Isis and Wahhabism - Interview to Terence Ward

Close link that connects Wahhabism and Saudi monarchy has roots in distant past but dramatic repercussions in today's world; scholar Terence Ward analyses it in the essay Per capire oggi il Medio Oriente. L'ISIS spiegata ai giovani (Libreria Editrice Fiorentina, 2017).

Terence Ward, what are main features of Wahhabism and its areas of spread?
Wahhabism was born 250 years ago from the puritanical and extremist doctrine preached by Mohammad ibn Abdel Wahhab in the Central Arabian desert. Only Saudi Arabia and Qatar adopted the Wahhabi doctrine as the national faith. Driven by Da’wa Wahhabiya, the Wahhaib mission for 40 years Saudi funding has constructed mosques and madrassas from Indonesia to Morocco across the Muslim world and also in Europe, where Brussels is the capital of Euro-Wahhabism. Their mission is to Wahhabize the Sunni Muslim World. The strange irony is that both ISIS and al-Qaeda have cited Wahhabi roots in their ideology.

How old – and also fragile – is connection between Wahhabism and Saudi monarchy?
The connection is 250 years old—and began with the founder of the Saud dynasty who made his alliance with Abdel Wahhab. The Saud ruling family have always been followers of the Wahhabi doctrine. The relationaship is fragile because often the ruling family is accused by the Wahhabi puritans of not being pure, but decadent and illegitimate. But the monarchy is united with the Wahhabi from the first pact made by the Saud ruler and Abdel Wahhab, founder of the sect.

Could you tell us about link among Wahhabism and terrorist groups?
Saudi Arabia, the center of Wahhabism, produced not only Osama bin Laden, but also 15 of the 19 hijackers of Sept. 11, 2001; sent more suicide bombers than any other country to Iraq after the 2003 invasion; and has supplied more foreign fighters to the Islamic State, 2.500, than any country other than Tunisia. In a huge embarrassment to the Saudi authorities, the Islamic State adopted official Saudi textbooks for its schools until the extremist group could publish its own books in 2015. Out of 12 works by Muslim scholars republished by the Islamic State, seven are by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the 18th-century founder of the Saudi school of Islam. ISIS claims to be Wahhabi more pure than the Saudi regime. The Taliban have been created thru the Wahhabi-funded schools for refugee Afghanis in Pakistan. The word Talib in Arabic means “student”.

Why the silence of Western media and policy about this? Is there an accomodation among Western powers and Saudi Arabia? 
Just look at the absurd embrace by Trump in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia had a long-standing accomodation with America. Obama was the first president to question the logic of this “alliance”. He had seen the expansion of Wahhabism in Indonesia and it deeply torubled him.  He denuclearized Iran and refused to pick sides in the Sunni/Shiite conflict in Syria and Iraq. The irony is that Saudi Arabia – the country that created and funded al-Qaeda and ISIS – has just been embraced again by Trump. Western media has been bought, stories have been killed and PR firms work night and day to ensure any negative articles linking Saudi funding to terrorism are routinely dismissed. This is why there has been silence.

What do you think about recent visit of Trump in Saudi Arabia?
It was shocking. He was received as an emperor by the world’s largest sponsor of the doctrinal creed of Wahhabism, long declared by ISIS as their offical ideology (and also the state of Qatar). By ignoring Saudi Arabia’s role in terrorism and then singling out Qatar, it was the height of hypocrisy.  The $110 billion purchase of military equipment served as the wedding cake. And the saber-rattling against Iran by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia officially signaled a new Cold War in the Middle East that may esplode by accident in a Third World War.

What do you think about Trump's initial support to Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries against Qatar?
There was news about the sale of $12 billion of F16s warplanes to Qatar, and also the US airbase is located in Qatar, so we shall see how this relationship of hypocrisy continues. After 9/11, bin Laden got his wish. The Americans quietly moved their military base from Saudi Arabia to Qatar. Now, the Abu Dhabi sheikh just offered the Americans to move the air base to the UAE. Surely, the Qatari, as fellow Wahhabis, have funded terror groups, but to say the Saudis are innocent of doing the same is completely outrageous.

Why is Bruxelles considered European capital of Wahhabism?
Because it was the first Wahhabi funded mosque in the West. After the Yom Kippur War of 1973, King Faisal was visiting Brussels and King Badouin offered him the Oriental Pavilion for a mosque in return for a discount on the price of oil. Now the suburb of Mollenbeck houses many Wahhabi converts and was the home of the Paris attackers. Now Brussels has 77 mosques.

What does it consist double agent of Erdogan and Turkey?
Erdogan’s hatred of Assad and the Shiites also triggered his collaboration with ISIS and al-Qaeda groups against the regime. All the time he was supporting the radical Sunni Syrian militias, he masqueraded as a member of NATO while allowing Saudi funded weapons to flow across his border into ISIS hands. His greater fear is not ISIS, but the Kurdish fighters who are increasingly dominant on the battlefield in northern Syria and who are now fighting in the streets of Raqqa, the defacto capital of the Islamic State. Soon, Erdogan will wage war against the Kurds who are liberating Raqqa. The irony is that during all the suffering, if Erdogan wanted to end ISIS, he could have done it very quickly with a quick invasion of the Turkish Army. 

Which kind of relationship did it link Bin Laden, Saudi monarchy and U.S.?
The Saud monarchy admired Bin Laden for his jihadi efforts in Afghanistan. The Americans were extremely happy that Saudi jihadis flocked to the cause against the Soviet infidels. The Saud family supported bin Laden financially and often had dialogue with him. But with the Gulf War, bin Laden offered to defend Saudi against Saddam’s armies on the border of occupied Kuwait. The Saud family refused and called in the Americans. This insult and invitation of “heathen crusader” armies into Saudi Arabia, the sacred land of the two holy mosques, triggered the rupture and Bin Laden condemned the family for heretical acts. With that the war began.

Did Hillary Clinton admit that regimes backed by the U.S. in Saudi Arabia and Qatar supported ISIS?
In numerous Wikileaks cables, Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, is on record as lamenting the amount of funds pouring into ISIS from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.  She also is very clear that most of the sponsorship is privatly funded, but she points a finger at the governments insisting they are doing little to stop the funding. By December 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton understood where the money trail began. «Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide. Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban and  Lashkar-e-Taiba (in Pakistan)». Clinton, in the same cable, described her allies as reluctant. «Its an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist funds emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority». She then identified three Saudi charities, seen as terrorist entities in the US, that were still operating in the Kingdom. «Intelligence suggests that these groups continue to send money overseas and, at times, fund extremism overseas». By July 2013, the European Parliament finally spoke publically, declaring «Wahhabism as the main source of global terrorism». And, in another released email of a private conversation three months later, Clinton declared pointedly that «the Saudis have exported the most extreme ideology across the world over the last 30 years».

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