"Black Daesh, white Daesh. The former slits throats, kills, stones, cuts off hands, destroys humanity’s common heritage and despises archaeology, women and non-Muslims. The latter is better dressed and neater but does the same things. The Islamic State; Saudi Arabia. In its struggle against terrorism, the West wages war on one, but shakes hands with the other. This is a mechanism of denial, and denial has a price: preserving the famous strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia at the risk of forgetting that the kingdom also relies on an alliance with a religious clergy that produces, legitimizes, spreads, preaches and defends Wahhabism, the ultra-puritanical form of Islam that Daesh feeds on.
Wahhabism, a messianic radicalism that arose in the 18th century, hopes to restore a fantasized caliphate centered on a desert, a sacred book, and two holy sites, Mecca and Medina. Born in massacre and blood, it manifests itself in a surreal relationship with women, a prohibition against non-Muslims treading on sacred territory, and ferocious religious laws. That translates into an obsessive hatred of imagery and representation and therefore art, but also of the body, nakedness and freedom. Saudi Arabia is a Daesh that has made it.
The West’s denial regarding Saudi Arabia is striking: It salutes the theocracy as its ally but pretends not to notice that it is the world’s chief ideological sponsor of Islamist culture. The younger generations of radicals in the so-called Arab world were not born jihadists. They were suckled in the bosom of Fatwa Valley, a kind of Islamist Vatican with a vast industry that produces theologians, religious laws, books, and aggressive editorial policies and media campaigns.
One might counter: Isn’t Saudi Arabia itself a possible target of Daesh? Yes, but to focus on that would be to overlook the strength of the ties between the reigning family and the clergy that accounts for its stability — and also, increasingly, for its precariousness. The Saudi royals are caught in a perfect trap: Weakened by succession laws that encourage turnover, they cling to ancestral ties between king and preacher. The Saudi clergy produces Islamism, which both threatens the country and gives legitimacy to the regime.
One has to live in the Muslim world to understand the immense transformative influence of religious television channels on society by accessing its weak links: households, women, rural areas. Islamist culture is widespread in many countries — Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Mali, Mauritania. There are thousands of Islamist newspapers and clergies that impose a unitary vision of the world, tradition and clothing on the public space, on the wording of the government’s laws and on the rituals of a society they deem to be contaminated.
It is worth reading certain Islamist newspapers to see their reactions to the attacks in Paris. The West is cast as a land of “infidels.” The attacks were the result of the onslaught against Islam. Muslims and Arabs have become the enemies of the secular and the Jews. The Palestinian question is invoked along with the rape of Iraq and the memory of colonial trauma, and packaged into a messianic discourse meant to seduce the masses. Such talk spreads in the social spaces below, while up above, political leaders send their condolences to France and denounce a crime against humanity. This totally schizophrenic situation parallels the West’s denial regarding Saudi Arabia.
All of which leaves one skeptical of Western democracies’ thunderous declarations regarding the necessity of fighting terrorism. Their war can only be myopic, for it targets the effect rather than the cause. Since ISIS is first and foremost a culture, not a militia, how do you prevent future generations from turning to jihadism when the influence of Fatwa Valley and its clerics and its culture and its immense editorial industry remains intact?
Is curing the disease therefore a simple matter? Hardly. Saudi Arabia remains an ally of the West in the many chess games playing out in the Middle East. It is preferred to Iran, that gray Daesh. And there’s the trap. Denial creates the illusion of equilibrium. Jihadism is denounced as the scourge of the century but no consideration is given to what created it or supports it. This may allow saving face, but not saving lives.
Daesh has a mother: the invasion of Iraq. But it also has a father: Saudi Arabia and its religious-industrial complex. Until that point is understood, battles may be won, but the war will be lost. Jihadists will be killed, only to be reborn again in future generations and raised on the same books.
"A version of this op-ed appears in print on November 21, 2015, in The International New York Times."
Jan. 2015 article written after France Charlie Hebdo Islamic killings cites the problem of the West pandering to Saudi Arabia. "The West can help by stopping its historical pandering and support of Middle East tyrants who spread this extremism. The most fundamental way to make the message clear to the House of Saud would be to threaten to stop buying oil from them." Article also mentions 28 pages that remain redacted from 911 report said to involve Saudi Arabia:
1/20/15, "How Saudi Wahhabism Is the Fountainhead of Islamist Terrorism," Huffington Post, Dr. Yousaf Butt, London. updated,
Dr. Yousaf Butt is a senior advisor to the British American Security Information Council and director at the Cultural Intelligence Institute. The views expressed here are his own."...
"One could reasonably argue that the House of Saud is simply a more established and diplomatic version of ISIS. It shares the extremist Wahhabi theo-fascism, the lack of human rights, intolerance, violent beheadings etc. -- but with nicer buildings and roads. If ISIS were ever to become an established state, after a few decades one imagines it might resemble Saudi Arabia.
