By Jon Christian Ryter
April 13, 2004
Exactly one month to the day after al Qaeda-linked Islamic extremists crashed jet airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001 Saudi King Fahd's nephew, Prince al-Walid Talal bin Abdul Aziz showed up in New York for a well-publicized public relations tour of ground zero at the World Trade Center site. After New York mayor Rudy Giuliani gave the visiting potentate and his entourage a personal tour of the disaster site, the Prince gave Giuliani a check for $10 million to help the City of New York in the cleanup and to assist the families of 9-11 victims.
As he handed Giuliani the check, the prince cited the long and cordial relationship that has existed between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States. And, even though the media had just revealed that many of the 9-11 homicide skyjackers carried Saudi passports, most Americans believed the Prince's statement in principle, without hesitation, remembering that the Saudi government allowed the U.S. military to wage the Gulf War from military bases in Saudi Arabia. As Prince bin Abdul Aziz gave lip service to the bravery of America, and half-heartedly blamed former Saudi citizen Osama bin Laden—and Israel—for the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, his aides were passing out the official Saudi position condemning America's anti-Taliban stance in Afghanistan. In addition, the official Saudi position paper said, "we must address some of the issues that led to such a criminal attack [on the World Trade Center]. I believe the government of the United States should re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause." The official Saudi position was that the Jihad against the United States was motivated by America's ill-advised support of Israel's state-sponsored terrorism against the innocent, helpless Palestinian people who wanted only to live in peace in their ancient homeland. When Mayor Giuliani saw the official Saudi position, he handed the $10 million check back to the Saudi prince.
The American public has become confused and mistrustful of the Saudis because, on one hand, they act as though they are very close friends with the United States and very loyal to whomever occupies the White House—whether Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. Yet, as the Saudis extend the hand of friendship, the other hand—half-hidden behind their back—always appears to hold a falchion (a curved medieval sword for those of you who are not history buffs). When Americans look at the Saudis, they see a two-faced image but fail to realize those two faces are the faces of two entirely different Saudi princes, fighting very intently—although, in the eye of the international arena, very diplomatically—for control of a trillion dollar oil empire. They are playing a very deadly game of brinkmanship.
The internal struggle for power between two half brothers—Saudi princes and heirs apparent to the throne of their father, King Fahd—will ultimately impact the economic and political security of the United States because the internal struggle in Saudi Arabia is a struggle between opposing theological ideologies—Tawhid and Taqarub. It is this murky, puzzling paradox that confuses the non-Muslim about the Islamic world. Because, whether a Muslim is theologically moderate or aggressively militant depends to a large degree on which ideological view—tawhid or taqarub—he follows, and not whether he is a Sa Sunni or a Shi'a.
What makes the question even more confusing is our own erroneous perception of what constitutes "good" Muslims and "bad" Muslims, or "militant" Muslims and "theologically passive" Muslims. Our history with the Muslim world over the past 25 years has suggested to us that Shi'ites are radical zealots and Sunnis are more passive moderates. Our views were logically influenced by the fact that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (who assumed power in Iran with the abdication of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi) was a radical Shi'ite. But, it should be noted that the Shah—who was theologically moderate and who married a western woman—was also a Shi'ite. Persian law required the Shah to be Shi'a.. And, while Ba'athist Saddam Hussein publicly practiced Islam as a Sunni, the only religious symbol found in his bungalow at Ad Dawr near Tikrit where he was captured, was that of Jesus Christ. Under the laws of the Wahhabis, that was a crime punishable by death.
Until the radical Sunni Wahhabis initiated their blood bath in and around Fallujah last week, most Americans generally viewed the Sunnis (except the Ba'athists) as Islamic moderates. The Shi'a were seen as the radical extremists. Yet, the Taliban, which practiced the harshest form of Islam known to man, are Sunni. Saddam Hussein, a Ba'athist Sunni, had no trouble aligning himself with the Wahhabi Taliban. In an idyllic Muslim world, however, the Wahhabis would have been theologically obligated to initiate a takfiri jihad against Saddam's regime. And that, of course, was Saddam's worst fear for thirty years. He had Shi'a enemies on two sides and the Arab peninsula's largest Sunni enemy on the other.
Thus, rather than looking at the Muslim community politically—Sunni v Shi'a (which is like comparing Americans as Democrats or Republicans) we must learn to analyze their positions based on the doctrines of tawhid or taqarub because it is only then that we will recognize whether or not the players—and Islam itself—is an inherent danger to the United States and to the American people, or whether it is a passive religion like Christianity as Islamic spinmeisters in the United States claim.
