Merchant of Death
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A More Accurate Face of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia
The Washington Post carries on a prominent academic who argues that _wahhabism_ in Saudi Arabia emerged not solely from religious motivation, but from political considerations as well.

This reinterpretation core Saudi history by Khalid al-Dakhil has been largely blocked from publication in Saudi Arabia and around the Gulf because it weakens one of the fundamental articles of faith of _Wahhabi_ legitimacy: that the _Wahhabi_ movement was purely and divinely a relgious movement ordained to bring wandering Muslims back to the true way.

Al-Dakhil argues that the religious component of the _Wahhabists_ was a supplement to their political motives of establishing a single state on the Arab peninsula at at time when the region was governed by dozens of micro-states.

As one analyst told the _Post_, such a fundamental questioning of the divine origins of _wahhabism_ would be akin to finding that the Pilgrims were in fact atheists.

Khalid al-Dakhil's research shows that the early _wahhabists_ used religion as a political tool to force cohesion. In order to do that, they had to create the "us" and "them," with the "us" having a divine mandate to exclude all others under penalty of death.

The concept is not new, but al-Dakhil's willingness to articulate it is perhaps a small sign of hope of change in countries under _wahhabist_ regimes. He has survived, although he has been put on leave from his university position. Some, but not all of his writings have been published on the peninsula.

It takes unusual courage to question, and ultimately try to rewrite, the history of one's own country. This is especially true when it goes directly to the religious core of a society.

As I have heard on numerous occassions from courageous Muslim speakers in this country, most of the problem of _wahhabism_ is a problem within Islam. It is not something non-believers can debate or resolve.

Only when the non-_wahhabists_ find the courage and space to speak up can that battle be engaged. So far the Islamists, in the form of the clergy on the Arab peninsula, the international Muslim Brotherhood in Europe and the Brotherhood's affiliates in the United States, have set almost all the terms of the debate.

Not only that, they have monopolized, to the exclusion of every other Muslim group, the political space and political organizations that are deemed competent to deal with the U.S. and European governments.

Change is slow and hard. But it may be happening.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, by revoking an award given to CAIR, showed it is possible, and perhaps represents a sea change in the political establishment's willingness to deal with Islamist groups.

Khalid al-Dakhil is shaking up another part of the world and pushing back. These are thin reeds that need to be nurished, but reeds none the less.

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