm friends of America, the most prominent of these figures were ringleaders in the Wahabi takeover of American Islam . . . . it was a measure of their astonishing success that they . . . . had managed to enlist Americans . . . . in their war against the West . . . ." (2)
Islam is not Wahabi. Wahabi is not Islam. Saudi Arabia is Wahabi. Saudi Arabia is the seat and financial core of Wahabi terrorism. Tight, stark, factual.
Wahabi is an extreme fundamentalism obsessed with eradicating all who call themselves Muslim, all who are not Wahabi. The West is not Wahabi. The West must also go.
Confused? Maybe some history can help.
All Islam prays facing Mecca. Muhammad ibn Abdullah ibn Abd al-Muttalib was born in Mecca in the year 570 C.E. as we now reckon time. This child was later to hear the formulations of God which we now call Qur'an or Koran. To honor Muhammad and the words he channeled, Islam prays toward Mecca five times daily.
At the time of Muhammad's birth, the relatively harsh monotheisms of Hebrew and Christian teachings were impinging from the north down from Jerusalem. They were also established in coastal fringes down through today's Yemen and Ethiopia at the bottom and across the Red Sea from the Arabian Peninsula.
Then and for millennia, Mecca, in the coastal Hejaz region, was a busy trading center bordering, to the east, the vast deserts, the Najd and Hasa, of what we call the Arabian Peninsula. Just inland from the port of Jeddah, Mecca lies in a green belt fringing the Red Sea tucked beside the mountains shielding the interior.
Mecca and the desert regions east toward today's Persian Gulf were a polyglot of languages and of religious and spiritual traditions. Some of these traditions would be called animist or pagan. These sects focused on symbols and idols to represent beliefs grounded in nature and natural phenomena. The nature of the central deserts, Najd and Hasa, of the Arabian Peninsula, is particularly harsh, extreme and cruel as can be its peoples. The future of Saudi Arabia festered here.
The Zoroastrian systems with sharp delineations of good and evil keyed on Persia, today's Iran, remained powerful.
Long forgotten traditions also mingled among the desert peoples, still largely nomadic, and among the traders who routinely passed through the coastal areas. Gnostics, Nestorians and others such as Neo-platonic adherents, all of whom would later be condemned as heretics by the Roman Church, had made their presence known. Christianity's orthodox sects, Greek and Russian, today incorporate aspects of these ancient beliefs.
The coldly ruthless extremists of Najd, today's Wahabi, condemn all others without exception as heretics and worse. Wahabi extract death from heretics in ways making the Catholic Inquisition, extermination of non-Roman sects, Crusades and death by flaying or burning at the stake appear weak and gutless. Daniel Pearl, Wall Street Journal reporter in Pakistan and Nick Berg, an American pursuing work in Iraq, lost their heads to Wahabi swords.
In Mecca, then as now, there is a piece, little bigger than a five-gallon water bottle, of densely black, marvelously iridescent meteorite of unknown age which provided and provides focus for a spiritual core of devotions pre-dating Islam. Generally known now as Ka'aba in reference to the stone itself, in Muhammad's youth, the Ka'aba was a temple built by Adam according to local beliefs. It was rebuilt later by Abraham and his son Ishmael. Abraham or Ibrahim and Ishmael or Ismail are said to have placed the meteorite in a wall niche of the temple. This veneration of a space-bred stone predates Islam by millennia. Yet, it is a symbol, an idol, deeply incorporated in Islam, a religion forbidding idols.
The Ismail connection remains in the Ismaili sects of Islam today headed by the Aga Khan. It is from Ismaili history, the ninja of Central Asia, that we have our word "assassin." The Hazara of central Afghanistan are Ismaili. The Afghan Taliban, Wahabi to the core, detest the Ismaili. Their enmity saturates Afghan politics.
All Wahabi, world-wide, abhor Shi'a. Regularly and routinely, Wahabi kill Shi'a at every opportunity. Regularly and routinely, all Wahabi everywhere attempt to obliterate the shrines, cemeteries, mosques of all non-Wahabi Islam. The many Sufi brotherhoods, the community glue of Central Asia, enrage Wahabi.
Today's Mecca under Wahabi control since about 1920 has not one shred of earlier Islam left. The bin Laden family construction companies have totally rebuilt both Mecca and Medina, the two holy cities of Islam, into a Wahabi theme park.
The bin Laden family enterprises are linked inextricably with the Saudi Royal Family. The Saudi Royal Family is linked inextricably with the Wahabi.
