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Since its formation in 1932, Saudi Arabia has been ruled by two interdependent families. The Al Sa’uds control politics and the descendants of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab impose Wahhabism—a violent, fanatical perversion of the pluralistic Islam practiced by most Muslims. Stephen Schwartz argues that Wahhabism, vigorously exported with the help of Saudi oil money, is what incites Pal Since its formation in 1932, Saudi Arabia has been ruled by two interdependent families. The Al Sa’uds control politics and the descendants of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab impose Wahhabism—a violent, fanatical perversion of the pluralistic Islam practiced by most Muslims. Stephen Schwartz argues that Wahhabism, vigorously exported with the help of Saudi oil money, is what incites Palestinian suicide bombers, Osama bin Laden, and other Islamic terrorists throughout the world. Schwartz reveals the hypocrisy of the Saudi regime, whose moderate facade conceals state-sponsored repression and terrorism. He also raises troubling questions about Wahhabi infiltration of America’s Islamic community and about U.S. oil companies sanitizing Saudi Arabia’s image for the West. This sharp analysis and eye-opening expose illuminates the background to the September 11th terrorist attacks and offers new approaches for U.S. policy toward its closest ally in the Middle East.


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Since its formation in 1932, Saudi Arabia has been ruled by two interdependent families. The Al Sa’uds control politics and the descendants of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab impose Wahhabism—a violent, fanatical perversion of the pluralistic Islam practiced by most Muslims. Stephen Schwartz argues that Wahhabism, vigorously exported with the help of Saudi oil money, is what incites Pal Since its formation in 1932, Saudi Arabia has been ruled by two interdependent families. The Al Sa’uds control politics and the descendants of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab impose Wahhabism—a violent, fanatical perversion of the pluralistic Islam practiced by most Muslims. Stephen Schwartz argues that Wahhabism, vigorously exported with the help of Saudi oil money, is what incites Palestinian suicide bombers, Osama bin Laden, and other Islamic terrorists throughout the world. Schwartz reveals the hypocrisy of the Saudi regime, whose moderate facade conceals state-sponsored repression and terrorism. He also raises troubling questions about Wahhabi infiltration of America’s Islamic community and about U.S. oil companies sanitizing Saudi Arabia’s image for the West. This sharp analysis and eye-opening expose illuminates the background to the September 11th terrorist attacks and offers new approaches for U.S. policy toward its closest ally in the Middle East.

30 review for The Two Faces of Islam: Saudi Fundamentalism and Its Role in Terrorism

  1. 5 out of 5

    Brett C

    This book explains how the Wahhabi school of thought in Islam rose into existence and came into power in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The author includes an introduction about Islam and then expands on modern issues on a larger scale. The author talks about the historical figure Lawrence of Arabia, oil and cash flow in Saudi Arabia, and the power of Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. Wahhabism came about in the 18th century that took on a more puritanical and orthodox interpretation of Islam that This book explains how the Wahhabi school of thought in Islam rose into existence and came into power in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The author includes an introduction about Islam and then expands on modern issues on a larger scale. The author talks about the historical figure Lawrence of Arabia, oil and cash flow in Saudi Arabia, and the power of Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. Wahhabism came about in the 18th century that took on a more puritanical and orthodox interpretation of Islam that is considered very strict. Recent movements such as al-Qaeda and ISIS have adopted intolerance to other views, religions, and leniencies in Islam itself (the wearing of the hijab, growing a beard, etc). The author then attempted to show how Wahhabism has infiltrated the American public. These doctrines have been delivered under the guise of outreach and bolstering the muslim communities to include a large percentage of American mosques, Islamic centers, and even inside the US prison system. I would recommend this for government or military personnel looking to expand their knowledge on the ongoing issues in the Middle East. Thanks!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Brian Griffith

