Saudi Arabia’s Uncomfortable History With Radical Islam

Americans and Europeans cannot purge Islam of the poisonous ideology that has taken root within the faith. Saudi Arabia needs to help defeat ISIS. (Photographer: Olivier Douliery/Bloomberg)

Americans and Europeans cannot purge Islam of the poisonous ideology that has taken root within the faith. Saudi Arabia needs to help defeat ISIS. (Photographer: Olivier Douliery/Bloomberg)


Yassin K. Fawaz
Mr. Fawaz is chief executive of the Raddington Group, a DC-based risk management firm.


When President Barack Obama told the people of America on Monday that “it is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas that lead to radicalization,” he was stating what should have been obvious: Americans and Europeans cannot purge Islam of the poisonous ideology that has taken root within the faith.

The United States, France and Russia can drop all the bombs they want on Iraq and Syria, but they cannot defeat the Islamic State by destroying buildings and trucks.

If they wished, they have the power to send thousands of ground troops, armed with heavy weapons, to occupy both countries, wipe out ISIS forces, and then stay there to keep order. That still would not result in the elimination of ISIS. Its followers would simply go underground and bide their time.

The loud voices that have responded to the mass murders in Paris by calling for intensified military action have a thin grasp of history. The United States sent more than half million troops to Vietnam but did not prevail. The Soviet Union was forced to retreat from Afghanistan. France did not keep Algeria. We should have learned that Western powers cannot permanently impose their will by force on insurgent movements whose adherents have long-term ideological commitments.


Sunni Muslims need to destroy ISIS

If ISIS is to be extirpated from the Muslim world, it will have to be done by Sunni Muslims, not by outsiders. Their mentors and sympathizers, primarily in the Gulf, will have to undertake a serious effort to uproot the ideas and beliefs that are the foundation of the Islamic State. Doing that will be especially difficult for Saudi Arabia, which spent two decades and billions of dollars to spread worldwide a version of Islam that is uncomfortably similar to that of the Islamic State.

It’s hard to argue with Richard Bulliett of Columbia University, who wrote: “King Salman faces a difficult choice. Does he do what President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and many Republican presidential hopefuls want him to do, namely, lead a Sunni alliance against the Islamic State? Or does he continue to ignore Syria, attack Shi‘ites in Yemen, and allow his subjects to volunteer money and lives to the ISIS caliph’s war against Shi‘ism?” He predicted that “In five years time, Saudi Arabia will either help defeat the Islamic State, or become it.”

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King Salman and other prominent Saudis have said all the right things about ISIS atrocities, and for a time Saudi warplanes participated in the international coalition conducting air strikes against ISIS positions. But the Saudis then transferred their planes to the war in Yemen—a war against Shiites, while the conflict with ISIS is a war against Sunnis.

Saudi Arabia’s ideological dilemma

This ideological dilemma for Saudi Arabia can be traced to November 1979, when a group of armed Saudi renegades took over the Great Mosque in Mecca at gunpoint and held it for days against futile efforts by Saudi Security forces to retake it. The rebels accused the Saudi regime of being unreligious: westernized, liberal, tainted by un-Islamic ideas. One of them was proclaimed the mahdi, the Rightly-Guided One who will restore the true faith.

In the end the rebels all died, but their ideas prevailed. As an old adage in region says, they lost the battle but in many ways they won the war. So traumatized were the Saudi rulers that they acted to burnish their religious credentials by implementing many of the rebels’ demands. They tightened up on social practices, removed unveiled women from television, and unleashed the muttawa to enforce rigid rules of behavior. They abandoned their longstanding practice of tolerating the semi-clandestine religious services of foreign workers. More than that, they pumped billions of their oil dollars into spreading their Islamic ideology, as it had been taught by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the 18th century preacher who had demanded that Islam purge itself of alien influences and shun contact with unbelievers.

