Combating Radical Islam in the Heart of Islamic Power

A recent article on The Daily Beast seemed like a breath of fresh air today. In it a liberal Muslim called out his fellow liberals and Muslims to call the Orlando attack what it was: terrorism spawned by ISIS – and the radical Islamic ideology it espouses. However, under the surface there were problems with the article.

Not only did the author insist that gun laws had as much to do with the attack as radical Islam but his prescription for dealing with radical Islam fails miserably. He says that moderate Muslims, perhaps even true Muslims, must intellectually terminate the radical ideology and isolate it from the wider Muslim populous. But the radical Muslim ideology of ISIS is already part and parcel of the wider Muslim populous. The author is correct when he says that the average American doesn’t know or understand the nuances of Islamic sects but anyone who does know and understand has to be shaking their head at this naïve proposal.

Radical Islamic ideology, the kind of ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Khorosan, Boko-Haram, Al-Shabab and the Taliban, is merely a branch from a much larger tree. This tree is rooted in Wahhabism. To the unlearned, Wahhabism is the Islamic ideology of Saudi Arabia and this ideology was propagated around the middle east, Africa, southeast Asia and pacific islands when the Kingdom of Al-Saud emerged in the 20th century. Wahhabism has been described as ultraconservative, fundamentalist and puritanical. Far from being a moderate state Saudi Arabia, and other Arabic kingdoms, is a theocracy that differs little from its middle age predecessors. Its treatment of women, gays, religious minorities, and even common criminals is diametrically opposed to western standards, right wing or left. Why? Because the Koran, the Hadith, and the Sharia spawned from them are interpreted, and continue to be interpreted by the powerful Imams, in the same way it has been for hundreds of years. Simply put, Islamic nations today govern the same way they did at the height of Muslim power in the middle ages. (Side note, Iran is historically Persian rather than Arabic and its form of Islam is known as Shia. Despite the Shia being a minority that is regularly killed by ISIS the Shiaism of Iran is just as radical as the Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia even if they differ theologically.)

Knowing the historical backdrop is important but understanding present day reality is crucial as well. The Arabic Kingdoms and other nations like them may very well oppose ISIS but not out of any theological differences. Those Kings and Princes are only fighting because they realize ISIS is a wolf at the door that threatens their continued existence and power. It is well known that Al-Qaeda was supported by a number of Saudi princes and the Kingdom did nothing in the way of stopping their financial support. Sure, they talked the talk and superficially walked the walk against Islamic terrorism but it’s an incontestable fact that many people of power and influence within Saudi Arabia theologically agree with terrorists – they just don’t want to lose their station in life by publicly declaring so.

So how does one isolate and intellectually terminate the radical Islamic ideology that is so pervasive that it could reasonably account for a majority of Muslims? I can tell you what will not work: moderate Muslims in America and Europe. Yes, western Muslims do need to condemn radical Islamists but American and European Muslims – the ones that don’t already sympathize with terrorists – are not in a hotbed of theological learning. Islam continues to be utterly dominated by schools of thought in the Middle East and only from the Middle East can it be physically and intellectually combated effectively. So when you have Al-Ahzar (the intellectual crown jewel of Sunni Islam) refusing to call ISIS and its followers apostates, refusing to say that their interpretation of Islam is not in any way, shape or form, a reasonable construction of the Koran and the Hadith then you have a major problem. The Imams are not calling radical Islamic ideology radical. They’re either supporting it or staying silent and no amount of noise by a numerically insignificant number of Muslims in America or Europe will change that. Seriously, radical Islam is opposed to all things western – why would they even stop and consider the opinion of western Muslims? ISIS has declared them apostates, they don’t view them as Muslims in the first place.

So, yes, radical Islam does need to be condemned, strenuously and publicly so but our nominal allies in the Middle East must be the ones to do so. They need to identify and punish those among them who support radical Islam either with their words or money and, the Saudis in particular, need to reform Wahhabism and then spread it around just as they have done for the last 70 years.

In the movie Syriana Matt Damon’s character tells a powerful Saudi prince his view of his country: “a hundred years ago you were living in tents out here in the desert chopping each other’s heads off and that’s where you’ll be in another hundred years…” How remarkably prescient this analysis was because ISIS and its ilk are running roughshod in the heart of Mesopotamia chopping people’s heads off – not just Christians but Muslims too and its past time Saudi Arabia acknowledges the fundamental role they played in bringing it about and start to remedy it.