Magazine article The Spectator

Ground Zero and the Saudi Connection

Magazine article The Spectator

Ground Zero and the Saudi Connection

Article excerpt


THE first thing to do when trying to understand 'Islamic suicide bombers' is to forget the cliches about the Muslim taste for martyrdom. It does exist, of course, but the desire for paradise is not a safe guide to what motivated the appalling suicide attacks on New York and Washington last week. Throughout history, political extremists of all faiths have willingly given up their lives simply in the belief that by doing so, whether in bombings or in other forms of terror, they would change the course of history, or at least win an advantage for their cause. Tamils are not Muslims, but they blow themselves up in their war on the government of Sri Lanka; Japanese kamikaze pilots in the second world war were not Muslims, but they flew their fighters into US aircraft carriers.

The Islamofascist ideology of Osama bin Laden and those closest to him, such as the Egyptian and Algerian 'Islamic Groups', is no more intrinsically linked to Islam or Islamic civilisation than Pearl Harbor was to Buddhism, or Ulster terrorists - whatever they may profess - are to Christianity. Serious Christians don't go around killing and maiming the innocent; devout Muslims do not prepare for paradise by hanging out in strip bars and getting drunk, as one of last week's terrorist pilots was reported to have done.

The attacks of 11 September are simply not compatible with orthodox Muslim theology, which cautions soldiers 'in the way of Allah' to fight their enemies face-to-face, without harming non-combatants, women or children. Most Muslims, not only in America and Britain, but in the world, are clearly law-abiding citizens of their countries - a point stressed by President Bush and other American leaders, much to their credit. Nobody on this side of the water wants a repeat of the lamented 1941 internment of Japanese Americans.

Still, the numerical preponderance of Muslims as perpetrators of these ghastly incidents is no coincidence. So we have to ask ourselves what has made these men into the monsters they are? What has so galvanised violent tendencies in the world's second-largest religion (and, in America, the fastest growing faith)? Can it really flow from a quarrel over a bit of land in the Middle East?

For Westerners, it seems natural to look for answers in the distant past, beginning with the Crusades. But if you ask educated, pious, traditional but forward-looking Muslims what has driven their umma, or global community, in this direction, many of them will answer you with one word: Wahhabism. This is a strain of Islam that emerged not at the time of the Crusades, nor even at the time of the anti-Turkish wars of the 17th century, but less than two centuries ago. It is violent, it is intolerant, and it is fanatical beyond measure. It originated in Arabia, and it is the official theology of the Gulf states. Wahhabism is the most extreme form of Islamic fundamentalism, and its followers are called Wahhabis.

Not all Muslims are suicide bombers, but all Muslim suicide bombers are Wahhabis - except, perhaps, for some disciples of atheist leftists posing as Muslims in the interests of personal power, such as Yasser Arafat or Saddam Hussein. Wahhabism is the Islamic equivalent of the most extreme Protestant sectarianism. It is puritan, demanding punishment for those who enjoy any form of music except the drum, and severe punishment up to death for drinking or sexual transgressions. It condemns as unbelievers those who do not pray, a view that never previously existed in mainstream Islam.

It is stripped-down Islam, calling for simple, short prayers, undecorated mosques, and the uprooting of gravestones (since decorated mosques and graveyards lend themselves to veneration, which is idolatry in the Wahhabi mind). Wahhabis do not even permit the name of the Prophet Mohammed to be inscribed in mosques, nor do they allow his birthday to be celebrated. Above all, they hate ostentatious spirituality, much as Protestants detest the veneration of miracles and saints in the Roman Church. …

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