In his April 13 statement, the foreign minister said: “Saudi Arabia is a strategic partner in an increasingly volatile region, particularly in the armed conflict against the so-called Islamic State (IS). Supporting our partners is essential in preventing the chaos, lawlessness, atrocities and terrorist attacks perpetrated by IS, al Qaida and other terrorist groups active in the region and beyond.”
Here’s a more realistic assessment: Nothing in Dion’s statement is true. In the last 30 years, at least $100 billion in Saudi money has been spent on promoting worldwide the violent and intolerant Wahhabi sect of Islam that has been at the heart of the House of Saud since 1744. Some estimates put the tally at more than that, calculating the Saudis funnel about $5 billion a year into religious radicalization.
Follow the trail back from any of the atrocities committed by Islamic terrorists over the last 30 years and, in almost all cases, the fountainhead will turn out to be Saudi money. It may be money sent directly to buy weapons. It may be funds sent to proselytize and indoctrinate young Muslims in the Wahhabi school of hatred.
If the money doesn’t come from Saudi Arabia, it comes from other Wahhabi backers in Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
The Saudi monarchy’s official website says that in the last three decades, Wahhabi charities and royal funds have recruited students to more than 1,500 mosques, 210 Muslim centres, 202 Islamic colleges and 2,000 madrassas (Islamic schools). About 4,000 preachers and missionaries have been provided for those institutions in south, central and east Asia, Africa, Europe and North America.
The radicalizing effect of this extraordinary outreach — which teaches vehement hatred towards not only Christians, Jews and Hindus, but also Shiite, Sufi and some factions of Sunni Muslims — is most evident in countries which in the past followed moderate and tolerant versions of Islam. There has been a steady increase in puritanical religious practice in Indonesia — the world’s most populous Muslim country — Malaysia and the southern Philippines.
Most Pakistanis have always followed a strict religious code, but tolerance towards the country’s Hindu, Christian and minority Muslim peoples, such as the Amadis, has all but disappeared under the pressure of Wahhabi evangelism.
Dion may retain a blithe faith in Saudi Arabia’s dependability as a “strategic partner,” but the U.S. — which has far more extensive and profound experience in dealing with Riyadh than does Ottawa — isn’t so sure.
President Barack Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia today for a visit that was overshadowed by a mood of mutual mistrust even before it began. The immediate cause of the friction is a bill passing through the U.S. Congress that would allow the Riyadh government to be held accountable for the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. The Saudi government has threatened to sell off the $750 billion in U.S. treasury securities it holds if the legislation is passed.
Fifteen of the 19 men who hijacked four planes on 9/11 were Saudi citizens. There have always been rumours about the degree of influence wielded in the immediate aftermath of the attacks by the close personal relationship between then-President George W. Bush and the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. Suspicions are still running high in the U.S. over the 28 pages redacted from the 838-page report issued in 2003 by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence — pages that are said to detail Saudi involvement in the attacks.
Florida Senator Bob Graham, co-chairman of the inquiry, said in an interview with 60 Minutes aired on April 10 that the redacted 28 pages dealt with allegations that the Saudi government, charities and some very rich people had given support to the 19 hijackers.
Other people familiar with the secret pages say that while they do implicate members of the Saudi royal family in financial and other support for the 9/11 terrorists, the allegations were not proven. It’s because of the inflammatory nature of the charges that they’re still being kept secret.
Be that as it may, there is plenty of other material on file in Washington that justifies questioning Saudi Arabia’s dependability and utility as an ally in the chaotic world of the Middle East.
For instance, there’s a memo dated December 30, 2009, from then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to U.S. diplomats in the Middle East and South Asia.
That message was part of the vast haul of secret U.S. diplomatic dispatches published by WikiLeaks. In it, Clinton explicitly accused the Saudis of funding terror: “More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support for al-Qaida, the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba (Pakistani jihadists) and other terrorist groups. Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”
That was before 2011, the Arab Spring and the ongoing civil war in Syria by the majority Sunni population against the Shia President Bashar al Assad and his Shia Iranian allies.
But according to Vice-President Joe Biden, speaking late last year at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, things have not improved.
“Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria,” Biden said. “The Turks were great friends … (but) the Saudis, the Emirates, etcetera. What were they doing? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad — except that the people who were being supplied were (the jihadist group) al-Nusra, and al-Qaida, and the extremist elements of jihadis who were coming from other parts of the world.”
Those out-of-town “extremists” Biden mentioned include the Islamic State group — though he didn’t say the name.
Under pressure from Washington, Riyadh has in recent years made some attempts to stem the flow of money to jihadis. But it’s been a half-hearted effort — because behind its veneer of sophistication, the House of Saud remains wedded to Wahhabi doctrines of intolerance and hatred.
As long as that continues, it will be hard to see Riyadh as a reliable partner in the quest for lasting solutions to the troubles of the Middle East or the Muslim Diaspora.
Author: Jonathan Manthorpe