While all Muslims ascribe to the basic tenets of Islam, the theological ideology of the Shi'a and the Sunni vary greatly. The theological shift began with the death of Muhammad in 632 A.D. The scepter of civil authority—the Caliphate—passed to Muhammad's father-in-law, Abu Bakr. Four family members—led by Muhammad's son-in-law, Ali ihb Abi Taleb (who claimed Muhammad intended for him to become the Imamate) formed a rogue sect known as the "Partisans of Ali," or Shi'a 'Ali. This sect became known as the Shi'a, or Shi'ites. The theological philosophy of the Shi'a was defined by its holy man, Husayan. The principles of tawhid were defined by the Sunni's holy man, Muhammad ihn Abd al-Wahhab. Wahhab, founder of the Wahhabi sect, denounced the principles of Shi'a. Wahhab declared the Shi'a to be apostates—idolaters like the Christians and Jews—and enemies of the true believers.
The Wahhabists practice an intolerable, fanatical form of monotheism. It is the theological paranoia of the Wahhabis that caused the absolute suppression of women in Muslim society. To the Wahhabis, eliminating the pagan ideology of the Jews, the Christians, the Shi'a—and even waging a takfiri jihad against the more passive Sunnis who practice taqarub—is virtually the same thing. Osama bin Laden is a Wahhabi. So are the Afghani Taliban.
Taqarub is the diplomatic policy of rapprochement between Muslims and non-Muslims. Peaceful coexistence. Taqarub questions the need for Jihad and explores the notion that Muslims, Christians, Jews and secularists can live, side-by-side, as partners in a global community without hate and without bloodshed. The fanatical Wahhabis are openly hostile to taqarub in any form. The Wahhabi clerics are quick to issue fatwahs against any Sunnis who espouses taqarub—including Crown Prince Abdullah, the eldest son of King Fahd and the presiding member of the House of Saud.
And, that, you might say, has caused a taqarub-tawhid paradox in Saudi Arabia Taqarub—the doctrine of rapprochement—was the direction chosen for Saudi Arabia by Crown Prince Abdullah out of political necessity. As a tribal chieftain in a feudal Muslim world, the Crown Prince carved political alliances that would assure the survival of the House of Saud. In diplomatic circles outside the Persian Gulf area, Crown Prince Abdullah has assured the continuation of the Saud dynasty by aligning his government with the United States. Within the Persian Gulf, his half-brother, Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, is recognized as the real power within the dynasty.
In the case of the al Sauds, the question of succession—whom King Faahd will anoint to succeed him upon his death (or even whether he will anoint anyone)—has been hanging in the air since Fahd suffered a debilitating stroke in 1995. Generally speaking, tradition dictates that the eldest son—in this case, Crown Prince Abdullah—would automatically succeed his father and assume the throne. But that is not a "given" since the Saudi empire is a fragmented dynasty of feudal fiefdoms controlled by family members. Neither the Crown Prince nor his half brother Nayef (who controls the secret police) have enough power singularly to seize the throne. The power in Saudi Arabia is jealously held by a half dozen to a dozen powerful al Saud brothers, uncles and cousins.
Internally, all is not well in the schizophrenic society of the Sauds. The Sauds are divided between two worlds—the western culture that brought economic development and industrial modernization to the region, and the medieval world of the Wahhabi Muslims that eschews modernization and hates the infidels that brought wealth, prosperity, and secular idolatry into the Muslim world.
Nayef, who heads the law enforcement apparatus in Saudi Arabia also heads the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice—the religious police. He is, without a doubt, the single most powerful player within the Saudi government. Because he is a Wahhabi, he is also a vocal supporter of tawhid. Nayef actually protects the Wahhabi clerics who issued the fatwahs against the royal family—of which Nayef is a ranking member. Because Nayef protects the clerics, they in turn, protect Nayef. This makes Nayef, politically, the strongest and most secure member of the Aziz family.
