New actors, same old movie

With their vast, unearned wealth, the Saudis have saturated most of the Muslim world with their Wahhabi/Salafi version of a literalist Islam that makes no allowance for changing times or human frailty. It is this harsh strain that is fuelling much of the violence and turmoil that has shaken the Muslim world for the last quarter century, and tarnished the image of Islam.

Now the chickens are coming home to roost. After al-Qaeda, the franchise has morphed into groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, the Islamic State, and Boko Haram in Nigeria. Elsewhere, the Taliban and several other militant gangs compete over how many innocent people they can slaughter.

While states struggle to stamp out this menace, the poison flows unchecked from its Saudi source. Poorer Muslim countries like Pakistan are too beholden to Riyadh for aid and oil on deferred payment to object to the cash which madrasas and hard-line clerics get from public and private Arab sources.

Many experts on the Middle East have repeatedly pointed out the nexus between the Saudis and the rise of jihadi violence. But the world has stood by silently because of Saudi oil, and its purchase of billions of dollars of arms from Western sources. This makes these weapons cheaper for the countries where they are manufactured, apart from generating vast profits made on spares and training.

The only thing distinguishing the Islamic State from the Taliban is the level of violence: the former are even more savage than their Afghan and Pakistani brethren, if such a thing is possible. According to Kurds fleeing the onslaught on the Syrian town of Kobane, IS fighters who seized surrounding villages killed old men and children, and raped hundreds of women and young girls. Many had their hearts cut out and placed on their chests.

Such acts of savagery justify the intervention of the US-led coalition, even though aerial attacks can only slow down the IS without eradicating it. Those fulminating against the return of Western forces to the Middle East should ask the victims of IS brutality how they feel about it.

Many in the West as well as the Muslim world make the point that the rise of the Islamic State is a direct result of earlier European and American actions. These actions range from dividing the Ottoman Empire into French and British colonies to the support the West gives Israel in its harsh occupation of Palestine. However, this does not in any way absolve the jihadists of their guilt for the mayhem they are causing across the Muslim world and beyond. How have their victims been responsible for Western policies and actions?

As the Middle East kaleidoscope rotates and the patterns change, the baneful effects of Saudi money and ideology remain constant. From financing General Sisi’s military government to helping the Bahrain government’s brutal suppression of its opponents, the Saudis are leading the counter-revolution, and have turned the Arab Spring into a bleak summer and autumn.

Obviously, the status quo suits the Saudi royal family. Thousands of princelings feed from a vast trough filled with petro dollars. Any change that threatens their control of the country’s people and resources must be blocked. And to serve as security backup is the United States, the world’s most powerful state.

So while the actors in the IS movie and its various prequels and sequels may be different, it’s safe to say that the financiers, directors and producers all live in Saudi Arabia.

— Irfan Husain