New Age Islam Edit Bureau
14 August 2015
How Saudi Arabia Exports Radical Islam
By The Week Staff
Qaddafi Supporters Reemerge In A Disillusioned Libya
By Mohamed Eljarh
Isis Is Not America’s Fault and AirstrikesWon’t Defeat Them
By Joyce Karam
Why Isis Trumps Freedom
By Roger Cohen
How Saudi Arabia Exports Radical Islam
By The Week Staff
August 8, 2015
Saudi Arabia has spent billions promoting its extremist version of Islam. What has it wrought? Here's everything you need to know:
Why Do The Saudis Proselytize?
To combat the spread of Shiite Islam and ensure that the Islamic world is primarily Sunni. In recent years, the ancient Sunni-Shiite conflict in Iraq, Yemen, and throughout the Middle East has grown more overt, bitter, and violent. Now that Iran has agreed to rein in its nuclear program in return for the lifting of international economic sanctions, Riyadh fears a newly enriched Tehran will be more aggressive in spreading its Shiite doctrine and promoting Shiite-led revolutions. A trove of Saudi diplomatic documents covering 2010 to 2015, recently released by WikiLeaks, shows a Saudi obsession with Iranian actions and Iranian influence. Saudi government agencies monitor Iranian cultural and religious activities, and try to muzzle Shiite influence by shutting down or blocking access to Iranian-backed media. Saudi diplomats keep close tabs on Iranian involvement everywhere, from Tajikistan, which has strong historical Persian ties, to China, where the tiny, beleaguered Uighur population — which is Muslim — is growing more religious.
How Do The Saudis Promote Their Religious Views?
By investing heavily in building mosques, madrasas, schools, and Sunni cultural centres across the Muslim world. Indian intelligence says that in India alone, from 2011 to 2013, some 25,000 Saudi clerics arrived bearing more than $250 million to build mosques and universities and hold seminars. "We are talking about thousands and thousands of activist organizations and preachers who are in the Saudi sphere of influence," said Usama Hasan, a researcher in Islamic studies. These institutions and clerics preach the specifically Saudi version of Sunni Islam, the extreme fundamentalist strain known as Wahhabism or Salafism.
What Is Wahhabism?
Founded in the 18th century by Muslims seeking a return to Quranic literalism, Wahhabism is one of the strictest sects of Islam. The founder, Sheikh Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab, sought the protection of an emir, Muhammad ibn Saud, and the two joined forces to spread the doctrine throughout the Arabian Peninsula. The cleric's daughter married the emir's son, which means the entire House of Saud is directly descended from Wahhab. The purist sect requires adherents to abstain from alcohol and drugs. The sexes are segregated, with women fully covered in public. Even other Muslims who stray from these medieval practices — such as Shiites and moderate Sunni sects — are considered infidels. Prescribed punishments for crimes — among them apostasy and blasphemy — include flogging, stoning, and beheading.
How Did It Become So Strong?
A turning point came in 1979, when radical clerics who believed the House of Saud had been contaminated with Western decadence led hundreds of armed militants to occupy the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Deeply alarmed, the royal family sought to appease the militants by reversing the steps toward modernity the country had taken. Movie theaters and record stores were shut down, and more power was given to the religious police to seek out and punish offenses. "In effect," says former diplomat John Burgess, "the seizure of the Grand Mosque sent Saudi Arabia into a 30-year time warp that cut it off from the social-development trajectory it had been on." The royal family made a grand bargain with the clerics: Riyadh would fund the spread of Wahhabism abroad as long as the extremists kept any militant activities off Saudi soil. That deal ensured that radical Islam would overwhelm moderate versions in many countries, and planted the seeds of many terrorist groups.
Where Has Wahhabism Reached?
Nearly everywhere in the Muslim world except where Iran holds sway. In the 1980s, Saudi money and fighters poured into Afghanistan to help the mujahedeen fight the Soviets, an effort that gave rise to the Taliban and eventually to al Qaeda. In the 1990s, Saudi aid to the Bosnian Muslims struggling in the wars that broke up Yugoslavia brought the Wahhabi strain of Islam to Europe. That same decade, Saudi money helped to further radicalize Chechnya's Muslims. One of the cables released by WikiLeaks quotes then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide." Most members of al Qaeda were Saudi, including Osama bin Laden, and 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudis.
Where Does ISIS Fit Into This Picture?
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria sees itself as purer than the Saudi regime, but its fundamentalist Sunni doctrine has its roots in Wahhabism. Bob Graham, a former Democratic senator from Florida who has called for declassification of the portion of the 9/11 Commission report dealing with Saudi Arabian links to the hijackers, says ISIS "is a product of Saudi ideals, Saudi money, and Saudi organizational support." In effect, Graham says, ISIS represents a form of Wahhabi ideology that the Saudis can't control — a cancer that now threatens the kingdom. "Who serves as fuel for ISIS? Our own youth," said Saudi dissident writer Turki Al-Hamad this year. "In order to stop ISIS, you must first dry up this ideology at the source."
