New Book Traces Roots of Saudi-Funded Extremism

8 December, 2018

In Tunisia protestors came out en masse againt Saudi Arabia's Mohammed bin Salman with signs reading "You're not welcome." (AP/ Independent )


Jordan Elgrably


This is a mul­ti­ple-choice quiz:

—Which coun­try is the most respon­si­ble for ter­ror­ism worldwide:

A) Sau­di Arabia
B) Iran
C) North Korea
D) The Unit­ed States
E) none of the above

You prob­a­bly caught that that was a trick ques­tion. (Guest speak­ers will address it on the evening of Dec. 20th in Los Ange­les, when The Markaz and the L.A. World Affairs Coun­cil presents a pub­lic forum, End­ing Sau­di Extrem­ism with author Ter­ence Ward, mod­er­at­ed by Ani Zon­n­eveld, the pres­i­dent of Mus­lims for Pro­gres­sive Values.)

The Sau­di sect of Wahhabism—an extreme and mere­ly 200-year-old iter­a­tion on Islam—exercises a dan­ger­ous­ly per­va­sive influ­ence on imams and believ­ers, because it is the pri­ma­ry con­duit for would-be jihadis who are being incul­cat­ed with rar­efied us-ver­sus-them ideas in madrasas and mosques worldwide—we’re talk­ing about feed­ing the base for Al-Qae­da, the Tal­iban, Boko Harem and ISIS.

Irony of ironies, the Saud­is are not the only ones pro­duc­ing extrem­ists these days, for here in the U.S., anti-abor­tion, pro-death penal­ty, pro-NRA Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians sup­port Don­ald Trump, and vio­lent right-wing Jew­ish set­tlers in the West Bank are dri­ving Israel’s tox­ic 51-year-old Occu­pa­tion. And these days, in a bizarre geopo­lit­i­cal twist, these three forces are aligned.

Would you believe?

Both Don­ald Trump and Ben­jamin Netanyahu have been shield­ing Sau­di Ara­bi­a’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from inter­na­tion­al con­dem­na­tion for the death of jour­nal­ist Jamal Khashog­gi. Each insists that gov­ern­ment rela­tions, busi­ness deals and the anti-Iran alliance are far more con­se­quen­tial than the mur­der of the Wash­ing­ton Post con­trib­u­tor at the Sau­di embassy in Istan­bul on Octo­ber 2nd. The Post sug­gests that Trump is “soft-ped­al­ing” Khashog­gi’s killing because strate­gic rela­tions are more impor­tant to Amer­i­can inter­ests than are human rights.

Here’s a rad­i­cal propo­si­tion for you: If world opin­ion were informed and the Unit­ed Nations had cojones, what we ought to do is reset­tle togeth­er the world’s Wah­habis along with the Amer­i­can Evan­gel­i­cals and Israel’s set­tler pop­u­la­tion, let’s say either along Lake Con­stance in south­ern Ger­many, or on the out­skirts of Mon­te­v­ideo, Uruguay. That would keep them out of har­m’s way and prob­a­bly force them to actu­al­ly join the 21st cen­tu­ry, in which lev­el-head­ed Mus­lims, Chris­tians and Jews get along harmoniously.


Mean­while, we can read Ter­ence Ward’s The Wah­habi Code to under­stand why young Mus­lims are fight­ing a war on behalf of the Sau­di roy­al fam­i­ly with­out real­iz­ing they’re work­ing for a cor­rupt monar­chy. (In France they got rid of cor­rupt mon­archs over 200 years ago. Come on, guys, remem­ber the Bastille.)



Ward, an Amer­i­can who grew up in Iran and Sau­di Ara­bia and speaks Ara­bic as well as Per­sian, quotes many sources in a book obvi­ous­ly born of expe­ri­ence and a great deal of Weltschmerz (world-weari­ness). He notes colum­nist Fareed Zakaria on Sau­di Ara­bia, who asserts it is the coun­try cen­tral to the spread of rad­i­cal Islam­ic ter­ror­ism. “For five decades,” Zakaria sug­gests, “[it] has spread its nar­row, puri­tan­i­cal, and intol­er­ant ver­sion of Islam—originally prac­ticed almost nowhere else—across the Mus­lim world.” Speak­ing as an Amer­i­can Mus­lim of Pak­istani her­itage, Zakaria adds that, “Sau­di Ara­bia bears sig­nif­i­cant respon­si­bil­i­ty for the spread of a cru­el, intol­er­ant, and extrem­ist inter­pre­ta­tion of Islam—one that can feed direct­ly into jiha­di think­ing.” He sug­gests that “glob­al­ized Wah­habism” has attempt­ed to destroy “much of the diver­si­ty with­in Islam, snuff­ing out the lib­er­al and plu­ral­is­tic inter­pre­ta­tions of the reli­gion in favor an arid, intol­er­ant one.”


