Wahhabi


postwar

Mystique of Monarchy

Post-War Watch – April 19, 2016
https://postwarwatch.com/2016/04/19/mystique-of-monarchy/

MADAWI AL-RASHEED — Limited social and political reforms in Saudi Arabia only prolong the life of authoritarianism.

Although Saudi Arabia’s government relies on the religious establishment for its legitimacy, there are multiple groups and factions that fall under the Islamist category. How does the monarchy understand the relationship between Saudi’s religious establishment and political governance?

The dynamic at the heart of this question is better understood as one between religion and politics within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The relationship between these two spheres has evolved through the twentieth century. There is not one way of describing the interaction between religious and political entities, simply because it is subject to the political will of the regime — and the government’s evolving connection to official Islam and Islamists’ discourses and practices. Ultimately, this relationship has gone through three distinct phases since the consolidation of the modern state

The first phase (1960s-1990s) can be described as one of cooperation and instrumentalization. Since the establishment of the modern Saudi kingdom in 1932, the al-Saud political leadership tried to cooperate with the religious establishment in their country. The royal family institutionalized their discourse by creating specific religious bodies and honoring key figures for their support of the regime. Saudi Arabia’s government claimed legitimacy as the leadership that applies Islamic law and protects the Holy Cities — as well as directs outreach to Muslim communities around the globe. The regime’s efforts to incentivize religious bodies to support the monarchy derived potency from the fact that Saudi’s religious groups operated according to a populist ethos: religious figures can reach people in mosques, schools, universities, as well as exercise control over the judiciary.

The second phase began in the early-1990s, following the 1990-1991 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. During this period the Saudi regime alternately repressed and accommodated opinions from the multiple voices within the religious establishment and the splinter groups around it. Saddam Hussein’s military operations posed a serious threat to Saudi Arabia’s security and economy. The royal family understood that it needed to bring foreign, non-Muslim soldiers onto Saudi soil to defend the Kingdom — an action that angered conservative religious elements. Immediately after the Iraqi invasion, the Saudi regime began repressing Islamist voices that dissented against cooperation with United States and other foreign militaries.

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omidshia

by Omid Safi (@ostadjaan), On Being columnist, January 7, 2016

In the last few days, virtually every news outlet has featured a series of stories on the rising tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The conflict by now is well-known: Saudi Arabia executed 47 people, including Shi‘i cleric Nimr al-Nimr. While both Iran and Saudi Arabia are among the worst global executioners of dissidents, the sheer size of these executions was rare even by their gruesome standards. Iran retaliated through bombastic rhetoric, stating, “God’s hand of retaliation will grip the neck of Saudi politicians.” The two countries have broken off diplomatic relations, a tension that has rippled across the region.

The New York Times, arguably the most respected newspaper in America, featured a primer on the conflict that was devoted mostly to discussing succession disputes to the Prophet Muhammad that in due time led to the rise of the Sunni and Shi‘a sects. The Guardian has devoted a long section to this conflict. So has The Economist.

There are many political scientists and public policy pundits that you can turn to for grasping the geopolitics of the situation. You can listen to Vali Nasr, dean of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, with NPR’s Renee Montaigne, and on PRI’s The World. But as a scholar of religion, let me share a few points that I think might be useful to keep in mind to think intelligently — and I trust, compassionately — through this latest conflict.

One. In order to understand this conflict, do not start with Sunni/Shi‘a seventh century succession disputes to Prophet. This is a modern dispute, not one whose answers you are going to find in pre-modern books of religious history and theology. Think about how absurd it would be if we were discussing a political conflict between the U.S. and Russia, and instead of having political scientists we brought on people to talk about the historical genesis of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Probably the most succinct elaboration of this point came from Marc Lynch:

“The idea of an unending, primordial conflict between Sunnis and Shiites explains little about the ebbs and flows of regional politics. This is not a resurgence of a 1,400-year-old conflict.”

