San Bernardino: Unless We See Past the Rhetoric, We Do No Justice to the Fallen


The recent slaughter in San Bernardino by a couple who had apparently pledged allegiance to ISIS was a terrible tragedy. In the aftermath, the American Muslim community has condemned the violence whereas voices on the right target the Islamic faith itself, while most Americans grapple to come to terms with the reality behind this ordeal.

For us to do real justice to our fallen brothers and sisters, to avoid further tragedies, and to have any likelihood of taking the right course of action, Americans must look to move past the rhetoric and unearth the root causes of radicalization and the role we may have played in it.

The perpetrators Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik reportedly had connected online and later married. Rizwan was born in the US while Tafsheen reportedly spent most of her life between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Acquaintances of the couple have speculated that Tafsheen Malik held radical views and may have influenced her husband. As a naturalized American citizen of Pakistani descent myself, and as a convert to the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam having rejected the religious authority helmed in Saudi Arabia (Mecca is Islam’s holiest site), I may be able to offer my fellow Americans a unique perspective. As much as elements in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan may have influenced Rizwan and Tafsheen, we have to realize our own association with these countries.

Saudi Arabia, an enigma to most Americans, came into existence barely three quarters of a century back as the new world order emerged out of the first and second world wars. The Saudi’s rise to power was underwritten by a partnership with a puritanical and reformist Islamic sect known as Wahhabism (originated in Nejd, Egypt in the 18th century) that channeled its deeply ideological fervor into success in the battle field.

Less of an enigma for Americans is Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence, the iconic British soldier romanticized as a savior-figure of the Arab cause under Ottoman oppression during The Great War, enshrined in the great Hollywood-classic, Lawrence of Arabia. What is lesser known is that Lawrence declined to accept knighthood offered to him by the Order of the British Empire reportedly due to disappointment over the outcome of the new world order. The movie portrays Lawrence’s valor and courage inspiring Bedouin Arabs under Prince Faisal ibn Hussein—son of King Hussein of the Hejaz from the Hashemite clan who had served as Sharifs of Mecca for 700 years. The movie leaves out an important piece of information: as the new world order crystallized, the Husseins were no longer the Sharifs of Mecca. The reigns would pass on to a rival group known as the Sauds who, like the Hashemites, had been collaborating with the British to bring about the end of Ottoman rule in the Arabian Peninsula.

Scott Peterson, journalist and author of Lawrence in Arabia, quotes Lawrence– Despite posing as Islamic reformists, with all the narrow-minded bigotry of the puritan, Ibn-Saud and his Wahhabists were hardly representative of Islam . . . In the politics of Mecca the Wahhabist sect was composed of marginal medievalists, and if it prevailed, we would have in the place of the tolerant, rather comfortable Islam of Mecca and Damsacus, the fanaticism of Nejd, intensified and swollen with success.

Scott Peterson notes in this regard: “As with many of Lawrence’s other predictions, his warning about Ibn-Saud and the Wahhabists was ultimately proved true. In 1923, Ibn-Saud would conquer much of Arabia and, to honor his clan, give it the name Saudi Arabia. For the next ninety years, the vast and profligate Saudi royal family would survive by essentially buying off the doctrinaire Wahhabists who had brought them to power, financially subsidizing their activities as long as their disciples directed their jihadist efforts abroad. The most famous product of this arrangement was to be Osama Bin Laden”. Wahhabist literature is commonly featured in publications distributed by ISIS.

Arguably, among the keenest recipients of the Wahhabist ideology have been some powerful, hardline clerics of Pakistan. When Pakistan broke away from India in 1947, it also became the new headquarters of The Ahmadiyya Movment in Islam—a Messianic reformist movement in Islam founded in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad at Qadian, India. The Ahmadiyya doctrine proselytized a different ideology of jihad as a spiritual and moral battleground and rivaled the Wahhabists as the true reformist ideology in Islam.

Abul A’la Maududi was a legendary Pakistani theologian and arguably one of the most influential proponents of the so-called Wahhabi jihadist worldview. Maududi has been directly referenced by ISIS leader Abu-Bakar Al-Baghdadi in his speeches for validation of their ideology. He was a recipient of the Saudi Arabian King Faisal Award. He was also a vehement opponent of The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. In 1953, the Punjab (Pakistan’s largest province) was put under military curfew as mob-violence directed against the Ahmadiyya Community led to a reported death-count of 2,000 lives. Maududi was arrested and sentenced to death for publishing hate-filled literature and announcing the call against the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. He was subsequently released from prison reportedly upon insistence from Saudi Arabia.

Maududian clerics resumed their campaign against the Ahmadiyya Community and, with Saudi Arabian prompting, were able to get the second amendment to Pakistan’s constitution passed declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslims. The persecution of the Ahmadiyya Community, underwritten by the states of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, took to brutal means and plans were being hatched to arrest and squash the movement entirely. Subsequently, the Ahmadiyya Caliphate (leadership) migrated to London, England in 1984.

Radical ideology was then put into action to attack the Russian occupation of Afghanistan orchestrated by Texas 2nd District US Congressman Charlie Wilson as a crucial front to the Cold War. Wilson is credited with running the largest covert operation in US history which oversaw the channeling of weapons and Wahhabi-jihadist ideology in collaboration with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to beat the Russians out of Afghanistan. In 2002, The Washington Post reported that facilities in the USA had printed vast volumes of Jihad-books illustrating violence and transported these to schools in Afghanistan.

Pakistan and Afghanistan have since become hotbeds of radicalization, and along with Saudi Arabia have inducted extreme laws such as death for apostasy and blasphemy in direct contravention to injunctions found in the Holy Quran.

Moderate Muslims and their scholars have condemned terrorism and ISIS, but that may not be enough. Muslims require initiatives and discourse that counters the influence of regimes and so-called religious authority to wrest back the integrity and sanctity of their religion. The Quran says that to kill one innocent person is as if one killed all of humanity. And so, if even one of us is radicalized Muslims as a whole bear the responsibility to act against the perpetrators.

As Americans we have to ask our government representatives the tough questions on foreign policy which calls Saudi Arabia and Pakistan as allies in the war on terror– it appears that is not a sustainable disposition in its current form. And our politicians must understand the moral ambiguity of leveraging religious ideals to achieve geopolitical ambitions.

Unless we as a people (Muslim and non-Muslim Americans) are willing to move past the rhetoric and change the status quo, we will do little or no justice to the 14 who died in San Bernardino, 130 in Paris and hundreds more in Iraq, Syria and other parts of the world who have fallen prey to this terror. And our only recourse will be to brace for the next terrorist attack.

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Amer Aziz

Amer Aziz works as a Senior Financial Analyst in the Banking industry. He is an active member of The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and holds a keen interest in Islamic and Christian Eschatology. He has written Opinion Editorials in newspapers and articles for popular blogzines.

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