REPRESENTATIVES of the Council on
Foreign Relations (CFR), an American nonprofit organization
specializing in US foreign policy and international affairs, were
in Tunisia this week on a search for Salafists. And it appears
they found just the kind of Salafists they were looking for:
Anti-democratic and hell-bent on bringing Shariah to the masses.
I think highly of the Council on Foreign Relations, but the
organization has fallen into the Western trap of creating new
boogeymen when the old ones no longer inspire condemnation.
Representing the CFR on the Tunisian trip was Ed Husain, a senior
fellow at the CFR and co-founder of the United Kingdom-based
I have little use for the McQuilliam Foundation, which purports to
be a think tank focusing on counterterrorism, but is really
nothing more than government-paid informants who shill for the UK
government’s view of what constitutes a good Muslim. The
foundation also studies “Islamism,” which, I suppose, is a bad
thing for the West and must be monitored. If one is not a
mild-mannered, moderate Muslim, then one must be an Islamist with
the attendant baggage that goes with it in the West.
Unsurprisingly, the McQuilliam Foundation has little credibility
in the Muslim community.
So, it was with this in mind I read Husain’s blog post recently on
the CFR website about how he plunged into the lion’s den in search
of Salafists. He didn’t disappoint. Right off the bat, Husain
tells us that Salafism and Wahabism are the most “dangerous,
destructive strain of thought.” So he wasn’t looking for my
father’s Salafist neighbors in Madinah, but something more
The reason for their hunt was to investigate the swift rise of
Salafism among Tunisia’s youth. The increase has been so great
since the fall of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali that it has alarmed the
more moderate Islamic leaders.
Husain drove around Tunis looking for guys with the longest beards
and shortest thobes, hoping that one will identify himself as a
Salafist. And sure enough, like ducks in a pond, they found a few
young men who met Husain’s stereotyped expectations: misogynist,
anti-democratic and uninterested in moderate Islamic leaders.
These self-described Salafists believed in “real and true” leaders
like Bin Baz and Sheikh Uthaymeen, both of whom are deceased and
who Husain described as “socially regressive” but are considered
by Saudis to be true Salafists of their time and since replaced by
other conservative sheikhs. An apt comparison would be US
Republican presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan replaced by
extreme right-wing Republicans Rick Santorum, Paul Ryan and
Yet the Tunisian Salafists have little use for the popular Saudi
Sheikh Salman Al-Audah who endorsed the Ennahda party in the
Tunisian elections. Sheikh Salman is also one of the few
contemporary Salafists who visited the Shiites in the Eastern
Province to promote dialogue and to develop tolerance. However,
another bearded man told the CFR that Tunisian Salafists actually
prefer two Jordanian jihadis as their spiritual leaders.
The Salafists on the Tunis street corner, or maybe just a bunch of
guys having fun with the Brit, established their bona fides as
narrow-minded miscreants. They went on to say that Tunisian
Salafists do not have political parties because they divide
Muslims and that democracy is kufr. “As Muslims, we cannot believe
in democracy. It is not our Sunnah, but a Sunnah of the West,”
according to Husain.
I guess Husain’s street corner experts had forgotten — and Husain
apparently didn’t bring it up — that Shoura is the very essence of
democracy in which community members reach a consensus to make
decisions. And they also failed to understand The Camel War, the
first fitna in which Muslims fought Muslims in 656 while the
Prophet’s wife, Ayesha, (may Allah be pleased with her) rode a
camel into battle. Divisions exist. It's human nature. By calling
the work of Muslims who want to implement democracy as kufr, well,
there’s your division.
When one looks hard enough, they will undoubtedly end up
confirming their worst fears and justify their own prejudices.
It’s troubling that Husain, under the aegis of the CFR, went to
Tunisia with a preconceived idea of what makes a Salafist and then
shoehorns that perception into validating his prejudices.
I grew up in Madinah and never knew of Salafism carrying a
negative connotation or viewed as a political entity. But since
the beginning of the Arab uprisings, Salafism has replaced
Wahhabism as the new obsession of the West.
Salafism to me was, and remains today, a term to demonstrate a
commitment to the regulations of Islam. It is following the path
of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his companions
(may Allah be pleased with them). It is following our ancestors’
Salafists — not the manufactured interpretation dreamed up by
Muslims eager to politicize Islam to gain power or Westerners who
think Wahabists have lost their luster as the bad guy — may
disagree with people about aspects of Islam and consider them lost
people. But true Salafists don’t call them out on it. Salafists
exercise wide tolerance of different ideas alien to their own.
The new Salafists toss false accusations against Muslims they
disagree with on whatever topic. The new generation has adopted
the tactics of American politicians who knowingly lie but if they
say it long and loud enough people begin to believe it.
Husain’s interview with these “Salafists” puts on display the
Council on Foreign Relations’ investigative techniques in
determining the facts on the ground. If this interview is any
indication of the methods of how so-called non-partisan
organizations go about their business, then Muslims can expect the
another cycle of Western demagoguery.
The writer Sabria S.
Jawhar is widely published and read worldwide.
She can be reached at:
The above article
first appeared on Arab News website on October 11, 2012.