The attempt to explain the Iranian/Saudi conflict, or for that matter every Middle Eastern conflict, in purely religious terms is part of an ongoing Orientalist imagination that depicts these societies as ancient, unchanging, un-modern societies where religion is the sole determining factor (allegedly unlike an imagined “us,” who have managed to become modern and secular.) Watch this four-part series by the late, great Edward Said on how Orientalism operates (skip the introduction):

There is no disputing that religion is a factor in understanding the Middle East. In some conflicts, it might even be a primary factor. But it is never, ever the only factor. Most often it is the other factors (history, economics, ideology, demographics) that are much more important.

Religion, religious traditions, and human societies never stay static and unchanging. There is no such thing as an eternal, unchanging human tradition.

For the rest of this commentary, click here.


Saudi Arabia has announced
that their Decisive Storm bombing campaign is over and they have accomplished their apparent goal of destroying any military capacity of Yemen. There is an old proverb in Arabic that states “ba’d kharab Basra” (after the destruction of Basra) and it is quite apt as a follow up to this news. The weapons destroyed can be replaced, and no doubt at some future date will be, but the lives lost and the mortal wounds to Yemen’s pride can never be restored even by a so-called “Restoration of Hope.” The Saudi offer to pay millions to rebuild Yemen pales in terms of what I assume must be measured by at least a billion or more in terms of the bombs dropped and resupplied. If instead of attacking Yemen from the air, the same amount of money had been given to build health clinics and schools, what a different outcome there would be. Instead, the stench of war is not about to be overcome by any monetary perfuming from abroad.

The damage inflicted by this ill-conceived war campaign is obvious. Forget the nonsense about an Iranian threat, which there never was. The Huthis never controlled anything; it was Salih’s former military supporters who were behind the takeover of Sanaa and the push to Aden. Try to remember the real threat inside Yemen, the one that energized the U.S. drone campaign: al-Qaida, known as Ansar Sharia, has more power and more sympathy now that at any other time. The south is basically in their control. There is little chance that they would welcome Hadi back. So the result of this bombing is a totally destabilized Yemen, a security nightmare, a humanitarian crisis that is not likely to be alleviated soon. (more…)

Since the start of the Saudi-led Decisive Storm campaign in Yemen, I have published two commentaries on the blog of the Center for Middle East Studies at Lund University and three interviews on The Real News. While the situation is changing daily, seemingly for the worse each day, I note these commentaries here:

Lund Blog:
Proxy Morons: The Demolition of Yemen (http://www.menatidningen.se/english/proxy-morons-the-demolition-of-yemen) March 27

Sliding Towards a Virtual Genocide in Yemen (http://www.menatidningen.se/english/sliding-towards-a-virtual-genocide-in-yemen) April 13

The Real News:
Proxy Morons: The Demolition of Yemen (3/1)
http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=13565 April 4

Proxy Morons: The Demolition of Yemen (3/2)
http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=13636 April 12

Proxy Morons: The Demolition of Yemen (3/3)
http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=13639 April 13

By Amir Hussain, UCObserver

So, what do you think about ISIS?” The question was posed at the end of September by an agnostic colleague at the Jesuit university in Los Angeles. The query was directed at me, no doubt, because I’m the lone Muslim theology professor on staff. And I’m not sure how to respond or what else I can say except that members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria are horrific. I also can’t imagine my colleague asking me a comparable question — “What do you think about the Nazis?” or “What do you think of clergy who sexually abuse children?” — and expecting any kind of nuanced answer. I put his question aside.

A couple of weeks later, I was driving home from visiting friends in Santa Barbara when I heard that Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent had been deliberately run over and killed in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. Two days after that, while I was in an airline lounge in Chicago, word flashed across the TV monitors that Cpl. Nathan Cirillo had been shot dead while he guarded the National War Memorial in Ottawa and that the assailant was killed in a hail of gunfire in the corridors of the Parliament Buildings. It turned out that both murderers were self-radicalized converts to Islam. I was horrified.

The October attacks brought back to mind my colleague’s question about ISIS. Perhaps, when he asked, he wasn’t looking for nuance but context. Perhaps he wanted to better understand what motivates and inspires their evil, where the movement came from, how they are able to export their ideologies to troubled young men and women around the world, and how worried we North Americans should be about their threat to us.

