Using the U.S.-Saudi Alliance to Keep Radical Islam out of India and Indonesia

Aug. 29 2017

Saudi Arabia spends some $4 billion annually to support mosques, imams, and religious schools abroad that uniformly teach the radical, fundamentalist Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. In part thanks to these expenditures, Muslim communities across the globe have grown more stringent in their beliefs and practices. So ingrained is Riyadh’s commitment to Wahhabism, writes Max Singer, that a major reversal cannot be expected. But U.S. pressure can still pay off:

One of the effects of the success [of Saudi-funded evangelism] has been a great increase in support within Muslim communities for Islamists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, who believe Islam is obligated to be at war with the infidel world and/or that the West is trying to destroy Islam. Obviously, the Saudi-funded program is not the only reason for this dangerous radicalization of the Muslim public, but it has been an important contributor.

The leaders of the Saudi royal family . . . and the Saudi government do not believe the Islamist war against the West is good for Saudi Arabia, and they are strongly opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest Islamist organization. So why do they spend so much money exporting Wahhabism?

Two reasons. First, they started the program in 1979 after the Islamic revolution brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power in Iran. The Saudis felt they could not afford to allow Khomeini and the Shiites to dominate Islamic radicalism; a separate Sunni radical movement was needed to compete with Iranian influence. Second, their domestic political position was based on their long-term alliance with . . . powerful Wahhabi clerics. . . .

The U.S. cannot convince the Saudi leadership to stop spending so much money on exporting radical Islam around the world, because the program has too much domestic support. But now that the U.S. is working with the Saudi government against the Shiite challenge from Iran, Saudi leaders might be amenable to a suggestion about a fairly small change in their program that could make a big difference—particularly as they are at least somewhat ambivalent about some of the effects of that program.

The U.S. should urge the Saudis to drop Indonesia and India from the payroll. . . . So far, the Muslim communities of Indonesia and India—together over 400 million people, or close to one quarter of all the Muslims in the world—have not been radicalized, and both communities contain significant sources of resistance to radicalization by Arab groups. . . . These countries can be towering examples that Muslims can move into the modern world while continuing to be loyal to Islam. Their example could ultimately be the key to the outcome of the long-term clash within the Muslim world.

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More about: India, Indonesia, Radical Islam, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy

Yasir Arafat’s Decades-Long Alliance with Iran and Its Consequences for Both Palestinians and Iranians

Jan. 18 2019

In 2002—at the height of the second intifada—the Israeli navy intercepted the Karina A, a Lebanese vessel carrying 50 tons of Iranian arms to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But Yasir Arafat’s relationship with the Islamic Republic goes much farther back, to before its founding in 1979. The terrorist leader had forged ties with followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that grew especially strong in the years when Lebanon became a base of operations both for Iranian opponents of the shah and for the PLO itself. Tony Badran writes:

The relationship between the Iranian revolutionary factions and the Palestinians began in the late 1960s, in parallel with Arafat’s own rise in preeminence within the PLO. . . . [D]uring the 1970s, Lebanon became the site where the major part of the Iranian revolutionaries’ encounter with the Palestinians played out. . . .

The number of guerrillas that trained in Lebanon with the Palestinians was not particularly large. But the Iranian cadres in Lebanon learned useful skills and procured weapons and equipment, which they smuggled back into Iran. . . . The PLO established close working ties with the Khomeinist faction. . . . [W]orking [especially] closely with the PLO [was] Mohammad Montazeri, son of the senior cleric Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri and a militant who had a leading role in developing the idea of establishing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) once the revolution was won.

The Lebanese terrorist and PLO operative Anis Naccache, who coordinated with [the] Iranian revolutionaries, . . . takes personal credit for the idea. Naccache claims that Jalaleddin Farsi, [a leading Iranian revolutionary]. approached him specifically and asked him directly to draft the plan to form the main pillar of the Khomeinist regime. The formation of the IRGC may well be the greatest single contribution that the PLO made to the Iranian revolution. . . .

Arafat’s fantasy of pulling the strings and balancing the Iranians and the Arabs in a grand anti-Israel camp of regional states never stood much of a chance. However, his wish to see Iran back the Palestinian armed struggle is now a fact, as Tehran has effectively become the principal, if not the only, sponsor of the Palestinian military option though its direct sponsorship of Islamic Jihad and its sustaining strategic and organizational ties with Hamas. By forging ties with the Khomeinists, Arafat unwittingly helped to achieve the very opposite of his dream. Iran has turned [two] Palestinian factions into its proxies, and the PLO has been relegated to the regional sidelines.

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More about: Hamas, History & Ideas, Iran, Lebanon, PLO, Yasir Arafat