Islamic State: Deviants or Extension of Wahhabism?

The Arab people have a gargantuan stake in defeating Islamic State (IS) and the likes.

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Like the Saudi system’s operators, the newly established jihadi state’s tyrants interpret and use the Quran and the Shariah as a lethal tool to justify their beheading spree, destruction of shrines and sanctuaries they consider un-Islamic (according to their interpretation) and to reduce their opponents to subhuman levels. Instilling fear of religious and political authorities in peoples’ hearts and minds as the best means of control is not new to Islamic movements, such as Salafi Wahhabism.

It’s paradoxical that the Saudi religious and political rulers decry the barbarity of the Islamic State (IS) terrorists at a time when they themselves beheaded 17 people in a two week period in Saudi Arabia. Don’t the Saudi autocrats understand that their actions not only send a green light to those who are in the business of killing, but render the Saudi Salafi practitioners scorned hypocrites in the eyes of their people and other Muslims and non-Muslims? IS and other homicidal groups use Saudi Arabia as a role model to justify their savagery. After all, Saudi Arabia is the birth place of Islam, home to its holiest shrines and is ruled by self-proclaimed (“Custodians of the Holy Mosques”) leaders of the Muslim world.

It’s being argued that the homicidal operatives of the newly established Islamic State, IS, are an extension of the 18th century’s Saudi/Wahhabi religious and ethnic cleansing movement. Both claim that they are following in the 6th century “Dark Age” footsteps of Prophet Mohammed, “purifying” people by converting them to Salafi (original) Islam and eliminating those who refuse. Given this history, how do those (Muslims and some non-Muslims) who continue to insist that Islam is a non-violent religion explain IS’s actions-the rampant enslavement and rape of mostly non-Muslim women and burying their husbands and sons alive-to those who argue that Islam has been a repressive and violent religion from its inception?

Additionally, critics, including increasing numbers of Muslims, argue that Muslims’ actions, as exemplified by the current butchery in Arab countries, continue to prove that Islam is inherently incompatible with peaceful co-existence, freedom of expression, respect for human rights and for the individual’s right to choose.

It’s deceitfully ironic that some of the most outspoken critics of IS are the Saudi Mufti, the highest religious authority and King Abdullah. The Saudi Mufti declared recently that the IS is Islam’s “enemy number one,” when in reality IS’s policies and practices are identical to those of the Wahhabi movement whose philosophy forms the basis of the Saudi state.  It is no secret that intolerance of religious, social and political differences is part of Saudi schools’ curricula, mosques’ sermons and state policy. Like the Wahhabis who swept to power on a tide of violence in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, IS is using cruel methods to achieve the same objectives. The differences between the IS’s practices and the Saudi/Wahhabi movement are only in degree, not in substance. The current Saudi system still uses some of the methods for which they condemn IS: beheadings, flogging, child marriages, marginalization of women, the male guardian and four wives systems, intolerance of non-Muslims and their beliefs as well as severe discrimination against religious minorities.

Now that the Saudi oligarchs and their zealot clerics feel threatened by the IS, King Abdullah has appealed to the West to destroy the Muslim “jihadis” because, according to him, harming the West is next on the terrorists’ list of things to do. Appealing to the West to invade and kill Muslims (terrorists or not) stands in stark contrast to the Saudis’ habitual scornful refrain accusing the West of invading Muslim lands and killing their inhabitants. It looks like the Saudi regime has concluded that its absolute rule is endangered by no one other than Salafi Muslims, many of whom share the Saudis’ unbending doctrine, Wahhabism. Not only does IS share the Saudi philosophy, but many of its members were armed and financed by Saudis and sent to destabilize other regimes and societies that the regime deems unfriendly or a potential threat to its security and hegemony.

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Mirroring their pleas to the West to “cut the head of the snake” (Iran), the Saudi King, his Mufti and a throng of royals and their lobbyists are appealing to the West to eradicate jihadis, the IS and the likes. The Saudis foster protégés who turn against them with a vengeance, such as Al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood and now the formidable and lethal IS. The latter may prove the biggest challenge to the Saudi royals not only physically, but strategically and religiously.

One might ask why the absolute Saudi ruling princes are appealing to the West to save them from dangers that they helped create. This is because the Saudis do not want to risk getting involved in a situation that could mobilize more challengers who harbor tremendous loathing for the Saudi ideology and interference in their affairs. Furthermore, the Saudis have become accustomed to the West’s defending them against external and internal threats because the West myopically believed that the Saudi rulers represented their best interests in the Middle East.

However recent events, starting with the 9/11 attack on the US by mostly Saudi nationals, proved that the Saudi dogma has not only created an environment hostile to peaceful coexistence in Arab and Muslim societies, but poses a dire threat to Western democratic values and way of life. Additionally, the West has become more informed that Islam is a value system which controls every aspect of its adherents’ lives, perceptions and actions, as opposed to a benign non-Muslim voluntary belief system which affects only peoples’ spirituality.

Despite the West’s increased awareness of Islam, its restrictive nature and its incompatibility with democratic values, Western governments continue to employ a diplomatic approach of compromise and appeasement toward Arab and other Muslim regimes. However, the repeated failures of this approach, which is interpreted as weakness by Arab regimes and extremists alike, have forced Western governments to use military might to defend their societies and values against increasing threats currently posed by rising Sunni Arab radicals and their sympathizers.

The use of brute force by Western governments may deal an immediate blow to terrorists like IS, but unless the root causes of Muslim terrorism are eradicated, military action will only address the symptoms. This strategy will allow lethal ideologues to revive their movements and continue their quest for the destruction of Western civilization. The root causes of Muslim Arab (and other Muslims’) violence and intolerance lie in their religious texts and in the manner that ruling autocracies use religion to suppress their populations and to perpetuate their absolute regimes.

Confronting and defeating lethal Arab ideologues, their breeders and financiers is not only in the West’s best interests, but more so in the best interest of the Arab people, especially the aspiring youth population, women, Christians, Muslim minorities and the rising numbers of liberal leaning groups.

However, without the Arab people’s understanding of the depth and consequences of Islamists’ neo-fascism and without their support for the West’s military campaign against the revival of lethal religious totalitarianism, the latter will not be defeated soon because its root causes remain intact. The Arab people have a gargantuan stake in defeating the IS and the likes. Not only are they its primary targets, but they will pay the price if the international community determines that only major military campaigns against Arabs and other Muslims will defeat Muslim terror groups.

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Ali Alyami, PhD, is the founder and executive director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, CDHR, in Washington, DC. CDHR focuses on promoting peaceful and incremental democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia, including empowerment of women, religious freedom, free flow of information, free movement, free press, privatization of government industries, free elections, non-sectarian constitution, and codified rule of law, transparency and accountabilityRead other articles by Ali.