By Amanda Paul
December 12, 2015
The source of Islamic extremism that promotes the sort of ugly brutality that is carried out by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) lies with the fanatical Wahhabi strain of Islam, which is rooted in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar are the only countries in the world where Wahhabi Salafism is the state religion. However, this agenda does not stay in these states because it is actively propagated throughout the Muslim world. Over the last few decades, billions of dollars have been pumped into a huge campaign aimed at eroding the more moderate strains of Islam and replace them with the more extremist variety. If the West really wants to crack down on ISIS and make inroads into reducing the funding for the promotion of such violent extremism, then this means confronting Saudi Arabia, rather than continuing to bury heads in the sand.
Today, while the US led-coalition -- of which Saudi Arabia is a member -- is bombing in Syria and Iraq, there are clearly limitations to what military force is able to achieve. ISIS can only be defeated by political and ideological means, hence airstrikes will probably only achieve a temporary tactical success. It seems to me that very little is being done in terms of fighting the ideology of the ISIS phenomenon that is coming out of Saudi Arabia. In fact, there seems to be a reluctance to address concerns over Saudi Arabia's role in promoting Wahhabi extremism to the House of Saud, which is a key ally of the West and in particularly of the United States and a number of EU member states such as France and the UK. Until now, the West's relationship with Saudi Arabia has been one where few questions have been asked about domestic affairs, including the country's appalling human rights records and its Wahhabi agenda. It has rather focused on trade, in particular arms and oil, and the geostrategic importance of the state.
For decades Saudi Arabia has heavily financed the spread of Wahhabism abroad. While the exact sum is not known, it is estimated that at least $100 billion has been spent exporting fanatical Wahhabism to various poor Muslim nations worldwide over the past three decades. When one considers the fact that the Soviets spent about $7 billion spreading communism worldwide in the 70 years from 1921 and 1991, this is an enormous figure. Western leaders are well aware of what is going on. A Wikileaks cable clearly quotes Hillary Clinton, during her time as US secretary of state, stating "donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide … more needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, [Lashkar-e-Taiba] LeT and other terrorist groups." And of course it not just Saudi Arabia that is throwing money into extremist jihadists. Some other Gulf states, including Qatar, also have a track record in this respect. These states have ignited time bombs by funding the global spread of radical Islam.
The financing of this extremist agenda is not directly carried out by Saudi Arabia's leadership. Money is spread around different actors in the country and abroad including various religious and charitable organizations, along with mosques and madrassas. The Wahhabi curriculum that is taught in schools is also deeply worrying. While it was modified following the 9/11 attacks, it is still extremely radical, putting forward a narrative of hatred towards “unbelievers,” which includes Shiites, Sufis, Jews, Christians, Sunni Muslims that do not follow the Wahhabi way of doing things and many other groups too. And, as we are aware, this agenda is not just taught in Saudi Arabia but overseas too. One affected area is Southeast Asia, where Wahhabi-inspired madrassas are rife. They began to take root in the 1970s when, awash with petrodollars, Saudi Wahhabis began to export Wahhabi extremism. Young children are quickly indoctrinated not least because many kids do not have any access to any other kind of schooling. Many of the Taliban's leaders were educated in such madrassas.
The policy of Saudi Arabia is in total contradiction to the interests of the West and the Muslim world. The West must make it clear that it can no longer accept this approach and if there is no change their will be serious changes in terms of policy towards Saudi Arabia.