Photograph: Flickr, Raeid Allehyani
As the world welcomed 2016 with fireworks and music, Saudi Arabia spilled the blood of 47 people. Now that the spotlight shines on this dungeon of a regime, it should be seen for what it is. It has been one of our closest allies while simultaneously being the largest exporter of global terrorism. Yet, if we want a world without 9/11s, Charlie Hebdo massacres and Friday the 13ths, the journey has to start from reforms within the ingdom.
ISIS has a mother. That mother was the 2003 invasion of Iraq, creating a power vacuum and radicalising an entire generation. However, ISIS also has a father – the throat-slitting, bomb-blasting, death-loving ideology rooted in Wahabbi Islam. Fuelled by Saudi petro dollars, it has spread its seed across the globe – the Taliban in Pakistan, Al Shabab in Somalia, and Boko Haraam in Nigeria. This pure poison is exported by the oil rich kingdom through the financing of mosques, missionary programmes, and schools. In the 1980s, with the invitation from General Zia-ul-Haq, Saudi madrassas moved into Pakistan. Here they taught prepubescent boys the art of suicide bombing. To this day such an “education” is often the only option for many children. It is therefore no coincidence that terrorist attacks in Pakistan have by some estimates killed over 59,000 people since 2003.
Saudi ideology has penetrated into the green and pleasant lands of the UK, polluting the minds of the youth. Lee Rigby killer, Adebowale, himself said he was inspired by radical Sheikh Khalid Yasin. This is an American-born, Saudi-trained preacher who advocates the beating of women, the killing of gays, and has referred to the Taliban as his brothers. Yet this man lives in Manchester! Following the river back to the source is perplexing. Saudi Arabia is a society of contradictions. 7th century puritanism wedded to 21st century capitalist ‘decadence.’ It is the land of the Holy Book, as well as the cheque book, of the prophets and profits, where burkas and bankers coexist.
All of these contradictions stem from the 18th century. Preacher and scholar Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab spearheaded a movement to “purify” Islam. This movement was rejected by all mainstream Islamic scholarship at the time for being extreme. However, it gained traction by aligning with tribal leader Muhammed ibn-Saud. With the promise that they would bring “power and glory” to ibn-Saud, together their conquests would total the largest state in the Arabian Peninsula. While the monarchy remains in control of the oil wealth and economy, the Wahabbi remit is education, justice, and social policy.
With billions in the bank, the God guiding the royal family is certainly not Allah – it’s Mammon. With the oil wealth, they can afford the best sports cars, nightclubs and prostitutes. The royals dance with Prince Charles, receive bows from Obama and now have a seat at the UN Human Rights Council. This is a regime that makes a mockery of both Islam and the West at the same time.
Surprisingly, these two pillars of the dictatorship are usually on the same page – only for different reasons. To the dismay of millions of Muslims, historical sites relating to the prophet are being destroyed. The clerics say this is to avoid “idol worship” while the monarchy has signed all kind of deals with real estate companies to make use of this space. The House of Saud also sends jihadists to go to fight its proxy wars with the Iranians in Yemen and Syria and the draconian justice system allows the kingdom to destroy internal dissent.
Being weaned by Wahabbism from a young age, political opposition to the government is usually expressed through an Al Qaeda lens. The calls for the world’s most Islamic fundamentalist state to become even more fundamentalist are growing louder! It is no coincidence that the majority of pro-ISIS tweets come from Saudi Arabia.
History shines light on how evolution from within rather than revolution from below is often a less rocky road out of tyranny. The Cultural Revolution and economic disasters of Maoist China were put to an end by Deng Xiaoping – himself a reformer within the Communist Party. The modern PRC is hardly a human rights exemplar but it has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty and has embraced the 21st century. From the thousands of royal family members, a Deng needs to emerge.
The royal family has to realize that while it has been empowered by its clerical allies, it is equally imprisoned. On 20 November 1979, there was a Wahabbi insurrection aiming to overthrow the monarchy and establish a caliphate. Similarly, after burying Soviet Communism in the mountains of Afghanistan, the chickens came home to roost. The very fighters the regime had trained to fight the Soviets, such as Bin Laden, sought to bridge the gap between what the country claimed to be (an Islamic state) and what it really was.
So, before the Wahabbis get rid of the monarchy, the monarchy should get rid of the Wahabbis. Purges of the most extreme clerics already went underway under the late King Abdullah. However, the aim should be to cut the cancer out of the kingdom completely. Gradual purges within education and the judiciary are a necessity. Through this procedure, slowly but surely, Saudi Arabia will enter the modern age. Once the cancer has gone, it can no longer be spread.