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We get a lot of letters, and publish some of them in this column, "Backtalk," edited by Sam Koritz. Please send your letters to backtalk@antiwar.com. Letters may be edited for length (and coherence). Unless otherwise indicated, authors may be identified and e-mail addresses will not be published.

Posted February 4, 2002

Wahhabism

[Regarding Justin Raimondo's column of January 30, "'Crony Capitalism' & War":]

If you had the ability to actually read anything you would know I was writing about the Wahhabi threat a year before 9/11. Read my articles in The New Criterion and Partisan Review, which are now available at NR Online. I also wrote about Wahhabism in my book on Kosovo, published in Britain with a preface by Christopher Hitchens. If you think I invented Wahhabi totalitarianism, try this on for size:

The sober economic historian J.B. Kelly has written, "the goal that Ibn Saud had set himself from the night… when he scaled the walls of Riyad and expelled the Rashidi garrison was nothing less than the reestablishment of the Wahhabi realm as it had been at the furthest extent of its territorial expansion in the first decade of the nineteenth century. The means by which he intended to attain this goal was the same as that employed by his ancestors to achieve his conquests – the arousal of the latent fanaticism of the Bedouin tribes, its harnessing to their predatory and and warlike instincts, and the launching of the resultant engine of destruction upon his neighbors… Ibn Saud had begun sending out, perhaps as early as 1910, Wahhabi preachers (mutawiyah) to the desert tribesmen… to kindle in them a zeal for holy war."

Further, Kelly wrote that Aramco "constituted itself the interpreter of Saudi Arabia – its people, its history, its culture, and above all its ruling house – to the United States at large, and because there were no other sources of information about that country open to the American public, ARAMCO could put across its version of recent Arabian history and politics with almost insolent ease… Its propaganda was framed in a manner likely to strike a sympathetic response in the American people… Much emphasis was laid upon the spiritual nature of the Wahhabi movement, upon its puritanical aspects (with Riyad cast in the image of Salem [Mass.]), upon the felicitous alliance of religion with secular power, and upon the harmonious blend of piety and statecraft inherent in the person of the Saudi king-imam. To make the analogy more familiar, the term by which the Wahhabis distinguished themselves, muwahiddun ('believers in oneness'), was consistently rendered as 'Unitarians', a usage which must have puzzled the adherents of the American Unitarian Church… Naturally, little prominence was accorded in ARAMCO's publicity to the fanatical nature of Wahhabism, or to its dark and bloody past."

Do you have any idea who Kelly was? Do you care?

Considering that the earliest promoter of the Wahhabi whitewash to the west was St. John Philby, father of Kim, you are in great company. You should be happy.

Why am I doing this? You are deep in the dustbin of history. You have been wrong about every prediction you have made, in your pretentious fashion. You will never be published anywhere except on your own website because wisecracks and bluffing cannot replace serious argument. Oh, yeah, you wormed your way into an academic volume. Gee, I'm impressed. But that was before 9/11. Not even the Freepers pay attention to you anymore. You will have the thrill of being the new Lawrence Dennis – discredited and forgotten forever.

~ Stephen Schwartz

Justin Raimondo replies:

For someone like you, who fulsomely supported American-Albanian aggression against Yugoslavia in Kosovo, to complain about the threat of Wahabism, and even conjure the threat of a re-established Muslim realm "as it had been at the furthest extent of its territorial expansion in the first decade of the nineteenth century," has got to be some kind of joke. Wasnít that you I saw on local television in San Francisco, during the Kosovo war, whooping it up for the Muslim irredentists in the Balkans?

Oh yes, I know all about your phony "two faces of Islam" thesis – your hero, President Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia, is supposed to be the "good face," while those evil Wahabi Saudis are the bad guys. Never mind that the Bosnian government has not just tolerated but lionized the "Mujahadeen" volunteers, who fought side-by-side with the Bosnian Muslim army, and are the Balkan branch of Al Qaeda.

The long learned quote from J. B. Kelly is interesting, but whatís the point? If Wahabism posits that all Westerners are inherently evil – just as Kelly seems to hold that those savage Bedouins are latent fanatics – then so what? The world is filled with people who have odd fixations dictated by religion and/or ideology: if weíre going to go to war with the Saudis because we donít like their religion, then where will it stop?

