Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts

Alex  Berenson

Phionna-Cayola  Claude 

A History of Wahhabism: The Challenge of Al-Qaeda

John Wells’ Search for Self-Purpose in Berenson’s Work

Alex Berenson’s spy novels relate the adventures of CIA agent John Wells, a man surrounded by individuals and institutions that seem certain of their purpose, but who himself is desperately unable to define his own role in the world. Through his interactions with these self-assured characters, and as a result of the trauma he experiences, Wells struggles to cultivate his identity and recognize his reason for being. In The Faithful Spy, Wells is assigned to Afghanistan on a mission to penetrate the inner circles of Al-Qaeda. In hopes of discovering plans of terrorists’ attacks on the United States, he infiltrates the Muslim terrorist circles under the leadership of Osama bin Laden. This task authorized by the CIA further complicates his understanding of his identity. The CIA’s definitive purpose places Wells in a situation that forces him to comply with terrorists’ activities that restrain him from enjoying an ordinary lifestyle. Wells may think he is doing everything in his power to accomplish his mission; however, he is developing a false identity in the process. This extraordinary pursuit drastically hinders Wells’ attempt to cultivate a typical American lifestyle that is not defined by chaos.

Just as Wells’ infiltration of al-Qaeda complicates his search for an identity that is suitable to a traditional American lifestyle, Osama bin Laden’s radical interpretation on Wahhabism clashed with Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s vision of a revival of traditional Islamic faith and community. In the seventeenth century C.E., al-Wahhab’s prestigious educational background enabled him to thrive academically and develop a philosophy and way of life based on the Quran: Wahhabism. Wahhabism expanded and gained followers as Osama bin Laden transformed an essentially peaceful way of life into a radical, violent, terrorist group, al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden’s independent changes in Wahhabism enabled him to construct an extremist terrorist group that defeated the original purpose envisioned by al-Wahhab. The violent radical practices enforced by Bin Laden deflected al-Wahhab’s followers in their pursuit of an innovative Islamic faith that upheld traditional Islam.

Major Works Consulted:

Ayoob, Mohammed, and Hasan Kosebalaban. Religion and politics in Saudi Arabia: Wahhabism and the State. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2009.
Bas, Natana J. Wahhabi Islam: from Revival and Reform to Global Jihad. Oxford: Oxford, 2004.
Berenson, Alex. The Faithful Spy. New York: Penguin Group, 2006.
--. The Ghost War. New York: Penguin Group, 2008.
Photo Source:
Meyers, Joe. Blog. “FridayReads: ‘The Counterfeit Agent’ by Alex Berenson.” Accessed 14 Mar. 2014.