Blaming Wahhabism or Salafism obstructs fight against violent radicalism?


ISIS2A new White House plan aims to convene teachers and mental health professionals to intervene and help prevent the adoption of violent ideologies, a draft of the policy seen by Reuters shows. The 18-page plan, to be announced on Wednesday, marks the first time in five years that the Obama administration has updated its policy for preventing the spread of violent groups, Reuters adds.

Blaming Wahhabism or Salafism for violent radicalism is not merely an intellectual slip or an injustice to Salafis, it is a distortion that stands to obstruct fighting violent radicalism and understanding its causes, argues Mohammed Alyahya, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council. Any religious ideology adopted by radicals is often a mask for other issues. Blaming or even destroying an ideology like Salafism will not end radicalism, he writes for The New York Times:

saudi wahhabiWahhabism is, in fact, a loaded, anti-Saudi synonym for Salafism, a puritanical strain of Islam that encourages emulating the “salaf,” or predecessors, the first followers of the Prophet Muhammad. Salafism has historically been apolitical and the overwhelming majority of Salafis are not violent….

Most Islamist militants have nothing to do with Saudi Wahhabism. The Taliban, for example, are Deobandis, a revivalist, anti-imperialist strain of Islam that emerged as a reaction to British colonialism in South Asia. Most members of Al Qaeda follow a radical current that emerged from the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement that defined itself largely in relation and opposition to the West and its values. While some terrorists do identify as Salafi, Islamic sects that are ideologically opposed to Salafism — Naqshbandi Sufis and Shiites, among others — have engaged in violent jihad in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.

In order to combat jihadist ideology, it is imperative “to distinguish between true religion that is, in all of the great faiths,” says former Prime Minister Tony Blair, “and those that become abused by people in order to create this ideology.”

The ideology itself is a totalitarian ideology, he said in conversation with former President George W. Bush, as they both spoke to The Catalyst:

Even though it’s got a religious covering to it, it’s very much the same as the totalitarian political, secular ideologies of the 20th century. …That is what we are fighting, and there is good news and bad news. The bad news is the challenge is a global struggle. This type of ideology is being exported around the world. The good news is the vast majority of Muslims don’t want this to be the case. 

“Yes. It’s a power struggle,” said Bush RTWT

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