Saudi Arabia has two main exports: petroleum and a religious strain that spreads terrorism
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2015-12-23 00:42:17

Saudi Arabia has two main exports: petroleum and a religious strain that spreads terrorism

BEIJING, CHINA - MARCH 13:  Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz meets Chinese President Xi Jinping after a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People  on March 13, 2014 in Beijing, China. Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz will pay a four-day state visit to China from March 13 to 16.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

The Saudis — with 18 percent of the world’s known oil reserves — are the largest exporters of oil. The U.S. imports 13 percent of its oil from Saudi Arabia, second only to Canada (37 percent).

The Saudis also produced 15 of the 19 hijackers responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, masterminded by Osama bin Laden, a radical Sunni Muslim refugee from Saudi Arabia.

While the Saudi royal family is committed to fighting the Islamic State, and Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh has declared ISIS the “enemy number one” of Islam, wealthy Saudi sheiks are among its financial backers.

ISIS also receives financial support from wealthy Kuwaitis, even though a U.S.-led multinational coalition liberated Kuwait after Iraqi President Saddam Hussein annexed it in 1991. Qatar, another Gulf state with pro-Western leanings, has wealthy citizens funding ISIS as well.

ISIS is largely an outgrowth of the remnants of Saddam’s Baathist Party, which was founded as a secular entity in 1943 to counter “Western civilization’s invasion of the Arab mind.” After Saddam was toppled by the U.S. invasion, a new pro-Shiite government power led by President Nouri al-Maliki did its best to alienate and radicalize segments of the Sunni population before he finally was ousted under pressure from the Obama administration.

In much of the Arab world and Western Europe, ISIS is known as “Daesh,” a derogatory translation meaning “trample down,” “crush” or “bigot.” ISIS’ disdain for the term is such that it has vowed to cut out the tongue of anyone using it.

Daesh also is synonymous with Wahhabism, a radical 18th century version of Islam spread by Saudi clerics throughout the Middle East and beyond. Its madrassas, Saudi-financed schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, helped spawn the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Saudi royal family owes its stability, in part, to clerics unwilling to foment discord in the homeland but also eager to promote an Islamic caliphate elsewhere.

Writing in the New York Times recently, the Algerian-born journalist Kamel Daoud castigated Western leaders for not taking the Saudis to task for their complicity in the rise of ISIS. “Daesh has a mother: the invasion of Iraq,” he stated. “But it also has a father: Saudi Arabia and its religious-industrial complex.”


“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,” Daoud wrote. “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.”

The Nov. 13 massacre in Paris that killed more than 120 has galvanized much of Western Europe in the fight against Daesh. Prior to that, political leaders seemed unmoved by the slaughter perpetrated by Daesh since the beginning of the year, including more than 1,000 lives taken in Australia, Algeria, Canada, Libya, Lebanon, Egypt, Denmark, Tunisia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Turkey, Kuwait, Bangladesh, and the United States, as well as the Russian Metrojet shot down in Egypt, killing 224.

Western leaders continue to believe Daesh can be defeated primarily by aerial bombardment and whatever proxy forces can be mustered on the ground. Since September 2014, the United States has launched 3,000 air strikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Undaunted, Daesh has accumulated territory in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

Islam itself is not the issue. Like Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism or other world religions, it is neither monolithic nor inherently violent. With 1.6 billion followers — 23 percent of the world’s population — if a substantial proportion of Muslims adhered to the Wahhabism strain, the terror situation would be much more dire. As it stands, Muslims — particularly Shiites — are the primary victims of Daesh, as are most of the four million people fleeing Syria.

President Obama, who once dismissed Daesh as al-Qaida’s “JV,” is now scrambling to put together a multinational force to counter it. The Russians will need to be on board as well, bombing ISIS instead of Syria’s Turkmen rebels — Sunni Muslims who are fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad, a Shia Alawite and Russian ally.

A virulent theology must come under siege as well. As Daoud wrote, “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.”


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