To defeat the ISIS, America needs to get Saudi Arabia on board

Published: December 25, 2015
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But can ISIS and those who subscribe to its world view be described as a “civilization?” PHOTO: REUTERS

In the aftermath of the Paris tragedy, people are asking whether ISIS’s attempt to strike at public places is part of their deliberate strategy to attack liberal western values. The argument gains credence especially when one finds ISIS chose soft targets like a concert hall, a sports stadium and restaurants in Paris, a city which they described as a “den of prostitution and vice”, to instil fear in the minds of the people.

Samuel Huntington, a well-known political scientist, wrote in his insightful and classic book “The Clash of Civilisations and Remaking of the World Order”,

“… the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilisations. The clash of civilisations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilisations will be the battle lines of the future. Huntington believes that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic, but will be cultural. The centuries-old military interaction between the West and Islam is unlikely to decline. It could become more virulent.”

M J Akbar, a well-known author and editor, believes that,

“The West’s next confrontation is definitely going to come from the Muslim world. It is in the sweep of the Islamic nations from the Maghreb to Pakistan that the struggle for a new world order will begin.”

ISIS, probably, draws its inspiration from the Ottoman Empire, and is now trying to re-establish the glory of the former Islamic empire which controlled most parts of South Eastern Northern Africa and West Asia. Yet, the caliphate, that ISIS imagines, is based on a distorted view of Islam that is not conducive to the modern era, or the beliefs and practices of the majority of modern day Muslims. In this respect, the larger purpose of ISIS differs from that of Al Qaeda, as ISIS wants to unite all the Muslim countries and establish a Caliphate. However, the comparison ends here as the Ottoman Empire was known for its religious tolerance, where the Muslims, Christians and people of other religions could peacefully coexist.

When Wahhabism became the state religion in Saudi Arabia, radical Islam replaced the many tolerant versions of Islam, including the Sufi philosophy, which flourished in Persia and other parts of Asia. Sufism, unlike Wahhabism, promoted spirituality, liberty and brotherhood. Sufism has left its footprints in India and Pakistan, and the testimony to this is that Indian and Pakistani Muslims are not attracted to the ISIS ideology.

Today, with the spread of radical Islam, there is a growing concern worldwide on the rise of IslamophobiaIt is true that the militant organisations have brought great disrepute to the religion by their mindless violence through acts of terror. The recent attack in Paris is likely to increase prejudice against Muslims. This will not fare well for the Syrian refugees. The Paris attacks will now compel Germany, France and other countries to re-examine the inflow of refugees to their countries.

Some of the primary reasons for the radicalisation of Islam in Muslim dominated countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malaysia, and some countries in Africa, include the influence of the Wahhabi brand of Islam, and educational funding by Gulf countries aimed at propagating a radical form of Islam. Moreover it is a well-known fact that Al Qaeda and the Taliban could not have become powerful forces without the support of the US and other countries that openly funded and armed them to drive out the Soviets from Afghanistan. We are paying a heavy price for the failed policies of the US and its allies.

In an essay in the New York Review of Books, Scot Atran and Nafees Ahmad wrote:

“What many in the international community regard as acts of senseless, horrific violence are to ISIS’s follower’s part of an exalted campaign of purification through sacrificial killing and self-immolation? This is the purposeful violence that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State’s self-anointed Caliph, has called “the volcanoes of Jihad”–creating an international jihadi archipelago that will eventually unite to destroy the present world to create a new-old world of universal justice and peace under the Prophet’s banner.”

As Mario Rubio, the Florida Governor, succinctly put it,

“This is not a geopolitical issue where they want to conquer territory and its two countries fighting against each other; they literally want to overthrow our society and replace it with their radical, Sunni Islamic view of the future. This is not a grievance-based conflict. This is a clash of civilisations.”

The US finds itself in a bind today. It is now faced with dealing with an organisation that, unlike al Qaeda, is far more motivated and willing to engage with the US in a long drawn out war. Furthermore, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader, is an astute and shrewd man, who has tremendous experience in dealing with US troops in Syria.

