God's Terrorists; East India Company & Terror
|I've been wading through a remarkable book by Charles Allen called "God's Terrorists." He is writing about the birth of the Wahabi movement and Islamic Jihadism, in both India and the Mideast.|
A Subtext of Oppression
One subtext of his book is how the British East India Company created that movement. It takes two to have a fight, and while his book is focused on the history of the Wahabi movement. The subtext of the book is how British Authorities helped create, nurture and inflame that movement. If we want to paint radical muslims as an enemy, it doesn't hurt to understand how they became that enemy and Charles Allen focuses on that narrative.
However, it also pretty much shows how without the British Empire, the British East India Company, and its successor corporations like British Petroleum and their piracy policies in the Indian Subcontinent (which includes Afghanistan on it's NW Frontier) and the Middle East, there would be no Wahabi movement in our modern day. The movement would be an anomaly without the domination of Christians over lands that once were firmly under Muslim domination. Without mostly British imperial pretensions, obtuseness and destructiveness, and sometimes overt support, the Wahabi movement would be a heretical footnote in Sunni Muslim history. It was the sometimes obtuse narrow mindedness of British Officials who gave Wahabi fanatics a credibility and fame they otherwise would never have earned otherwise. Indeed, British Aristocrats frequently admired! "muslim fanatics", "Pastuns" and Arab fanatics.
Indeed one can make the case that without the British, French, Dutch, Belgian and other European Empires, those parts of the world would be very different places, and maybe even better off. At the same time te book makes the case that Islamic fundamentalism, like any other kind of fundamentalism is conflictive, authoritarian, claims orthodoxy while being clearly derivative and distorting the texts it claims to rely on. And only gets worse with time, and a patina of respect on the once outlying views of lying founders, who borrow the mantle of teachers they don't really understand or respect and cherry pick dogmas out of doctrines.
Ibn Tamiyya to Ibn Al Wahab
Allen traces the Wahabi movement back to Sheikh Ibn Tamiyya who was born in 1263. It was Ibn Tamiyya who revived the concept of "lesser Jihad" into a sectarian obligation. Ibn Tamiyya did this in the context of resisting the Mongol (and later the Mogul Empire) by labeling them as heretical due to their Shia faith. Ironically, Tamiyya was a heretic. He sought to "break the shackles of taqlid" (community consensus) and claim that he had the right to exercise independent reasoning over muslim scriptures; "ijtihad", and be a "mujtahid" or "one who can interpret the law." Ironically, his innovation revolt used was against against "bidat" (innovation) and in a cherry picked attack against mainstream Sunni practices. Ibn Tamiyya came to prominence attacking the great Sufi Mystic Ibn Al-Arabi and the authority of the Caliphate of his time. In short he created his own form of puritanism, which labeled co-religionists as polytheistic and heretical. This puritanism would try to borrow (steal) the mantle of the profit himself. Followers of Tamiyya, and even more so the much later Wahab, would dress simply, wear their beards long, and kill fellow muslims they labeled as polytheistic or heretical. They would do this despite the fact that their founders were considered heretical by pretty much every Muslim leader at the time of their origins. Wahabism appeals to the puritan, the ambitious, the angry, the disaffected and those who want to live in a simplified past where they don't have to think. It still has those features to this day. They also would attack fellow Sunni, and kill Shia, who they claimed were not orthodox enough. Like all hyper-orthodox sects, they started out as hyper-heretics.
Muslims as Heretics and Targets of Jihad
What made Wahabism destructive were the teachings of Tamiyya on the enemies of Islam. Tamiyya taught there were four groups of enemies of Islam:
- Infidels such as Christians, with whom one could make peace agreements and share meals
- Those Muslims who had reverted to non-Muslim habits, who must be fought until subdued or killed.
- Those Muslims who declared themselves Muslims but were not carrying out Muslim rituals properly, who were to be "killed without mercy."
- Those who rejected Islam while claiming to be Muslim, who were to be killed without any mercy at all.
Since Ibn Tamiyya rejected "community reasoning" this was a prescription for making Jihad on fellow Muslims based on arbitrary, literalist and abusive standards of what Muslim Rituals and beliefs are. It rejected Shia ideas completely, but also was an attack on mainstream Sunni religion. He was convicted of being a heretic and jailed on several occasions. Since his ideas were heretical, but not the Law, he wasn't killed for them. It took a disciple from nearly 500 years later to make them popular. That disciple was Ibn Al Wahab.
Wahabism and House Saud
Muhammad Ibn Abd Al-Wahab, born around 1702 in the town of Uyainah in the rocky desert plateau country of Nejd. It is he who founded Wahabiism. He resisted the Turks, organized the people of Nejd into a fighting force and preached an anti-Shia, anti-foreigner, radical version of Islam. Wahabi followers dressed simply, grew their beards long, prayed simply and condemned many practices of fellow muslims as heretical or pagan. They rejected teachings that contradicted their own, cherry picked the Koran and tried to imitate the Prophet's dress and mannerisms. They put to practice a form of radical Islam that could wage war on fellow Muslims as well as on foreigners, Christians and pagans.
