Wahhabism is known to be the root ideology that fuels today’s Takfiri terrorism around the globe. Many experts have spoken and written about this extremist ideology and how it inspires followers to conduct acts of terror. Habilian Association has conducted an interview with Catherine Shakdam, a Middle East expert and the associate director of the Beirut Center for Middle Eastern Studies. In this exclusive interview, Catherine Shakdam speaks about different aspects of Wahhabism including the extremist ideology’s background, Wahhabism and its connection to Saudi Arabia, West’s support of Saudi Arabia as the birthplace and the origin of Wahhabism and how ISIS was inspired by the teachings of Wahhabism.
Catherine Shakdam is a political analyst, writer and commentator for the Middle East with a special focus on radical movements. A regular pundit on RT and other networks. Her work has appeared in major publications: MintPress, the Foreign Policy Journal, the Guardian and many others. Catherine is also the co-founder of Veritas Consulting.
Following is a rough transcript of Habilian Association’s interview with the former Associate Director of the Beirut Centre for Middle East Studies.
1. In your opinion, which is the main source of security threats in the Middle East, the spread of Wahhabism or the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and its aftermath events like radicalization of Takfiri individuals such as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in the US jails there? If you have other idea, (e.g., both the cases) please tell us.
I would love to say that the two phenomena are distinct, but that would be denying an overlapping of interests and tactics. Let me explain …. according to Western powers, and most specifically the US, military interventionism in the Greater Middle East was prompted by the rise of radicalism, as expressed by the likes of al-Qaeda, Daesh, Boko Haram, al-Nusra and so on … This is the narrative Washington and its allies have carried for well over a decade, while at the same time campaigning and lobbying for the support of so called moderates. US interventionism and radicalism are very much linked since both need each other to remain relevant and potent. America needs a demon to legitimize its military campaigns abroad. It also looks at terror as a powerful asymmetric weapon of war against governments - Syria is a perfect example. Regime change has been argued over counter-terrorism by several US politicians and officials: John Kerry, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton … the list goes on and on.
As for radicals, they have played into anti-American sentiments in the ME to drive a recruiting campaign, while at the same time receiving funds, weapons and training for those very powers it claims to oppose.
Radicalism needs to be looked at from as a gun for hire for Western imperialism really. Let us remember that the birth of radicalism – the Taliban and al-Qaeda manifested under American funding in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Then Washington hoped to exploit Wahhabi militias against the Soviet Union. In many ways Afghanistan was ground zero for Terror … Today the movement has metastasized throughout the region, bringing chaos and unrest.
The real threat here I believe is covert imperialism. Takfirism and Militarism are but mere manifestations of imperialism.
The problem we have today is that foreign interests have overlapped and now stand in opposition of each other – with the US on the one side and Saudi Arabia on the other. The two “allies” have conflicting agendas in the region, and it has led to many great complications.
2. How Wahhabism could cross the desert of Saudi Arabia and come to be in the first place?
Wahhabism can be traced back to the 18th-19th century, a religious devolution which followed on the teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah, a scholar who was denounced as a dangerous reformer by his peers.
A scholar of the 13th century, Ibn Taymiyyah was a reformer – a man whose ambition was to “cleanse” Islam and bring its practice back to what he believed was a purer, and more traditional practice of Islam, as envisioned by the last Prophet of God. While he might have been a man of great knowledge and recollection, in that he was quite capable of reciting verses of the Quran at the drop of a hat, his understanding of the Scriptures left something to be desired.
Dhahabi  wrote of him, "I never saw anyone faster at recalling the Qur’anic verses dealing with subjects he was discussing, or anyone who could remember hadith texts more vividly.” Shun by his contemporaries, he was accused of apostasy over his propensity to give God men’s attributes, when in fact God says in the Quran: "There is nothing whatsoever like unto him.”
The prominent Hanafi scholar Muhammad Zahid al-Kawthari  wrote on Ibn Taymiyyah "Whoever thinks that all the scholars of his time joined in a single conspiracy against him from personal envy should rather impugn their own intelligence and understanding, after studying the repugnance of his deviations in beliefs and works, for which he was asked to repent time after time and moved from prison to prison until he passed on to what he’d sent ahead."
While Ibn Taymiyyah had a malleable mind with an avid memory, his ability to grasp religious concepts were greatly limited by the dryness of his heart, and his failure to embrace both compassion and tolerance. A prolific writer and an impassionate preacher, Ibn Taymiyyah was nevertheless a zealot, a man whose religious teachings were declared heretics by both Sunni and Shiite scholars. As Imam Subki put it: "his learning exceeded his intelligence.”
At the core-root of Wahhabism dogma lies Ibn Taymiyyah’s rejection of Ahlul-Bayt, and the principle of shafa’ah (intercession – when one calls upon a saint, a prophet or any such holy person to intercede in their favour before God).
Wahhabism rose a power in the 19th century through its alliance with the House of Saud. Al-Saud’s wealth and princes’ subsequent alliance to the US turned this dangerous dogma into a powerful weapon of mass colonization. Wahhabism was always meant as a tool of enslavement, a mean to divide the Islamic world and spread hate.
