45. Bitte Hammargren, Utrikespolitiska institutet

10.07.2016 12:36

writes: "Both we in the West, the Islamic world and the Saudis themselves need to see a Saudi kingdom, which opens for reforms and fighting jihad ideologically".

King Salman bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud in talks with President Barack Obama in September last year. Foto: Evan Vucci/AP

 

DEBATE SAUDI ARABIA

     "To go to the root of the evil, the jihadist ideology must be fought".

Terror must be fought by many means: economic, social, integration, legal, police and in some places even military. But almost fifteen years of experience in the "war on terror" launched by President Bush after al-Qaeda's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, shows that military intervention is not enough. In the worst cases, they can be counter-productive, as they violate international law, killing civilians and creating a power vacuum that jihadists can exploit.

Even if an air bomb would kill the IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the violent Salafism would not disappear. It has established itself in countries at war and chaos: Libya, Yemen, on the Sinai Peninsula, in the Sahel and in those parts of Iraq and Syria, where IS has declared its so-called caliphate. At the same time, we know from bitter experience how it has gained a foothold in the European subcultures.

To go to the root of the evil, the jihadist ideology must be fought - both in Europe and in the heartland of wahhabism, Saudi Arabia.

We have to see how the last 35 years of Saudi ideology exports has distorted interpretations of Sunni Islam from country to country, first in the Islamic world to now spreading to suburban environments in major European cities.

Three dramatic events of 1979 - the Shi'ite Islamic revolution in Iran, Sunni Orthodox occupation of the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan - prompting Saudi Arabia to release the jihadi genie out of the bottle. It was through the support of God's Warriors in other countries, starting with Afghanistan, and by spending billions for the funding of madrasas, mosques and imam training programs around the world.

Saudi Arabia has long since lost control over these different movements, which spread their terror in the world, one city after the other through their terrorist bombings. But to be able to put the genie back into the bottle, it must be also ideologically - not least in the Sunni conservatism strict homeland, the vast Saudi kingdom, which was created after thirty years of jihadist war a hundred years ago.

Western governments, who are happy to make arms deals with Riyadh, are fully aware of how the Saudi oil billions have helped to finance the Sunni terrorism worldwide.

A US diplomatic report, revealed by Wikileaks, shows that Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State a few years ago pointed out Saudi donors as the biggest financiers of Sunni terror groups. The problem with the financing of terrorism has not diminished since then - but to trace the financiers who have Prince titles is difficult.

One of the Saudis who openly challenged the ruling was economics professor Mohammed Fahad al-Qahtani, the founder of a Saudi human rights organization. I myself have met this US-educated Saudi reformists, at a time when he participated in the training of Saudi diplomats. But in 2012 he was sentenced to eleven years in prison. Before the verdict, he had time to tweet about what he told his interrogators, including: "What if you dared to look into the Saudi main reasons of terrorism. But I advise you not to look at these issues for the top among the Saudi oligarchs would be procecuted in this case for instigating proxy war."

Here is a key to why the rulers of Saudi Arabia beat down so hard on their peaceful reformists instead of letting their milder interpretations of Islam become a tool in the ideological fight against violent jihadism glorification.

We can also take note of the reports of how worried US President Barack Obama is of the Saudi influence in Sunni Islam worldwide - an impact that he saw the consequences of Indonesia, where he lived for some years in his childhood in the 1960s . In a private conversation with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnball he described how he had seen Islam in Indonesia transformed from a casual, syncretistic form to a more fundamentalist, intransigent interpretation. Obama's statement, according to a conversation reproduced by The Atlantic, was that the Saudis and other Gulf states have sent money, imams and teachers of madrasas in Indonesia, schools that advocated the Saudi interpretation of Sunni Islam.

Now when Obama has just made his historic visit to Cuba, it might be appropriate to ask which country - Saudi Arabia and Cuba, the Castro regime - that has been the biggest problem for the United States in recent decades. Let us also suppose that Obama would copy portions of the speech he gave on Tuesday in Havana, when he next month will visit Riyadh. Imagine if he was standing beside King Salman bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud, would say the same thing he said in his speech in the presence of Cuban President Raul Castro:

I believe that citizens should have the right to speak their minds without fear. To (be able to) organize and criticize their government and to protest peacefully and that the judiciary should not include arbitrary detention of people who exercise these rights. I believe that every individual should have the right to practice their faith peacefully and in public. And I think that voters should be able to choose their governments in free and democratic elections. Not everyone agrees with me on this, everyone does not agree with the American people about this. But I believe that these human rights are universal.

Peaceful Saudi reformists, who are kept in prison, would applaud such a presidential speech if it was held in Riyadh. We can assume that more Western leader than Obama inwardly see problems with Saudi Arabia, where several Western countries sell weapons. Both we in the West, the Islamic world and the Saudis themselves need to see a kingdom that will open up to reform and fighting jihad ideologically. It is needed not to let IS terror get a stronger foothold in countries affected by war and chaos - so that they once again will cause death and destruction in the world cities, from Istanbul to Brussels, when they strike with their blind hatred.

Bitte Hammargren

editor at Utrikespolitiska institutet