Camilla, wife of our future king, wore a flimsy, unsecured headscarf on her trip to Saudi Arabia. It rebelliously slipped off and almost uncovered all her hair! According to the strict, conservative Saudi Wahhabi practice of Islam, uncovered hidden female tresses, old and young, are as licentious as exposed pubic hair. (I was told this in earnest by a Saudi trained British imam.) The Duchess’s moment of shamelessness must have prompted diplomatic jitters. Did the British Embassy press a panic button and send officials to apologise profusely and genuflect even more abjectly in front of the rulers? Probably. Described as an “ally” and “friend” by the UK, US and other western nations, Saudi Arabia is a dominatrix, lashing the whip, inflicting humiliation on grateful, international partners.
There has been some bother over this official visit by Charles and Camilla to a country which has just executed seven men. The protests are obtuse, silly and a distraction. World royals network, have strong common interests, understand and prop up one another, exchange bling and niceties and sometimes inter-breed. Charles is keen on Islamic thought and aesthetics and seriously so, but never dips his fingers into the messy business of Middle East politics.
To expect the Prince to stand up for human rights is about as hopeless as expecting him to be an equal-rights champion of his nation. He was not raised to do either, poor chap, so why waste all that outrage on him? The real iniquity is the way our state sucks up, with others, to Saudi Arabia, while knowing its tyrannical governance and malevolent global influence. The official abuse and repression of its citizens is so embedded, most victims are inured to the violations, the ultimate debasement.
Iran, led by the abhorrent President Ahmadinejad, also executes and tortures its people, but its women can drive, work, go to university, initiate divorce and get custody of their children. Saudi women are denied all those choices and rights. Yet western observers incessantly slam Iran (rightly) but say much less about Saudi Arabia.
Yes, very slowly, some pitifully small rights are being handed to women. For the first time female politicians have been given an advisory role and smart young women are able to work under restrictive conditions, but at this pace, the world will end before Saudi women achieve full human status. Black cloaks render them invisible and, happily for the men, hide all unseemly marks of domestic abuse. The judicial system is unaccountable, and focuses on the cruellest of punishments. People are spied upon, foreign workers enslaved, non-Muslims and non-Sunni Muslims treated with contempt or worse. Islam’s holiest shrines are found in one of the unholiest of lands, where even these monuments are unsafe.
Recently, as my colleague Jerome Taylor reported, bulldozers have been pulling down the oldest, most invaluable and precious structures in Medina, some going back to the birth of the faith. The men in charge have already destroyed most other physical remnants of history, ignoring the pleas of archaeologists and Islamic scholars. If it were happening here Charles would raise royal hell; there he fawns to the Philistines. Science isn’t safe either. We are seeing the first cases of a deadly, unknown virus which has killed over a dozen people. A man died in Jeddah and another in the UK after a trip to Mecca. Professor Ali Mohamed Zaki, an Egyptian doctor working in Saudi Arabia, was deported after he found this new strain and got it analyzed by Dutch virologists.
Then there is the hushed and hushed up spread of Wahhabi Islam from north to south, east to west. Saudi funded Wahhabis are here, there and everywhere, successfully eradicating all diversity and ease in Islam, aggressively exporting their own brand. I have seen the results of this infiltration in Tanzania, India, Bangladesh, Kenya, Egypt and across western cities. The ideology leavens and raises intolerance, extremism and in some cases instigates violence. The 9/11 killers and original, prototype al-Qa’ida ideologues were Saudi led.
In 2002, the Washington Post leaked a report by a hawkish neocon defence consultant to the US government. It warned that the “Saudis are active at every level of the terror chain, from planners, to financiers, from cadre to foot soldiers, from ideologist to cheerleader.” The report’s hawkish recommendations to take over oil-producing desert lands were abominable, but the analysis was spot on. The White House and Blair’s lot took no notice and instead sold that regime arms.
