Buying Hegemony — This Franklin

Buying HegemonyThis Franklin Foer article in the New Republic, about a liberal scholar of Islam, Khaled Abou El Fadl, caused me to experience immense gratitude for the ability to dissent freely and without fear. Those of us who participate in forums like this one should read it, and reflect on the immense importance of our intellectual and expressive freedom and the need to fiercely preserve it. The war against terrorism, I believe, is fundamentally a war of ideas, which, as this article shows, the Saudi Wahhabists are winning, and which, I fear, a war against Iraq will obscure.
Khaled Abou El Fadl, a professor of Islamic law at UCLA, has been harassed, threatened, and tortured for his fairly conservative, but relatively liberal, views on Islamic theology. The real story is that the totalitarian plutocratic Saudi powers-that-be have created an “offer you can't refuse” incentive structure for scholars of Islam. Your choices: hundreds of thousands of dollars, and endowed chairs, for supporting the party line OR harassment, torture, and death for dissent. The Saudi tactic has effectively created a monolithic edifice of extreme fundamentalist dogma that the average Muslim cannot help but perceive as authoritative, and silenced any Islamic scholar of any credibility who might contribute to an intellectual resistance.
This is the ideology of bin Laden and his henchmen, and it is the root of the terrorist threat. And this is where the attention of intellectuals concerned with the preservation and spread of liberal ideals should be directed. We don't even have to look far from home to see its influence. Such bastions of intellectual freedom as Harvard, Berkeley, and Oxford, having accepted generous infusions of Saudi money, threaten to serve as unwitting tools of Saudi theocrats bent on expanding an ideology tailor-made for creating subjects both compliant and fanatically opposed to basic human liberties.
So what does this have to do with the war on Iraq? Well, the administration's rather incredible line is that Iraq is in cahoots with al Qaeda, and that ousting Sadaam is part and parcel of ridding the world of terror. But by all accounts, Sadaam is at best orthogonal to the most pressing threats to our security. The argument over the war on Iraq, though unfortunately necessary, is a distraction from the deeper causes of terrorism, and leaves the fundamental and seemingly inevitable battle of ideas and cultures unjoined.
In any case, check out the TNR piece. It's disturbing.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center