Saudi support for extremism must be halted

By Jonathan Power

December 8th 2015

On Sunday the German vice-chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, publicly accused Saudi Arabia of financing Islamic extremism in the West and warned that it must stop.
He said that the Saudi regime is funding extremist mosques and communities that pose a danger to public security. “We have to make clear to the Saudis that the time of looking away is over,” Gabriel told the newspaper, Bild am Sonntag in an interview.

At last some Western leaders are grasping the Saudi Arabian nettle. For too long the country has been given a clean pass. Saudi Arabia’s oil and massive arms purchases have made Western politicians mute for decade upon decade. But now, with clear evidence that Saudi Arabia has allowed rich Saudis to fund first Al Qaeda and more recently Islamic State (ISIS), Western leaders are waking up to what their expediency has tolerated and allowed.

Thanks to Wikileaks we know that Hillary Clinton when Secretary of State wrote in a cable in December 2009 that “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for Al-Qaida, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan.” Lately, running for president, she has been explicit in her warnings.

Why has it taken so long for eyes to begin to open?

In his autobiography Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service (home of James Bond), wrote that some time before 9/11 Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then the powerful Saudi ambassador in Washington, told him that “The time is not far off in the Middle East when it will be literally ‘God Help the Shia’. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.”

Dearlove, speaking last week, said he has no doubt that substantial and sustained funding from private donors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with their governments turning a blind eye, have played a central role in the IS surge. “Such things simply do not happen spontaneously”, he said.

Saudi Arabia over the next few years may well come to regret its support for these extreme militant movements and its support for the Sunni revolts in Syria and Iraq. Jihadi social media is already beginning to talk of the House of Saud as its next target. But Saudi Arabia, Nelson-like, still puts the telescope to its blind eye when observing what Saudi supporters of IS are doing.

Should we be surprised? The Saudi regime is Wahhabist, the puritanical and intolerant version of Islam that condemns Shia and other Islamic sects as non-Muslim apostates and polytheists.

Saudis believe that they possess a monopoly of Islamic truth and that leads them to be deeply attracted towards any militancy which can effectively challenge Shia-dom. 15 out of the 19 9/11 plane hijackers were Saudis, as were Osama bin-Laden and most of the private donors who funded the operation.

Wahhabism was founded as an Islamic movement back in the 18th Century by Abd al-Wahhab. Besides his puritanical views on alcohol and the role of women he demanded conformity – all believers must pledge their allegiance to a single Muslim leader. Those who didn’t should be killed and their wives and daughters violated.

Shiites, Sufis and other Muslim denominations were apostates who merited death. (In the 16th century when John Calvin founded his church in Geneva similar attitudes were prevalent and Calvinist opponents and witches were sometimes executed.)

At first Wahhab was not popular. Indeed, he was expelled from his home town. But then in 1741 he found refuge under the protection of Ibn Saud, an up and coming tribal monarch. He perceived in Wahhabi’s teaching the means of overturning Arab tradition and convention. It was a path to seizing power. Jihad came into being as did its corollary, martyrdom, with its concept of being rewarded with entry to paradise. By 1790 this alliance controlled most of the Arabian Peninsula and repeatedly raided Medina, Syria and Iraq.

There were many setbacks but after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the wake of World War 1 the movement took on new life, expanded fast, while remaining loyal to the Saudi royal family.

The end of the Great War and the discovery of huge amounts oil brought the West into the life of Saudi Arabia. As Alistair Crooke has written, “In the collaborative management of the region by the Saudis and the West in pursuit of the many Western projects – countering socialism, Baathism, Nasserism and Soviet and Iranian influence – Western politicians have highlighted their chosen reading of Saudi Arabian achievements (wealth, modernization and influence) but they have chosen to ignore the Wahhabist impulse.”

Now the penny is beginning to drop in Western capitals. Why could the West have ever imagined that a doctrine of “One leader, One authority, One mosque – submit to it or be killed” could ever lead to moderation or tolerance?”

It did not and now the chickens are coming home to roost.

Copyright: Jonathan Power

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