For desert peoples water is precious beyond most peoples' capacities to understand. Cleanliness is sacred. The angels who cleansed Muhammad's heart of evil with a handful of snow engraved a powerful symbol and metaphor deeply within the emergent religion of Islam. Before prayer, every Muslim does ritual ablutions. Devout Muslims wash evil from themselves five times each day.
Apparently, Muhammad early emerged as a community leader valued for his conciliatory skills. When he was 35, the Ka'aba Temple was a fallen down ruin. Local people had installed idols denigrating the One God aspect of the Ka'aba. Muhammad loathed idol worship even then, which was before the later revelations that became Islam. The northern-based monotheisms exerted strong cultural influences later incorporated into Islam.
A local tribal group, the Quarysh, moved to rebuild the temple. Tribes then and today remain the primary focus of community within the area. A serpent had taken residence in the Ka'aba Temple. As most know, a serpent plays a key role in the creation stories of the three monotheisms: Having induced Eve and Adam to taste the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge precipitating the Fall of humanity and its accession to dominion over all.
Wahabi, similar to extremists of most religions, believe fervently that it is their dominion which God ordains.
While the Quarysh hesitated to root out the snake, one day an eagle swept down to grasp and carry it away. Thus we have another of the most powerful symbols of Islam, an eagle with a snake in its claws. The way was thereby opened to rebuild the Ka'aba Temple. The community gave Muhammad the gnarly task of being first to enter and to select the tribal leaders who would set the Ka'aba meteorite in its new place within the wall.
Muhammad's decision also set a powerful precedent for Islam to come. Muhammad ordered the Ka'aba placed on a blanket. He then summoned leaders from each of the four major Quarysh families to pick up a corner of the blanket, to carry it into the temple and then, by all hands, and to place it in its new wall niche.
Careful observers may note that the meteorite was placed in a wall niche of the Ka'aba Temple. Today's Wahabi theme park in Mecca shows the meteorite encased within a large square monolithic structure draped with black cloth in the center of a huge plaza. Wahabi yield to no traditions of Islam, heavily enforcing their edicts in their ways.
It is from this and many similar acts of Muhammad as community conciliator that Islam is branded as a religion of peace, tolerance and conciliation. Successive leaders of the developing Islam made their marks as people of peace. Today, the core of traditional Islam, especially its more mystical sects generally known as Sufis strongly maintain Islam's essential identity as a religion of peace. Wahabi want nothing to do with peace, only dominance.
I cannot repeat enough nor emphasize too strongly that the core of traditional Islam and its Sufi sects is deeply rooted and established within peace, tolerance and conciliation. Traditional Islam honors and respects "The People of the Book," that is, people of other religions, especially other monotheists, Christian and Judean.
Within Islam as within Judaism and Christianity, there have been and are radical sects holding strongly contrary beliefs. In Islam, beginning about 400 years after Muhammad's death in 632 C.E. or year 10 by Islam's calendar, these fundamentalist sects, as we would name them today, came to be called Kahwarij, Arabic for radicals or rebels, in terms of the mainstream traditions as then emergent within Islam. As time moved on, those who held these radical beliefs would also be called Salafi and, now more commonly, Wahabi.
These are the people who have fired the world and now dominate world perspectives on Islam. They are today's terrorists. Osama bin Laden, al Quida (Qaeda or Qeada) and multitudes of others are Kahwarij, Salafi and Wahabi.
Picture, if you will, extremist Christian or Judaic sects powered by the wealth of Saudi Arabia's ruling family.
Milos Vasic, a Yugoslav writer much imprisoned during Tito's reign, referring to the ethnic cleansing and other horrors decimating the Balkans in the 1990s, noted that Americans too would be racist and nationalist if their media were controlled by the Ku Klux Klan.
By extension, Americans would also be terrorists if their elites were the financial and political backers of the most extreme, fundamental, militant and expansionist Christian sect.
Michael Moore in his new movie, "Fahrenheit 9/11," shows long-standing connections of the Saudi Royal Family with the Bush family. Craig Unger's recent book is titled House of Bush-House of Saud. (3)
Given three generations of the Bush family involvement in international finance and oil, on the surface, those connections are not, per se, unexpected or even notable. However, Saudi Royal Family's deep involvement with Wahabi and G. W. Bush's deep involvement and political solicitation with extremist Christians and Zionists may be. Religious extremes and power meet money either way.
