What’s Wrong With This Picture? Saudi Arabia
What’s Wrong With This Picture? Saudi Arabia
The last couple of weeks have been filled with bad news across the Middle East, South Asia, and even the Caucasus. The sheer destructiveness, outrageous, deplorable behavior, and intolerance manifested in the events are extremely disheartening, to say the least.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has a real challenge on his hands. Militants have attacked a number of moderate Muslim clerics in the Caucasus, and some have died. The clerics were known to be voices of moderation and criticism against the fanatical militants, who are proliferating in Russia’s southern edges. Reuters reports that in Dagestan, “more than a dozen young men from the village have ‘gone to the forest’ – the local euphemism for joining insurgents in their hideouts, says village administrator Aliaskhab Magomedov.” The reports indicate that these men are hardened Islamists as a result of working in the Gulf Arab states, returning home and spreading their Wahhabi ideology with violence.
Similarly, in two African countries we see Salafist and Al Qaeda-affiliated militants destroying Sufi mosques and shrines. In parts of Libya, they are literally bulldozing heritage sites, not unlike the Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statues. In Mali, militants have literally chipped away at UNESCO heritage sites with hammers and chisels. These militants also want to target libraries and museums in order to destroy precious archeological icons and manuscripts that they deem “un-Islamic.” When you read Ahmed Rashid’s book on the Taliban, you learn that when the Taliban first came to power in the mid-1990s, and took over Kabul, one of the first institutions they attacked and destroyed were libraries. Nothing has changed, except the geography. Such mentalities still may be among minority fringe groups. Nonetheless, their propensity for violence and destruction is not only horrendous, but also, alarmingly, proliferating in other regions.
Such is the venom of Wahhabi/Salafi ideology, and let’s not forget that the seat of Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia, has long upheld policies for destroying sacred and heritage sites, and carried them out within the kingdom. The Saudis, after all, are one of the creators of the Taliban. That is very telling indeed. In fact, the “League of Libyan Ulema, a group of more than 200 Muslim scholars, on Tuesday evening blamed the attacks on a son of the late dictator Muammar Qaddafi, Saadi, and his Libyan Salafi allies it said were inspired by radical Saudi preachers. Sufi theologian Aref Ali Nayed said Libya had not seen such attacks for centuries. ‘Even Mussolini’s fascists did not treat our spiritual heritage with such contempt,’ he said” (Reuters). Italy under Mussolini occupied Libya until WWII.
While the West is preoccupied with vilifying Iran – and this is not to say that the Iranian regime is not a problem or a threat – we in the West are frighteningly myopic in terms of seeing the big picture: i.e., Salafism / Wahhabism is proving to be even more destructive, violent, intolerant, and hate-mongering on a daily basis than what we see coming from Iran, and not just in words, but also in action. The only thing is that the former is not on the radar, while the latter (Iran) is the object of obsession in the West. That scenario will only lead to repeating costly past mistakes: can we say “Mujahideen” in the Af-Pak region?
The Libyan Ulema and citizens are extremely frustrated with Tripoli’s seemingly inability to stop the Salafi assault on the country’s shrines, mosques, and heritage sites.
“The League of Libyan Ulema (Muslim scholars) urged Tripoli ‘to pressure the government of Saudi Arabia to restrain its clerics who meddle in our affairs’ by training young Libyans in Salafism and spreading the ideology through books and tapes.
It also urged Libyans to protect Sufi sites by force.
Nayed, who lectures at the old Uthman Pasha madrasa that was desecrated on Tuesday evening, said the attackers were ‘Wahhabi hooligans (and) all sorts of pseudo-Salafi elements’ while government security officials were ‘complacent and impotent.’
‘Libya has to make a clear choice – either a Taliban/Shabaab-style religious fanaticism or a true Muslim moral and spiritual civility,’ he told Reuters.”
The Salafists – or, as Nayed pointedly and correctly calls them “Wahhabi hooligans” – are an imminent threat to the stability and security of the regions and sub-regions in which they operate. And, that is exactly their intent, to destabilize, coerce, bully, and terrorize. Although their militant ideologies have been dealt a severe blow since the mostly peaceful 2011 Arab uprisings and revolutions successfully changed regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, the Wahhabi hooligans also see the same events and outcomes as an opportunity to fill any gaps that may appear in the nation building processes in respective countries. Effective policies and law enforcement are needed to preclude them from gaining even an inch. Think of them as hyenas lurking in the darkness, only now they are audaciously operating in broad daylight.
The other major recent incident is the disgustingly shameful “blasphemy” case in Pakistan, which has landed a young 14-year-old girl with mental disabilities, who happens to be a Christian, in prison. Instead of protecting this child and her family, the Pakistani authorities, in all their hollow wisdom, have thrown her in jail, and might make her stand trial. Blasphemy prosecutions can render death sentences. This has stirred outrage worldwide, and especially among human rights organizations. Perhaps in reaction to the outrage, police arrested the local imam who some claim is the culprit in framing the child. But, this case is about more than just the tragic circumstances of this child, her family, and the Pakistani Christian community at large. This ludicrous behavior by the authorities and even the government, which initially called for “an investigation,” rather than calling for her immediate release, only highlights the moral bankruptcy of Pakistan. The expediency with which the so-called “blasphemy law” is used especially against religious minorities underscores the nakedly transparent bigotry that streams through Pakistan’s fabric. Furthermore, it is not only an example of moral bankruptcy, but it also illustrates the most profound absence of intelligence and reason. Regarding this case, there is no hole deep enough in the sand that would be sufficient for heads to bury themselves in, as far as I’m concerned. I close with a quote by George Orwell:
“One defeats a fanatic precisely by not being a fanatic oneself, but on the contrary, by using one’s intelligence.”