From West Africa to South Asia, the Saudis dispatched imams to preach this uncompromising version of the faith; they sent textbooks; they financed religious schools called madrasas; they paid to build mosques. These religious messages did not, of course, tell Muslims that they should go to Europe and kill innocent people. But they did teach that Islam worldwide must defend itself against its relentless enemies, the “crusaders.” Bombings of ISIS by Westerners reinforce that idea.
The United States, France and Russia can drop all the bombs they want on Iraq and Syria, but they cannot defeat the Islamic State by destroying buildings and trucks. (AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)

Weaponry can’t overpower ISIS’ beliefs

That ideology came back to bite Saudi Arabia when Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda compatriots returned from the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan and attacked the Saudi regime—which in their view had committed the unpardonable sin of allowing half a million non-Muslim troops, led by Americans, to use Saudi Arabia as a base for attacking Muslim Iraq in Operation Desert Storm.

With its instinct for self-preservation, the Saudi regime now portrays itself as a firm foe of the kind of extremism represented by al-Qaeda and ISIS. But the ideas it spread have taken root among many disenchanted and disenfranchised Muslims—the ones who believe that if they enforce their version of a purified Islam as it was practiced in the time of the Prophet Muhammad, a purified world purged of heretics and apostates such as the Shiites, they can achieve peace and prosperity in accordance with God’s law.

No amount of weaponry can overpower that deeply-held belief among the small percentage of Muslims who sympathize with the tactics of ISIS. Only the Saudis and their allies in the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait can do that.

Can the Saudis lead that effort without repudiating the faith they have promoted for the past generation?

13 replies

  1. All articles now-a-days are not complete. Yes, all the above is correct, however, we cannot omit mentioning the ‘behind-the-scenes’ support that ISIS receives from Western (and Israeli) ‘special forces’ and ‘intelligence agencies’. Everyone agrees that most weapons of ISIS are American. It is the American’s duty that they do not receive any American arms. etc. etc. etc.

  2. How about ISIS getting those American weapons from the countries America sold them to? Some of those countries are among the 40 Mr Putin said are financing the terrorist outfit.
    As for the Israeli linkage, it has now become customary for people to blame the death of their grandmother, they never cared for while alive, on Israel. There is a name for it: anti-Semitism which is the oldest form of institutionalized racism.

  3. Muhammad said he founded a movement which is both government and religion. That makes ISIS both religion and politics.


    A.With teaching love to next generation.
    1. The Prophet Mohammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “None of you has faith until you love for your neighbour what you love for yourself.”

    These Golden Rules are found in Christianity, Judaism, and other religions. These are the messages we must give the next generation.(our children and grand children)

    2.Deuteronomy 6:5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

    3.Galatian 5:14. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself. If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

    B.With reformation.
    1.Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people
    until they change it themselves (with their own soul ) . QS .13:11.

    2.And such are the Parables We set forth for mankind, but only those understand them who have Knowledge. QS 29; (43).

    So some of the ancient Islamic laws should be reformed with new interpretation of Islam.

    For example;
    1.The system of government in Al Quran QS 2;30, Caliphate—-can be changed with the system Secular-democracy.
    2.These ancient Islamic laws below can be changed
    The ancient Islamic Shariah such as; the system Caliphat QS 2;30, Women slavery QS,23;4-6, Women have to cover whole her body with cloth. QS.33:59., A wife do not have a right to reject if her husband want to have sex QS.4:34, be heading, be crucified, or their hands and legs be cut off from different sides,QS 5:33,who commits theft, cut off the hands of both QS 5;38,The fornicating woman and the fornicating man, flog each one of them with one hundred stripes.QS 24;2-3.
    The execution of sentence is conducted at front of public.

    3 All false Hadith from the book of Hadith have to be abolished from the book of Hadith. Or the book of Hadith can be reform, because the book of Hadith was created by ancient men,NOT from Allah.

