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Common Cents


Ralph Murphy

(2/2015) Faith-based destruction and intolerance are not unique to the 20 who died in France earlier this January. They were killed by Islamist zealots known as Wahhabis that have al-Qaeda-linkages and are part of a major movement rooted in historic animosities and conflict. Their dogma professes to worship God, but they would prefer to execute any Muslims who choose not to be converted to their faith.

Wahhabism is a religious interpretation of Islam formed in the late 18th century in the Nejd desert region of Saudi Arabia by preacher Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhabi. It emphasized a pure form of Quran based on the "tawhid" or unity and uniqueness of God. The ideology was accepted and adopted by the ruling House of Saud, and the resultant marriage of governance and theology continues into the modern era.

Islam, as articulated in the Quran, has theological underpinnings very similar to other religions. For example a monotheist God, with salvation based on faith and divine oversight. It has an unbridled zeal to impose its faith on infidels or non believers which goes beyond race-based origins, legal standards of violence, or realistic implementation.

The Wahhabi movement was largely dormant or restricted to Sunni regions of the Persian Gulf to include Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Most Muslim factions are very strict as guided by Sharia law. That touches on virtually every aspect of life- secular and religious. It is draconian in application and allows for stoning, lashing, and even amputation-that specifically for theft.

A further complication is the Hadith system of social governance used within an Islamic economic system. This allows for non-scripture based "oral tradition" that can vary enormously with the edicts of regional religious leaders or Caliphs. The Quran allows for violence and even applauds polygamy though adherents are subject to stoning for adultery and apostasy. The internal and external conflicts are so thorough it's a wonder they haven't self destructed, but they are unified in glorifying God- often through force, and the Wahhabi movement manifests that desire.

With the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973, Saudi Arabia, as a founder and leader of the Organization of the Oil Export Producing Countries (OPEC), suddenly found itself enormously wealthy given the increased earnings and revenue from oil-based revenue. The Kingdom had previously been of international interest largely as "Custodian of the two Mosques" in Mecca and Medina. The two holiest sites in Islam.

Ironically, the revenue associated with petroleum sales to the West was used to undermine its political and religious institutions through concerted, though relatively primitive violence and more effective information exchanges.

They penetrated the United Nations (UN) through a Muslim World League (MLW) founded in 1962 by the Saudi government to globalize Wahhabism. It has observer status at the UN and consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council. It is a member of organs such as UNICEF ( a children's emergency fund) and UNESCO where it is involved in scientific and cultural exchanges.

The Wahhabi movement became very active in Afghanistan following the Soviet invasion in 1979. Over 12,000 Saudis were said to have fought with the Afghan Muslims to include- ironically- Osama Bin Laden who was then supported by Western intelligence and helped create the Taliban movement. That religious and tribal grouping continues to be active in the region.

The Wahhabi movement helped oust the Soviets from Afghanistan. When Kabul fell to the Muslims on 5 February,1989 and Moscow dropped communism shortly thereafter - the Wahhabis "basked in glory".

Programs to include oil revenue funded "schools, books, media, scholarships for students (primary to post graduate) fellowships, subsidies to reward journalistic academies, and Islamic Center and Universities" became accepted in many parts of the world. Billions were spent on the effort during and just after the Afghan war.

It wasn't to last. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the neighboring Saudi Kingdom had little indigenous defense and had to ask the Allied powers for help. It was provided during Operation Desert Storm, which resulted in a resounding military victory. However, this was considered a very costly victory to ideologues in the Muslim world who saw Riyadh as bowing to the "infidels" that was strictly banned by Islamic beliefs.

Bin Laden, a Wahhabi, left in disgust for Afghanistan and sought to counter the Western gains through violence - witness the tragic 9/11 result. Other groupings such as the Muslim Brotherhood now active in Qatar, and politically seditious in Egypt, looked elsewhere for inspiration and found it in the more radical Wahhabi elements such as Bin Laden or the Salafis. The Salafis were almost identical to the Wahhabis but were founded a bit later in the 19th century. They were more pan-Arab in orientation. German domestic intelligence described the Salafis as the primary movement for recruitment of social unrest as the group attempts to establish a Caliphate of Muslim-centered rule.

Salafis "sought to exercise and reverse Western modernity" in Muslim countries as well as source groupings. Described as a hybrid of Wahhabism it is demonstrated by a "literalist, strict, and puritanical approach to Islam." Much the same in ideology, but largely untainted by any perceived alliance to Western values and systems. They remain primitive but faithful to the Quran barring change.

The Wahhabi movement is still controlled and funded by the Saudis who are among the top three world oil producers. Through the MWL they are represented in New York, Washington DC, and London, and have 36 satellite locations on 5 continents with 10 external centers in Europe and 10 in Africa and East Asia. They have the funding, institutionalization, and significant Western support, but do seem to have lost much prestige in the Muslim community, which has shifted to the cash strapped Salafis and other movements such as al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The ideological orientation of the Wahhabis and affiliated Muslim groups inspires primitive urges but little economic productivity beyond resource extraction and textiles. Sometimes motivation and application is all it takes to affect a change, but the social result of the revolution can be erosive and destructive. Opportunists impose their own objectives over what often are constructive pursuits. They can be contained but it takes effort and the West has to rise to the challenge in both ideological coherence and physical defense. If not- the trauma of France's recent violence and widespread attacks worldwide will surely continue.

Ralph Murphy is a former member of the CIA Headquarters Staff in Langley, VA.

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