BY VERN TURNER
Too often we all start expostulating on things, including our own fears, without having a working knowledge of the topic at hand. One of the consequences of writing for public consumption is receiving feedback and information that enhances the writer’s knowledge base, thus increasing the ability to communicate more clearly in future articles.
This essay begins with some basic knowledge of one of the hottest topics in today’s news, Muslims, and why we Westerners struggle to deal with their inclusion in our multi-cultural nations. The information below [italics] comes from a Muslim friend who grew up and lived in the region getting so much attention.
All the so-called majority-Muslim countries are controlled by Sunnis, except for Iran, Yemen and Iraq, which are controlled by Shiites. There are, however, Sunni minorities in Shiite-controlled countries and vice-versa. Both Sunni and Shiite Muslims believe in the oneness of God and that Muhammad was his messenger. There are divisions within each group, differences with differences among them, too. The Sunnis of Egypt, Malaysia, and Indonesia are “mainstream,” for example, but are different from the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who espouse an extreme interpretation of the Islamic dogma. The same applies to the Shiites. Yemen is controlled by Shiite Zaidis who follow an Imam called Zaid Bin Ali, the founder of that sect. The Zaidis are different from the Twelver Shiites who believe in 12 imams, the last of whom had been occulted in the 12th Century and reappears with Jesus in the second coming intended to destroy evil and save mankind from himself.
Pretty complicated, huh? Well, add in all the 1,200, or so, sects of Christianity and we have a sub-unit of faith for almost every city block. Now, let’s look at how presumably well-intended political actions can stir this complex pot of ideologies to create the stew we now have cooking on the international stove.
My friend continues to analyze history: Ronald Reagan’s administration plus the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are responsible for the precursor of ISIS. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1978, the United States, as part of its Cold War strategy to defeat the Soviets, prodded Saudi Arabia to drum up the fervor of Islam to “fight the atheist communists.” Tens of thousands of Muslims, Arabs and non-Arabs converged on Afghanistan to help drive the “infidel atheists” out as the purpose for this Jihad. When the Soviets were defeated, tens of thousands of Afghan Muslim fighters were left in limbo. They were abandoned by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Some of them had known nothing but fighting. Feeling abandoned and let down, they formed Al Qaeda, aiming their anger at the United States and the West, and its “allies” in the Muslim world including Saudi Arabia. The result was what we have seen of Al Qaeda’s evil deeds here and elsewhere in the world. Regrettably, our Western politicians learned nothing and, worse, followed an agenda of their own that may or may not be in the best interest of their countries and their people. George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003 without justifiable reasons, thus further inflaming Al Qaeda against America. [Keep in mind that Osama bin Laden, a Sunni fighter from a prominent, wealthy family in Saudi Arabia fomented the attacks on the World Trade Centers including the one of Sept. 11, 2001.] Fighters from all over poured into Iraq to resist the Americans. They occupied a large swath of Iraq and declared it a state, but not a caliphate. They called it the Islamic State in Iraq [ISI]. [Also recall that the majority of the organizers of ISI was Iraqi Army leadership that the Bush Administration summarily fired after the invasion of 2003.] When its leader, Zarqawi was killed, and the Americans left Iraq, the ISI core group went underground. When the civil war in Syria began in 2011, sleeping cells of ISI became active in the war in Syria. Since they were in Iraq, too, they made use of the weakness of that government to occupy parts of Iraq. Their fighters in Iraq and Syria united and declared the creation of the caliphate in the areas they occupied in Iraq and Syria, and called it the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria [ISIS]. However, without financial and other kinds of support from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others, the successes that ISIS achieved would not have been possible. [ISIS also captured many U.S.-made weapons to arm themselves and have been selling oil to finance their activities.] Now, ISIS poses a danger to the entire Middle East, including U.S. interests.
The ISIS and Al Qaeda fighters are nominally Sunnis and espouse a special brand of Sunni Islam called Wahhabism, so-called after its founder Mohammad Ibn Abdel Wahhab, from the 17th Century of what is now Saudi Arabia. Wahhab belonged to the Hanbali Sunni school of Islam that follows Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal who lived in the 10th Century in Baghdad. Hanbal was a literalist in his interpretation of the Qur’an which led him to be restrictive and exclusionist: anyone who did not follow his interpretation of Islam and the creed he created out of that was a non-Muslim. [Sound familiar?] Only 4% of Muslims worldwide follow ibn Hanbal today. In the 13th Century, however, another Imam called Ahmad Ibn Taymieh went further in his Qur’anic literalism and his exclusionism of others. He especially despised Shiites who he considered apostates, and issued Fatwas allowing their killing. After ibn Taymieh, ibn Abdel Wahhab appeared with his Wahhabism: a barbaric interpretation of Islam that calls for the slaughter of other Sunni Muslims who do not follow Wahhabism, not just Shiites and “infidels.” That was how ISIS justified burning the Jordanian pilot alive in a cage. He was a Sunni, but was anti-Wahhabist, thus an apostate.
Until Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf states who follow the Wahhabi doctrine became awash with oil money, most Sunnis in the world were so-called moderate Muslims. I am a Shiite but went to a Sunni school for seven years. I did not see the difference between Sunnis or Shiites or was made to feel different while at school. The Wahhabization of the Muslims, worldwide, began after the quadrupling of the oil prices following the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Saudi Arabia started spending billions of dollars in the Muslim world, the majority of whose people are poor, and corrupted Imams built mosques and madrassas [schools] to spread the Wahhabi brand of Islam. The end result is we now have two generations of Muslims well indoctrinated in Wahhabism. Without the collapse of the house of Saud in Saudi Arabia and the houses of the other princelings in the other Gulf states, we’re stuck with Wahhabism as a politico-religious movement that will continue to unsettle the world.
In a nutshell, the influence of oil riches and the Western lust for it, have mixed poorly with the local religions, as oil does with water, and created a long-term animosity between all parties involved. As we were told as children, money, religion and politics are conversation no-noes and must be avoided at all costs. The above history lesson certainly validates that advice.
From another view, tangible components, money and oil, are being pushed against non-tangible components, religion and religious sectarianism. This is also a conflict between modern abstraction [money] and ancient mythology. Clearly, the human being is not yet equipped to separate itself from the ancient fears and suspicions of primitive, tribal times and embrace the facts that we live in a world where nearly eight billion of us are competing for ever-decreasing resources of all types. This inability, in light of the potential for nuclear weapons in the hands of zealots from any of the parties mentioned, threatens the very existence of life on Earth. This is the sort of ironic future that philosophers make up: There might not be anybody left to see the second coming of Mohammed or Jesus.
– Vern Turner lives in Marble Falls, TX and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer. His latest book, Racing to the Brink: The End Game for Race and Capitalism, is available through Amazon.com.