by Stephen Schwartz
In his rush to exculpate the Islamic extremists who would impose sharia as the exclusive form of law in every Muslim society, David F. Forte writes in his NRO piece, "Religion Is Not the Enemy," that "as offensive to human rights and dignity as the stoning of a woman for an act of sexual immorality is, it is not the same as flying a plane into a building to kill thousands of innocent civilians."
Readers have a choice here. You may agree with Professor Forte, or you may agree with a great number of Muslims — from Morocco to Malaysia and from Bosnia to Borneo — who, apart from the matter of numbers of victims, consider the arbitrary imposition of strict sharia punishments and the violence of terrorism indistinguishable from one another. Nobody seems to have informed Forte that for roughly 1,000 years, the basis of this debate — especially as it has to do with the punishment of sinners — has been settled in Islam. The argument that intentions were more important than conduct, and that, therefore, a sinful act could be viewed as a product of human weakness requiring mercy rather than punishment, triumphed in traditional Islam a long time ago. This is why today the stoning of adulterous women only exists in a minority of Muslim societies. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and "a few other places" no more represent the entire Muslim world than Arizona, Indiana, Idaho, and Texas represent the entire U.S.
Wahhabism, the main form of Islamic fundamentalism, focuses on external reality, from its emphasis on outward forms of worship to its public execution of sinners. The concern with exterior appearance contrasts starkly with the Islamic commitment to mercy. Severe punishments for adultery, which — because of the rigorous evidentiary rules in such cases — were almost never applied in past Islamic history, have been misapplied in recent times by fundamentalist regimes. It is above all in this regard that Wahhabism revives the extremist practice of the early Islamic Kharijites. That bin Ladenism is neo-Kharijism is old news in Islam: Wahhabism has been attacked by Muslim scholars for 250 years, since its beginnings, as neo-Kharijism. Dr. Forte seems unaware of this, suggesting his knowledge of the topic is superficial.
Our Christian Wahhabi apologist continues, "It is not the same as training thousands to destroy societies and impose political control over millions of people." Well, actually, it's exactly the same — if we're discussing the imposition of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, various other Arab Gulf states, and Afghanistan, and the efforts that way now going on wherever Muslims congregate, from San Francisco to Saigon, and in mosques from Lithuania to South Africa.
Here again, we face a choice. We can accept the opinion of Forte, or we can accept the opinion of Shaykh Hisham Kabbani and more than 50 Islamic scholars, whose fatawa (plural, please note) against Wahhabism go back more than 200 years, and which Shaykh Kabbani has translated and cited.
By contrast with the polemics of the kind Forte, here are three citations from oral sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, or ahadith, cited in anti-Wahhabi writings as indicators of how they should be viewed:
Here is Kabbani writing on the anti-Wahhabi work of the learned Al-Shaykh Jamil Effendi al-Siqdi al-Zahawi, The True Dawn: A Refutation of Those Who Deny The Validity of Using Means to God and the Miracles of Saints, written in 1905 in Baghdad:
Here are some comments by al-Zahawi showing that, for the Muslim scholars of his time, Wahhab, the founder of Wahhabism, was a terrorist, a kind of bin Laden avant la letter:
Awfully accurate reporting for 1905. That bit about profligate and corrupt followers reminds one of Mohammed Atta, visiting the Florida strip bars.
Now back to Forte, who argues, "(Terror) is outside of even militant Islamic fundamentalism."
Nobody is more concerned to distinguish between traditional and fundamentalist Islam than I, but this just isn't true. Terror — meaning the infliction of physical violence on the innocent, through such acts as suicide bombings in public places — is the quintessence of militant Islamic fundamentalism, and just about every Muslim in the world (including the Wahhabis, who justify and preach terror) would agree.
I am therefore appalled by Forte's claim that "Osama bin Laden's version of Islam is different even from Wahhabism. And it certainly is different from more moderate forms of Islamic fundamentalism."
Could Forte perhaps name these moderate forms of fundamentalism?