Crown Prince Adbullah is an advocate of taqarub. He is the international consensus maker. His political strength in Saudi Arabia, and his political alliances with the oil shiekhs comes from his close, personal ties with the United States—a relationship his half brother does not share. His nation is one of the most secure in the Mideast because of alliances forged with America. He has proven to be a trusted ally who has put his own regime—and his personal family—in harm's way to support the political agendas of both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Although the decision to do so was made by King Fahd, the Crown Prince was the driving force that forged the Bush-41 alliance during the Gulf War. Had Prince Nayef been the Crown Prince, it is a near certainty that Saudi Arabia would have assumed a more neutral, if not more Islamic hostile, position when Bush-41 sought the use of Saudi military bases from which to wage the air war and ground offensive against the Sunni dictator of Iraq. Under Prince Nayef, Saudi Arabia in 1991 would have more closely resembled Turkey in 2003 when Bush-43 wanted to launch his northern offensive from Turkey through the Sunni Triangle and into Baghdad from the north. Since the Saudi religious establishment is viscerally hostile to Shi'a, it is unlikely a Saudi government under the control of Nayef would have been amiable to the notion of overthrowing any Sunni government—even one as despotic as Saddam Hussein's—that would have allowed any Shi'a majority an opportunity to participate in governance.
That is also precisely why Saudi Arabia denied Bush-43 the use of Saudi military bases to launch America's attack against the Sunni Taliban in Afghanistan on October 8, 2001 and the Sunni government of Saddam Hussein on March 20, 2003. While the Crown Prince has constantly signaled both friendship and cooperation with the West through the doctrine of taqarub, Nayef has pushed the doctrines of tawhid in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf region by encouraging jihad.
Nayef, as the head of the religious police, absolved the Saudi 9-11 skyjackers of responsibility for their terrorist activity. In fact, in an interview published openly in the Arab press, he insisted that al Qaeda could not possibly have planned and executed the terrorist attack against America because of the size and scope of the attack. Nayef argued that only Israel possessed the expertise to pull of such a feat within the United States—even though the identities of all of the 9-11 homicide skyjackers had been learned and their photos published in the American media. And all of them, without exception, were Muslim.
Al Qaeda retaliated against the Saudis for supporting George W. Bush in the international arena by bombing the Khobar Towers in Riyadh on May 12, 2003. While it was clear to Nayef's secret police that a Wahhabi cleric, Ali bin al-Khurdayr issued the takfiri-jihadic fatwah that resulted in 34 deaths including 10 Americans and 1 Australian—a known al Qaeda operative, Ali Abd all-Rahman al-Faqasi al-Ghamdi, stepped forward and surrendered, claiming that he had masterminded and executed the bombing. Nayef knew that the mastermind was the cleric. However, Osama bin Laden warned Saudi authorities that al-Khurdayr was not to be harmed for engineering the attack. "Should anyone harm him," bin Laden's explosive message to the Saudi government stated, "al Qaeda's response would be commensurate with the sheikh's high standing...We will not issue a statement on the matter other than one dripping with blood."
Nayef was content to arrest al-Ghamdi and close the case. The Crown Prince, pressured by the Americans and British was not. Yet, it took the Crown Prince five months before enough pressure could be directed against Nayef to force the prince to serve the arrest warrant on al-Khudayr and take him into custody. Nayef was forced by the Crown Prince and a coalition of sheikhs to crack down on extremists within the Kingdom. As a result of that edict, Saudi security police clashed repeatedly with Wahhabi extremists. Hundreds of Wahhabis have been arrested in Saudi Arabia and large caches of weapons were seized. In late November al Khundayr appeared on prime time TV in Saudi Arabia and on Al Jazeera. He confessed his role in planning the Khobar Towers suicide bombing. American television networks and newspapers did not carry, nor report, his confession even though 10 American citizens died in the bombing.
While it appears that Crown Prince Abdullah is winning the tawhid-taqarub tug-of-war at the moment, the Mideast is a fickle place. Political fortunes change as quickly as the shifting sand.
What al Qaeda fears most is that the Americans and a coalition of Iraqi Kurds and Shi'ites will force Riyadh to implement broad religious and political reforms that will give a voice to the minority Shi'a population in the Kingdom. After America's first excursion into the deserts of Iraq in 1991, the Wahhabi clerics feared that America would join forces with the Jews and destroy Islam completely—thus the need for a Jihad against America. The complicity of the Saudi Wahhabis in their support of the Sunni Ba'athists, al Qaeda and other Muslim terrorist organizations in and around Fallujah in the Sunni Triangle will eventually become public and will raise even more questions about the loyalty of the Crown Prince to the American President (whomever he may be at that time). While Crown Prince Abdullah was able, with the help of the sheikhs, to arrest and prosecute Ali bin al-Khudayr, he does not have enough power to suppress the Wahhabi clerics, nor does he possess the autonomy on his own to divorce the political system of Saudi Arabia from Wahhabism.
