Ideology 101

Ideology: “a system of ideas and ideals, especially one that forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.”  Sadly, among the items recovered in the ISIL bomb factory in Brussels last night was a Wahhabist manual.  We mourn today for all the victims of terror attacks throughout the world.

Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab, the founder of the Wahhabist sect of Sunni Islam lived during the century of the American Revolution, 1703-1792.  This of course was also the heyday of the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment.  Rationalism was all the rage across the globe.  One can now see the seeds of today’s globalism in this nascent intellectual development.  Hindu clerics in the jungles of Malaysia as well as Muslim clerics in the deserts of what is now Saudi Arabia feared this movement.  It could undermine their totalitarian control over the people.

Not unlike the Protestant Revolution in Europe of a century before (which sowed both liberal AND ultra-conservative versions of Christianity) al Wahhab sought to “purify” Islam by taking it back to its original roots or “
salaf.”  He thought that the intervening eleven centuries since the founding of Islam had brought corrupting influences that were either “religious” innovation or polytheism.  (Does this sound like Martin Luther or other Protestant reformers?  Digression:  Recall that W. H. Auden once defined a [Christian] Puritan as someone who suspected somebody else, somewhere was having a good time.)  So far so good.

In 1744, Al Wahhab made a pact with Muhammad bin Saud, to establish the first Saudi state.  Through marriage, Ibn Muhammad al Wahhab is related by blood to the leading religious family in Saudi Arabia as well as much of the royal family to this day.

Unlike western separation of church and state, Arabian conceptions tightly combine church and state.  The arrangement between the al Wahhab clan and the Saudis was based upon the Al Saud family maintaining the religious authority of the al Wahhab family over all other sects.  They agreed to promote the Salafi (puritan) doctrine of Islam.  In return the al Wahhab family would support the house of Al Saud’s political authority throughout the emirate.  Another more insidious aspect of this pact provided for Saudi funding of Wahhabist madrassas (schools) as long as the Wahhabists did not cause any destruction or unrest in the emirate of Saudi Arabia.  They could go anywhere in the world to do violence except in the kingdom of Saud.  Thus, the moral authority of the religion was used to legitimize the royal family’s political rule.  This has been the state of affairs (no pun intended) in Saudi Arabia since 1744.

Ibn Abd al-Wahhab taught that both Christians and Jews were “sorcerers believing in devil worship” and that we should be “struck by the sword” (a saying of the prophet).  This continues to be taught in Saudi-funded schools including Madrassas in Virginia and Michigan.  Shiite madrassas in Gaza and elsewhere also teach a murderous hatred of Jews to school children from the first grade onward.

So we have a cozy arrangement that has stabilized Saudi Arabia for almost 300 years.  The puritanical, hate-teaching, anti-western religion supports the ruling family.  The ruling family (the house of al Saud) in turn, supports the religious family.  Meanwhile the house of Al Saud enjoys enormous prestige and political power with western governments.  Our leaders seem to turn a blind eye to what is really going on in the kingdom of al Saud.

To be fair, there are other puritan strains (Salafist) of Islam.  All Wahhabists are Salafis but not all Salafis are Wahhabists.  Apparently graves and historical sites are seen as objects of worship by [non-Salafi] people and are therefore destroyed by the Wahhabists in order to destroy polytheism.  This is why they leveled Palmyra as well as destroyed ancient Buddhist sites in Afghanistan.

So today we find western governments declaring “war on terror.”  This is like Don Quixote jousting at windmills.  We are not fighting terror, we are confronted and confounded with state-sponsored religious ideology.  It’s time to call it what it is.

We can drop all the bombs on terrorists we want but it is like draining a lake with a teacup.  The lake to be drained starts with Saudi-funded schools throughout the world that have been teaching hatred, violence and destruction since 1744.  I for one, would like to see a concerted effort by united western governments demanding that schools throughout the world stop teaching hatred to children.  Such an effort would be a lot less expensive than war by the way.  Maybe after two more generations we could start to see a reduction in extremist violence.

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