    Fascinating examination of perhaps the most puritanical version of Islam in the history of that religion. Schwartz gives an informed, highly readable account on the history of this highly legalistic interpretation of Islam, and its impact on both on Saudi Arabia and on Muslims of other cultures around the world.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    Unfortunately I found this book to be flawed. It was published in 2003 so obviously much has changed since. The invasion of Iraq with its disastrous consequence is one example. The premise of the book, as per the author, is that Islam is divided into two groups – the traditional sects of Islam (the good) – and Wahhabi Islam (the evil).I find this too simplistic; the author promotes all others branches of Islam as being benign and accommodating. I do agree with the author that Wahhabism is fanatic Unfortunately I found this book to be flawed. It was published in 2003 so obviously much has changed since. The invasion of Iraq with its disastrous consequence is one example. The premise of the book, as per the author, is that Islam is divided into two groups – the traditional sects of Islam (the good) – and Wahhabi Islam (the evil).I find this too simplistic; the author promotes all others branches of Islam as being benign and accommodating. I do agree with the author that Wahhabism is fanatical and evil (essentially anti-human, as for one example it prohibits music). The author provides us with the history and growth of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia. The infusion of petro-dollars in the 1950’s allowed for the tremendous growth and expansion of this fanaticism into many branches of Islam. Mosques around the world have been built and infected by this cult. It financed and promoted the development of al-Qaida – and is undoubtedly behind ISIS. The author explains well the dangerous and hypocritical game the Saudi state is playing with the Wahabbis. And as he states this illusion extends to the oil companies and the United States (as well as the other importing oil countries) who keep insisting on referring to “our friends in Saudi Arabia”. The first eighty pages of the book are a theological history of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. There is considerable name-dropping and any religious scholar is simply revered by the author. He avoids the continuing problems in the Muslim world like the repression of women. The civil status of women in Muslim countries is markedly lower than in all other countries. This is not brought up in this book. Most puzzling, was the authors’ veneration of Ayatollah Khomeini and the state of Iran. The Ayatollah is presented as being an accommodating and benevolent dictator. He says that Khomeini, unlike bin Laden , was a religious scholar as if this implies that he is entitled to be the leader of Iran. This leader, for example, sent thousands of young children to die as suicide martyrs in Iraqi minefields. A few years after Khomeini came to power many in Iran felt the wrath of his puritanical zealotry. The author constantly changes topics throughout, with name-dropping, and weird sentences abound like this one (page 235) “Bin Laden was not a major strategist; he was an opportunistic improviser in the style of Hitler or Stalin.” He does not discuss Pakistan and fails to mention that it was the major conduit of arms to Afghanistan during their struggle with the Soviet Union. Pakistan created the Taliban – with the aid of Saudi Arabia. Pakistan is a source of radical Islam and madrassas flourish, inculcating young minds with fanatical Islam. To the authors’ credit, it must be acknowledged that journalists are not allowed entry into Saudi Arabia. It is quite possibly, aside from North Korea, the most isolated country on the planet – and the foremost repressive theocratic dictatorship.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Whyte

    http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/1385147.html The two eponymous faces are fanaticism and moderation; the book's subtitle is 'Saudi fundamentalism and its role in terrorism', and the whole thrust of the book is to expose Wahhabism and its linkage with the Saudi monarchy as a driving force in Islamic terrorism worldwide. The tone of the book is offputtingly polemical at times, but there were a couple of good sections - Schwarz is pro-Shi'ite, so his take on Iran is much more sober than one usually get http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/1385147.html The two eponymous faces are fanaticism and moderation; the book's subtitle is 'Saudi fundamentalism and its role in terrorism', and the whole thrust of the book is to expose Wahhabism and its linkage with the Saudi monarchy as a driving force in Islamic terrorism worldwide. The tone of the book is offputtingly polemical at times, but there were a couple of good sections - Schwarz is pro-Shi'ite, so his take on Iran is much more sober than one usually gets from US sources; and his account of the failure of Wahhabism to make much headway in Bosnia or Kosovo is almost comical. However, he has a painfully unconvincing page on Iraq (I guess to try and exploit the 2002 market) and also numerous other surprising asides - that the Yugoslav wars might have been planned from the Kremlin, or that Trotsky's assassination was the most famous terrorist act of the 20th century (the latter particularly surprising from someone who knows Sarajevo as well as Schwartz does). However, despite the weaknesses of the argument, the case is well made that if the US is actually serious about fighting terrorism through regime change, there are worse places to do it than Saudi Arabia. Also Schwartz's call for more intense monitoring and intervention by US authorities in their own domestic Islam religious and educational discourse is probably well-founded, and it has to be said that the recent incidents of home-grown extremism in America rather prove his point. But I would be interested to read a more sober and detailed account of the relationship between Wahhabism and Saudi money; the indications are all there but the details didn't quite join up for me.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Natalie

