Why does the world continue to ignore these roots of Islamic extremism?
The ghastly terrorist attacks in Paris have once again put Islamic extremism under the microscope.
Similarly to all religions, Islam is like a stream of water, available to anyone to drink from. Out of the two billion Muslims in the world, the vast majority draws from this stream uneventfully, living out peaceful lives.
There is, however, a corrupt and hateful minority, drinking from an infected portion of the stream because it suits their world view. This infected stream has been allowed to flow for over half a century in the modern era, because confronting it would result in painful and costly soul searching for some of the most influential nations in the world.
France’s response in the way of military action on ISIS is certainly just, but it is only a battle, not the war. Even if ISIS is defeated, considering how their ability to generate nearly $3 million USD a day remains unaffected (thanks Turkey!), another ISIS may rise years, if not months afterwards. This is because ISIS, similarly to al Qaeda and the Taliban, thrives on an ideology. And you cannot bomb an ideology.
What drives Islamic extremism?
Numerous contributing factors are openly discussed while the following root causes barely merit a mention.
1. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Wahhabism or Salafism, a terrifyingly hardline interpretation of Islam, flows through Saudi Arabia like a single stream in a desert where accesses to other water supplies have been blocked by the government’s scimitar.
Wahhabism is significant because of Saudi Arabia’s natural influence as the gatekeeper of Makkah. It is also significant, because Saudi Arabia has used its vast resources to spread this mutation of Islam.
We can argue all day about which teachings of wahhabism are genuine to the religion. For example, many scholars believe the hijab is not an Islamic garment, but rather, a component of Arab culture. Others disagree. But what we can all agree with is that the structure of the Saudi Arabian monarchy is as un-Islamic as it gets; it is said that the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) commanded Muslims to choose their leader in a democratic process rather than a dynasty. In fact, the Prophet’s grandson, Imam Hussain (RA), died fighting against a ruler who had defied this teaching in one of the most pivotal moments in Islamic history.
In essence, Mohammad’s (PBUH) last blood relative gave his life fighting a monarchy, and yet, Saudi Arabia is a monarchy. If a guardian of the religion refuses to follow one the most basic principles, so as to serve its own needs and remain in power, then how can it remain true to the rest of the scripture?
How does Saudi Arabia factor into Islamic extremism?
A similar footprint to Wahhabism can be found in the philosophy of ISIS, Al Qaeda, and even the Taliban. Saudi Arabia indoctrinates young Muslims by spreading their twisted version of Islam through suitcases of cash, going as far and wide as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and beyond. Experts say Saudi Arabia has spent billions, yes billions of dollars, on their propaganda.
“How do the Saudis promote their religious views? By investing heavily in building mosques, madrasas, schools, and Sunni cultural centers across the Muslim world. Indian intelligence says that in India alone, from 2011 to 2013, some 25,000 Saudi clerics arrived bearing more than $250 million to build mosques and universities and hold seminars. ‘We are talking about thousands and thousands of activist organisations and preachers who are in the Saudi sphere of influence,’ said Usama Hasan, a researcher in Islamic studies. These institutions and clerics preach the specifically Saudi version of Sunni Islam, the extreme fundamentalist strain known as Wahhabism or Salafism.”
“Exact numbers are not known, but it is thought that more than $100 billion have been spent on exporting fanatical Wahhabism to various much poorer Muslim nations worldwide over the past three decades. It might well be twice that number. By comparison, the Soviets spent about $7 billion spreading communism worldwide in the 70 years from 1921 and 1991.”
You cannot ignore the role Wahhabism had in empowerment of the Taliban. If you will allow me to make a terrible food analogy, the extremist pizza was baked in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but the ingredients were imported from Saudi Arabia.
The kingdom’s economic power has made it in an influential player, even in Western politics. For example, Saudi Arabia carries a terrible human rights record, yet finds itself with a key position on the UN Human Rights council, much like a vampire in charge of a blood bank.
According to statistics, the country responsible for the second most number of foreign fighters in ISIS is Saudi Arabia, and as we all know, the majority of the 9/11 attackers were Saudi nationals, yet nations getting the short end of the stick are Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Once again, it is an attack on the pizzeria, but the franchise headquarters remain unmolested.
Now, Saudi Arabia is trying to contain ISIS with all the desperation of a master, whose dog has developed a taste for blood.
“General Jonathan Shaw, who retired as Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff in 2012, told The Telegraph that Qatar and Saudi Arabia were primarily responsible for the rise of the extremist Islam that inspires Isil terrorists.