Wahhabism today has polluted Islam’s consciousness. Al-Saud billions of dollars have facilitated the redacting of sacred, and their misinterpretation. The kingdom has tirelessly worked to reform Islam by destroying its history, and its traditions. I’m referring here to the destruction of holy shrines, and libraries in Iraq, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen …
Wahhabis are running an aggressive campaign against Islam to better affirm themselves as the only keeper of its tradition.
3. In your opinion, has the west realized that the main source of global terrorism in today world is Wahhabism? If the answer is yes, would you please explaining that why the West has turned a blind eye to Wahhabism?
I believe the public is quickly catching on with the real face of Terror. Westerners today understand that there is a link in between Wahhabist Saudi Arabia and Terror. So yes I would say there has been an awakening of sort.
There is a clear distinction in between the people and the governments which are said to represent and serve them. Western governments do not represent their nationals’ interests; they serve their own. And so this idea that officials are working for the “greater good” is quite naïve. There is a great dichotomy in between what the people want and need and what governments pursue. The West needs terror to keep its military complex going. Capitalists need their wars to make billions in profits. At the same time Western powers have become slave to their own greed and Terror (aka Saudi Arabia) is slowly gaining control over its former masters.
4. Is there any difference between the ISIS’ ideology and the official Wahhabism of modern Saudi Arabia?
Not really. The former Imam of Mecca earlier this year said on live TV that Daesh and Wahhabism are one and the same ideology. The only difference I would say is that Daesh openly practices Wahhabism at its most violent. The belief system is the same: Takfirism.
The hidden evil at the core of Wahhabism, and all other so-called Islamic deviations, Takfirism is the very essence of malevolent hatred, absurd infamy, and inhumane cruelty. In the name of Takfirism communities have been slaughtered while others were enslaved.
5. Why young people in the West are attracted to ISIS? Is it due to attractiveness of Wahhabism or other factors are involved?
I think we need to be very careful when discussing radicalization in the West, as many radicals are actually mercenaries for hire … they do not abide by the ideology, they are there to make money. I don’t think we look at this phenomenon closely enough.
Radicalization is an insidious phenomenon which can manifest inn many different ways, and take different forms. I look at radicalization as a form of socio-political hypnosis rooted in a deep-seated identity crisis. Poverty, a sense of socio-economic ostracization, a lack of spiritual guidance are all contributing factors.
There is no easy answer here, but I would say that Society as a whole carries a burden of guilt as we collectively allowed for a space to be created for Terror to strive. The blame does not fall on Muslims alone by the way as demographics have shown that radicals come various backgrounds – not all are Muslims.
6. After the recent terrorist attacks in Paris that were conducted in the name of Islam, western anti-Islamic figures have found opportunity to launch a new round of attacks against Islam and label it as the source of terror and violence. In your opinion, has this terror the West is facing today any religious consciousness? If not, what if the source of that? Would you please recount Some cases of resorting to violence and terror in the West?
Wahhabism is not a religious movement; it’s a dogma! Think of terror as both a convenient scape goat and enabler. What has happened in France since November 2015 attacks? The government successfully installed a state of emergency, and allowed for a thinning of civil liberties to a level never witnessed before. Nationals have little to no right under the state of emergency. Terror has allowed for this development to take place … Fear was the incubator of such developments. You need to ask yourself whether Paris in fact aimed all along to carry out such policy and needed an “excuse” to make it happen. It would not be the first time officials manipulate their countrymen to serve their own selfish interests. Iraq 2003 and those weapons of mass destruction comes to mind. This idea that Islam is the source of terror is ludicrous. The Quran clearly denounces the killing of innocent, while defending religious freedom. Islam today suffers from a case of mis-representation and we have Wahhabism to blame for that.
7. Does the ISIS have a plan to target Saudis? Would you please explain it?
This is a difficult question because it would imply that al-Saud had lost control of its Takfiri army. We need to consider the possibility that this centuries-old alliance in between the House of Saud could soon dissolve and lead to a rift in between the two powers: the monarchy and the clergy. Looking at the internal tensions rocking the kingdom of late, it is very possible warring factions will attempt to use the religious to precipitate each other’s political demise. At the same time, we could see a situation where the US would play Terror against the kingdom to crush rising ambitions in Riyadh.
8. What’s the similarity between Wahhabism and Fascism?
There are both rooted in hatred and intolerance. Both call for the annihilation of communities on account of their faiths or ethnicities. Islam of course stands against such hateful concepts. Islam is nowhere to be seen in Wahhabism!
9. Washington has claimed the moral high ground against extremist groups such as al-Qaida and ISIS. Do you see the US government in a position to raise such a claim, considering the its violations of human rights during the so-called war on terror?
I don’t the US can claim any moral high ground … I’m not sure it ever could in all honesty. Washington has sanctioned renditions, tortures, the sale of illegal weapons of war, unlawful imprisonment. America’s war crimes actually amount to crimes against humanity in the case of Palestine, Syria and Yemen. Of course officials will continue to argue their crimes are legitimate since their intentions are true, but really those are the arguments of criminals. Laws are set in place to be respected by all, not to be wielded as tools of oppression. How can Washington claim legal sanctity when it follows in the same bloody footsteps as Daesh and al-Qaeda?