Soon after 9/11, President Bush made very clear that America was not in a religious war. Was he speaking the truth, or was he speaking as America's diplomat?
A new book by author Stephen Schwartz, entitled The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa'ud from Tradition to Terror (Doubleday), reveals that President Bush was right. Islam is not at war with us.
Radical Islam is.
Schwartz offers perhaps the best understanding of the religious motives involved in 9/11 and a perspective on the battle we are now fighting around the globe.
A Jew, Schwartz makes very clear that he is not an apologist for Islam. He does attempt to offer a more careful understanding of the religious forces at work.
Surprisingly, Schwartz is admittedly an Islamaphile. He does not see Islam as the menace some modern-day Jews and Christian fundamentalists have claimed.
Surveying the history of Islam, Schwartz finds that Islamic thought and culture have long fostered religious tolerance of Christians and Jews, albeit with second-class status.
It has only been in the past 100 years or so that Islam began having significant friction with Jews. Schwartz argues that Israel played less of a part in this animus than the growing power of the religious sect that controls Saudi Arabia.
The ancient history of Jews and Muslims was generally a harmonious one. For most of Islamic history, Jews found sanctuary not in Christian Europe, but in the Islamic world. Typically, Jews fled Christian Europe to Islamic communities in the Middle East, where they prospered.
Just over 50 years ago, Christian Europe witnessed a genocidal attempt against the Jews in places like Auschwitz and Dachau. Islamic countries have never demonstrated this magnitude of intolerance.
What, then, motivated 19 young Muslim men to fly jets loaded with civilian passengers into the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001?
Schwartz says the answer is simple.
It is no coincidence, he claims, that 15 of the 19 hijackers that day were Saudi nationals.
These hijackers, Schwartz says, were Islamic fundamentalists of a very particular type.
Schwartz writes: "The fundamentalist [segment of Islam], essentially, the powerful and fabulously rich Wahhabi cult based in Saudi Arabia, has been overtaken by an apoca- lyptic belief that the last days are approaching and that Muslims must take arms up against 'unbelievers.' To do this, they focus attention on the jihad verses of Qur'an to which they give their own brutalizing emphasis."
The Wahhabi cult, which is a relatively recent development in Islamic history, currently controls Saudi Arabia.
The cult has often been described in the West as a puritanical version of Islam, a com- parison with Christian Puritans.
But this comparison falls way short. Schwartz explains, for example, that Wahhabism is so at odds with traditional Islam that it diminishes the role of the prophet Muhammad, condemning as idolatry reverence to him. This would be akin to the Puritans denying the importantance of Jesus.
The Wahhabi code is one of the strictest in all of Islamic history, dictating almost every aspect of a believer's life. Schwartz likens Wahhabi society to that of the Nazis.
The Wahhabi sect was founded by a nomad, Abd al-Wahhab. According to Schwartz, Wahhab had no use for Christians or Jews, even though traditional Islam had long considered them protected classes within Islamic society.
Wahhab's violent hatred was not for Christians or Jews alone. He also believed that Muslims "had fallen into unbelief, and if they did not follow him, they should all be killed, their wives and daughters violated, and their possessions confiscated."
The Wahhabites would have remained a marginal force, save for their alliance with the politically powerful Sa'ud family of Arabia. Their influence in the Islamic world became staggering after the finding of vast oil deposits on their homeland.
With this precious resource came protection from first Britain and, later, America.
These great powers were willing to look the other way at Wahhabism and its extremism to protect their oil concessions.
Even today, Schwartz says, little is discussed about the extremism of Wahhabism and its spread of the most virulent form of radical Islam to the Arab world.
Schwartz blames "the oil giants." who, he says, "must stand accused for assuring that the topic of Wahhabism would be almost completely ignored in the western academy until September 11."
With powerful Saudi financial interests backing the spread of Wahhabism, it has grown far and wide in the Islamic world.
The author draws a direct line between Osama bin Laden and the Wahhabi sect based in Saudi Arabia.
Wahhabi power has now reached the West and the Islamic communities that populate the United States, Great Britain, and the rest of Europe.
According to Schwartz, most of the Islamic institutions and non-profit organizations in the United States are funded by Wahhabi financial backers.
Schwartz also reveals that the growing problem of Muslims being recruited in American prisons can be directly linked to the Saudi Wahhabi sect.
He reports that the Wahhabi lobby is funding Islamic prison outreach and that most Islamic chaplains, who are paid by federal and state governments, are now under Wahhabi Saudi control.
The Wahhabi problem is not limited to prisons.
One Muslim leader, Shayk Hisham Kabbani, of the Islamic Supreme Council, has been warning of the Wahhabis' growing influence.
Kabbani claims that more than 80 percent of the mosques in the United States and Europe are now controlled by Wahhabi imams.
It should be noted that Kabbani had warned of the dangers of Islamic extremists well before 9/11. His warnings went largely unheeded.
Schwartz warns that America can no longer view Saudi Arabia as a political ally. He says that after Sept. 11, the Saudis have demonstrated a strong disinterest in supporting America's war on terrorism.
When U.S. authorities asked Saudi Arabian airlines to provide passenger lists of travelers coming to the United States, the Saudis balked.
Additionally, when U.S. authorities asked the Saudi government to help investigate bank accounts that had possible terrorist links, once again the Saudis would not cooperate.
After 19 Americans were killed in the 1996 terrorist bombing at the Khobar Towers in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the United States saw very little cooperation from the Saudi authorities. Schwartz argues that, because the bombings had ties to Bin Laden, the Saudi government had little interest in cooperating with the FBI.
The Two Faces of Islam offers a new perspective on the Middle East conflict that cannot be ignored. The distinction Schwartz draws between traditional Islam and the radicalized Wahhabi cult is an extremely important contribution to American understanding of the challenges we face.
War & Peace in the Real World
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Islamist Terrorist Attacks on the U.S.A.
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