According to a US intelligence official,

“These guys know the terrorism business inside and out, and they are the ones who survived aggressive counterterrorism campaigns during the surge.”

In the Merriam Webster dictionary, “civilisation” is defined as, “The condition that exists when people have developed effective ways of organising a society and care about art, science etc.; a particularly well-organised and developed society.”

Considering this definition, by no stretch of the imagination could ISIS represent a civilisation. In fact, ISIS has killed more Muslims than people of other faiths. Moreover, there is a growing realisation amongst Muslim countries that ISIS has brought disrepute to the very concept of Islam. It is for this reason that more and more Muslim countries are enraged with ISIS for its brutality, especially against women. It would be incorrect to infer that a bunch of terrorists represent Islam, and it is for this reason that the argument of a clash between civilisations is faltering in the present context. This is not to say that there isn’t a dangerous conflict playing out.

Today, the US and other countries in the Western block should realise that, unless they take Iran, Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, on board, they will lose the battle against ISIS. This will also reduce the possibility of alienating the Muslims on ideological issues. The US “no boots” policy has failed to contain ISIS and, therefore, it becomes important to take Russia’s support in launching a well-coordinated attack, both through air and land, under a central unified command, which can be both effective and decisive.

The Saudis must also be clearly reminded that any attempt to promote the radical brand of Islam by funding organisations like ISIS will one day return to haunt them.

K S Venkatachalam

K S Venkatachalam

The author is an independent journalist and political commentator. He specialises in writing on political, social and economic issues. His articles have appeared in many Indian and International newspapers like Huffington Post, Global Times, South China Morning Post, The Hindu. He tweets as @Venkat48 (twitter.com/venkat48)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • GKA

    Main message of this article – defeating ISIS is America’s responsibility. They need Saudi / Turkey help. Saudi (and the rest of the Muslim world) has no responsibility towards defeating ISIS, so they can play hard to get. If ISIS grows it is America;s fault. Islamaphobia is entirely a creation of the west and the west has to deal with it. Again muslim world has no responsibility towards the west – they can increase the number of countries which ban Christmas, not a problem.Recommend

  • mhmbbs

    Marco Rubio is a US Senator from Florida but not the Governor of Florida.Recommend

  • chaigram

    West, in perticular USA encouraging Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE is going to backfire on their face. The common enemy is Wahabism which these Middle East contries seems to infiltrate (brainwash) the illiterate and young Muslim all over the world. Sooner the west realizes that the best approach is to neutralize wahabism the better for the entire world.Recommend

  • Parvez

    That was a bit of a ramble but worth the read. I feel a more responsible moniker for there criminals is DAESH and not IS or ISIS or ISIL because it means ‘ a bigot who is not averse to using violence to spread his thinking ‘….an apt description for them.Recommend

  • vaqas

    I don’t see any logic being presented in this article. If what you say is right, then why would Saudi Arabia agree to dismantle their own creation? Useless article. The only real reason why America steps in middle East is to control oil. So unless you can offer oil, America has no motivation to join this war of the desert.Recommend

  • One WHO KNOWS

    There is a huge pressure on Saudi Arabia to stop funding charities that are currently involved in spreading radical Islam. It is for this reason that have now agreed to support the US and allied forces in taking on ISIS. Perhaps this could be a face saving measure!Recommend

  • talha usmani

    Everywhere Wahabism is being promoted as if it is the sole purpose due to which terrorists are created, this is why it has become so much difficult to defeat Daesh or Al Qaeda or Taliban. What most so called analysts and authors and journalists don’t get is that this fight was never for any ideology, it was always about ruthless gangsters roaming in countries like Afghanistan who got a reason to be united against a single enemy. Similarly these crime prone bigots have united in Iraq and Syria and causing this mayhem by just masking it as a fight for Islam or its ideology. These are all criminals and gangsters who have basically found a purpose to gang up against West as it bombed them into stone ages.Recommend