The two Gulf states have spent billions of dollars on promoting a militant and proselytising interpretation of their faith derived from Abdul Wahhab, an eighteenth century scholar, and based on the Salaf, or the original followers of the Prophet.
But the rulers of both countries are now more threatened by their creation than Britain or America, argued Gen Shaw. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) has vowed to topple the Qatari and Saudi regimes, viewing both as corrupt outposts of decadence and sin.”
Why doesn’t the world do anything about it?
The short answer to this question is power, and the long answer to this question is also power. The United States, for one, considers Saudi Arabia to be an important ally, and the two countries do considerable business.
“The Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) has said that the United States is the largest trading partner of Saudi Arabia and the Kingdom is the largest market for US exports in the Middle East.”
Certainly, Saudi Arabia has no qualms about blackmailing the United States at the first sign of trouble. In 2002, the Kingdom threatened to pull billions from the American economy when the families of the 9/11 victims decided to sue the Royal family.
“Saudi’s richest investors are threatening to pull billions of dollars out of America in anger at suggestions they helped fund Osama bin Laden. A lawsuit filed by relatives of 900 people who were killed in the September 11 attacks is provoking fury among wealthy Saudis. The suit filed in a Washington court last week seeking damages of $100,000 billion names three members of the Saudi royal family, including defence minister Prince Sultan bin abd al-Aziz al Saud. The lawsuit alleges that Saudi money has ‘for years been funnelled to encourage radical anti-Americanism as well as to fund the al Qaeda terrorists’. Banks and charities named in the suit are calling on Saudi Arabia to review its financial and political ties to the US.”
At the time Saudi Arabia had around $750 billion invested in the country. That’s more than enough leverage.
Of course, the Americans are fully aware of Saudi extracurricular activities:
“Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba – but the Saudi government is reluctant to stem the flow of money, according to Hillary Clinton.
‘More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups,’ says a secret December 2009 paper signed by the US secretary of state. Her memo urged US diplomats to redouble their efforts to stop Gulf money reaching extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
‘Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide,’ she said.”
Not that the United States is the only country whipped into shape by Saudi money. It recently came to light that in 2012, under pressure from Saudi Arabia, former Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari, fired Dr Fateh Muhammad Malik, then rector of International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI), for promoting ‘enlightened moderation’ at the institution.
“Saudi officials had complained to the former president that the university was not being run according to the principles for which it was established during General Ziaul Haq’s regime.”
2. The warped teachings:
I can pinpoint the exact moment when I was horrified by Wahhabism for the first time. I was eight-years-old and learning at an international school in Saudi Arabia. By law, this place was required to teach three Saudi subjects aside from the usual IGCSE O-level fare: Arabic, Islamic Studies in English, and Islamic Studies in Arabic. It was the latter two I was put off by, even at the age of eight.
It wasn’t Islam itself, but the way Saudis taught Islam. In these classes I was told; Islam was the best religion in the world, (which I suppose is what every religion teaches); Muslims are by duty required to spread Islam by any means possible; Muslim subjugation over non-Muslims was a thing to be admired; the best Muslim heroes spread Islam by fire and blood; it would be best if all the Muslim countries in the world were ruled by one Caliph; a Muslim had a duty to kill any Muslim who had turned away from Islam, especially to another religion.
Thankfully, I rejected some of these lessons as not only arrogant, but malicious. One of the greatest gifts my mother gave me at an early age was an admiration for books, and the thing I was reminded of the most at these classes was the philosophy of Nazism I had read about.
Disgusted by the attempts at brainwashing, I stopped showing up to these classes, and was questioned by a perplexed head teacher who couldn’t understand why I was sitting outside during these sessions. The kind man from Cyprus listened with great bemusement as I explained. He then secretly shared that he too was repulsed, and allowed me to forgo the classes, promising me a passing grade regardless.
If you find this tough to swallow, I urge you to watch this interview of Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, one of the few Pakistani clerics who makes sense on the occasions I have heard him speak. Here, Ghamidi expands on the four doctrines that turn young Muslims towards radicalisation,
“They may not be teaching it in front of you, but they are most definitely preaching it behind your back!”
1. Anyone in any corner of the world who commits polytheism, apostasy (someone who abandons Islam), or is a kuffar (derogatory term for non-Muslims) should be murdered by a Muslim in cold blood as a directive from Allah.
2. Non-Muslims were born to be subjugated by Muslims. Only Muslims have the right to rule the world, and every kuffar government in the world is illegitimate.
3. All Muslims of the world should be under the rule of one government, a caliphate. The other governments are illegitimate.
