By Rudroneel Ghosh
April 17, 2016
In a significant message to the 13th Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI called upon the member states to design appropriate strategies and adopt reform measures to face a situation wherein Islamophobia and hatred towards Muslims are on the rise among western societies. He implored the member states to identify and critically analyse the causes behind the current situation, adding that sectarian division, fanaticism and terrorism were gaining ground, and hence there was a need to determine why the Islamic world was affected, both as a source and a target.
He further emphasised the importance of this exercise as certain elements were trying to take advantage of this fragile situation in order to fuel separatist trends and redraw the map of the Islamic world – something that could be interpreted as a reference to the rise of the Islamic State (IS) terror group or Iran’s strategic adventurism as perceived by the Arab states or both. Nonetheless, King Mohammed’s message recognises that the Muslim world is facing a serious problem which needs to be tackled root and branch.
If we trace the origin of these issues, particularly the rise of Islamophobia, there’s no running away from the fact that Saudi Arabia’s export of Wahhabism over decades has contributed to the current state of affairs. In fact, this is what created the foundation for the global Jihadi movement. Today, IS has emerged as the most extreme form of this Wahhabi/Salafi creed. In other words, what was a religion-based strategic endeavour for Saudi Arabia has come back to threaten the pre-eminence of the Islamic kingdom itself.
Saudi Arabia created the basic conditions for groups like IS and al-Qaida to emerge. But the tipping point was the realisation that there were two sets of rules – one for the Saudi royal family and one for the Saudi population. Likewise, the dictators and strongmen in the Arab world maintained control over their local populations with an iron grip. And the opposition to this situation from within an already radicalised population resulted in more radicalism. This was exemplified by the fact that the most organised opposition groups that emerged in the wake of the Arab Spring wave were the Islamists, not the minority elite liberals.
It’s against this backdrop that Saudi Arabia’s recent move to rein in its religious police needs to be seen. As announced, from now on the religious police will only work during office hours and will no longer have the right to pursue arrest or detain members of the public. Over the years, the Saudi religious police has not only come under mounting criticism for its highhandedness but is also reviled as a symbol of hypocrisy. And such hypocrisy has been cited by radical Jihadi groups that claim to be true representatives of Islam to draw more recruits to their cause.
But to reverse the Wahhabi foundation that Saudi Arabia has created over decades, it needs to do much more than just rein in its religious police. Taking cue from Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, it needs to undertake deep-rooted reforms and fight radicalism tooth and nail. Most importantly, it needs to effect a truce with Iran. For its rivalry with the Shia Islamic republic is what compelled Saudi Arabia to pursue the export of Wahhabism as a strategic instrument in the first place. Only a clear recognition of these facts and determination to craft a peaceful future can change the present calamitous course of the Muslim world.