    I can't decide between 2 and 3 stars, really. I appreciated a lot of the information in the book - particularly in the first few chapters. Then, after that, something happens and it just doesn't have the tone of a book that was well-researched. There seems to be a lot of opinion thrown in and sometimes I didn't know exactly what was the author's views on something and what was a fact. Not a bad book at all, but I think there are probably stronger, better-research (or maybe better-delivered) book I can't decide between 2 and 3 stars, really. I appreciated a lot of the information in the book - particularly in the first few chapters. Then, after that, something happens and it just doesn't have the tone of a book that was well-researched. There seems to be a lot of opinion thrown in and sometimes I didn't know exactly what was the author's views on something and what was a fact. Not a bad book at all, but I think there are probably stronger, better-research (or maybe better-delivered) books on Wahhabis out there.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Corinne Wasilewski

    The book itself was a bit of a slog to get through -- dense prose with names that were hard to keep straight, but, the content was informative and often times shocking. The idea that Wahhabi-Saudi hyprocisy is the biggest threat to the stability of Saudi Arabia was a new one to me. I also appreciated the comparison of Wahhabism to Stalinism and Nazism as a totalitarian ideology that sees the world in rigid, binary terms. In the case of Wahhabism we have the "house of war" and the "house of peace The book itself was a bit of a slog to get through -- dense prose with names that were hard to keep straight, but, the content was informative and often times shocking. The idea that Wahhabi-Saudi hyprocisy is the biggest threat to the stability of Saudi Arabia was a new one to me. I also appreciated the comparison of Wahhabism to Stalinism and Nazism as a totalitarian ideology that sees the world in rigid, binary terms. In the case of Wahhabism we have the "house of war" and the "house of peace". The section on the Wahhabi lobby and its entrenchment in Islamic affairs in the US was truly terrifying. I questioned the writer's statistics but found they were supported by sites on the web (ie. 80% of American mosques are run by Wahhabi imans directly subsidized by Saudi Arabia). Made me wonder why the US travel ban doesn't include Saudi Arabia.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Abu Kamdar

    Slow, poorly written and extremely biased.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    Definitely an interesting story, even if slow and very academic. Written post-9/11 but pre-Iraq, Schwartz argues that the strict Wahabbi denomination of the Saudi ruling class has been a detriment to pluralistic Islam in the 20th century, and the US alliance with the Saudi monarchy, incorrectly seen as a staunch and moderate force in the Middle East, has been detrimental to the war on terror and to America's standing in the region. He gives lots of examples of export of extremist idealogy from S Definitely an interesting story, even if slow and very academic. Written post-9/11 but pre-Iraq, Schwartz argues that the strict Wahabbi denomination of the Saudi ruling class has been a detriment to pluralistic Islam in the 20th century, and the US alliance with the Saudi monarchy, incorrectly seen as a staunch and moderate force in the Middle East, has been detrimental to the war on terror and to America's standing in the region. He gives lots of examples of export of extremist idealogy from Saudi Arabia into other recent conflict zones, such as Bosnia and Chechnya. I'm not sure how these accusations face up to scrutiny from other academics - it's the first I've heard of any of them - but I'd be interested to learn more. Schwartz criticizes the post-9/11 Bush administration as having missed the opportunity to engage moderate facets of Islamic communities - abroad as well as in the US - and to distance ourselves from Saudi Wahabbism. He doesn't do this from a liberal standpoint - he later stood with the "neocon" movement in supporting the invasion and occupation of Iraq - but seemingly from a more pragmatic, less ideologically motivated platform.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nia Vestal

