Saturday, November 21, 2015

Saudi Arabia - The Other ISIS

With the 24/7 chatter - and in the case of Republicans, verbal diarrhea - about terrorism and the threat of Islamic extremists, there is sadly near total silence on the role that wealthy citizens of Saudi Arabia (and perhaps even the government) have played in funding Islamic extremism around the world.  Similarly, there is very little discussion of the fact that within that country, human rights abuses are rampant and many of the Medieval practices of ISIS are the norm.  In my view, until Saudi Arabia is forced to either join the civilized world, expect the extremism to continue.  Will America and other western nations have the guts to confront Saudi Arabia?  Probably not because of one thing: oil. Energy independence, especially renewable energy sources, should be a national security issue and America and its western allies need to push for the day when the Saudis will be irrelevant and can no longer get a free pass on human rights abuses and other extremist policies.  An op-ed in the New York Times looks at the similarities between Saudi Arabia and ISIS.  Here are highlights:

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. 

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.

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.

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?

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.  The attacks in Paris have exposed this contradiction again, but as happened after 9/11, it risks being erased from our analyses and our consciences.

Until either (i) Saudi Arabia's oil becomes irrelevant and its power to blackmail is ended, or (ii) that nation is forced into modernity and Islamic extremism condemned and its clerics denied power, don't expect things to get better.  The root of the evil is ignorance embracing and hatred inspiring religion.  Be it fundamentalist Christianity or fundamentalist Islam, both are evils that need  to be eradicated from the face of the earth.  Look across history and there is one constant evil inflaming hate, discrimination and murder: religion.

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