I must say your rather severe judgement of St. John Philby seems odd for someone who claims to be a great defender of American interests in the world. For the famed explorer and British intelligence agent is considered a "traitor" only in England, because he sold out the Brits and used his influence with Ibn Saud to secure American interests. Besides, someone who was the first Westerner to traverse large sections of Saudi Arabia, and who lived in a fabulous palace guarded by baboons canít have been all bad.

About the last paragraph of your letter: Out of consideration for you, I was originally going to edit it out, but decided to include it because Iím sure our readers could use a laugh or two. Yes, why are you doing this – destroying your reputation as a serious person, that is?

I wonít quibble over the accuracy of my predictions – although, thanks to the miracle of google.com, itís easy to show just how wrong you are – and it would seem a little too much like boasting to give a bibliography of my books and articles not published on this website. Itís so typical of "ex"-lefties like yourself to be overly concerned with status – you have that in common with ex-leftie and Instapundit "war logger" Glenn Reynolds, whose critique of a column I wrote amounted to a curt dismissal on account of my relegation to a "lower rung" of the literary hierarchy than, say, Andrew Sullivan.

It really is unseemly to speculate how one of my columns came to be included in a forthcoming academic anthology, but I certainly made no effort in that direction, other than to have written the piece to begin with. I suspect the reason for its inclusion was due to convenience, rather than any special merit contained in my essay: it just so happened that my column, that day, was a refutation of a column by Charles Krauthammer published a few days earlier, and I expect in rooting around for a counterpoint to Krauthammer the editor came upon my piece.

As for the Freepers not paying attention to me anymore: again, google.com proves you quite wrong. – although, as you might imagine, there is a difference between paying attention to someone and supporting their views.

Finally, as to my having "the thrill of being the new Lawrence Dennis" – I can think of worse fates that might befall me. But, gee, does this mean that, like Dennis, Iíll have to stand trial for sedition? Really, Stephen, you discredit yourself by writing such silly letters, and then giving them to your political enemies to publish. Why you even bother writing such hyperbolic polemics against someone doomed to be "discredited and forgotten forever" is beyond me. But, please, by all means, do continue to write: as the US gets ready to embark on a program of world conquest, laughs are few and far between, and I know our readers appreciate your brand of humor – the unintentional kind, that is.


Hits the Target

I found the article written by Congressman Paul to be very thought-provoking and informative. He hits the target with every observation. Simply put, if we don't start thinking about the consequences of our actions we will find ourselves in a world of hurt. Thank you.

~ Forrest B.


Complicity

Regarding: "The Case for Defending America," by Ron Paul, January 25:

Mr. Paul in decrying how the Feds have responded since September 11 is overlooking his own complicity in the matter. He was among the throng which voted to give President Bush unlimited power to decide what action to take to combat terrorism. Now he is complaining that the war has gone too far. Mr. Paul lost all credibility as an antiwar spokesman when he failed to vote against the Bush war machine. Mr. Paul also has the mistaken idea that the Federal Government, and the Department of Defense in particular, protects liberties. I would like to know of one instance when the DOD or the Feds have protected any liberties. There is one, and only one, motive for those who occupy the seats of government in D.C.: To further their own interests by expanding the power and scope of the Federal Government. By so doing they hope to put off the day of reckoning when ordinary Americans realize that all the pomp and circumstance in DC are just so much drivel and hot air.

~ DW


Question of Fashion

What is the universal definition of "terrorist"? It is like McCarthyism, often used, never defined. The nearest I can get to a definition is: a terrorist is a person, not in a garb easily recognized as proper battle attire, who, by acting in a warlike manner, or by directing or subsidizing someone else to act in a warlike manner, (or by "harboring" either of the previous two categories, regardless of one being in a uniform or not), targeted at a government, whose policies he/she opposes; kills people who are described as non-hostiles, either intentionally or as "collateral damage" with the motive of destabilizing through terror (fear and disquiet) said government. There goes the Swamp Fox, but Sherman is still OK.

I think the Palestinians should wear uniforms underneath and declare outer garb to be merely camouflage. Not that it makes them necessarily just, but they would remain eligible for US subsidy. Sharon's soldiers good. Arafat's human bombs bad. It's a question of fashion.

~ John F., Illinois

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