Politics inevitably requires uncomfortable alliances, but has the modern world ever produced another partnership so grotesque as the one that unites Washington and Riyadh? By comparison, Hitler and Stalin, who collaborated from 1939 to 1941, were natural pals. This week, during King Abdullah's official assumption of power, it was impossible to avoid thinking about the Saudi-U.S. bond.
Logical enemies, they are forced into a bogus friendship by the American need for oil and the Saudi need for money. Otherwise, radical differences would separate them. America is the world's best hope for democracy. Saudi Arabia is the world's best hope for absolute monarchy run by rich and corrupt princes. The U.S. offers the example of liberty and the proof that it succeeds through the free play of imagination. Saudi Arabia offers nothing but theological poison, great steaming vats of it pouring out of Saudi-subsidized mosques around the world.
Riyadh spends a vast fortune every year on global propaganda for what it considers the one true branch of Islam, the Wahhabi movement, based on the rigid 18th-century theology of Mohammed Ibn Abdul Wahhab. The Saudis build mosques and schools, train imams, and send out an endless stream of publications. Their hate-filled students make excellent candidates for terrorism school.
What do Wahhabi mosques teach? The Center for Religious Freedom, an offshoot of Freedom House, spent a year collecting 200 documents generated by the Saudi Arabian government and distributed in American mosques. An 89-page report, Saudi Publications on Hate Ideology Invade American Mosques, chills the blood with quotes from this material. Wahhabi ideals have acquired a bad reputation; it grows much worse as you read the report.
This sect not only hates Christians and Jews, it hates Muslims who refuse to do the same. One tract collected at several mosques says that when European Muslim preachers say that it's wrong to condemn Christians and Jews, the preachers become infidels themselves. Tolerance is a major sin.
Out of these documents a doctrine takes shape. The Wahhabis appeal to what the West knows as the fanatically Puritan personality (Oliver Cromwell in Britain, Savonarola in Renaissance Florence), which puts all faith in a severe written code and regards visual stimuli as dangerous.
Wahhabis despise pictures and photographs. When Saudi money paid for renovations to a 16th-century mosque in Sarajevo, this meant importing Wahhabi design principles: Crews scraped the decorative tiles till they were blank, stripped away all other ornaments and left behind white-plastered walls.
Wahhabis obsess over every minute detail. Recently, a university professor in Riyadh, having finished a course, was handed an envelope by one of her students. It contained a fatwa the student had obtained from a Wahhabi cleric, informing the professor that her plucked eyebrows constituted a sin.
Naturally, Saudi textbooks demand the elimination of Israel and cite as a historical document the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Semitic fantasy. Wahhabis despise the memory of Kemal Ataturk (he separated mosque and state in Turkey) and consider any move toward democracy a violation of religious law.
Apparently, they fear ordinary human relations. They hate non-Muslim domestic servants, for instance. In fact, they are obliged to hate them. Muslim males (one document says) shouldn't have non-Muslim domestic servants, but if it's necessary to have such a person around "The women in your household ... should not treat her as they would treat a Muslim woman. They have to hate her for Allah's sake." And don't take a job working for an unbeliever: It demeans the believer. They also insist that adultery and homosexuality deserve the death penalty.
A document issued by the Cultural Attache of Saudi Arabia in Washington gives detailed instructions on how to deal with Christians and Jews: Avoid greeting them and never congratulate them on their holidays, such as Christmas. (In 2002 the Khalid Bin Al-Walid Mosque in suburban Toronto sent out an e-mail warning congregants that wishing Christian friends a Merry Christmas "is like congratulating someone for drinking wine, or murdering someone or having illicit sexual relations.")
David Frum suggested in these pages on July 12 that Muslims, to be acceptable in the multicultural West, must acknowledge that Islam is one among many religions. I agree. But the Wahhabis are now so far from this ecumenical vision that they don't even accept the validity of non-Wahhabi Muslims. As Frum said, a major change won't come soon. The Wahhabis believe it won't come ever. They have their own ecumenical plan in mind: Eventually, we will all embrace Wahhabism.