Politics & Policy

Our Friends, the Saudis?

We're there for them and they are, too.

Last week, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah was welcomed to the White House by President Obama. According to the Washington Post, their meeting provided an opportunity “to demonstrate the friendship between their countries, a point the king was particularly keen on highlighting. ‘I would like to say to the friendly American people that the American people are friends of Saudi Arabia and its people, and they are friends of the Arab and Muslim people, and they are also friends of humanity,’ Abdullah said.”

Did you, friendly American person, happen to notice that while His Highness confirmed that Americans are friends of Saudis, Arabs, and Muslims, he did not say that Saudis, Arabs, and Muslims are friends of Americans?

#ad#If you think that’s being picky, consider: Also last week, Nina Shea and Bonnie Alldredge reported that the textbooks used in Saudi-funded schools around the world remain decidedly unfriendly. They teach “that Jews and Christians are ‘enemies,’ and they dogmatically instruct that various groups of ‘unbelievers’ — apostates (which includes Muslim moderates who reject Saudi Wahhabi doctrine), polytheists (which includes Shiites), and Jews — should be killed.”

Is there a relationship between such teachings and what Obama calls “violent extremism”? Is it more than coincidence that 15 of the 19 violent extremists who carried out the atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001 were Saudis? These are questions not likely to be seriously examined on the many campuses — e.g. Georgetown, Berkeley, Harvard — where Middle Eastern–studies departments receive multi-million-dollar grants from friendly Saudi princes.

Also recall: Osama bin Laden, born in Saudi Arabia, became radicalized while attending college in the Saudi city of Jeddah where his instructors included Muhammad Qutb. Muhammad Qutb’s brother Sayyid Qutb studied in the United States from 1948 to 1950, where he learned to abhor American materialism, individualism, and the “animal-like” mixing of males and females — “even in churches.” Sayyid Qutb’s many books and articles helped shape modern Islamism, which I would define as the movement dedicated to Islamic supremacy and domination; a world ruled by Muslims under sharia — Islamic law which, Islamists believe, is God’s law and therefore is unchallengeable.

Not all Muslims are Islamists — far from it. But to say that Islamists have hijacked Islam is also mistaken. Mohammad, who established the religion in the 7th century, was not only a prophet. He was a warrior and a conqueror as well. At the end of his life, Mohammad instructed his followers “to fight all men until they say, ‘There is no god but Allah.’”

Saudi history in a nutshell: In the 9th century, the scholar and theologian Ahmad Ibn Hanbal founded what would become a small, strict school of Fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence. In the 18th century, this Hanbali School produced Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, a religious scholar who made a fateful alliance with Muhammad ibn Saud, an Arabian tribal chief.

Ibn Saud pledged to spread al-Wahhab’s fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, later known as Wahhabism. In exchange, al-Wahhab agreed to lend theological legitimacy to the Saudis — but not to their rivals.

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Saudi warriors spent decades waging jihad against other Arabian tribes, as well as Ottoman soldiers — all Muslims, of course — eventually conquering most of the Arabian Peninsula.  In 1932, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was declared, and woe to anyone who did not acknowledge its authority.

Just six years later, engineers from California struck oil on what were now Saudi lands — a “divine gift” that has brought wealth beyond imagining to Arabia’s ruling family. Much of that wealth has been spent promoting the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam around the world — though with plenty left over for palaces, private jets, limousines, and vacation homes in Aspen and the south of France.

#ad#One place where Wahhabism has not penetrated: Iran, which lies just east across the Persian Gulf. That is because Wahhabism is a subset of Sunni Islam and most Iranians are Shiites. The division goes back to the days immediately following Mohammad’s death, when a conflict arose over who would succeed him. The Shiites descend from those who favored Mohammad’s son-in-law, Ali. The Sunnis trace back to those who sided with Mohammad’s father-in-law, Abu Bakr.

Nevertheless, the theology of the Aytollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who founded the Islamic Republic of Iran 31 years ago, is at least as intolerant, supremacist, and bellicose as that of Osama bin Laden, who sees himself, not the Saudi royals, as the true heir to Ibn Wahhab’s legacy.

Whatever their other differences, bin Laden, the Saudis, and Iran’s ruling mullahs all agree on this: Lands once conquered by Muslims but now under infidel domination — for example, Israel, Kashmir, and parts of Spain — must be taken back. Lands ruled by Muslims must be “purified.” Islamic power must be extended as broadly as possible. Infidels must learn their place: They must submit — one might even say “bow” — to Muslim superiority.

Among the indications these Islamists are making progress: The Saudi-based Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) currently has 57 member nations — including Iran — and a number of countries where Muslims are not now in the majority. The OIC is the most powerful bloc at the United Nations.

Another sign of Islamist advance: Earlier this year, John Brennan, the top White House counterterrorism official, addressed the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), ignoring the fact that it was an unindicted co-conspirator in America’s largest terrorist-funding trial, U.S. v. Holy Land Foundation.

Brennan noted that in Saudi Arabia, where he had served as a CIA station chief, he “saw how our Saudi partners fulfilled their duty as custodians of the two holy mosques of Mecca and Medina.” Of course, he probably did not see that up close and personal since infidels are prohibited from setting foot in Mecca and Medina.

If the Pope were to declare the Vatican off-limits to Muslims, Jews, and Protestants, can you imagine a senior White House official praising the Pontiff for fulfilling his duty as the custodian of the Holy See?

The question answers itself. And to those not intent on self-delusion, it provides insight into the nature of the Saudi-American friendship highlighted by King Abdullah in his meeting with President Obama last week.

Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism and Islamism.

Clifford D. May — Clifford D. May is an American journalist and editor. He is the president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a conservative policy institute created shortly after the 9/11 attacks, ...

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