How the West nurtured radical Islam

Minhaz Merchant
Minhaz MerchantJun 30, 2015 | 16:03

How the West nurtured radical Islam

Tunisia. France. Kuwait. Somalia. The wave of deadly attacks by Islamist terrorists that swept through four countries in three continents last Friday (June 26) killed over a hundred people, including Indian citizens.

In the Somalia attack, carried out by the al-Shabaab terror group, one of the militants killed was a Briton called Thomas Evans. Known as Abdul Hakim after he converted to Islam, Evans represents an ominous trend of Europeans being indoctrinated by radical Islam.


The attack on a Shia mosque in Kuwait was carried out by a Saudi citizen, Fahad Suleiman Abdul Mohsen al-Gabbaa. It was one of the first terror attacks by a quasi-ISIS affiliate in the oil-rich, Sunni-majority Gulf sheikhdom.

After its reverses in Kobane and Tikrit, the Islamic State (ISIS) has turned to coordinated terror strikes in multiple locations. As ever, most of the victims are other Muslims. ISIS continues to attract "white" fighters form Muslim Europe - Chechnya, the Balkans and parts of Western Europe.

Why has a terrorist group like ISIS with at most 50,000 active fighters been able to defy American, British, French and Arab military firepower? The short answer: the West laid the foundation for ISIS. It is now reaping the whirlwind.

Two US presidents, father George H Bush and son George W Bush, between 1991 and 2008 destroyed the Iraqi army, turned a blind eye to radical Saudi Wahhabism and created a huge power vacuum in the Middle East. By 2011 over 1,00,000 US troops had withdrawn from Iraq, leaving the country without law, order, army or government.

The old Ba'ath bureaucracy was disbanded along with the Iraqi army. The government, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, was weak and remote-controlled from Washington. As Sunni-Shia violence mounted in Iraq, al-Maliki was replaced as prime minister by the more moderate but equally ineffective Hyder al-Abadi.


ISIS walked into this vacuum in 2014. It had been active in Iraq and Syria earlier but gained traction after it overran Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, last June. Iraq's newly recruited army fled when attacked by ISIS forces, despite the Islamists being barely a tenth their number. ISIS looted the fleeing Iraqi army's US-made tanks, rocket launchers and ammunition, took over oil refineries and established an Islamist government in a swathe of territory the size of France across north-west Iraq and Syria. Most of the territory ISIS currently controls has a Sunni majority population. ISIS itself is driven by an extreme version of Sunni ideology that justifies killing Shias whom it regards as heretics.

The two biggest culprits in this Middle East of horrors are the United States and Saudi Arabia. The US has financed radical Islam in Saudi Arabia for decades. Its pact with Riyadh is brief and brutal: we'll provide the military, you provide the money.

The early ISIS was co-funded by Sunni Saudi Arabia to contain the growing influence of Shia-majority Iran, Iraq and Syria. When ISIS, like all Frankensteins, turned on its creator by launching suicide-bombers on targets in Saudi Arabia, Riyadh cut off funding. It began to build a 400-km wall on its northern border with Iraq to keep ISIS terrorists out.


The Americans have been even more ruthless - and culpable - than the Saudis in nurturing jihadism in the Middle East and beyond. Washington's involvement goes back nearly a century.

Following the defeat of its German allies in the World War I in 1918, the Ottoman Empire lost its Muslim lands, in the arc from Egypt to the Balkans, to the US, Britain and France. Only the rump, Turkey, remained. In 1924, the Ottoman caliphate was officially abolished. The US and Britain in 1932 established Saudi Arabia - custodian of the holy mosques in Mecca and Medina and a part of the Ottoman Empire since 1818 - as an independent Islamic kingdom under the Wahhabi al Saud dynasty. Over the next thirty years, a pro-West military dictator or sheikh was installed in virtually every Arab country.

Most Arab dictators were directly funded by the West: Saddam Hussein in Iraq, till he went rogue by invading another Western client-nation, Kuwait, in 1990; the Shah of Iran who danced to Washington's tune till the Iranian revolution in 1979; King Hussein (and now his son King Abdullah) of Jordan; and the faceless sheikhs across the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain.

Has Washington since learnt its lesson? No. It continues to arm and mollycoddle Saudi Arabia and other Arab sheikdoms. Women have few liberties. Lashings and even beheadings are not uncommon.

Though its dependence on oil from the Middle East has reduced following shale gas discoveries at home, the US uses the Middle East as a military and geopolitical chessboard to checkmate Russian and Chinese influence in this geographical bridge between Europe and Asia.

But the US has made three strategic mistakes. It stayed aloof from the Libyan civil war, allowing the country to slip into Islamist chaos which now threatens to spill across north Africa. Last Friday's jihadi attack in Tunisia was a glimpse of what lies ahead in a previously peaceful country.

The second US error was its ambiguity over Syria. In its haste to demonise and oust Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, the US strengthened terrorist groups like al-Nusra fighting the Bashar regime. Several such terror groups joined forces with ISIS to make northern Syria an ISIS stronghold. It is from here that ISIS gets money and men to launch terror attacks in areas as far away as Tunisia, Kuwait, France and Somalia.

Washington's third error was allowing Iran to continue its nuclear programme to a point from which Tehran will, sooner or later, acquire nuclear weapons capability. This has prompted Saudi Arabia to declare that it too will acquire nuclear weapons. Pakistan's arsenal of 110-120 nuclear devices are already hypothecated to Saudi Arabia. Riyadh can simply buy rather than build a nuclear bomb.

The lethal complicity between the US and Saudi Arabia has converted the Middle East into a cauldron of Sunni-Shia hatred. The infection has spread. Pakistani Sunnis kill Shias by the dozen every week in Karachi and elsewhere. The Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan meanwhile murders people indiscriminately regardless of religion, sect or gender. ISIS flags have been raised in Jammu & Kashmir though the essential Sufi culture of the Kashmir Valley is antithetical to the naked barbarity of ISIS.

Many readers ask why I included Islam in the title of my book (The New Clash of Civilizations: How the Contest Between America, China, India and Islam Will Shape Our Century).The answer is that no other major faith places allegiance to religion above allegiance to nation as Islam does. A Briton is British first and Christian second. An Indian is Indian first and Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Parsi, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain or Jew second. Not so in many Muslim-majority countries. (It was especially disappointing therefore to hear Omar Abdullah, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, declare in parliament during the trust vote in July 2008 that he was a "proud Muslim and a proud Indian." The order should have been reversed.)

By 2050, Islam (with 1.6 billion adherents today) will have the world's largest following, ahead of Christianity (2.10 billion today) and Hinduism (1 billion today). It will unlike other faiths exercise a pan-national civilizational force along with the world's three largest economies in 2050: the US, China and India.

If Islam is going to play a pivotal role in the future geopolitics of the world, the US, China and India, the three major powers - present and future - must contest radical elements in Islam to reshape the civilizational values that will define this century.

Last updated: July 01, 2015 | 17:31
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