Is It Time To Make Saudi Arabia Pay For Underwriting International Terrorism?

In the wake of the carnage that left 14 dead and nearly two dozen injured at a San Bernardino holiday party last week, we learned that Tashfeen Malik - Syed Farook’s wife and female accomplice in the massacre - lived in Saudi Arabia for some 25 years after moving to the kingdom from Pakistan with her father. 

According to Malik’s uncle, one Javed Rabbani, Tashfeen’s father “changed a lot” when he moved to Saudi Arabia. "When relatives visited him, they would come back and tell us how conservative and hardline he had become" (read more here).

Needless to say, we weren’t surprised.

“Now clearly there are no smoking guns here, but it's worth noting that when it comes to radicalization, no one does it quite like the Saudis,” we said, the day after the attacks once the media revealed that Farook traveled to Saudi Arabia to marry Malik.

We continued: “Although we would urge caution when it comes to drawing conclusions around the sectarian divide, we'd be remiss if we didn't note that ISIS, al-Qaeda, and many of the other groups the public generally identifies with extremism, are Sunni and Saudi Arabia (where Farook allegedly found his wife) promotes puritanical Wahhabism.”

That echoes the sentiments of Kamel Daoud, a columnist for Quotidien d’Oran, and the author of “The Meursault Investigation” who, in a New York Times Op-ed published earlier this month, called Saudi Arabia “an ISIS that made it.” Here’s an excerpt:

Black Daesh, white Daesh. The former slits throats, kills, stones, cuts off hands, destroys humanity’s common heritage and despises archaeology, women and non-Muslims. The latter is better dressed and neater but does the same things. The Islamic State; Saudi Arabia. In its struggle against terrorism, the West wages war on one, but shakes hands with the other. This is a mechanism of denial, and denial has a price: preserving the famous strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia at the risk of forgetting that the kingdom also relies on an alliance with a religious clergy that produces, legitimizes, spreads, preaches and defends Wahhabism, the ultra-puritanical form of Islam that Daesh feeds on.

For those who prefer a visual representation, this should help:

Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 10.18.16 AM

It now appears that the world may finally be waking up to what's going on. While it's undoubtedly important to understand the role the Saudis and Qatar have played in funding, arming, and training Sunni extremists across the region, it's perhaps even more critical that public begins to come to terms with the fact that it's the ideology Riyadh pushes that's perhaps more dangerous than anything else. Note that this isn't a comment on Islam or Muslims. It's a comment on the Saudi's brand of puritanical Islam that frankly, is poisonous. 

Here with some fresh commentary on all of the above and on why it's time for the US to reevaluate its relationship with Riyadh, is Politico. 

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From "Saudi Arabia Is Underwriting Terrorism. Let’s Start Making It Pay," by Charles Kenny as originally published in Politico

We don’t know yet what happened to San Bernardino shooter Tashfeen Malik during her many years living in Saudi Arabia, or what her U.S.-born husband and accomplice, Syed Farook, might have experienced during his two recent visits to the country. But it isn’t news that Saudi Arabia, a supposed U.S. ally, has a long record of promoting religious extremism at home and exporting it abroad. According to a Reuters report, relatives of the Pakistani-born Malik say she and her father appeared to have become more radicalized during years they spent in Saudi Arabia. Between 1,500 and 2,500 Saudis have joined the fighting in Iraq and Syria in part thanks to the close relationship between the ideology of the Islamic State and of Saudi Wahabism. In the last month alone, Saudi Arabia has declared its intent to behead 50 people across the country and has threatened legal action against any who suggest beheading is “ISIS-like.”

For years since 9/11, U.S. and Western officials have mostly looked the other way at all this ideological support for extremism: Saudi oil was just too important to the global economy, even though many of these Saudi petro-dollars were underwriting repression at home and the growth of Salafist fundamentalism abroad. But today, two things have changed: first, the global cost of Saudi-backed extremism has continued to climb—with the rise of ISIS and Boko Haram, the bombings in Beirut and Paris and the shootings in San Bernardino.

The other factor that has changed is that there is no longer as much economic justification for America to kowtow to the Saudi regime. With Saudi Arabian dominance of the global oil market declining, and the United States moving itself closer to energy independence—and the deal to halt Iranian nuclear weapons technology moving ahead, neutralizing for the moment at least the threat of a Mideast arms race—there has never been a better time to reconsider America’s close relationship with the House of Saud.

It’s long past time, in other words, to make Saudi Arabia pay for its ideological support of extremism. The United States should be pressuring Saudi Arabia to reform and—if necessary—move on to targeted sanctions modeled on those the United States has applied to Russia, Zimbabwe and Venezuela.

Saudi Arabia, of course, denies that it is involved in underwriting extremism; it maintains, on the contrary, that it is part of the coalition against Islamic State and it has been a victim of extremist terror attacks. But the record of Saudi Arabia’s global support for extremists suggests it should be on the shortlist for inclusion on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, at the least. 

This support for radicalism abroad should come as little surprise given that Islamic State is an ideological cousin of Saudi Arabia’s own state-sponsored extremist Wahhabi sect—which the country has spent more than $10 billion to promote worldwide through charitable organizations like the World Assembly of Muslim Youth. The country will continue to export extremism as long as it practices the same policies at home.

In fact, the country’s domestic human rights abuses are enough reason to impose sanctions alone. Venezuela is under U.S. sanctions at the moment for “erosion of human rights guarantees, persecution of political opponents, curtailment of press freedoms, use of violence and human rights violations.” It might be shorter to list the human rights Saudi Arabia upholds than those it abuses. 

Beyond the floggings and beheadings meted out to those who dare suggest reform, Saudi Arabia’s record on women is a sick form of gender apartheid. They are banned from obtaining a passport, marrying, traveling or going to college without the approval of their husband or other male guardian. 

Yet we haven’t really even started this discussion about Saudi Arabia in America. Indeed, the United States is still deeply implicated in Saudi Arabia’s abuses. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the U.S. exported $934 million in arms to Saudi Arabia from 2005 to 2009. From 2010 to 2014, it exported $2.4 billion more. This month, it approved another billion-dollar shipment. The U.S. provides training, shares intelligence and gives logistics support to Saudi Arabia’s military. And President Barack Obama rushed to Riyadh to pay obeisance to the country’s new king, Salman, early in 2015, only days after the death of his predecessor, Abdullah.

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In short, if the US wants to dial back the "crazy", Washington should consider the fact that despite incessant Ayatollah trolling, an admittedly insane judicial system, and valid charges that the Quds have, at times, engaged in acts that can only be described as "terrorism", the world would benefit from a little more of this...

... and a whole hell of a lot less of this...