- Religion and Philosophy
Twilight of the Gods
Ikhwan: Nomadic Tribesmen for Wahhabism
Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab and Polytheism
Some residual scholarship lingers, so I have attributed to the 18th century theological force (ibn Abdul Wahhab himself) the general idea for my introductory subject material. I think foremost in his mind was the concept of a trinity, which was not central to his own interest. But it was a term for the serious student of Islam that made him see red. He was not alone, nor does he remain so, in thinking that things were not right. Among the theological achievements ascribed to him is a more crystalized idea of "Tawhid" or the oneness of God. Thus, monotheism gets a new facelift. It is easy enough for our talking heads on television to intone the controversial term, "Radical Islam". But this is only the tip of the iceberg, though it was an uphill battle, day after day, to get that far. What it is that we Westerners, who mostly reject Islam, are going against is complex and by no means a singular, undivided entity. It is served up as though on a mystery platter along with extreme bias and ethnic cleansing. So, how did it get this way? Why is it encumbent upon us, who have no interest in intra- and inter-Islamic clashes, to stamp out the resultant, violent excesses? The whole topic reminds me of the Why We Fight series of the Second World War. Looking back, it might seem obvious. At the time, however, soldiers were, now and then, skeptical or baffled. A more major point is that none were being asked to die, only to fight an oppposing cause. Today, the enemy may have, without our express approval, established a new level of engagement. That is to say, if it is not suicidal, then what business is there in creating, fostering, and executing a mission?
Arguably his most important work, Kitad-al-Tawhid, or the oneness of God, Wahhab re-worked the Koran so that it pointed only to Allah. No intermediaries. As you can imagine, any deviation, as judged by a rather incorrigible lot, was severely punished. Ah! Allah! God! But alas! Only a God! To put it differently, is Allah another word for God, or conceptual variant of Him, for it seems that it is more the latter than the former. Some of the confusion can be found in Karen Armstrong's work, A History of God, from which I somehow formed my own wayward opinion. Whereas it was once commonly agreed by all worshipers that we worshipped the same God, this nicety no longer appears true. In fact, there might be as many Gods today as at one time there were gods, the only difference being that they are internal rather than external, not things of stone but of the mind.
Arabian Peninsula Early 1900s
It has not escaped my attention that I am using three books, all of which are critical of Wahhabism. One has to do with Shia who live in Saudi Arabia. Another is contemporary, endorsed by a former director of the CIA, having to do with Saudis, almost all Wahhabis. They have an international vision. They open schools, build mosques, and spread a culture of hate for anything that does not meet their narrow standards. Yet another is historical, including the collusion between ibn Saud and Wahhab in the mid-18th century, warrior and theologian, a pact that has graduated from the Muslim world to the world at large. Saudi Arabia is not known for military prowess, but it has the wherewithal to form alliances, exert influence, and make credible threats, compensating for national shortcomings. It is worth observing, if only in passing, that after the Gulf War, many scholars and pillars of Arabian communities voiced disdain for Western values, stating in so many words that international coalitions, from then on, should be for the exclusive sake of Islamic aims. Many of us are living in the past, but globalism has radically changed almost everything.
Shia residing as citizens of Saudi Arabia think of themselves as Saudis, as is only logical. But they are always coming up against it. They undergo "Orientalism". American researchers are appalled by the extent of Wahhabi reach into numerous nations, including the U.S. Historically, they had been merciless against defenceless Bedouins. Although Bedouins were Muslims, they were considered apostates. What had they done wrong? Westerners find it hard to understand. They prayed to intercessors, for instance, which made them polytheists in the opinion of their oppressors. Nothing could be worse. The segue from anti-Muslim (Muslims who are not true Muslims) to anti-Western demonization is seamless. But to fight back, tactics must change, as well as the patient implementation of an extended time range. It remains to be seen how the levers of power in Saudi Arabia, or like-minded nations and organizations, work their magic on our hearts and minds. If I had to bet, I would not back the Arabian racehorse. It will impact the West, sure, but more in a negative than positive fashion. Then again, it is up to Millennials, not old-timers, to devise a final, lasting disposition.
The U.S. Army and Local Kuwaiti Sheikhs
The Religious Foundation of War
Again, the Wahhabis have formulated the problem now plaguing the world with a bitter clarity. As it was then, in the time of the Prophet, so it is now, when many long to revert back somehow to a glorious or glorified past. One hastens to add, Radical Islam is not the only fighting force threatening freedoms that only came into being after long centuries of struggle. I have to reiterate, I am working only with anti-Wahhabi literature. Nevertheless, the authors present a strong sense of abhorrence on behalf of the accused. The bad press is an item that upsets Wahhabis, who think they are treated unfairly. Beheadings, honor killings, stoning -- it gets to you after a while. So does the intimation that Saudis secretly finance ISIS. But it is not Biloxi or Peoria we are talking about. It is the Middle East.
An irritating problem with Radical Islam is that it is always changing. Even bin Laden, though not a cleric, first attacked Saudi Arabia for establishing dangerous ties with infidels, or Christians and Jews, then backed off, saying it was more important to protect that sacrosanct liquid asset, oil, than anything else. It would become the economic power behind the projected Islamic State. No matter which way the pendulum swings, young Saudis coming of age will be well-prepared for Jihad. They are taught from an early age to regard Christians and Jews, also Catholics (their distinction), not to mention offending Muslims, as Polytheists. The Wahhabi attempt to re-define and monopolize monotheism is not easy to grasp, since almost nobody believes in fistfuls of gods. But it is a time-honored tradition for all of us to acquire our names from the outside -- strangers, mostly -- rather than ourselves and how we see ourselves.
Wahhabis in Syria
The Religious Foundation of Peace
The whole idea of war, unless perpetual war as a way of life catches your imagination, is to found a new peace, different from the one that preceded it. It is all right to be proud Americans in this regard. It has tried and tried again, and will begin once more shortly. Much of the world could care less. Well, there are other things to worry about. I was taken by the fact that Shia uprisings in Eastern Saudi Arabia were not so much unlike the occasional incident that draws angry American neighborhoods and sympathizers into the streets. The Shia attempt to assert themselves, desirous of equality, somebody gets shot and killed, and there you have it -- sheer pandemonium. It would be better if more nations would adopt Democracy or a tailored form of it. But it is not a realistic goal. Wahhabis will maintain an unfair advantage in Saudi Arabia for as long as the eye can see into the years ahead. That means more crowned princes, kings, and partnerships with corporate CEOs of oil companies. One of the books I used repeats throughout the Saudi option of re-employing the oil embargo, used in 1973. The original context is very interesting, coming as it did in response to the military failure of the Yom Kippur War. I leave the rest to the experts, of which there are many.
All I can add, as fabulous as it seems, is the hope that religion would take up the slack even as it declines, by creating and sustaining the worst thoughts and deeds in modern times. Let the Gods go. Two is one too many. I have no idea how to settle the contest, however. Then, of course, there are our atheistic brethren, who never quite seem sincere. It is a peculiar fact that Gods are so provincial. Saudi Arabia can boast of having Medina and Mecca, two of the most revered places in all Islam. Still, it is not helping any for its clergy to justify by means of scripture the taking of life for the sake of "misguided" beliefs, having nothing to do with actual offenses. I think I got totally worn out reading up on how Saudi men have the power to grant permission to their wives to ride a bicycle. It is far from the main source of trouble in our unmanageable global world. But it illustrates how hard it is going to be to provide a religious foundation for a lasting peace. Is it a lack of tolerance or understanding that makes things so difficult? Or, is it the fact that human beings, as a species, are just not smart enough to survive?