Certain figures take hold of the public imagination; they become scapegoats for all society’s ills. If there is a figure that takes up all the problems of international politics today, it would be Wahhabi Islam.
Wahhabism is that â€œhate-filled, extremist fringe of the [Muslim] religion that is the official Saudi creedâ€(1). In the eyes of the media, it is chiefly responsible for all global terrorism – from the Balkans to Indonesia.
Though, as for any good scapegoat (2), the ills for which Wahhabi Islam is held responsible vary, its representations in the international press have a number of common points. Wahhabiâ€™s are backwards and archaic; uneducated with no interest in history (3); insistent that fellow peoples of the book (Jews and Christians) are nothing more than â€œsorcerers and devil worshippers, fit for annihilation – a venomous dictum that Saudi mosques spew out to this dayâ€(4); sponsors of terrorism (or the terrorists themselves).
In sum, they are the â€œmost retrograde expression of Islam.â€(5)
Whether or not other of historyâ€™s scapegoats were actually responsible for the variety of ills for which they were held responsible is a moot point; such figures are so attractive precisely because whole constellations of different problems can be placed onto them. Knowing as little as possible about your scapegoat is necessary to carry out such a caricature. Unsurprisingly then, despite all that is written condemning Wahhabi Islam, relatively little is known about its history.
An excellent essay appearing at Saudi Debate on how that what some see as an evil force within Islam is far from it. Craze does a good job of differentiating between what Abdul Wahhab actually wrote and preached on how (and why) outsiders tended to think otherwise. He does a good job, too, in critiquing the strengths and weaknesses of Natana DeLong-Bas’ book Wahhabi Islam. Craze points out that ‘Wahhabism’ is not a static concept, engraved in stone on the death of Abdul Wahhab, but continues through his descendants. Pay attention, too, to the footnotes to the essay.
Definitely worth reading if you’ve interest in facts about Wahhabism rather than the stereotypes.