In a truly free election in Saudi Arabia with the royal family on the sidelines bereft of the divine right of kings, and Osama Bin Laden as a candidate for prime minister, the world’s most wanted terrorist would win hands down. So spoke, albeit privately, one of the most important non-royals who manages a big chunk of the royal family’s portfolio of financial assets.

Bin Laden, a member of a powerful and rich as Croesus non-royal family, is seen by countless millions of fundamentalist Muslims as the successor of several famous Islamic theologians going back all the way to Taqi al-Din ibn Taymiyya. Born in AD 1269 , Taymiyya was prolix on jihad (holy war) against transgressors of the word of Allah as conveyed by the Prophet. This contemporary of Dante elevated jihad to the same level as the “five pillars” of Islam—prayer, pilgrimage, alms, faith (“No God but Allah and Mohammed is his Prophet”), and Ramadan.

The Age of Sacred Terror is a remarkable new book by two of the Clinton White House’s counter-terrorist directors that delves into the roots of militant Islam and its jihad duties. Anyone who opposes jihad is an enemy of God.

“By asserting that jihad against apostates within the realm of Islam is justified—by turning jihad inward and reforging it into a weapon for use against Muslims as well as infidels—- [Taymiyya] planted a seed of revolutionary violence in the heart of Islamic thought,” wrote co-authors Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon.

These two experts argue correctly it was precisely the weapon of jihad that heavily armed Muslim extremists turned to when they invaded and occupied the Grand Mosque in Mecca in November 1979. The House of Saud was momentarily paralyzed; they could not send security forces into the most sacred site in all of Islam with orders to shoot it out with the jihadists in the tunnels around the mosque. The royals turned to the French for help. The tunnels were flooded and high voltage cables dropped into the water. Most of the jihadis drowned or were electrocuted.

Any leader of a Muslim country who does not rule according to a strict interpretation of the sharia (Islamic law) is fair game for jihadis, as jihadi-in-chief Taymiyya ordained. It was Taymiyya’s fatwa (religious decree) in 1303 against Mongol invaders and occupiers that turned the tide against Mongols who had converted to Islam.

If Taymiyya was Osama’s first role model, the second was Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, born in 1703 in Arabia, then a remote, neglected part of the Ottoman Empire. He was steeped in the works of Taymiyya that became religious pillars of back-to-basics Wahhabism. Its creed was that “innovation” was a grave sin against Islam. Takfir was proclaimed, which meant innovators were to be put to death.

Wahhab, allied with a local sheikh, Muhammad ibn Saud, fought to restore a strict interpretation of the faith. By the time he died in 1792, Wahhabism had conquered most of central Arabia.

The descendants of al-Wahbab and Ibn Saud continued this close alliance of religious zeal and territorial conquest—and forced the rest of the Arabian peninsula into zealous compliance.

Key modern-day literary firebrands on the side of Muslim revolutionary fervor included Abu al-Ala Maududi and Rashid Rida. They linked Islam with the rhetoric of communism and fascism, which is one of the keys to the success of Islamist extremists in the Oct. 10 elections in Pakistan.

A similar fusion occurred in Iran in the late 1970s when the ayatollahs and the underground Tudeh (Communist) party merged their efforts to undermine and overthrow the shah.

On Jan. 26, 1952, the fiery Muslim Brotherhood suddenly exploded on the Cairo scene by burning down some 300 buildings. King Farouk survived six more months until a military coup of “Free Officers,” led by Gamal Abdel Nasser, abolished the monarchy and allowed the king to sail on his yacht into comfortable exile in Monte Carlo.

The chief theoretician of the Muslim Brothers was Sayyid Qutb, who wrote non-stop during his desert imprisonment by Nasser. Hanged in 1965, his books are still bestsellers throughout the Middle East. His manifesto, Signposts, merged all the essential elements of revolutionary Islamism.

Qutb’s views of America—derived from his stay in Greeley, Colo., while working on a master’s in education—are widely shared today throughout radical Islam, and presumably derived from his works. Repelled by America’s admiration for Israel, as well as the licentiousness and racism that pervaded the country, he decried American culture as foul and empty.

From Yasser Arafat’s attempt to take over Jordan in September 1970 (dubbed Black September) and overthrow King Hussein, to the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981, Sayyid Qutb’s outpourings provided the rationale to kill America’s puppets.

The other branch of militant Islam sprang from anti-colonial sentiment in British-ruled India in mid-19th century. Known as Dar ul-Ulum (Realm of Learning), it took root at Deoband, in Uttar Pradesh. Deobandism, dedicated to the salafi conception of Islam, and Wahhabism are the two wings of Islamist fanaticism that continue to vie for influence in present-day Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Ninety-nine percent of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims are moderate and see jihad as a self-cleansing process to get back on the path of spiritual excellence. Presidents Mubarak, Musharraf, Ben Ali (Tunisia), Kings Abdullah II of Jordan, Fahd of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed VI of Morocco, and other moderate Muslim leaders, all have told this reporter in the past two years that Islamist extremists are no more than 1 percent of their population.

