Important History Not Understood By Most, November 22, 2013
The historical half is mind-glazing, the more recent chapters highly relevant to understanding the deep ignorance of the US Intelligence Community and the US policy (prostitution) community these past 12 years.
I have given the book four stars in part because it is not designed to illuminate the threat in visualizable terms, and it is not up to date. Now that Saudi Arabia has declared war on the USA and the West generally (joining with Israel in a truly bizarre satanic alliance), and on Iran and the Shi'ite portion of Afghanistan specifically, this book absolutely merits updating and republication, hopefully with some decent maps and graphics and tables this next time around.
Early on in a nut-shell: Wahhabism spread in the 19th century, first throughout the Arabian penninsula and then to the Indian subcontinent including what are now India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Wahabbism is both a fundamentalist ideology that wins over deep converts, and a form of mercenary religion, buying its way into susceptible corners.
The most important point stressed throughout the book is that Wahhabism is outside the mainstream of Muslim society.
The big surprise for me, and one reason I am distressed at how badly we prepare people for service in this area, is the deep history of Wahhabism among the Pashtun. Today Saudi Arabia and to a lesser extent Qatar and the United Arab Republic seem bent on funding a religious war in Central and South Asia, and no one seems to be paying attention to this emergent threat. I would go so far as to say we are now, in this region, where we were in 1988-1989 when the Saudis first began funding the global Islamic outreach program led by Sheikh Binbaz and represented in part by young Bin Laden.
Being terribly limited on time, I have not been able to read this book word for word. I have focused on the last two chapters after skimming the rest. Partly my interest is in the period, the last 25 years from 1875 to 1900, during which time the British invaded Afghanistan twice, thinking they were pre-empting the Russians. The Treaty of Gandamak has always been “the most humiliating treaty ever signed” by an Afghan Emir, until the Bi-Lateral Security Agreement (according the most critical commentary, this one in open source literature by a Hezb-i Islami leader).
The destabilization of the region is explained by the author as being made possible by the coincidence of the death in 1877 of Abdul Ghaffur and the subsequent destabilization of Swat, and the peak of the British “forward” policy of encroaching on Afghanistan to preempt the Russians from doing the same.
QUOTE (214): “The real victor of the second Afghan war was the new Amir of Afghanistan, Abdur Rahman.” The author credits Rahman with forging the nation via ruthless focused cruelty. In passing he treated the Hazaras as kaffirs subject to jihad, and also relocated many of them with impunity.
The author suggests that Pan-Islamism was inspired by a combination of push-back against the British imperialists, and the need recognized by intelligent Muslim leaders for a modernization of Islamic regions.
From page 272 onwards I learn that the combination of General Muhammad Zio-ul-Haq as military dictator of Pakistan (determined to radically Islamicize Pakistan's government) with the Soviet invasion of Afganistan, led to the perfect storm — Saudi and CIA money, Pakistan as the enabler, Soviets as the antagonist, and generally, no understanding at all within the west that we were feeding a monster. This was also the period in which Saudi Arabia, playing the US for fools, began exporting virulent Wahabbism toward Indonesia, and also the time when the first cracks appeared for the House of Saud.
According to the author Bin Laden was radicalized by three coincident events:
01 The revolution of the ayatollahs in Iran
02 Violent seizure of the Grand Mosque
03 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan
This book covers ground that was missed in Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001.
The author discusses the one million man gathering of the Assembly of Islamic Scholars (Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam) in April 2001, five months prior to 9/11. This was a culminating point going back to the 1996 election of Mullah Omar of Afghanistan as “Commander of the Faithful.” The author makes the point that the Pashtun embraced that election, but not the rest of the tribes of Afghanistan (Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazara, others).
On page 292 the author credits the key switch of sides by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a switch that helped pave the way for the Taliban to take Kabul, to Saudi money. He paints a picture of a triad among Mullah Omar, Bin Laden, and Al-Zawarhri. At this point I cannot help but observe, once again (I began making this point in 2002) that the US still does not “do” intelligence at the individual and sub-state actor level, our track and whack programs being the exception but not the rule.
QUOTE (295): “History teaches that fundamentalist theocracy does not work, because people will simply not put p with it. It may secure a foothold in societies that are isolated and ignorant, but rarely does it outlast its main propagator. It's usual course is to fragment into splinter groups, each accusing the others of heresy.”
QUOTE (295): “History also demonstrates that fundamentalists will always be listened to whenever and wherever people believe themselves or their religion or their co-religionists to be threatened. That does not mean the fundamentalists will be followed, but it does mean that they will find popular support.”
The author goes on to emphasize on page 296 that the rise and spread of the madrasses in the 1970's was not a bursting of religious zeal, but rather a “direct consequence of political intervention only made possible by Saudi funding.”
The book ends on a stellar note that the West — other than the Nordics — does not get:
QUOTE (297): “The same lesson applies: remove the grievances and mainstream moderate Islam stands a better change of reasserting itself.”
Malaysia and Indonesia stand today as bastions of moderate intelligent Islam. Turkey remains a bit confused but rising fast to its earlier heights — I look for a fascinating competition among Iran, Turkey, and India for the soul of South and Central Asia.
Summing up: an extraordinary book that is not written for the lay person, that needs to be updated, and that in its next iteration could go beyond classic status to become a MAJOR reference for how we understand the Sunni – Shi'ite fight for the hearts and minds of the inhabitants of South and Central Asia. This is the religious war of the century, and the West seems to be oblivious to the fact that Saudi Arabia has declared that war rather blatantly in recent months.
Other books I have reviewed that bear on this theme (with the observation that we are not at war with Islam, we are at war with Zionism and Wahhabism, two perversions far removed from mainstream constructive religion):
The Thistle and the Drone: How America's War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam
Winning the Long War: Retaking the Offensive against Radical Islam
Endless War: Middle-Eastern Islam vs. Western Civilization
Religion, The Missing Dimension of Statecraft
Fountainhead of Jihad: The Haqqani Nexus, 1973-2012
Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West
Surrender to Kindness: One Man's Epic Journey for Love and Peace
Islamic Leviathan: Islam and the Making of State Power (Religion and Global Politics)
While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within
Robert David STEELE Vivas
INTELLIGENCE for EARTH: Clarity, Diversity, Integrity, & Sustainability