NOTE: Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views
“’As we watched the efficient attack on Assad’s National Security council on Wednesday, Assad found himself one minister of defense and brother-in-law short. Interventions have been taking place in the 17 month old conflict since its inception, and the only issue now is for those who have picked their horse – in this case, the unpredictable, unknown creature called the Syrian opposition – to bide their time.
What we are watching now is the increasingly rapid entropy of the Assad regime and not without the considerable aid from several intelligence agencies which are many and varied – Jordanians, the Central Intelligence Agency, British, French and Turkish agents’.”
This is a quote from an online blog called “Above Top Secret,” which includes analysis from Stratfor Intelligence (a private open-source intelligence firm). I was also recently quoted for a Reuters piece on Syria speculating the same thing: that the sophisticated bombing successfully taking out key senior officials in Assad’s inner circle could not have happened without outside help, as well as an insider turncoat. It was indeed a spectacular attack that has shaken but not collapsed the regime.
The alleged outside support, which I am coining “Neo-Interventionism,” is not new or unique to the Middle East, especially in terms of supposed covert assistance being given to Syrian rebels. However, this neo-interventionism is unique in the sense that the outside supporters of the opposition see Syria as a means to undermine the Iranians. And, as much as some are profusely denying that a sectarian component exists in this scenario, it is clear as day that the backing of the opposition by conservative Sunni / Wahhabi Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, is imbued with the Sunni-Shiite rivalry and geopolitical, regional, and ideological competition. No one would be happier to poke the Iranian regime in the eye, and pull the rug out from underneath them, more than the Saudis and their allies, which includes Western powers.
Yet, many scholars, analysts, media, and regional and Western powers are conveniently turning a blind eye to this and a few other uncomfortable truths. Among these is the fact that the Saudis and Qataris are not involving themselves out of the goodness of their hearts. They see a golden opportunity here, but with gross disregard to the regional risks and perils that such neo-interventionism harbors. Part of my neo-interventionist theory is that old lessons from history are never learned, and the parties involved are bound to repeat history, like the civil war in Syria that is very similar to the civil war in Lebanon (or will ultimately morph into such). The only difference is that now there are some new actors involved in new contexts. The configurations and in some cases even the grudges remain unchanged.
Another uncomfortable truth is that atrocities and crimes are being committed by both the Asad regime and the opposition rebels. Robert Fisk of the Independent reports at least 200 women outside of Homs have been raped by both sides, and the actual numbers of victims could be much higher throughout Syria. Extrajudicial killings and kidnappings are also taking place.
Yet another uncomfortable truth is that no one actually knows the composition of the rebels, and that among them are some unsavory characters, including hard-line Salafists, criminals, and drug addicts.
Quoting Robert Fisk again in his piece dated July 22, entitled “Sectarianism Bites into Syria’s Rebels,” he cites a young man who works for the Syrian opposition, upon his arrival to an office in Beirut. He bears a message for the opposition in Beirut just before the Damascus operation:
“His story was as revealing as it was frightening. Damascus was about to be attacked. But the fighters were out of control. There were drug addicts among them. ‘Some of our people are on drugs,’ the visitor said. ‘They will take anyone out. We can’t guarantee what some of these men will do. If they went into Malki [a mixed, middle-class area of central Damascus], we couldn’t protect any of the people who live there. We are against the Salafists who are fighting – there are good Syrians, Druze and Ishmaeilis [Alawites] who are with us. But if we capture Damascus, we don’t know how to run a small town, let alone a country’.”
If there is a lesson to learn from it’s the case of Libya, which is still a mess and where violence and kidnappings continue to plague society. But, Libya is nothing compared to Syria, especially with the potential for spillover of the civil war into Lebanon. If we think the case of Libya is turning into a transitional nightmare, then we must brace ourselves further for Syria’s civil war, as well as for the uncertainties pertaining to the post-Asad era. There is much speculation about what a post-Asad Syria would look like, but another uncomfortable truth is that the likelihood for power struggles, sectarian cleansing, ideological spats, and chaotic violence is very high.
There is no doubt that the Syrian civilians are suffering, including refugees fleeing to neighboring countries. They deserve security and protection, and a long-term solution for the future health of their country. In my opinion, the Asad regime and the rebels are disregarding the plight of the civilians caught in the middle of the conflict zones. And, the rest of the world is impotent, except for the neo-interventionism, which is myopically pursuing respective national interests, rather than genuinely concerned about the innocent non-combatants.
Says Robert Fisk:
“Now, of course, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, where al-Jazeera is based, make no secret of the funds and weapons they are running into Turkey and Lebanon for the resistance – without apparently caring very much who the ‘resisters’ are. The Lebanese army managed to stop one out of five shiploads of guns, but the others, carried on Sierra Leone-registered vessels, were able to unload.”
If either side – whether the Asad regime, the opposition groups, Free Syrian Army / rebels, and the foreign supporters – really cared about the Syrian civilian population, they all would stop what they are doing right now, lay down their arms, and sit at the negotiating table. Obviously, they each have their own agendas for Syria and possibly the region, and their actions show that the civilians are pawns and dispensable entities. Syria can end up becoming the Middle East’s Afghanistan.
Fisk’s last paragraph says:
“One of the two organizations that claimed responsibility for last week’s Damascus bombing, Liwa Islam – the Islam Brigade – raises again the Salafist element in Syria’s armed opposition. One newly arrived refugee from Syria told me last week that they have forbidden alcohol and openly say they intend to die fighting in Damascus. Given the savage response of the Syrian regime, they may get their last wish.”
It doesn’t seem to matter to them who gets in the way.
NOTE: Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views