The beginning of the end of malicious Wahhabi influence in Islam? Inshallah!

Well, the Saudis may have really put their foot in it this time.  The mystery surrounding the disappearance of vocal Saudi critic and journalist Jamal Kashoggi at the Kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul ten days ago is deepening.  Saudi claims that he left of his own accord are laughable: his fiancee was waiting for him outside but has yet to see him and security cameras show no such departure.  Whether he is being held in the diplomatic building, was bundled into a car for abduction to Riyadh or, shudder!, was slaughtered and dismembered as some reports suggest are all unknown at this stage.  The Saudis have hypocritically offered to help the Turks find him.

Hypocrisy – that defines Saudi in a word.

The Kingdom has been behind a hateful transformation in Islam for almost three centuries in the form of Wahhabi teachings.  Thanks to the oil crisis of the 1970s and 1980s, the Saudis, flush with cash, exported their intolerant strain of Islam around the world through the distribution of literature and the sending of itinerant preachers and imams, all backed by the original pact made between the Al Saud dynasty and the descendants of the eponymous founder of Wahhabi thought,  Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, who lived pretty much the entire 18th century.  This malicious version of the faith of more than a billion people has led to more misery and more violence than anything else I can think of – at least as far as religious extremism is concerned.

Yes, yes, the rock star Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman has made much of his campaign to clamp down on the mutawwa (the religious police) and extremist imams inside Saudi Arabia and perhaps this is all real.  If so, bravo.  And yet the other actions of the king-in-waiting point in another, and very worrisome direction: the arrests of activists and now the possible murder of a dissident.

The Saudis have long been able to rely on the support and protection of their main ally – the US.  Ever since President Roosevelt met with King Salman ibn Abd Al Aziz in February 1945 the two nations have been inseparable, based of course on the US need for secure oil supplies.  The closeness of this relationship was demonstrated right after 9/11 when a plane full of Saudis was whisked out of the US despite the fact that four planes commandeered by 15 Saudi terrorists had just carried out the most heinous attack in history.  This bonhommie continues under President Trump who made his first foreign trip to Saudi Arabia (NB the recent tradition has been for presidents to first visit my country, Canada, probably because we are the US northern neighbour and it is a short flight from DC to Ottawa).

That ‘special relationship’ may now be on the ropes.  Several US congress members are livid at the allegations that the Saudis may have killed Mr. Kashoggi, who is by the way a US resident.  Even if President Trump has been circumspect in his criticism, probably because he sees the world through the lens of personal gain and the Saudis have been very, very good to his business, no to mention obsequious to the nth degree towards the child president.  Besides, the US is awash in oil.  What do they need the Saudis for aside from a place to sell arms that they use to kill Yemeni civilians and their own Shia?

If it turns out that the Saudis did kill, or even abduct, Mr. Kashoggi this is not only an egregious act but could lead to a significant condemnation of the Kingdom and their reduction to the status of pariah nation (ok, that is probably going too far: after all, Trump told us he was in love with North Korean leader Kim, the ultimate pariah).  If the Saudis pay the price they should for their arrogance and rejection of international norms, so be it. Perhaps other nations will be less willing to accept Saudi religious largess and we will see less Wahhabi influence worldwide.

Then again, maybe the Ottawa Senators will call me tomorrow to be their starting goaltender.  I am not naive: the chances of this happening and the dawn of a post-Saudi Islamic world are probably so small as to be non-existent.  Hope does spring eternal however.

The international community has to keep hammering the Saudis on this and cannot let them get yet another free pass.  They must be held accountable for Mr. Kashoggi’s fate as well as for their indisputable and significant role in Islamist extremism worldwide.  Maybe the lustre is coming off the Saudi shine.  Inshallah.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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