My response is the same now as it was before. As shocking and frightening as incidents of “homegrown terrorism” may be, we must keep one fact in mind: the primary targets of Muslim fanatics are much more likely to be other Muslims than non-Muslims. Their main purpose is to force their own skewed version of Islam onto other Muslims. In the same way that Ebola is a serious threat to West Africans, not to North Americans, ISIS is a serious threat in Iraq and Syria, not here in North America. Personally, I’m much more concerned about Islamic fundamentalism in general than I am about ISIS specifically. (more…)


Celebrating Saudi Arabia’s National Day

In case you missed it, September 23 was Saudi Arabia’s National Day, the oil-driven nation’s 4th of July. Not surprisingly many people, proud of their country, took to the streets to celebrate. But what is good for the state is not necessarily seen as good for the faith, especially in the conservative Wahhabi/Salafi variety that weds tribal origin with a dogmatic theology. The tension between a strict form of Islamic practice and the diversity that instills cultural practices has always been a problem, perhaps even more so with the wealth economy that the current generation of Saudi youth has grown up in. In 1927 King Abdul Aziz established the Committee for Promotion of Virtue and The Prevention of Vice. In short this is known as the “religious police.” For those less familiar with Islamic doctrine, this relates back to the classic Quranic principle of al-amr bi- al-maʿruf wa-al-nahy ʿan al-munkar, generally translated as commanding right and and forbidding wrong. There is a long history about the use of this penchant phrase, analyzed in detail by Michael Cook in his Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought (Cambridge University Press, 2010), a work of over 700 pages.

Abdullah Hamidaddin has written an interesting commentary on a recent tragedy on the Saudi National Day in which a car of religious police chased a vehicle that apparently was thought to contain two drunken men. In the chase the car careened off the road, killing the driver and his brother. The religious police fled the scene, but the chase was captured on a cell phone video. When the video was posted to social media, there was an outcry to rein in the zealous religious police. In this case it turned out the men had not been drinking.

What were these “thought police” thinking? I say “thought” rather than “religious” police, because the very nature of the committee leads to a kind of witchcraft mentality. (more…)


by Will McCants, Foreign Policy, The Middle East Channel, October 12, 2012

Salafis, or Sunni puritans, have been much in the news since they sparked riots at U.S. embassies throughout the Arab world protesting film clips lampooning the Prophet Muhammad. A television personality on a Saudi Arabian-funded Salafi satellite channel in Egypt first fanned the flames, and Salafis ranging from the militant Mohamed al-Zawahiri (the brother of al Qaeda’s chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri) to the mainstream Salafi political party al-Nour fueled the blaze when they blamed the U.S. government and called for protests against U.S. embassies. Salafis in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and elsewhere took up the torch, resulting in attacks on U.S. and other Western diplomatic installations across the Middle East.

Others were involved, of course, and the protests were small compared to the protests over the Muhammad cartoons several years ago. Nevertheless, the Salafi-driven protests are one more sign the ultra-religious right is asserting itself as the guardian of the moral order in Sunni-majority countries revolting against the ancien régime. Their noisy performance on the public stage poses a major challenge to emerging democratic systems, fueling polarization inside and fears abroad. But the new political realm also poses challenges to the Salafis who are on unfamiliar ground politically and ideologically.

To understand the political behavior of Salafis today, keep four things in mind: their religious beliefs do not predict their political behavior; they are a minority in almost every Middle Eastern country; the countries where they are a majority are incredibly wealthy; and their appeal and power arises from their commitment to an ultraconservative creed that is out of step with the mainstream. (more…)


by Omid Safi, Religion News Service, August 28, 2012

It is time, and past time, to Occupy Mecca.

I am adamantly not talking about a disaster US occupation, a la Iraq and Afghanistan.

What I am calling for is nothing less than millions of faithful pilgrims saving Mecca from destruction.

I would call the destruction imminent, except that it is not imminent. It has already happened.

No, it’s not the Americans, or the Israelis, who would be destroying Mecca.
It’s the so-called Guardians of the two holy sites (Mecca and Medina), the Saudi royal elites, who have negligently stood by over the last two decades as the majority of holy sites in these two most sacred Muslim cities have been destroyed, sacrificed to the false gods of modernization, capitalism, and progress.

Saudi Wahhabis have a long history of destroying shrines, including those of the family of the Prophet in Saudi Arabia and Iraq. (more…)

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