Saudi Arabia asserting writ in region like mafia crime family

John Wight
John Wight has written for newspapers and websites across the world, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal. He is also a regular commentator on RT and BBC Radio. John is currently working on a book exploring the role of the West in the Arab Spring. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnWight1
© Faisal Al Nasser
What passes for a government in Saudi Arabia has just threatened that unless things change in Syria they will resort to ‘Plan B’, thus proving that the arrogance and impertinence of this medieval dictatorship knows no bounds.

Let us be clear: if the religious extremism that has engulfed the Arab world in recent years is a snake, responsible for the most heinous and wanton acts of brutality and barbarity it has ever experienced, the head of this snake lies in Riyadh. 

This is not to argue that Saudi Arabia should be lined up for invasion and occupation – surely we’ve seen enough of such invasions and occupations to know they only make the situation worse rather than better. But it does require that countries such as the US, UK, and France reappraise foreign policies that have long placed an emphasis on maintaining close relations to a government that has done more to destabilize the region with the poison of religious sectarianism than any other.

This sectarianism is enshrined in the Wahhabi Sunni doctrine that provides the Saudis with the legitimacy they enjoy as ‘guardians of the true faith’, in other words a literalist interpretation of Sunni Islam incompatible with the modern world and all norms of human decency. 

It is staggering to consider that a state in which human rights are considered an alien concept - which beheads as many if not more people than ISIS - has not only been allowed to flourish but has been aided in doing so by its friends in the West – and indeed to such an extent that it is in the business of issuing ultimatums and threats to secular and non-sectarian governments, such as the Syrian government in Damascus, in the manner of a New York mafia crime family asserting its writ over contested turf. In any other set of circumstances it would be laughable. 

For the Syrian people, though, it is far from a laughing matter. Over the past five years they have seen their country ripped apart by thousands of crazed Salafist jihadists, hell-bent on turning the clock back to the seventh century while turning Syria into a mass grave of the numerous minority communities that have made Syrian society, regardless of its government, a culturally diverse and rich mosaic that offers hope in a region beset by the centrifugal forces of sectarianism. 

© Stringer

The burning question that has occupied many of us throughout the conflict in Syria is not whether groups such as al-Nusra or ISIS have received support from Saudi Arabia, but whether said support has emanated from private individuals or from the state – or perhaps even from the state via private individuals.

As British journalist Patrick Cockburn writes in his book, The Rise of Islamic State, “The importance of Saudi Arabia in the rise and return of al-Qaeda is often misunderstood and understated.” He goes on to identify its role in the “propagating of Wahhabism, the fundamentalist, eighteenth-century version of Islam that imposes sharia law, relegates women to the status of second-class citizens, and regards Shia and Sufi Muslims as non-Muslims to be persecuted along with Christians and Jews.”

Cockburn goes as far as to claim that Wahhabism has “many similarities with European fascism in the 1930s.” 

The efforts of the Saudis in propagating and spreading the influence of Wahhabism are not restricted to the Middle East. In a 2015 article titled ‘The Saudi Connection: Wahhabism and Global Jihad’, which appeared at the US conservative website, World Affairs, authors Carl E B Chosky and Jamsheed K Chosky reveal that “80 percent of the 1,200 mosques operating in the US were constructed after 2001, more often than not with Saudi financing. As a result, Wahhabi influence over Islamic institutions in the US was considerable by 2003, according to testimony before the US Senate. Hundreds of publications, published by the Saudi government and its affiliates, and filled with intolerance toward Christians, Jews, and other Americans, had been disseminated across the country by 2006.” 

This pernicious influence has spread throughout the world, where Saudi money bankrolls the construction of mosques and funds schools in which Wahhabi theology and ideology is promoted and indoctrinated at the expense of every other interpretation of the Koran. 

In essence, we are describing a state which on the one hand is using its considerable oil-wealth to cement its indispensability to the West in the region as a major customer of its armaments industries, as well as an Arab ally willing to acquiesce in the West’s hegemonic geopolitical status in the region. On the other hand, it is using their “control of four-fifths of all Islamic publishing houses around the world to spread their fighting words into faraway places.” 

The Saudis are dependent on Wahhabi-clerics for policing the kingdom to ensure that any and all internal dissent is labeled apostasy and dealt with harshly. In return, the said clerics gain the state support and funding that allows them to spew out their hate-filled garbage. It is the very definition of an unholy alliance.   

When it comes to the conflict in Syria, the Choskys inform us how “More than 11,000 Wahhabi-radicalized foreigners had joined the Syrian jihad by September 2014, with French and British citizens predominating recruits from Europe. It costs on average only $2,500 to train each jihadi, fundraisers proudly inform potential donors when urging them to give more. After being bloodied in battle, many jihadis slip back into their native countries, just as one or both Kouachi brothers [responsible for the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in Paris] did after time in Yemen.  

For too long there has been a marked reluctance on the part of Washington and its European allies to confront the main source of the chaos and mayhem that has engulfed the region in recent years. It is a reluctance, or failure, that ensures that the rhetoric they constantly espouse about confronting and defeating terrorism has not been backed up with the action required to do so. 

The only ‘Plan B’ a world interested in ending the cancer of extremism and terrorism should be discussing is one that involves action to curb the power and influence of the Saudis in spreading and fomenting this poison. In fact, never mind ‘Plan B’, it should also constitute Plan A

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.