4. A modern Muslim state is a form of kuffar, and against the teachings of Islam.
“This is why I constantly tell the Pakistani government as well as Pakistani citizens that unless this religious narrative is countered with the true narrative of Islam, such people (ISIS) will continue to emerge.”
Listening to Ghamidi I was reminded of my former school. Since it happened to be an international English school, I am sure we were given a very light taste of the actual Wahhabism taught at Arabic madrassas across Saudi Arabia. As I said, this is also the sort of teaching Saudi Arabia is said to export across the world, and it is reminiscent of something from ISIS’ playbook.
Now, I am sure everyone has seen this image floating around the internet:
Why do extremists not take this teaching more seriously? The problem is in how Wahhabism redefines the meaning of ‘innocent human being’. To a follower of Wahhabism, any non-Muslim is simply not innocent.
3. The plight of the Palestinians:
The atrocities suffered by the Palestinians have continued for ages. The Israelis illegally occupy land, while the Palestinians live trapped in rubble, with no quality of life, and no hope for a future.
Meanwhile, world governments continue to provide support to Israel. This contrasts sharply with public opinion.
This isn’t a Muslim versus non-Muslim issue. No, this is a human rights issue.
In the United States, most young progressive voters identify as pro-Palestinian.
“Gallup asked Americans whether they thought Israel’s recent actions were justified. While older Americans clearly sided with Israel, 18 to 29-year-olds said by a two-to-one margin (51-25) that its actions were unjustified. No other group was as strongly opposed to Israel’s actions.”
“Large demonstrations against Israel’s assault on Palestinians in Gaza were staged across the US on Saturday. The public outpouring of support for Palestinians in US streets suggests that Washington’s pro-Israel policies are becoming increasingly unpopular, a trend supported by a recent poll on Israel’s latest aggression, which finds that young Americans are twice as likely to support Palestinian rights than Israeli occupation.
Tens of thousands of Americans held a demonstration in front of the White House in Washington, DC. Protestors travelled in buses from around the country to join the national rally, waving Palestinian flags and chanting ‘free Palestine’ in the US capital.
On the other side of the country, thousands of Americans staged a protest in Austin, Texas while a plane flew in the skies with the message ‘save Gaza free Palestine.’”
What’s more, more American Jews are also siding with Palestine.
TIME reported in 2011 that fewer young Jewish Americans saw eye-to-eye with their parents on the subject. At the very least, more young American Jews believe Palestine and Israel can coexist peacefully, according to polls.
In the United Kingdom, there has been an even stronger movement in favour of Palestine. Already, a powerful movement to boycott all goods from Israel has found support across England. Then, there are the UK academics that are also boycotting Israel.
“More than 300 academics from dozens of British universities have pledged to boycott Israeli academic institutions in protest at what they call intolerable human rights violations against the Palestinian people.
The declaration, by 343 professors and lecturers, is printed in a full-page advertisement carried in Tuesday’s Guardian, with the title: ‘A commitment by UK scholars to the rights of Palestinians’.
The pledge says the signatories, from a variety of universities in England and Wales, will not accept invitations to visit Israeli academic institutions, act as referees for them, or take part in events organised or funded by them. They will, however, still work with individual Israeli academics, it adds.
The advert says the signatories are ‘deeply disturbed by Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land, the intolerable human rights violations that it inflicts on all sections of the Palestinian people, and its apparent determination to resist any feasible settlement.’”
Surprisingly, the UK government condemns British academics for their pledge. It is curious why states are not taking a more balanced view of the Palestine-Israel conflict. No one demands Israel be eradicated, but surely Palestine deserves a right to thrive on its own land.
Most moderate Muslims believe there should be a two-state solution to the crisis. Of course, it is as unfair to expect Israel to leave, as it is to Palestine.
Not surprisingly, the Palestine-Israel issue is used to fuel Wahhabi propaganda. The pain of the Palestinian people is built into the narrative that Western governments are out to get Muslims.
Ultimately, it serves as a launching board for all sorts of ridiculous conspiracy theories. Young Muslims are brainwashed into believing the West is evil,
“Don’t believe us? Just look at Palestine.”
In schools and mosques, where hateful sermons are delivered, Muslims are presented with Palestine as an example of the world against them. Soon, you have young Muslims arguing that Malala is a Western agent, the September 11th attacks were conducted by the United States itself, (or by the Jewish community), and ISIS is an organisation created by Western powers with the goal to subjugate Muslims. The last sentence is especially ironic when taking into account Wahhabi teachings.
The world is caught in a vicious cycle. If the ideology driving Islamic extremism is to be conquered, then military action is necessary, yet far from a long term solution. Unfortunately, to the world, self-examination is more expensive than lives.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.