    Reads too much like a conspiracy book than a book that should be based on hard facts. The author presented questions that made me think and I liked that. But too much information is unvalidated even when looking through the notes and bibliography. I kept coming back to the question of what would motivate a Jewish author to write a critical history of Islam at America's back door. Most intelligent readers could answer this question without reading the book. The book was an interesting read but as Reads too much like a conspiracy book than a book that should be based on hard facts. The author presented questions that made me think and I liked that. But too much information is unvalidated even when looking through the notes and bibliography. I kept coming back to the question of what would motivate a Jewish author to write a critical history of Islam at America's back door. Most intelligent readers could answer this question without reading the book. The book was an interesting read but as far as factual information, I would not recommend this to a reader who wants to learn an unbiased view of Islam. This is very much a biased account of religion and history, but then again, most sources are. The author does point to links with the Americans and Saudi along with hammering the point that Wahhabism is not a traditional sect of Islam for Westernized countries who may believe this is true.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Q

    Hes good. Dude is a Sufi who wrote a history of POUM hes going to have an interesting take on this.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Michael Connolly

    The author does a good job of describing the cruel Wahhabi sect within Islam. As an alternative, he recommends the gentler form of Islam, called Sufism. Unfortunately, he does not go into much depth in his description of Sufism. Elsewhere, I have read that Sufism is a mixture of traditional Islam with shamanism from Central Asia. This would explain why Sufism is found primarily in the northern range of Islam, and not in Arabia. So it appears that the author's thesis that radical Islam is a perve The author does a good job of describing the cruel Wahhabi sect within Islam. As an alternative, he recommends the gentler form of Islam, called Sufism. Unfortunately, he does not go into much depth in his description of Sufism. Elsewhere, I have read that Sufism is a mixture of traditional Islam with shamanism from Central Asia. This would explain why Sufism is found primarily in the northern range of Islam, and not in Arabia. So it appears that the author's thesis that radical Islam is a perversion of Islam is not true. The Wahhabis and Salafis represent the true essence of Islam, and moderate Islam is Islam that has been "cut" with less severe beliefs that originated outside of Arabia.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tanner Butterfield

    Essential book giving history of modern sunni radicalism. This is the best book on modern islam i have ever read. Wahabi islam is almost as old as america. It is essential to know how radical islam is spreading its propaganda across the world. All other forms of islam like sufi and shia are being oppressed. This book is a must read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Dale Amidei

    An informative summary of the origin of the divisions within one of the world's great religions. Vital reading for anyone seeking to understand the current conflict between democracy and theocratic fascism. An informative summary of the origin of the divisions within one of the world's great religions. Vital reading for anyone seeking to understand the current conflict between democracy and theocratic fascism.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    I would recommend reading the first four chapters to anyone interested in basic knowledge of Islam in historical perspective. The rest of the book gives the author's point of view that I myself don’t agree with entirely and I would think others would debate as well alot of it as well. I would recommend reading the first four chapters to anyone interested in basic knowledge of Islam in historical perspective. The rest of the book gives the author's point of view that I myself don’t agree with entirely and I would think others would debate as well alot of it as well.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Branch

    Knockout. Read sample from any book sales website. Describes how radical islam isn't Islam. Describes how traditional Islam radicalized to a call for destruction. Knockout. Read sample from any book sales website. Describes how radical islam isn't Islam. Describes how traditional Islam radicalized to a call for destruction.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Seth Bailey

    It's very informative, but very dry. The last two chapters really went where I wanted it to go, but the writing style in general is a bit bland. It is, however, still worth reading. It's very informative, but very dry. The last two chapters really went where I wanted it to go, but the writing style in general is a bit bland. It is, however, still worth reading.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Danmcgohan

    Very informative.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Aladdin Elaasar

  19. 4 out of 5

    Tonya Rivas-rios

  20. 4 out of 5

    Muhammad Ma'mun

  21. 4 out of 5

    PG Pariseau

  22. 5 out of 5

    John

  23. 5 out of 5

    Armand Cucciniello III

  24. 4 out of 5

    HC

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sakjames

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mubarak Chouhdry

  27. 4 out of 5

    Nightocelot

  28. 4 out of 5

    Stella

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nur

  30. 5 out of 5

    Bradley Pollard

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