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December 10, 2004

Wahabism Delenda Est

Despite some pedagogic disagreement on the Latin, Wahabism Must Be Destroyed is a major sub-theme of the Armorer. As I have said earlier, unlike some of my more, well, intense, commenters, I'm not about the destruction of Islam, but I am about the destruction of the Wahabist strain of it. Just as one could be for the eradication of the Spanish Inquisition without being for the eradication of the Roman Catholic Church (though members of the Inquisition would disagree), so too is it possible to support the concept of Wahabism Delenda Est without wishing the extirpation of a whole concatenation of communities of faith.

So, what's a good Anti-Wahabism Crusader to do? Well, it helps to understand the problem. As I've noted before, one of the problems for westerners in looking at Islam is that it seems that there is no central structural map to examine to understand how it operates, and that's before you get into the cultural underpinnings that are even more outside our experience. At least for me, that's because the mental model I applied to it was that of a single church. Islam = Roman Catholic, or Islam = Presbyterian. Established organizations with traceable doctrine and dogma and organizational structures.

From a organization construct however, Islam really equates more to "Protestant." Not doctrinally, but structurally, where Protestant refers to all the various churches, sects, doctrines, dogmas, etc - all claiming to start from the same point, in this case the Bible. Some denominations coordinate, others are hostile to each other. All claim some form of legitimacy. Remember - I'm just talking structure, and nothing else, a mental model that helps me deconstruct the problem, the better to understand it - not that little old me is going to come up with the solution.

I work with people from all across the Christian spectrum, from church-going converts to Catholicism to virtual seminarians, to Christians of convenience, who see the inside of a Church once or twice a year - if it's a good year.

And those who wish to, can argue about the Book. And quote from it Chapter and Verse. And not share the same interpretation of the meaning. And be certain that they are correct.

So too with Islam. So too with the Koran. So too, there is a glimmer of hope that over time, we can deal with this. But I suspect in reality, we're talking generations. Just as the Christian Community of Faith has evolved over time, so too will Islam. The question is, how much can we influence it? Hell, I don't know - that's so far out of my realm I haven't a clue at this point.

But the Army War College has recently published a monograph intended to help policy makers better understand what they are dealing with - and it can probably be useful to you, too. As Jack at Random Fate likes to point out - we can't (and shouldn't) eradicate 'em all - we have to find some way to deal with them.

I offer this up as a start, for those of you who have an interest in the subject. These are the conclusions reached by the authors, LCDR Youssef H. Aboul-Enein, and Dr Sherifa Zuhur:

In a 1938 speech urging greater U.S. involvement against the Nazis, Winston Churchill pleaded: “We must arm. Britain must arm. America must arm . . . but arms . . . are not sufficient by themselves. We must add to them the power of ideas.”60 With this in mind, U.S. policymakers should:

1. Become more cognizant of the complexity of Islamic law and the debates among Muslims. This does not mean that policymakers should direct the process or outcome of these debates.

2. Be aware of the danger of simplistic characterizations of Islam as a “violent religion.” Such characterizations inflame the emotions of Muslims everywhere, heighten perceptions of Western hostility, and limit our own ability to understand the future of the war on terrorism.

3. Understand how jihadist groups manipulate, hide and deemphasize aspects of Islamic history, law, and Quranic verses. Jihadists and the madrasas and study groups they sponsor are not creating theologians who will contribute to the spiritual growth of Islam but suicide bombers and foot-soldiers involved in Islamic nihilism.

4. Recognize that what al-Qaeda and its franchises fear most are Islamic laws, histories, and principles that do not conform to their militant ideologies. Therefore, the struggle between liberal and radical interpretations of Islam is a key aspect of the global war on terror.

5. Acknowledge that a perfectly defined delineation between “mainstream” and extremist views is not evident. Al-Qaeda and other jihadists proselytize with interpretations such as those of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, Ibn Taymiyya, and Sayyid Qutb. But Wahhabism is at the core of today’s Saudi Arabia, and Saudis must decide how to best counter interpretations that lead toward extremism. Ibn Taymiyya’s and Sayyid Qutb’s notions of social justice, the necessary Islamic character of leadership, and the importance of the Quran are
highly palatable ideas to most Muslims, in contrast with other key jihadist notions in these theorists’ work. That mixture of palatable and offensive ideas compounds the difficulties of the Egyptian government in seeking to limit radical influence. We nonetheless must understand the implications of the measures our allies choose to adopt.

6. Realize that the majority of Muslims do not speak Arabic. This means that Islamic teachings can be manipulated, as evidenced by the varying English translations of the Quran ranging from the moderate to the radical. To the non-Arabic speaking masses in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Indonesia, Arabic is a sacred language. Therefore, a radical cleric preaching and lacing his speech with
Arabic and Quranic words takes on an air of holiness, even though the sentiments he expresses reflect jihadic opinion.

7. U.S. forces, particularly those involved in psychological operations, need to be educated in aspects of Islamic history, law, and culture. As Islamic militants quote and violently interpret verses from the Quran and hadith, U.S. and allied forces should not plead ignorance, but achieve a higher level of familiarity with religious and other aspects of Muslim culture. U.S. and allied forces may better comprehend the specific dilemmas of our Muslim allies if they are familiar with the messages of jihadist and moderate Islam. Alternatively, they should consult experts who are well-versed in these matters.

8. Recognize the simultaneous impracticality of armistices and reconciliation with Islamist militants, and the Islamic rationale for attempting such solutions. Such efforts were attempted in both Saudi Arabia and Iraq, but, in fact, those already passionately committed to the jihadist worldview will not be won over, and only those less committed might waver. We might therefore conclude more

9. Factor in the possibility of failure in the battle against jihadist sentiment, while working as assiduously as possible for a different outcome. That Islamism consists of moderate as well as radical, extremist groups operating in a politically unstable environment may rather point to a protracted struggle and period of reformulation. Knowledge of Islamic discourses will still be helpful and necessary in determining our responses to such a situation.

The whole thing is a 51 page .pdf, of which 31 pages cover the topic, with the remainder being sources, notes, and a useful glossary of Muslim terminology.

It strikes me as a useful primer (d-uh, why else would I have spent the time on the post, eh?) for someone trying to get their head into the game.

It's available here.

John | Permalink | Comments (6) | Global War on Terror (GWOT)
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