Angelo M. Codevilla, an influential opinion-maker associated with several Washington think tanks, asserts in The American Spectator (thanks to rickb) that “The war on terror will be won only when Islam’s Wahabi heresy is defeated — by orthodox Islam.” He bases his argument on Europe’s religious history, but when he turns to Islam he makes a number of misleading and incorrect assertions.
HAZILY, AMERICAN ELITES PERCEIVE that modern terrorism has something to do with the Wahabi sect of the Arabian Peninsula. But they lump that sect with “radical” or “fundamentalist” Islam, and throw up their hands over whether terrorism is a natural consequence of Muslim fervor or not. In fact, anti-Western terrorism results from a war within Islam that is more serious for Muslims than for the rest of us, because the Wahabis’ ideas imply irreconcilable enmity against other Muslims first, and then against others. Western elites, religiously challenged as they are, don’t understand the mixture of threat and temptation that the Wahabis pose to the Muslim world because they do not know how analogous Christian heresies have roiled Western civilization.
There’s no doubt that Wahhab and his followers declared other Muslims infidels and waged jihad against them. Codevilla is certain that Wahhabism is a heresy, and that the orthodox Islam he imagines is represented by the Muslims that Wahhabism opposes has the strength to defeat it and keep it from lashing out in terror attacks against non-Muslims. The fundamental mistake Codevilla makes stems from his apparent unawareness of the fact that violent jihad against unbelievers is taught by all four “mainstream” schools of Sunni Islam: Shafi’i, Maliki, Hanafi, and Hanbali. It is not a Wahhabi innovation. Sure, Wahhabis will fight other Muslims. But they will see eye-to-eye with those Muslims about the necessity of fighting the rest of us.
The Koran is adamant about monotheism: “Kill those who ascribe partners to God, wheresoever you find them.” But affirming monotheism is also the core of the Wahabi heresy.
Ibn Abdul Wahab, born around 1700 in a remote village in a remote region of Arabia, was early impressed with the central tenet of Islam, as well as with the deviations from it both of the Ottoman Empire’s sophisticates, who, in Abdul Wahab’s view, had adopted Christian ways, and of village simpletons who idolized shrines and trees. He wrote that Islam is “…above all a rejection of all gods except God, a refusal to allow others to share in that worship that is due to God alone (Shirk). Shirk is evil, no matter what the object, whether it be king or prophet or saint or tree or tomb.”
Wahab destroyed the tombs of the Prophet’s earliest disciples because they had become objects of veneration. Wahab declared ancient Islamic scholars “unbelievers” and “polytheists,” those who held not only to Shi’a Islam, but also to the Sufi spiritual tradition and Islamic law, and burned their books. His quest for purity alienated his village’s authorities, including his father.
One of the region’s tribes, however, found him useful against the others, and gave him shelter. That was the house of Saud. Wahab’s version of Islam became the official creed wherever the Saudi family ruled. The bargain was sealed by Wahab’s marriage to Ibn Saud’s daughter.
Dore Gold in Hatred’s Kingdom explains that “[T]ribal raiding could now be carried on as a religious cause. What had once been taken as tribal booty was now demanded as Zakat (the charitable payments required as one of the five pillars of Islam). Significantly, Wahab legitimized Jihad against fellow Muslims for the first time.” Killing those who would not accept his version of the faith (and Saudi sovereignty), as well as taking their possessions, was good.
Wahab’s teaching about Jews and Christians was of the same sort. Rather than respecting them as “people of the book,” as misguided followers of the One God, Wahab called them polytheists, “devil worshipers,” and sorcerers, to whom the biblical punishment of death was applicable. Hence Wahabism assured its combatants of the manifold blessings of Muslim martyrdom and set them to war with the entire world.
Codevilla seems altogether ignorant of Sura 9:29, which mandates not respect, but warfare against Jews and Christians until they either convert to Islam or pay the jizya, the special tax for non-Muslims, and “feel themselves subdued,” i.e., submit to the humiliations of dhimmitude. Wahhab didn’t invent this verse, or the theological and legal supertsructure that grew up around it. Nor did Wahhab mandate any “biblical punishments.” Codevilla seems not to know that someone like Wahhab would have regarded the Bible as corrupted; any punishments he mandated came only from the Qur’an and Sunnah.
Codevilla goes on to say that the Ottomans defeated the Wahhabis in the 19th century. However:
The Ottomans, however, failed to discredit Wahabism doctrinally. They did not teach orthodox Islam and insist that it be taught, much less did they live it.
Maybe that’s because the “orthodox Islam” that Codevilla posits doesn’t actually exist. Or at least, while some may have been able to challenge Wahhabism’s posture toward other Muslims, no Islamic challenge could have been mounted to the Wahhabi idea of jihad against unbelievers.
It’s sad but true that this seriously flawed analysis will almost certainly make the rounds in Washington, and influence policy.