When we reminded Musharraf that one percent of 140 million is 1.4 million, he said, “you’re right, but I’d never thought of it that way.” Now he realizes it’s a lot more than one percent as politico-religious extremists won the provincial government in the Northwest Frontier Province adjacent to Afghanistan, a share of the Baluchistan government, and 20 percent of the seats in the new national parliament.

One percent of 1.2 billion is 12 million Muslim fanatics who believe America is the Great Satan, fount of all evil, to be attacked and demolished. Whether al-Qaeda is centralized as it was before 9/11 or decentralized, as it appears to be after Bali and Mombassa, is immaterial. Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion. From Sweden (660,000 Muslims out of 5.8 million people) to Switzerland (also 10 percent), Senegal and Somalia in Africa, Sumatra and Singapore in Asia, and South America (especially Brazil and Venezuela), there are Wahhabi and Deobandi mosques. And that’s just the countries beginning with the letter S.

Islamist terrorist groups have plenty of places to hide—from the tri-border area of Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay where camps have been reported, to Colombia (where FARC terrorists have been hiding for 38 years), to Somalia in Africa, to Sumatra in Indonesia, Mindanao in the Philippines, even remote areas of the United States where radical Muslims were located, ostensibly engaged in peaceful pursuits.

Muslims are a majority in 63 countries. Of the 30 conflicts now under way in the world, 28 concern Muslim governments or communities. Amir Taheri, an Iranian author and journalist, says two-thirds of the world’s political prisoners are held in Muslim countries, which also carry out 80 percent of all executions each year.

Most imams in the thousands of mosques in European countries can preach anti-U.S. and anti-Saudi-royal-family sermons with impunity. They carefully refrain from attacking the host country because intelligence services are probably listening. In Washington, D.C.’s principal Saudi-administered mosque, the imam gives politics a wide berth. Many diplomats friendly to the United States usually attend Friday prayers. Vehement anti-U.S. tirades, however, are average Friday fare throughout the Muslim world. Imams do pretty much their own thing. Islam has no pope, no pictures of the Prophet, and no simulated portraits of Allah, who is genderless. Hate-mongers among the radical clergy use western freedoms in order to denounce them.

Many of the imams in America’s 2,000-plus principal mosques (for a population of five million Muslims) are recently naturalized U.S. citizens who were sent over as missionaries from both Iran and Saudi Arabia.

We are spreading the good word of our faith in America,” said the imam at the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, who came over from Iran ten years ago, “just as you send Christian missionaries to sub-Sahara Africa.” He also chided his interlocutor for dismissing his contention that 9/11 was a combined operation by the CIA and Mossad.

Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind sheikh who is now serving a life sentence in the United States for his part in the World Trade Center truck bombing in 1993, is revered by Muslim radicals the world over.

Vatican sources concede they have been steadily losing ground in Africa to “the Muslim penetration” for the past 30 years.

In Pakistan, a friendly allied country at the Musharraf-Bush level, flat-earth clerics who educated the Taliban leaders have refused any reform of the madrassas, the Koranic schools that inculcate the fundamental belief that America and Israel are the new crusaders hell-bent on destroying Islam. They proselytize a great apocalyptic war, the War of Armageddon that will end in the Muslim conquest of Rome and all of Europe, and later America too. Some 750,000 young Pakistanis are presently in 11,000 madrassas where they are taught that jihad is the noblest of human endeavors.

Gen. Hamid Gul, a former Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence chief who hates America with a passion, boasted that a greater Islamic caliphate was fast approaching, one that would marry the oil riches of Saudi Arabia with the nuclear weapons of Pakistan, “which could then deal with America on an equal footing.”

In Singapore, long before Gul’s prediction, Lee Kuan Yew, known as Asia’s Henry Kissinger, told UPI that the “greatest threat facing civilization over the next 10 years was an Islamist bomb and, mark my words, it will travel.”

It is hard to escape the conclusion that a U.S. invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam and replace him with a pro-American government will be seen throughout radical Islam, and large segments of moderate Islam as well, as yet another defeat that must be avenged with acts of terrorism. As the extremists read history, the defeat of the Ottomans at the gates of Vienna in 1683 triggered a reversal of Islam’s fortunes that has continued ever since.

Is Islam, as President Bush keeps repeating, “a faith based upon peace and love and compassion” committed to “morality and learning and tolerance”? Yes and no. Radical Islam is committed to jihad against the United States and Israel, or a war of civilizations between the Judeo-Christian West and the impoverished Muslim world. The Wahhabis and Deobandis hate all things American, and are intolerant vis-à-vis all religions outside their own warped view of Islam.

Moderate Islam is yet to find a voice that will roll back the extremists, a sort of Islamic Martin Luther, or at least a Martin Luther King.

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Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of United Press International.