The Madrasas' Impact
During the decade-long Afghan struggle against the Soviets, Saudi princes funded the explosive growth of madrasas in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The schools, located in rural communities where there was no other source of education, taught a militant form of Islam, telling students they had a sacred duty to fight infidels. Out of these schools came the radical students who eventually formed the Taliban, as well as many al Qaeda recruits. Today, many of these Pakistani schools draw students from Nigeria, Indonesia, Malaysia, and elsewhere, and they return home radicalized. "The ideology that's propagated by these schools is so significant in shaping minds in the Muslim world," says political scientist Vali Nasr of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. "If regular schooling is not schooling people, and schools that propagate fanaticism are schooling people, it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out what would be the impact."
Qaddafi Supporters Remerge in a Disillusioned Libya
By Mohamed Eljarh
August 11, 2015
On July 28, a Tripoli court sentenced the son of Libya’s ex-President Muammar al-Qaddafi and eight other prominent former regime officials to death. The verdict prompted widespread denunciation. Critics cited flaws in the legal proceedings, which clearly fell short of accepted standards of due process. Human rights activists assailed the court’s treatment of the prisoners, noting allegations of abuse of Saadi Qaddafi, the former dictator’s son. In sum, the botched trial marks yet another missed opportunity for justice in Libya. In sum, the botched trial marks yet another missed opportunity for justice in Libya.
All this would be bad enough in itself. Yet the most ominous consequence of the trial may well turn out to be its effect on supporters of the old order. One week after the announcement of the verdict, adherents of the toppled Qaddafi regime staged street protests throughout the country to demand the release of prominent regime figures still being held by the militias who toppled the dictator in 2011. By and large, supporters of Qaddafi’s government have played little role in public life over the past four years. Now, however, they are clearly feeling emboldened by the turmoil that has engulfed the country since Qaddafi’s fall. And the dubious trial in Tripoli has supplied them with a perfect pretext to undermine the 2011 revolution.
The pro-Qaddafi protesters took to the streets in the east, west, and south — evidence that the old regime enjoys support over a wide swath of the country. According to live TV footage shown on Libyan TV channels, the protests took place in communities under the control of both rival governments (one based in Tripoli, the other in Tobruk). The protests were largely peaceful, and the participants included men and women as well as a cross-section of ages. In eastern Libya, the protests were met with small (and equally peaceful) counter-demonstrations in cities such as Tobruk, Benghazi, and Ajdabiya.
In the south and west, however, the protests took a different course. The authorities in areas governed by Islamists loyal to the Tripoli government responded to the initially peaceful protests with gunfire and rockets. In Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, Islamic State militants tried to end the demonstrations by opening fire on them. In several cases, the pro-Qaddafi protesters then appeared to have turned to violence themselves. In Sebha, the capital of the southern region of Fezzan, a hotbed of support for the old regime, the protests soon turned into armed clashes when armed groups aligned with the Tripoli government tried to stop them from taking place. (In this video, Qaddafi supporters carrying green flags and posters of the dictator cheer in defiance as a fighter jet sent to intimidate them flies overhead.) The city of Tarhuna, 40 miles to the southeast of Tripoli and home to one of Libya’s largest tribes, also experienced demonstrations that soon turned into clashes between the protesters and militias aligned with the Tripoli government.
These pro-Qaddafi protests have the potential to turn into a national movement against the 2011 revolution, not least because a growing number of Libyans are deeply disillusioned by its outcome. After four years of deteriorating security and the near collapse of pubic services, many are questioning the logic behind the overthrow of the Qaddafi regime — which, after all, was supposed to make life better. While many still express anger at the Qaddafi regime, arguing that the developments in post-Qaddafi Libya are the direct result of 42 years of dictatorship, there is now a building consensus that the atrocities and abuses committed by post-Qaddafi groups since the revolution exceed by far those committed by the Qaddafi regime during its rule.
Many feel betrayed by the governments that have been elected since 2011. Residents of Derna and Sirte were left on their own to face the brutality of the Islamic State. Derna managed to expel the Islamic State Jihadis from the city two months ago, but around the same time the Misratan militias stationed in Sirte withdrew after being attacked by Islamic State fighters, leaving the entire city under Islamic State control.