Wahabi Islam is rooted in the deserts back and east of Mecca: the driest, harshest, most desiccated area of the peninsula, known as Najd. By the 1700s, Najd's two most powerful tribal families, al-Wahab and al-Saud were tightly allied. The al-Wahab family, later al-Shaykh, then and now, controlled interpretations and imposition of a radically fundamental quasi-Islam. The al-Saud emerged from their habits of nomadic banditry to seize political control where power of arms prevailed.
It is enormously significant that today's capital of Saudi Arabia, the only nation in the world named after its controlling family, is in Najd. Riyadh is a created rather than traditional city. It symbolizes the unrelenting drive of Wahabi sects to erase references, symbols and sites of traditional Islam, the non-Wahabi past. Whenever possible, Wahabi will destroy any relics, ruins, sites of traditional Islam. Graveyards, saints' shrines, mosques dedicated to other sects or houses of other religions are smashed.
Wahabi have absolutely no tolerance for others. There is no God but their God. They are unsure, more so as time passes, that Muhammad is the spokesperson of Islam. Traditional Muslims know that God has spoken to no one since he gave the holy words to Muhammad. Wahabi hint strongly that they have God's blessings for their intolerance.
Two major vectors have given Wahabi their present significance. Beginning in the mid- to late 1700s, an imperial-minded Great Britain extended itself to control land and sea access to India through the Red Sea, past Aden, the Gulf of Aden and into the Indian Sea. At the time, much of the Red Sea's eastern coastal areas, including Hejaz, were under control of Hashimite tribals, families whose lineage flows directly from Muhammad. Today, a Hashemite rules only in Jordan. The British attempted to impose a Hashemite King on Iraq after they took control following WWI. We know that imposition didn't last long and lead directly to Saddam Hussein. We know that imposing rulers on fractious, cobbled together states hasn't worked well.
Great Britain chose to back the al-Saud and al-Wahab with arms and diplomacy. During setbacks for the al-Wahab/al-Saud forces as in the late 1890s, for example, Britain harbored them in Kuwait and other areas firmly under British control at the time. By 1920, Al-Saud were in control of the peninsula and strongly backed by Great Britain. Wahabi religion and Saudi governance are welded together.
From T. E. Lawrence to St. John Philby, British-oriented advisers stuck close to the al-Saud. Philby, who died in 1960, firmly attached himself to Abdullah and then Ibn Saud, King of the new Saudi Arabia.
Philby, father of Kim Philby, infamous Cold War traitor, is little remembered or known today. Yet, his twisted mind controlled the British and Saudi relationships and deeply influenced Saudi governance from the 1920s through his death. He hated his own government. He despised T. E. Lawrence and worked tirelessly to undermine him. He was a vocal admirer of Hitler. He was briefly detained as a Nazi sympathizer in 1940-41. On release, he resumed his post at the right hand of ibn Saud. His imprint is yet to be erased or superceded. Under their smiling faces, the Saudi Royalty views Western governments with a visceral contempt. The leverage of oil and effective control of OPEC, the international oil cartel, feed their arrogance.
The first Wahabi missionaries began to spread throughout Islam in the early 1800s. They went east into what is today Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The Deomundi schools centered in India which figure so prominently in recent history of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir and up into Central Asia, are derived from these early Wahabi penetrations. Most of the Pakistani madrasas, religious schools, which trained Taliban for Afghanistan are promulgating Deomundi versions of Wahabi, if anything, harsher and more intolerant. Deomundi fanatics feed the bleeding Kashmiri ulcers plaguing Pakistan and India.
On the Arabian Peninsula, discoveries of oil began slowly in the late 1920s and developed into major world significance by the end of the 1930s, in time to fuel European, primarily Allied, war machines during WWII.
Britain's control began to slip with formation of the Arabian-American Oil Company in 1936. Aramco won the Saudi family contracts to develop oil resources and to market them world-wide. First major discoveries began in 1938.
A key point in history, which haunts us today, was the 1945 meeting of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, US president, and King ibn Sa'ud aboard the U.S.S. Olympia on Egypt's Great Bitter Lake. At that meeting, ibn Sa'ud gave little and got much. FDR pledged that the United States of America would guarantee and protect the Saudi Royal Family with virtually no limits established, nor Congressional approval requested.
In return, America began the huge Air Force complex at Dhahran. To illustrate the cynicism of the Saudi Royal family, Wahabi wrath at invading idolaters was bottled up at the time. It was to explode with Osama bin Laden's vitriol of the 1990s culminating in the 1993 and 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center's twin towers in New York City. The U.S. no longer controls the Dhahran base. Who is winning?
