THE TWO FACES OF ISLAM by Stephen Schwartz


The House of Sa’ud from Tradition to Terror
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A provocative entry on Islam, from Schwartz (From West to East: California and the Making of the American Mind, 1998), who lays blame on the Saudi regime for the attacks of 9/11.

The main lines of Schwartz’s charge are these: the governing ideology of the House of Sa’ud, the Wahhabi strain of Islam, is grounded in xenophobia, intolerance, and belief in lethal varieties of jihad; exported once at swordpoint to other parts of the Muslim world, this ideology has yielded untold misery for centuries; today, exported “from Pakistan and India to the Balkans, the Philippines, Western Europe, and America itself” at a cost of billions of petrodollars to the Saudi ruling elite, Wahhabism is the principal source of Islamic terror; and by propping up the Saudi royal family to keep Saudi oil flowing westward, the US is doing itself and the rest of the world no favors, but instead ought to be stirring up domestic revolution in the streets of Medina and Riyadh. Schwartz traces the us-against-them Wahhabist stance to the inhospitable environment of the Saudi interior, “a hotbed for early factionalists in Islam, particularly the Khawarij, known for their extreme pietism while preparing rebellion and mass murder.” The interior peoples eventually grew in power, and their ways became the norm for all Saudi society—and for militant Islamic groups worldwide. Though historians may take issue with some of its oversimplifications, Schwartz’s analysis is more sophisticated than much of the media punditry since September 11, and certainly more sympathetic to in-the-street Islam, for which, he says, the Saudi royal family and its allies, including Osama bin Laden, have no regard: “In the highly stratified Arab and Muslim nations, the street counts for nothing, which is the main reason people often crowd it yelling hateful slogans.”

A ringing condemnation of “Wahhabi obscurantism and its totalitarian state” that is sure to cause controversy—and perhaps inspire a few contingency plans in the Pentagon.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 2002
ISBN: 0-385-50692-9
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2002


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