If Ibn Tamiyya caught on to a degree due to Arab rejection of Mongol "heresy". Ibn Wahab would catch on among Arabs due to rejection of Turkish "heresy" on the one hand and his connection to house Saud and Arab nationalism on the other.
Wahabism in India and Around the world.
His ideas would catch on in Afghanistan and Northern India as well as Saudi Arabia due to communication to radicals on "Hajj" to Mecca who would sometimes seek out his teachings and example. Eventually the ideas would spread into enclaves around the world.
Wahabism caught on outside of Saudi Arabia thanks to the British East India Company. Muslims from India would travel to Mecca, where they'd be exposed to the teachings of Ibn Tamiyya and Ibn Al-Wahab. But what attracted them to those teachings was the oppression that all of India was subject to under British Rule. The British had a way of offending muslims and helping the most radical among them to become more radical. The British Aristocrats and gentry who peopled their foreign operations, including the East India Company and the later Vice Royalty of India had a mixed view of Indian Muslims. On the one hand they often admired the radicals. Allen quotes Sir Olaf Caroe:
"There was among the Pathans something that called to the Englishman or the Scotsman -- partly that the people looked you straight in the eye, that there was no equivocation and that you couldn't browbeat them even if you wanted to. When we crossed the bridge at Attock we felt we'd come home."
The British both romanticized the radicals and looked down on them. But most of them never really even tried to understand them and so they'd make the same mistakes over and over again. The British East India company came to India promising to serve the Moguls, destroyed the Moguls, inflamed already deep religious and economic struggles, and then wondered why people in India revolted. The British Raj began after the East India Company had already been looting the countries for more than 100 years and was a salvage action.
Wahabism and the "Sepoy mutiny."
Allen shows how the Sepoy Mutiny included a huge influence from Wahabi elements, who were much of the driving energy of much of the revolt. The Sepoy mutiny failed for this reason too. The Wahabi elements were as much at war with fellow Sunni countrymen as they were with the Shia, the Sikhs, the Hindus and just about everyone else in India. They could instigate revolt, but they could not build a replacement for the Brits. Their Sepoy revolt in the 1850s failed accordingly. Only in the NW of the Indian Subcontinent were they numerous enough of a majority to drive the British out of what we now call Afghanistan. The British would invade Afghanistan over and over again, with results more disastrous for the British and their Indian recruits than for the Afghans and Pathans resisting them.
Allen recounts the bloody invasion of Swat in 1897. That disastrous invasion failed because of the arrogance of the invaders.
Wahabism and Saudi Arabia to Bin Laden
Allen describes the history of House Saud, from their intermarriage with Ibn Saud. In their efforts to implement his ideas down generations of warfare, conquest and defeat. He recounts each of times that the Saudi ruling clan were defeated, only to be reconstituted by cousins of the dead ruler. The relationship between "Imam" or religious leader and "Amir" or secular leader required that an "Amir" work under the guidance of an "Imam" and that violent Jihad could only be waged if the Imam preached it. Preaching a rule or a "fatwa" was necessary to outline the reason for war and who is the target. Only the Religious leader could make such a preaching. He describes how many a leader would emerge who sought to combine the role of Amir and Imam. He also describes how, over time, the teachings that started with Ibn Tamiyya diverged. He tries to relate that they are all "wahabi" but over time different flavors of those ideas were propagated. And sometimes they went to war with each other.
He also recounts the rise of Bin Laden in a way that makes sense of what many of us already know. The House Saud, with thousands of members all descended from Ibn Saud, and the many descendants of Ibn Wahab, seemed to diverge from salafi (the righteousness of the forefathers) orthodoxy. Bin Laden went to war, because the Saudis, instead of waging war themselves as Jihad, brought in the United States, and that meant that US, mostly Christian Soldiers, were allowed to "pollute" Arabia, which was against Wahabi Orthodoxy. This history explains the conflictive relationship that many of the descendants of these "puritan" Wahabi "fanatics" have with Al Qaeda and similar groups. Their parents were fanatics. They were raised in Wahabi, and similar doctrines, and the world deviates from the Muslim Paradise that they believe it should be. All that is necessary is some religious teacher telling them there is a war in a fatwa and some of them are ready to rebel. Thanks to modernity it is nowhere near the percentage that it once was. But then there are a lot more Arabs and Pashtuns/ "Moslem fanatics" than there was when they fought the British.
The effort to interpret Islam in an enlightened manner is not new. When Ibn Tamiyya was preaching. His ideas were deemed heretical by both Sunni and Shia orthodoxy. Conflict and conflictive anaecdote and messaging, tend to radicalize people. Trauma, pain and simple cognitive dissonance can create a "moral shock" that can change a previously mild mannered (or criminal) person into a religious zealot. Religious schools teaching Wahabi or "Deoband" interpretations of Islam, Sharia and the Haddith spread this sort of fundamentalism.
- Related Posts:
- Origins of the East India Company [http://holtesthoughts.blogspot.com/2015/09/origins-of-east-india-company-pirates.html]
- Many Kinds of Privateering [http://holtesthoughts.blogspot.com/2015/12/many-kinds-of-privateering.html]
- Book Review
- Read the book!