While British influence remained strong into the early Cold War years, Americans soon took over in Saudi Arabia. Aramco prospered and profited beyond imagination. Expatriate employees were housed in hermetically sealed compounds, Little Americas or Little Britains. They did their work and retreated, back within the high walls surrounding them. They were rarely allowed outside or given uncontrolled opportunities to wander or explore much less meet Saudi people socially.
With access of outsiders tightly managed, Aramco returnees, executives, Congressional advocates, academic sycophants and bureaucratic implants created and maintained a carefully orchestrated mythology of Saudi Arabia as America's staunchest ally. Few, if any, hints of Wahabi extremism escaped the enveloping net. Academics echoed this myth.
Americans slumbered and drove more and more gas-guzzling vehicles until the first oil shock, the first hints to Americans of an extreme presence in Saudi Arabia, came in 1973. Their proxies having lost a war with Zionist Israel, backed by the U.S., Saudi Arabia took vengeance through gas pumps.
Careful observers may note that Israel is also called America's staunchest ally in the Mid-East. The long-standing and very powerful role of Saudi Arabia in savage opposition to Israel receives little attention. The pattern exists but the connections are obscured.
The intimate relationships between American elites and Saudi/Wahabi elites are only now receiving some attention. Michael Moore is attempting to get his latest film, Fahrenheit 9/11, distributed. In it, he documents some of the close relationships with key Saudi figures, including the bin Laden family, with the Bush dynasty. Again, note Craig Unger's new book: House of Bush-House of Saud.
Given revelations of the tight interrelationships between the al-Wahab and al- Saud now trickling out and the deep influence of Saudi princes within American elites, a very sticky problem emerges. The now documented intimacies with the Bush family, for instance, move beyond embarrassing in context. George W. Bush shrugs.
The Saudi Royal Family has long financed and abundantly supported Wahabi expansion throughout the world. Wahabi money builds almost all new mosques in the USA. Wahabi imams run them. Each Friday, venomous sermons flood the ears and minds of worshipers. The abject enemy denounced as War on Terror and fought with all the resources of the USA is firmly at home within our borders. (4)
George W. Bush welcomes Saudi Princes to his Crawford, Texas, retreat. His father, George H.W. Bush entertains Saudi princes at his Maine summer home. The G. H.W. Bush sons, George W's brothers, have cozy financial relationships with Saudi Princes. They have easy access to the Oval Office and Bush family quarters in the White House. Vice President Cheney is a confidant of several Saudi princes. Secretary Rumsfeld has dealt with Saudi Princes over the years as have many of the Neo-Cons now firmly in place in official Washington.
What are we to make of these revelations? Who is the enemy? What can be going on? Bush makes all Islam The Enemy when only one pseudo-Islamic fragment is indeed The Enemy. Connections exist. What is the plan? Wherein lies hope?
"In tearing the benign mask away from Wahabi-Saudi hypocrisy, paradoxically, the democratic powers and traditional Muslims had the opportunity to reveal anew, at the same time, the inspiring and inviting face of an Islamic civilization that could offer fresh and valuable contributions to humanity. For Westerners to miss such an opportunity would be worse than folly; it would be suicide. In defeating terror, let us therefore clasp the hands of traditional Muslims, and recognize in them our cousins, our sisters, our brothers." (5)
· · · · · ·
Notes and Resources
1. A Peace to End All Peace, The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, David Fromkin, Avon, New York, 1989, ISBN 0-380-71300-0, p. 564. (back)
2. The Two Faces of Islam, the House of Sa'ud from Tradition to Terror, Stephen Schwartz. Doubleday, New York, 2002, ISBN 0-385-50692-9, p. 227. (back)
3. House of Bush-House of Saud, Craig Unger, Scribner, NY, 2004, ISBN 0-743-2533-7. (back)
4. "According to [Shaykh Hisham Kabbini of the Islamic Supreme Council of America] and other dissenters, 80 percent of American mosques are run by Wahabi imams directly subsidized by Saudi Arabia. This, however, does not imply that ordinary Muslims are enthusiasts of Wahabism. Khalid Durán is doubtless correct that nor more than 20 percent of American Muslim congregants support Wahabism." The Two Faces of Islam, the House of Sa'ud from Tradition to Terror, p. 240. (back)
5. The Two Faces of Islam, the House of Sa'ud from Tradition to Terror, p. 287. (back)
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