He continues: "Bin Laden's Islam has even gone beyond being a religious sect. It has become, like the Leninism it in significant ways replicates, a political ideology. Even his calls to action are political war cries: the crusades, the land of the two holy mosques, the 80-year-old political betrayal of the Arabs. He would, and has, killed Muslims who disagree with his beliefs — or rather, with his need for control. He joyfully makes war on innocent civilians, war even the most passionate partisans of the Sharia have difficulty justifying."
And yet, curiously enough, this is precisely the portrait of Wahhabism drawn by Kabbani, al-Zahawi, and the 50-plus other scholars I previously mentioned. Who do you trust? I know whom I trust. The latter scholars' works, cited by Kabbani, including The Sharp Sword for the Neck of the Assailant of Great Scholars.
Forte further writes, "Without being blind to the dangers of militant fundamentalism, we must remain aware of the moral distinction between sects like the Wahhabis and terrorist groups like al Qaeda and Islamic Jihad. It is a difference that the majority of Muslims, including many of those sympathetic to fundamentalism, are capable of affirming."
First, the claim of a moral distinction between the Wahhabi sect and al Qaeda is worth just as much as the claim of a moral distinction between the Nazi Party and the SS, and no more. And that is the way the majority of traditional Muslims in the world see it.
This is not to say fundamentalism, i.e. Wahhabism, is not a powerful element in the Islamic world. It is, but not because of the sympathies of Muslims; rather, because of the riches of the Saudi regime. To claim otherwise is to expose oneself as a complete ignoramus on this critical subject.
Forte writes: "What we must do, at all costs, is to prevent bin Laden's call to arms from bringing Islamic fundamentalists into his extremist ranks and into his political battle. And our starting point must be a respect for the distinctions between the great varieties of Islamic tradition and the perversions of them."
Bin Laden has already brought the fundamentalists into his ranks and his battle. They're the ones out there demonstrating for him. The distinction to be made is between traditional Islam and Wahhabism, not among varieties of Wahhabism.
I conclude by proposing the following demonstrable theses.
1. Fundamentalism was always a tendency in Islam, as in every other religion, but did not gain permanent influence until the 18th century and the rise of Wahhabism.
2. Wahhabism is not dominant in the soul of Islam today, but exercises immense power in the Islamic world community — including in the U.S., where it influences up to 80 percent of mosques, mainly through financial subsidies.
3. Wahhabism justifies terrorism, whether that of the Saudis in 1924, bin Laden, or Hamas. Hizbullah represents a Wahhabized Shiism. The Taliban are a non-Wahhabi sect that has been bought by Wahhabi petrodollars. If Forte wishes to find some moderate fundamentalists, he should start with the Taliban.
4. Wahhabism rejects any and all coexistence with Judaism and Christianity, and would treat the good Forte more or less as the aliens in Independence Day treated the dancing hippies calling for cosmic love — by killing him. Wahhabis would be much happier with Noam Chomsky, but they would kill him too, eventually.
5. Wahhabism, like every totalitarian ideology that has gained power, faces the terrible problem of its own historical inconsistency. Since it is based on power alone, once in power it must foster compromises for its own protection that end up undermining its legitimacy with its followers.
6. Wahhabism is at this very moment fomented by Saudi Arabia, even while Saudi Arabia benefits from the benign gaze of Secretary of State Colin Powell.
7. Wahhabism, like Nazism and Communism, will be a threat to the peace of the world as long as it is allowed to flourish under Saudi patronage. Its funding must be cut off. This is not a matter of the human rights of Wahhabis, but of the human rights of their victims. Its opponents must be supported. Once its Gulf patronage is ended, it will dwindle to a feeble remnant, as did the once-powerful Yugoslav Communists — but, let it be noted, probably not without shedding more blood, just like said Yugocoms.
If Forte believes there are exceptions to these theses, let him sustain his argument in detail, citing names, places, and sources. This has been the character of Wahhabism from its beginning. If Saudi Arabia crumbles under these contradictions, that will only prove the untenability of Wahhabism over a long period of history, as the collapse of the Soviet Union proved that of Communism.
And — as did the Poles, Hungarians, Balts, etc. — many Muslims in the world will celebrate.