History is peppered with situations in which a small group of individuals took control of a broad movement and over time, subverted and distorted it in order to fit society within the straitjacket of their views.
In 1917, the Bolshevik Party led by Vladimir Lenin was a group with support only within the fringes of Russian society, yet it was able to seize control of the state and destroy the liberal promise of the Alexander Kerensky period. The latter made the fatal error of underestimating his people’s exhaustion with World War I, thereby dooming it by refusing to sue for peace which, later, the more prescient Lenin did, to opposition from much of his own party. Later, in 1933, a group of conservatives believed that they could leash Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers Party or NSDAP to their purposes, only to get swept away within a year.
Fast forward to 1979,when the group of zealots who originated the theology of Khomeinism grabbed control of a protest movement against the Shah of Iran and brought into being a “mullahcracy” which has stifled a great nation ever since.
Although the beneficiaries of the “Arab Spring” will bristle at the comparison, the reality is that the power grab of the Wahabbist elements – which go by the title of the “Muslim Brotherhood” – took control of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia in the same way as Ayatollah Khomeini’s followers did their country, i.e. by taking advantage of a broad-based protest movement to seize control of the organs of the state. Over a century, Wahabbis have been successful in cloaking themselves in the glorious flag of the Islamic faith, thereby portraying support for them as fealty to the faith. They have done this in much the same way as a certain class of politicians uses their national flag and its patriotic spirit to enter into foreign adventures that are in reality damaging to the national interest.
Despite its (numerous) faults, Ottoman society had a broadly syncretic view of the world, such that people of multiple faiths lived, played and worked together in those locations under the sway of the Ottoman sultans and the distinctive green flag they popularised. In contrast, the Wahabbis have an exclusivist, religious supremacist view of themselves and the rest of the world. In those countries dominated by Wahabbi impulses, from mild (Malaysia) to full-blown (such as the Taliban-controlled parts of Afghanistan), those not subscribing to the viewpoint of this three-century-old theology are subject to multiple forms of discrimination. In Malaysia, products that are not certified as “halal” are banned from supermarket shelves, even though more than 40% of the population is non-Muslim. The majority of even the Muslim population follows the syncretic version of the faith still practiced in nearby Java rather than the austere version followed in Saudi Arabia, a country that has imposed multiple restrictions on women, Shia, minority faiths and non-Wahabbi Sunnis.
There are conservative, exclusivist groups within every faith, including Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Hinduism. Yet it is only in the case of Islam that the West-or in a more accurate shorthand the NATO bloc – persists in identifying such groups as representative of the entire Muslim Ummah, when in fact the people following that faith have the same moderate chemistry and goals as those from other faiths. So successful have the Wahabbis been in cloaking themselves in the raiment of the great faith revealed to the Prophet Mohammad 15 centuries ago, that Wahabbism and Islam are usually seen as identical, whereas in fact they are not twins but antipodes.
The Holy Quran is suffused with the message of beneficence, mercy and compassion in contrast to the unforgiving, self-obsessed path followed by the Wahabbi. Indeed, it may be argued that the very term “Muslim Brotherhood” is a negation of the universal message of the Holy Quran, which revealed that all life sprang from the same Almighty force. Those who believe in exclusivism go against the central message of the universality of God. The very life of Prophet Mohammad is replete not with war and vengeance, but with consistent acts of forgiveness and mercy, even to those who had grievously wronged him in the past. The interludes of battle were usually short and few, whereas the phases of peace were many and long. This situation contrasts with the incessant war, declared or undeclared, covert or overt, waged by Wahabbi groups against “The Other.”
Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of Muslims, including those living in Wahabbized states, subscribe to the liberal – and correct – definition of Islam.
Unfortunately, this majority is not taken by those of other faiths as representative of themselves. Rather, the fringe, comprising of those who follow Wahabbi theology, is taken as representing the whole, to the overall detriment of the global community.
Mohammad Morsi is the direct descendant of the theological DNA created by Seyyid Qutub – who was executed for plotting the assassination of Egyptian President Gamal Nasser in 1966 – who saw human society in terms of “Us” and “Them”. Rather than encourage Muslims to go into the world and learn from others, thereby competing with the rest, Qutub sought to scare them away from contact with those not of a Wahabbi persuasion. He created a ghettoisation that had a deleterious impact on relations between communities. The onset of Wahabbism across the globe since the 1980s has led to a revival of ritual and externalities at the cost of the inner discovery that is the essence of Jihad. Among the great gifts of Islam to the primitive society whence it was revealed, was the increased status of women as not seen before. This is contrary to the discrimination seen in today’s Wahabbized societies.
By – in practice – limiting the concept of Brotherhood not to the entire Ummah but only to Wahabbis, the parties that have exploited the “Arab Spring” to take office in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt and its cousin in Turkey, are embracing a vision at odds with the universality of their faith.
Morsi and Erdoğan have focused on persecuting those who refuse to share their vision, a stance which has led to the unrest against such repression. Should the protestors at Tahrir Square and at Taksim Square succeed in turfing from office regimes that have turned their backs on the humane essence which is Islam, the process will mark the beginning of the Reformation that will, when completed, herald the return of the Ummah to the vanguard of human progress.
Given the affinity of its foreign and defense policy establishment for Wahabbism, it is certain that the Obama administration will seek to get the Egyptian military to roll back its push for a more inclusive system of governance than the “Brotherhood Takes All” model of Morsi. This will be a mistake. The fall of Wahabbi regimes will be the true revolution, just as the takeover of state power by the Wahabbis following the unrest of 2011 was a subversion of the zeitgeist of those times.
Morsi could not have contributed to history, and so needed to become history, as does Erdoğan, and the Ummah rescued from its false champions. The era of Seyyid Qutub must end, and the hundreds of thousands in Tahrir have begun the process of integrating their countries into the overall societal fabric of the globe.
M. D. Nalapat is vice-chair of Manipal Advanced Research Group and UNESCO peace chair, and professor of geopolitics at Manipal University, India.
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