OIL WEALTH SPREAD WAHHABISM
With the advent of the oil bonanza — as the French scholar, Giles Kepel writes, Saudi goals were to “reach out and spread Wahhabism across the Muslim world ... to “Wahhabise” Islam, thereby reducing the “multitude of voices within the religion” to a “single creed” — a movement which would transcend national divisions. Billions of dollars were — and continue to be — invested in this manifestation of soft power.
It was this heady mix of billion dollar soft power projection — and the Saudi willingness to manage Sunni Islam both to further America’s interests, as it concomitantly embedded Wahhabism educationally, socially and culturally throughout the lands of Islam — that brought into being a western policy dependency on Saudi Arabia, a dependency that has endured since Abd-al Aziz’s meeting with Roosevelt on a U.S. warship (returning the president from the Yalta Conference) until today.
Westerners looked at the Kingdom and their gaze was taken by the wealth; by the apparent modernization; by the professed leadership of the Islamic world. They chose to presume that the Kingdom was bending to the imperatives of modern life — and that the management of Sunni Islam would bend the Kingdom, too, to modern life.
But the Saudi Ikhwan approach to Islam did not die in the 1930s. It retreated, but it maintained its hold over parts of the system — hence the duality that we observe today in the Saudi attitude towards ISIS.
On the one hand, ISIS is deeply Wahhabist. On the other hand, it is ultra radical in a different way. It could be seen essentially as a corrective movement to contemporary Wahhabism.
ISIS is a “post-Medina” movement: it looks to the actions of the first two Caliphs, rather than the Prophet Muhammad himself, as a source of emulation, and it forcefully denies the Saudis’ claim of authority to rule.
As the Saudi monarchy blossomed in the oil age into an ever more inflated institution, the appeal of the Ikhwan message gained ground (despite King Faisal’s modernization campaign). The “Ikhwan approach” enjoyed — and still enjoys — the support of many prominent men and women and sheikhs. In a sense, Osama bin Laden was precisely the representative of a late flowering of this Ikhwani approach.
Today, ISIS’ undermining of the legitimacy of the King’s legitimacy is not seen to be problematic, but rather a return to the true origins of the Saudi-Wahhab project.
In the collaborative management of the region by the Saudis and the West in pursuit of the many western projects (countering socialism, Ba’athism, Nasserism, Soviet and Iranian influence), western politicians have highlighted their chosen reading of Saudi Arabia (wealth, modernization and influence), but they chose to ignore the Wahhabist impulse.
After all, the more radical Islamist movements were perceived by Western intelligence services as being more effective in toppling the USSR in Afghanistan — and in combatting out-of-favor Middle Eastern leaders and states.
Why should we be surprised then, that from Prince Bandar’s Saudi-Western mandate to manage the insurgency in Syria against President Assad should have emerged a neo-Ikhwan type of violent, fear-inducing vanguard movement: ISIS? And why should we be surprised — knowing a little about Wahhabism — that “moderate” insurgents in Syria would become rarer than a mythical unicorn? Why should we have imagined that radical Wahhabism would create moderates? Or why could we imagine that a doctrine of “One leader, One authority, One mosque: submit to it, or be killed” could ever ultimately lead to moderation or tolerance?
Or, perhaps, we never imagined.
Source: Huffington post.
This is part 2 of the article