Indeed, Wah­habism has eat­en away at the reli­gious diver­si­ty of Islam, attempt­ing to silence or destroy more cre­ative Mus­lim tra­di­tions, from Ismaili to Druze to Sufi to Yezi­di to Alavi.


Ward and many of his sources argue that it is Sau­di Arabia—not Iran—that is fund­ing glob­al terrorism.


“It is my deeply held con­vic­tion that when Euro­peans and Amer­i­cans learn to pro­nounce the word Wah­habi,” Ward writes, “one and a half bil­lion Mus­lims will be exon­er­at­ed and freed from the cloud of guilt cast by a new breed of pop­ulist politi­cians who prof­it by spread­ing slan­der and fear.


The truth is that this severe, ultra-con­ser­v­a­tive Wah­habi sect of Islam has served both as Sau­di Ara­bi­a’s offi­cial reli­gion and the core ide­ol­o­gy for inter­na­tion­al ter­ror groups…”


Sau­di influ­ence and lob­by­ing pre­vents much crit­i­cism from pen­e­trat­ing main­stream West­ern media. As Ward asks, why haven’t more jour­nal­ists report­ed that Tal­iban and ISIS destruc­tion of mon­u­ments from Afghanistan to Syr­ia are inspired by the Wah­habi doc­trine of Sau­di Ara­bia, nur­tured by Sau­di-fund­ed madrasas through­out the Mus­lim world? Why does Sau­di Ara­bia con­tin­ue to get a free pass?


In The Wah­habi Code, pro­fes­sor Ahmed Kari­ma of Sharia Law at Egyp­t’s Al-Ahzar Uni­ver­si­ty, pro­claims, “If the world is look­ing for­ward to uproot­ing ter­ror­ism, it has to stand up against Wah­habism because they are the root of all sedi­tion and conflict.”


But as Ward dis­cov­ers, Sau­di Ara­bia spends some $1.3 mil­lion per month on PR firms and lob­by­ists in Wash­ing­ton, to line up the US against Iran and sup­port Sau­di Ara­bi­a’s crim­i­nal war in Yemen.


“The Amer­i­can and Euro­pean mul­ti-cul­tur­al dream is built on inte­gra­tion, col­lab­o­ra­tion, and equal rights under cit­i­zen­ship,” Ward argues. “The Wah­habi mis­sion rejects the very cor­ner­stones of these principles…It is time to real­ize that Wah­habism has been tear­ing apart the social fab­ric of the Mid­dle East and the Mus­lim world.”


When Prince Mohammed bin Salman came to the world’s atten­tion in 2017, he appeared to be a pro­gres­sive who promised new reli­gious and polit­i­cal reforms and want­ed to fund expand­ed cul­tur­al out­reach. But as The Wah­habi Code points out, Saud­is are suc­cess­ful­ly fund­ing “soft pow­er” efforts “because it works…Their well-tar­get­ed funds, char­i­ties, and mis­sion­ary efforts are turn­ing entire nations into hotbeds of fun­da­men­tal­ist Islam (notably in Koso­vo, Bosnia, Sudan, Pak­istan, Afghanistan, the Mal­dives, Soma­lia, Chech­nya and now Indonesia).”


Jump­ing off from the Novem­ber 2015 ter­ror­ist attacks in Paris that left more than 130 peo­ple dead, Ward weaves togeth­er the brief but vio­lent his­to­ry of Sau­di Ara­bia and Wah­habism, chart­ing its ten­ta­cles of expan­sion through­out the Mus­lim world, and among Mus­lim pop­u­la­tions in Europe and the Unit­ed States. He foot­notes his sources through­out more than a dozen chap­ters and pro­vides a bibliography.


Ulti­mate­ly Ward proves him­self a friend of the Mus­lim world, whose only wish is to call atten­tion to mod­er­ate Islam as the reli­gion of peace it was orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed to be.



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