It appears that in bringing America's War on Terrorism into the Persian Gulf region that President George W. Bush bit off more "goat fat" than any president could chew at one time. And, regardless how well he chews it, he will never be able to swallow it without choking. Bush's advisers should have recognized the age-old schism between the Sunnis and Shi'a in Iraq for what it was a snare from which Bush will not be able to escape. The Sunnis don't trust the Shi'ites and thus believe Bush is politically aligning with the Iraqi Shi'as to force the democratization of Saudi Arabia or, at least, to force the Saudis to renounce Wahhabism and divorce itself from the Wahhabi clerics. Complicating the scenario is a fearful reality that Bush's Islamic experts should have taken into consideration what happens when the Shi'a, atheist Ba'athists, and Sunni extremists join forces to defeat what each perceives to be a common enemy—the United States. Bush's experts counted on the overwhelming desire of the Iraqi people for a western-style democracy to overcome the centuries-old feudal system, and the people's ability, with the help of the United States, to throw off the shackles of Wahhabism and the tawhid.
That, of course, will not happen. As noted by Foreign Affairs magazine in a Jan-Feb, 2004 article, The Saudi Paradox, "Getting Riyadh to divorce itself from radical Wahhabism will be as great a task as getting the Soviet Union to renounce communism. Clearly, there are forces in the kingdom who would be willing to support the efforts of a Saudi Gorbachev, but it is not clear when or whether one will appear."
Unfortunately, one has appeared. But he more closely resembles a Saudi Stalin. His name is Osama bin Laden. As a Wahhabi, bin Laden is viewed as a spiritual leader not only in Saudi Arabia, but in the entire Muslim world. As the warrior chieftain of the Jihad, bin Laden sees himself as a modern Saladin. He has declared war on the infidel's world and, thus far, only America and a handful of reluctant warriors who are indebted to the United States have risen to do battle.
To date it appears that only President George W. Bush seemed consciously aware that Wahhabism is a global political system that theologically obligates the Muslim male—regardless of the nation in which he resides—to to respond to the call of arms against the economic system created by the United States and the central bankers and industrialists of the western world, very pointedly proving that large groups of extra-national ideologically-linked entities can declare war on nations if those entities are large enough, diverse enough, and serious enough to actually perpetuate acts of war upon nations. Suffice to say that the creation of an invisible empire known as the United Nations made it possible for the invisible global empire of Wahhabism to exist.
Saudi Arabia is a nation in tremendous political turmoil. The secular system of rapprochement mandated by the doctrine of taqarub is rapidly losing ground to the tawhidic doctrine of Wahhabism. How President Bush handles the volatile situation in Iraq will determine which Saudi prince—Abdullah or Nayeef—will ultimately prevail. And which half-brother prevails will ultimately determine which political doctrine—tawhid or taqarub—will become the compass that guides the desert Kingdom and the global Muslim community.
Whether Islam becomes taqarub or remains tawhid and brings the jihad of Wahhabi to every corner of the world will be decided by how this president, or the next, handles the War on Terrorism. If the White House uses the uncompromising forcefulness of John F. Kennedy or Ronald Reagan. Wahhabism will be crushed and the doctrines of taqarub will prevail. If, on the other hand, the White House uses the conciliatory tactics of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton or John F. Kerry, the fires of the tawhid will ignite every corner of the globe and the Holy War of the Jihad will explode into World War III as the 13th Crusade becomes the biblical Battle of Armageddon in the Plains of Meggido before the end of this decade.
© 2004 Jon C. Ryter - All Rights Reserved
Jon Christian Ryter is the pseudonym of a former newspaper reporter with the Parkersburg, WV Sentinel. He authored a syndicated newspaper column, Answers From The Bible, from the mid-1970s until 1985. Answers From The Bible was read weekly in many suburban markets in the United States.
Today, Jon is an advertising executive with
the Washington Times. His website, www.jonchristianryter.com
has helped him establish a network of mid-to senior-level Washington insiders
who now provide him with a steady stream of material for use both in his
books and in the investigative reports that are found on his website.
"The internal struggle for power between two half brothers—Saudi princes and heirs apparent to the throne of their father, King Fahd—will ultimately impact the economic and political security of the United States..."