    For example;
    Extremist Muslim also follow the ancient Islamic culture such as;
    The book of hadith encourage young Muslim to hate toward infidel, to kill apostate, blasphemy, gay and lesbian, women are forbidden to be leader, forbidden to seat side by side with man, forbidden to go out side without a man, women are forbidden to sing a song at public, women are forbidden to drive a car etc.

    C. With defeating and destroying them.

    All liberal religious, non religious have to united to fight and defeat them. Because they are so dangerous for humanity. They kill innocent people anytime and anywhere.

    May God give us all the strength and guidance to defeat them.They are Evil-armies.

    With all my love

  5. How do you fight the extremist views of a sovereign country like Iran which calls America ‘the great satan’ and wants her destroyed?
    While Trump has been labelled ‘a bigot’, ‘islamopohbe’, ‘racist’, etc, not a single muslim country or organization has condemned Iran for wanting to destroy a country of 300 million people.
    Trump does not want to destroy anybody. He only says apply the breaks till it is certain who is being admitted into the country.
    Who is the bigot and whateverphobe? It seems those who are condemning Trump while applauding Iran.

  6. Namelee you forget, Iran has struck a treaty with US in recent months. You want to define Iran by the worst examples in the last 20 years.

    We do not define the West by your hate mongering or US by the extremist rhetoric coming from Trump.

  7. Has the grand ayatollah, who is the final authority in Iran approved the ‘treaty’? Is there really anything in the semblance of a treaty? What exists has been soundly criticized as a give away to the mullahs than something beneficial to all the parties. The view was expressed by, among others, a member of the Iranian team who got so dissatisfied that he defected.
    The hand-out is in fulfilment of Obama’s desire to bow to the mullahs no matter the cost. He had promised to hold talks with the mullahs unconditionally. that made him a laughing stock before Ahmadinejad.
    $100 billion is being released to a regime which has been proven to sponsor state terrorism. An example is not too far away. While the ink is still wet, Iran has tested mid-range ballistics missiles capable of reaching targets of 1200 miles. Is that defensive or offensive.
    To show his disdain for all the chickens who signed the treaty and in particular Obama, Ayatollah Khamenei still calls America ‘the great satan’ and did not stop those demonstrating for her destruction. Neither has he changed his rhetoric about wanting the demise of his ‘greatest enemy’.
    Being a supporter of Iran, you are defined by what the mullahs are planning against America which you call your country.

  8. We are not supporters of Iranian Government, we just do not want the innocent civilians to be bombed into a better a form of Government, imagined by loving people like yourself.

  9. Bombed by who? Kerry said empowering Iran to continue on its murderous path has prevented war. He did not say by whom the war would have been instigated. The so-called treaty has not dampened the regime’s appetite for nuclear arms. If anything, it helps to facilitate it. That process makes the world more unsafe.

  10. Saudi is the birthplace of Islam.

    Unfortunately, the fact are saying;

    Saudi never allow any church in Saudi—-and built many Mosque in other countries.

    Saudi do not allow to carry Bible in Saudi, but they spread many Al Quran to other countries.

    Saudi is the origin of Al Qaida and ISIS. 9/11 main attackers are all from Saudi.

    We always claim that Justice is the core Islam.

    Muslims around the world have to speak up loudly reform Islamic teaching.

    With love

  11. Assala mualaikum oarahma tullah. Every MUSLIMS.My name is mahmud prince Mohammed My age 33 year’s I’m child keeper in Muslim community poor child Home I’m from India. Can I take help from any MUSLIMS? I have sum financial problems. i ask the matter my country but my country uninterested the matter. So i take the decision. I change my religion from MUSLIM to chirist. Chirist organisation is ready for accept to me . I don’t have any way. One way are available for me that suisaid. but I don’t doing suicide. I think Hoi not I take help the from MUSLIMS. Please help me. Any MUSLIMS interested for contact & help me. ALLAH BLESS YOU AND YOUR LIFE

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