I cringed as I watched the bloodbath claimed by ISIS in Paris in the news recently and wondered, “Why Paris?” The world was shocked by the wanton murder of at least 129 people while they ate their dinners, drove down the street and entered a soccer stadium.
The West and the rest of the world do not understand that ISIS, like its parent organization al Qaeda, is only following the thinking and practices of an 18th century Saudi named Abd al-Wahhab. Alastir Crooke has written an insightful article for the “Huffington Post” called, “You Can’t Understand ISIS if You Don’t Know the History of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia.”
From al-Wahhab and his followers’ perspective, the world was divided into faithful Muslims who followed al-Wahhab’s teachings while the rest of the Muslim world was infidel, worthy of death. Infidels (unbelievers) in his view would include Shiites, and all Sunnis, as well as the rest of non-Muslim world.
According to Crooke, “Any doubt or hesitation” of any of al-Wahhab’s beliefs “would deprive a man of immunity of his property and his life.” All Muslims must pledge themselves to the Caliph—the Muslim successor to Mohammed. Those who did not, “must be killed, their wives and daughters ravished, and their possessions confiscated,” al-Wahhab wrote.
Al-Wahhab’s teachings were used to the advantage of Abd al-Saud, the founder of the modern nation of Saudi Arabia in the early to mid-twentieth century. Al-Saud used the fervor of al-Wahhabism to unite the Bedouins. But by the 1930s the al-Wahhbabis rebelled against al-Saud in a civil war. When al-Saud defeated them, he machine-gunned them, according to Crooke.
Al-Saud then used the discovery of oil in his land to build his kingdom. On one hand, he built a modern nation based on oil production, protected by the United States, and on the other his family held to the teachings of al-Wahhab. That split personality of Saudis persists to this day. Osama bin Laden was a Wahhab who used his family’s oil wealth to wage jihad against first the Soviets in Afghanistan from 1979-1985, and then against the United States leading to 9/11.
“On the one hand, ISIS is deeply Wahhabist. On the other hand, it is ultra radical in a different way. It could be seen essentially as a corrective movement to contemporary Wahhabism,” according to Crooke.
The Saudi government supports war against ISIS while other Saudis support it. This schizophrenic approach is a major threat to the Saudi royal family and to the oil wealth of Saudi Arabia.
ISIS not only sees the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia as infidel, but it also sees al-Qaeda as apostate as well. Bin Laden counseled it was too soon to take territory because having boundaries opened the movement to attack from the United States and the West as we are seeing now in Iraq and Syria. Patience, according to bin Laden, required that the West wear itself out. At that point Wahhab Islam would rise to defeat the West.
The leaders of ISIS violently disagree. Their strategy is to build their state, proclaim a caliphate, and use modern media to attract mujahideen (Muslim holy warriors) to their cause.
Attacks against Paris twice in recent months, first against Charlie Hebdo and then recently against Parisian diners, a museum attack against westerners in Tunisia, destruction of a Russian airliner flying from the Sinai Peninsula, the killing of Turks at a peace rally in Istanbul, the bombing of a mosque in Tunisia, a bombing in Beirut, and others in Yemen and Libya, and an embassy bombing in Egypt, have all been tied to ISIS, according to an article from the New York Times called “ISIS is Probably Responsible for at Least 1000 Deaths Outside Iraq and Syria.”
The goal of ISIS is to start a holy war of the West against Islam. The more the West reacts, the more young followers flow to ISIS, especially with the Wahhab/ISIS view of sanctioned rapes. The question is, “Will the enemies of ISIS overwhelm it before it starts a holy war?” Will the very Wahhabi violence and philosophy cause not only the West but Muslim nations to rise up and crush it?
My guess is yes. ISIS will eventually be destroyed or at least driven again into hiding. Osama bin Laden’s strategy for conquest through patience was right, though evil. Bin Laden’s $100,000 investment in the 9/11 attacks have brought at least a $3 trillion return through wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His was a far more dangerous strategy.
While ISIS attacks on the West and elsewhere will continue, the responsibility of the U.S. and other western governments is not to overreact. Black and white thinking as practiced by Wahhabism will bring destruction on itself as it did in Saudi Arabia in the 1930s. We can learn from bin Laden’s counseling for patience.