A few weeks ago, I spoke with a prominent tribal leader from the Qaddadfa tribe (Qaddafi’s tribe) based in Sirte. He expressed his disappointment and frustration at the failure of Libyan authorities to help them counter the rise of Islamic State in his home city: “We don’t have the weapons to fight the Islamic State, and when we ask for arms, they completely ignore us.” This has left many in Sirte with no option but to accept Islamic State rule. The general sense is that the existing authorities couldn’t care less about the situation of ordinary people. Now the verdict from the court in Tripoli could serve as a uniting factor for Qaddafi regime supporters.
The re-emergence of Qaddafi regime loyalists poses yet another obstacle to the peace process and any future Government of National Accord. Neither the peace process nor a unity government will stand a chance unless an effort is made to address the sense of injustice and neglect currently suffered by supporters of the old regime. Failure to do this merely provides an opening for groups such as the Islamic State, as the development in Sirte has so vividly demonstrated. Libya can stop the downward spiral only by moving beyond its divisive revolutionary narrative and moving toward a more inclusive approach.
ISIS Is Not America’s Fault and Airstrikes Won’t Defeat Them
By Joyce Karam
13 August 2015
With the start of the “silly season” in the U.S. Presidential elections, the partisan blame game over the rise of ISIS is only heating up between Republicans and Democrats. The GOP candidate Jeb Bush has accused the Democrats’ frontrunner Hillary Clinton of “standing by“ as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) declared its “caliphate” last year, while the Clinton campaign responded by attributing the rise of the notorious group to George W. Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq.
Undoubtedly, the Iraq war of 2003 and the disbanding of the Iraqi army putting 400,000 soldiers out of work, has set the stage for the emergence of ISIS, the same way that ignoring the Syrian crisis prompted its comeback in 2011.
However, it is politically flawed to solely blame the rise of ISIS on successive U.S. administrations while ignoring the internal and regional factors. The realities that converged and led to the ISIS “caliphate” in 2014 are numerous, including the Assad regime crimes and Syria’s implosion, the wave of radicalization in the MENA region, the funding for extremists, and bad governance. It is those elements that collectively share the blame for the rise of ISIS and unless they’re by and large tackled, the air strikes won’t stop the spread of “the pandemic.”
U.S. Mistakes in Context
Except for former President Bush and his Vice President Dick Cheney, the overwhelming majority in Washington’s political elite today has come to acknowledge that the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 was a strategic mistake. And while the many Pinocchios leading up to the war have been discredited, it’s an exaggeration to say its outcome created the ISIS “caliphate” in Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul in June of last year.
The ISIS “caliphate” did not emerge in 2014 just because Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003, it had many godfathers by then and a major lifeline from Syria. The chaos in Syria facilitated ISIS’ comeback to Iraq and offered it the strategic depth to recruit, redeploy and rearm. Were it not for the Syrian war, ISIS could not have reinforced its forces in Mosul or stationed its most senior leaders in Raqqa or used the Assad brutality against the population as a tool for recruiting in the Sunni world.
Those recruits offer an insight to ISIS’ geographic and ideological strengths, with Tunisia as a major breeding ground for them. The Tunisia magnet exposes the problem of youth radicalization that fuels the growth of ISIS, arguably more than a hypothetical number of U.S. troops stationed in Iraq post-2011. Foreign fighters make up a large contingent of ISIS (estimated at more than 20,000), whereas funding for the group continues regionally in particular from wealthy donors in Kuwait and Qatar.
But more than outside funding, foreign recruits, or U.S. withdrawal, it’s the internal political paralysis and bad governance in both Iraq and Syria that took under its wings the creation of ISIS. The failure of both former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq (2006-2014) and President Bashar Assad in Syria in addressing major grievances of their respective populations, and their attempt to lead by marginalization and sheer terror in the case of Assad invited all kind of jihadists to their countries.
Partisan Blame Game
The partisan blame game for the rise of ISIS inside the United States comes almost a year into the air strikes campaign that the Obama administration and allies started against the group. In one year, more than 900 airstrikes have been carried out in Iraq and Syria, but they did not reverse its major gains nor halted its progress. Just last week ISIS took a strategic town near Homs, and its strongholds in Raqqa and Mosul are not threatened. ISIS also added the Iraqi city of Ramadi to its column last May.
Regionally the group has also significantly expanded its presence in Libya, where U.S. Ambassador Deborah Jones estimated its numbers between 3000-5000. In Yemen as well, the chaos since the Houthis took over Sanaa in September has attracted ISIS, and even in Gaza where the notorious group is now a challenge to Hamas while remaining very much a threat in Sinai, Egypt.
The big picture encompassing ISIS’ rise today brings to light the limits of U.S. military action to defeat it. From Iraq to Syria to Libya and Yemen, addressing political grievances is more important than access to airbases in marginalizing ISIS. That translates into establishing a national guard force in Iraq that includes the Sunni tribal force of Anbar, pushing for a political solution in Syria that ends Assad’s impunity, and reaching agreements to strengthen the remnants of legitimate institutions in Tripoli & Sanaa.
