Wahabbism is a Social Construct

Jeffrey Golberg interviews Saudi Arabian crown prince and ruler Mohammed bin Salman in the Atlantic

The prince, in my conversation with him, divided the Middle East into two warring camps: what he called the “triangle of evil,” consisting of Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Sunni terror groups; and an alliance of self-described moderate states that includes Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Oman. About his bête noir, the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Prince Mohammed said, “I believe the Iranian supreme leader makes Hitler look good. Hitler didn’t do what the supreme leader is trying to do. Hitler tried to conquer Europe. … The supreme leader is trying to conquer the world.”

 The triangle of evil intersects the axis of evil at Iran, which appears to be the juncture of Israeli and Saudi Arabian interests. Where the prince places the Muslim Brotherhood and Sunni terrorists George W Bush placed Iraq as their state sponsor, ignoring at the time Saudi Arabia could far more easily be described as just that.

The thirty two year-old MbS, as he’s known, appears to be out to modernize Saudi Arabia as rapidly as he can get away with, in conjunction with a grand plan to move beyond an oil economy called Vision 2030. Combined with an abandonment of the Palestinians and an all-but-open alliance with Israel against the Shia represented by Iran, he comes as if ready-made for the global order. Liberalizing Saudi Arabia is to be open for business.

And that’s Saudi Arabia’s business, of course, but when the West is filling up with young male Sunnis who aren’t bound for glory in their new homes, I worry any terrorist campaign against his government will operate out of and engulf Europe.

The prince cites the 1979 Iranian Revolution as the birth of Islamic extremism. This is a recent theme, tracing the seizure of the Grand Mosque by similarly radicalized Sunnis and the subsequent conservative period in which Saudi Arabia remains, including its appeasement and sponsorship of radical Islam all back to today’s enemy, Iran.

Israel, the US and Saudi Arabia are now allied against Iran, and we’re the only one among our “axis” or “triangle” (of stupid?) that hasn’t a discernible national interest in countering Iran, outside of our alliance with the other two.

Goldberg asks the prince about Saudi Arabia’s support for Wahabbism and the same Sunni extremism he cites in his triangle, and the prince shows a distinctly Western facility for evasion-by-definition:

Goldberg: Isn’t it true, though, that after 1979, but before 1979 as well, the more conservative factions in Saudi Arabia were taking oil money and using it to export a more intolerant, extremist version of Islam, Wahhabist ideology, which could be understood as a kind of companion ideology to Muslim Brotherhood thinking? 

MbS: First of all, this Wahhabism—please define it for us. We’re not familiar with it. We don’t know about it. 

Goldberg: What do you mean you don’t know about it? 

MbS: What is Wahhabism? 

Goldberg: You’re the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. You know what Wahhabism is. 

MbS: No one can define this Wahhabism. 

Goldberg: It’s a movement founded by Ibn abd al-Wahhab in the 1700s, very fundamentalist in nature, an austere Salafist-style interpretation— 

MbS: No one can define Wahhabism. There is no Wahhabism. We don’t believe we have Wahhabism. We believe we have, in Saudi Arabia, Sunni and Shiite. We believe we have within Sunni Islam four schools of thought, and we have the ulema [the religious authorities] and the Board of Fatwas [which issues religious rulings]. Yes, in Saudi Arabia it’s clear that our laws are coming from Islam and the Quran, but we have the four schools—Hanbali, Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki—and they argue about interpretation.

No drink of alcohol, no taste of bacon could Westernize him more than this mode of argument. The society of global bugmen have a Prince.

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