The oil’s the thing and I do understand that. But in December 2012, according to the US Energy Information Administration, which provides independent statistical analysis, Venezuela was the second largest supplier of crude oil to the US. Saudi Arabia was the third biggest. So, why did the American and British spokespeople and commentators fearlessly slag off the late Hugo Chavez? Some of the criticisms were justified, others ideological and grossly unfair, but they didn’t hold their tongues as they do with Saudi Arabia, an evil empire if ever there was one. By sending royals to court them, our government endorses this evil and ensures none of us is safe. We should be mobilizing against this collusion but don’t. So it is our fault too.
As I read this piece I am reminded of how Britain is squarely responsible for the Muslim World’s predicament today. Long before it conspired with mullahs to overthrow Mussadegh in Iran, Britain has always colluded with radical Islamic actors to promote oil and other commercial or strategic interests. Indeed, this policy has contributed not only to the rise of radical Islam itself but also to that of international terrorism. Now that chickens have come home to roost, Britain’s most senior military figure has called the threat posed by Islamist extremism ‘the struggle of our generation – perhaps our Thirty Years’ War’. The fact is that Britain’s role in the rise of the terrorist threat goes well beyond the impacts its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have had on some individuals. What is more important is that the British governments have machinated for decades with radical Islamic forces, including terrorist organisations. They have connived at them, worked alongside them, and sometimes trained and financed them, in order to promote specific foreign policy objectives. Immediately after 7/7, some media reports revealed links between the British security services and Islamist militants living in London. Some of these individuals were reportedly working as British agents or informers while being involved in terrorism overseas. Some were apparently being protected by the British security services while being wanted by foreign governments. This gives a glimpse into our old colonial masters’ shenanigans over the decades.
British collaboration with radical Islam is rooted in its divide and rule approach during the empire, when Islamic groups were effectively harnessed and used to counter nationalist movements in Britain’s Muslim colonies. British planners helped create the modern Middle East during and after the First World War by placing rulers in territories drawn up by British planners. British policy also involved restoring the Caliphate, the leadership of the Muslim world, back to Saudi Arabia, where it would come under British control. When British withdrew from the Middle East in 1960s, Islamic forces such as Saudi regime and Muslim Brotherhood were viewed as proxies to guard British interest in the region, to bolster pro-West governments, and to counter or subvert leftist or nationalist regimes and forces. Arab nationalism was thus assiduously and craftily supplanted by radical Islam. This also helped in maintaining a bitterly fragmented Middle East, which now seems to be a permanent Western ploy as lever to wield influence in the region.
Hence it is no surprise that Britain has been in a permanent, strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia to secure fundamental, long-term foreign policy goals; with others, it has often forged a temporary marriage of convenience to achieve specific short-term outcomes. Al-Qaida is partly a creature of Britain’s Saudi ally, given the direct links between Saudi intelligence and Bin Laden from the early years of the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s. And today it is the Pakistan-based networks which are at the centre of global terrorism, having become perhaps even more important than al-Qaida. However, the folly does not end here as in the wake of Afghan war, while terrorism was on the rise, up into the 1990s Britain continued to view some of these groups as useful proxy guerrilla forces in places like Bosnia, Azerbaijan, Kosovo – used first for undermining the Soviet Union and then for fighting nationalist regimes.
While the British manipulation of Islamist forces and sentiments to achieve its strategic objectives goes back to the empire, needless to say that, subsequent to the Second World War Britain and the US have largely collaborated and acted in tandem in the above respect, with the US assuming the lead role in the region in the 1970s. Since then Britain has often been willing to act as the de facto covert arm of the US government, doing the dirty work for it. So, contrary to what is widely believed it is not only the Afghan Jihad in 1980s that is responsible for the emergence of terrorist groups. In reality the West’s imperialistic intentions and less than noble tactics in the region had marinated radical Islam for decades till Afghan war and Iranian revolution came along to spice it up.
Finally, to be clear, my argument is not that the violent jihadism in Islam is solely a British or Western creation. No, this trend can be traced much farther back in the Muslim history. However, the Western policies have indeed played an important contributory role in granting radical Islam ascendency in Muslim discourse, life, and societies. Incidentally in the past two decades domestic, regional, sectarian, and historical factors have shaped these forces in a manner to become a serious nuisance to the West itself. However, in order to understand the full picture one cannot ignore the role these Western protectors of freedom and liberty have played in severely undermining and imperilling the same for us.