Blaming the U.S. for the rise of ISIS or waiting for its airstrikes to destroy the group is a fool’s errand, and misunderstands both the strengths and weaknesses of the “Caliphate”. Unless the political, financial and ideological contingents that are behind the surge of ISIS are addressed, the debate over its “pandemic” will be with us for a long time.
Joyce Karam is the Washington Correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution.
Why ISIS Trumps Freedom
By Roger Cohen
AUG. 13, 2015
What leads young European Muslims in their thousands to give up lives in France, Britain or Germany, enlist in the ranks of the movement calling itself Islamic State, and dedicate themselves to the unlikely aim of establishing a Caliphate backed by digital propaganda?
The honest answer is we don’t know why a 20-something Briton with a degree in computer engineering or a young Frenchman from a Norman village reaches a psychological tipping-point. Zealotry of any kind subsumes the difficulty of individual choices into the exalted collective submission of dedication to a cause. Your mission is suddenly set. It is presented as a great one with great rewards. Goodbye, tough calls. Goodbye, loneliness.
Islamic State has been adept in exploiting the alienation felt by many young Muslims, from the “quartiers” of Paris to the back streets of Bradford. It offers to give meaning, whether in this life or the next, to meaningless lives. The group has benefited from active support by online jihadi preachers and tacit backing, or at least acquiescence, from imams in some mosques who are inclined, in British Prime Minister David Cameron’s words, to “quietly condone.” It has manipulated anger over America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, over Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, over Shia ascendancy in the Middle East, over bleak existences on the margins of European society.
Still, the explanations fall short. Plenty of people experience great hardship or prejudice without opting to behead infidels and apostates, practice codified rape on teenage nonbelievers, and pursue the establishment of God’s rule on earth through his chosen caliph and in accordance with Shariah law.
Every effort of Western societies, particularly since 9/11, to curb the metastasizing jihadi ideology that threatens them has failed. Some of the organizations that grew out of that ideology have been hurt. But the ideas behind them, rooted in a violent rejection of modernity (but not all its tools, witness Islamic State’s slick use of the Internet) and in an extreme, literalist interpretation of certain teachings of Sunni Islam, have proved of unquenchable appeal. It’s a long way from Yorkshire to Raqqa in eastern Syria, yet some young British Muslims go. Other recruits arrive from Saudi Arabia and Russia, Libya and Australia. Islamic State has demonstrated very broad outreach.
It is clearly tapping into something deep. Perhaps that something is at root a yearning to be released from the burden of freedom. Western societies have been going ever further in freeing their citizens’ choices — in releasing them from ties of tradition or religion, in allowing people to marry whom they want and divorce as often as they want, have sex with whom they want, die when they want, and generally do what they want. There are few, if any, moral boundaries left.
In this context, radical Islam offers salvation, or at least purpose, in the form of a life whose moral parameters are strictly set, whose daily habits are prescribed, whose satisfaction of everyday needs is assured, and whose rejection of freedom is unequivocal. By taking away freedom, Islamic State lifts a psychological weight on its young followers adrift on the margins of European society.
Mark Lilla, in an essay earlier this year in The New York Review of Books on the French novelist Michel Houellebecq’s novel “Submission” (whose central character, a disaffected literature professor, ultimately chooses to convert to Islam) made this important point:
“The qualities that Houellebecq projects onto Islam are no different from those that the religious right ever since the French Revolution has attributed to premodern Christendom — strong families, moral education, social order, a sense of place, a meaningful death, and, above all, the will to persist as a culture. And he shows a real understanding of those — from the radical nativist on the far right to radical Islamists — who despise the present and dream of stepping back in history to recover what they imagine was lost.”
Lilla concluded of Houellebecq that he sees France in the grip of “a crisis that was set off two centuries ago when Europeans made a wager on history: that the more they extended human freedom, the happier they would be. For him, that wager has been lost. And so the continent is adrift and susceptible to a much older temptation, to submit to those claiming to speak for God.”
In Europe, right now, those speaking most ardently for God tend to be Muslims. Some of them have spoken out bravely against Islamic State. A majority sees the movement as a betrayal of their religion. But the Jihadi temptation to escape from freedom into all-answering zealotry is there and will not soon be curbed.
It is interesting that another foe of the West, President Vladimir Putin, attacks its culture from a similar standpoint: as irreligious, decadent and relativist, and intent on globalizing these “subversive” values, often under the cover of democracy promotion, freedom and human rights.
The great victory in 1989 was of freedom. But every triumph stirs a counter-force. The road to Raqqa is the road from freedom’s burden.