How does Saudi Arabia go about spreading extremism? The extremist agenda is not always clearly government-sanctioned, but in monarchies where the government money is spread around to various princes, there is little accountability for what the royal family does with their government funds. Much of the funding is via charitable organizations and is not military-related.
The money goes to constructing and operating mosques and madrassas that preach radical Wahhabism. The money also goes to training imams; media outreach and publishing; distribution of Wahhabi textbooks, and endowments to universities and cultural centers. A cable released by Wikileaks explains, regarding just one region of Pakistan:
"Government and non-governmental sources claimed that financial support estimated at nearly 100 million USD annually was making its way to Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith clerics in the region from "missionary" and "Islamic charitable" organizations in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates ostensibly with the direct support of those governments."
Although the Wahhabi curriculum was modified after the 9/11 attacks, it remains backward and intolerant. Freedom House published a report on the revised curriculum, concluding that it "continues to propagate an ideology of hate toward the 'unbeliever,' which include Christians, Jews, Shiites, Sufis, Sunni Muslims who do not follow Wahhabi doctrine, Hindus, atheists and others." This is taught not only domestically but also enthusiastically exported abroad.
Of course, initially there was complicity with the U.S. and Pakistan in promoting this ideology to counter the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In addition to the radical indoctrination, thousands of volunteer jihadis from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries were also dispatched to fight alongside the mujahideen in Afghanistan. But it remains a complicated problem to this day because the politicians in the poor countries getting the Saudi and Gulf-Arab funds approve these extremist madrassas in part because the local authorities likely receive kickbacks.
In many places in poor Muslim countries the choice is now between going to an extremist madrassa or getting no education at all. Poverty is exploited to promote extremism. The affected areas include Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, India and parts of Africa. The same Wikileaks cable explains:
"The network reportedly exploited worsening poverty in these areas of the province to recruit children into the divisions' growing Deobandi and Ahl-eHadith madrassa network from which they were indoctrinated into jihadi philosophy, deployed to regional training/indoctrination centers, and ultimately sent to terrorist training camps in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)."
The more tolerant indigenous versions of Islam cannot survive in the face of the tsunami of money being poured into promoting theo-fascist Wahhabism. This is a major problem that the Muslim world must urgently address.
But it is also a problem where the West can help by stopping its historical pandering and support of Middle East tyrants who spread this extremism. The most fundamental way to make the message clear to the House of Saud would be to threaten to stop buying oil from them. Given the relatively cheap oil prices these days it need not be an empty threat.
Eliminating the occasional militant leaders in drone and special-forces strikes is of limited use in reducing extremism if millions of radicals are being actively trained in Wahhabi madrassas across the Muslim world.
The fight against ISIS and Al-Qaeda is deeply ironic since these organizations were created and are sustained, in part, by funds we hand over to the Saudis and Gulf Arab nations to purchase their oil. And while France mourns its cartoonists and police officers, the French government is busy signing military and nuclear deals worth billions with the Saudis. If we continue down this road, it may well be a never-ending war.
The House of Saud works against the best interests of the West and the Muslim world. Muslim communities worldwide certainly need to eradicate fanatical Wahhabism from their midst, but this will be difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish if the West continues its support of the House of Saud. The monarchy must be modernized and modified -- or simply uprooted and replaced. The House of Saud needs a thorough house cleaning."
8/8/15, "How Saudi Arabia exports radical Islam," The Week staff
9/10/15, "If the US Won't Sell You Weapons, France Might Still Hook You Up," news.vice.com, by Torie Rose DeGhett
The ultimate source of global terrorism is the close relationship the US political class has with Middle East terrorist regimes:
10/20/11, "The Lost Decade," [2001-2011] Angelo M. Codevilla, Claremont Institute
"Our ruling class justified its ever-larger role" in America’s domestic life by redefining war as a never-ending struggle against unspecified enemies for abstract objectives, and by asserting expertise far above that of ordinary Americans. (parag. 9)...It failed to ask the classic headwaters question: what is the problem?...(subhead, 'Whatever it takes')
"Whatever it Takes"...
That would have pointed to the Middle East’s regimes, and to our ruling class’ relationship with them, as the problem’s ultimate source. The rulers of
Saudi Arabia, and the
had run (and continue to run) educational and media systems that demonize America. Under all of them, the Muslim Brotherhood or the Wahhabi sect spread that message in religious terms to Muslims in the West as well as at home.
That message indicts America, among other things,
for being weak.
And indeed, ever since the 1970s U.S. policy had responded to acts of war and terrorism from the Muslim world
by absolving the regimes
for their subjects’ actions....Many influential Americans were
making money in the Arab world."...