America Must Have an Enemy 2
The dominant notion of civilizational conflict between the Islamic world and
the West rightly highlights the Islamic ideological roots of the most
persistent resistances to American global dominance, provided that we
recognize that the conflict has political and economic causes. However, this
same notion obscures an important history of instrumental cooperation
between Islam and the United States. American assertions of imperial
power have had a consistent and often compliant Islamic dimension. It is
now rarely acknowledged, though, that the cooperative dimension is at least
as important for understanding the relationship today of the Islamic world
and the West as the contrary record of oppositions to American hegemony
of Islamic inspiration.

Of the “many Islams,” America has for decades actively fostered and
manipulated its own useful preferences. These “preferred Islams” of earlier
periods are part of the story of the Islamist Imaginary of our own. The
consequences of the manipulations of these preferred Islams have not
always been those intended, at least not in the long run. They have often
entailed violence that in the end was turned back first on U.S. clients and
then on the United States itself. Yet, for all these qualifications, it remains
true that the preferred Islams, cultivated and shaped by the United States,
have been critical to the post–World War II projections of American power.
At the end of World War II, President Roosevelt made an historic agreement
with the house of Saud in Saudi Arabia. In exchange for privileged access to
oil, the United States guaranteed the royal family’s hold on power, declaring
the defense of Saudi Arabia a vital U.S. interest. The eighteenth-century
origins of the current Saudi regime in the alliance between Muhammad Ibn
Sa’ud, a local chieftain, and Ibn Abdul Wahhab, a puritanical and
ultraconservative Islamic reformer, proved no obstacle.

U.S. material support for all the usual instruments of repression enabled the
Saudi royals to impose themselves on “their” people, despite Islam’s deeply
rooted antipathy to monarchy. It also allowed the interpretation of Islam to
take firm hold in Saudi Arabia and, through Saudi oil revenue funding, make
itself felt worldwide as a powerful reactionary tradition. The royal family’s
self-appointed role as guardian of Islam’s most holy sites, Mecca and
Medina, provided the requisite religious cover for the U.S.-backed
repression that secured their hold on power. This critical Saudi connection
ensured American triumph over its European rivals for control of Middle
Eastern oil. It also ensured a linkage between American empire and one of
the most reactionary forces in the Islamic world, if not the world at large
America and Islam