The Saudi connection

It is pointing fingers at Qatar, but on terror linkages, Saudi Arabia has a record of double-speak

Written by Christophe Jaffrelot | Updated: July 5, 2017 12:41 am
qatar, Qatari banks, Qatar banks, UAE, Gulf states, United Arab Emirates, Qatar National Bank, QNB, world news A man walks past a branch of Qatar National Bank (QNB) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, June 5, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

Last month, Saudi Arabia and the UAE imposed a blockade on Qatar, arguing that the country was promoting terrorism. The irony is that Saudi and elite groups of nations in the Gulf have also been supporting Salafis and jihadis for a long time. While Riyadh fights against al Qaeda and the Islamic State, the Saudis have been accused of financing Pakistan-based groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Haqqani network. In 2008, among the personalities the US Department of Treasury designated as LeT leaders in a cable revealed by Wikileaks, were two men with a Saudi connection. Mahmoud Mohammad Ahmed Bahaziq, a Saudi national was “credited with being the main financier behind the establishment of the LeT and its activities in the 1980s and 1990s. He has also served as the leader of LeT in Saudi Arabia. In 2003, Bahaziq coordinated LeT’s fund-raising activities with Saudi NGOs and businessmen… As of mid-2005, Bahaziq played a key role in LeT’s propaganda and media operations.”

The other man was Haji Muhammad Ashraf, LeT’s chief of finance since “at least 2003” and who “travelled to the Middle East, where he personally collected donations on behalf of LeT. In 2003, Ashraf assisted [the] Saudi Arabia-based LeT leadership with expanding its organisation.” In 2009, a cable attributed to the then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by Wikileaks assessed that “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” In 2012, a Wikileaks revelation dealt with the meeting between the Saudi ambassador and Nasiruddin Haqqani, a major figure in the Haqqani network.

But the triangle of Saudi donors, Pakistani rulers and jihadi groups is not free of tensions. First, the jihadis are not a block and do not relate equally to their donors. For instance, the LeT and Jamiat Ahle Hadith (JAH), a religious party representing the Ahle Hadith in Pakistan, compete for Saudi funds. Second, the Saudis resent the violent action of some Pakistanis based in their country. The suicide bomber who targeted the US consulate in Jeddah in July 2016 was from Pakistan. Of the 19 terrorists who were arrested because of this attack and another one in Medina that took place at the same time,12 were Pakistani. Third, the Saudis sometimes cultivate “their” Islamists without the blessing of the Pakistani state. Riyadh uses some of them to put pressure on the Pakistani government when it resists Saudi injunctions.

In 2015, for instance, when the Pakistan parliament refused to send troops to Yemen, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat members demonstrated, asking for “unconditional support to Saudi Arabia”. The Saudis have sponsored organisations like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ), one of the most violent Sunni militant groups that the Pakistani state (including the army) has tried to contain. In 2012, a Reuters reporter who was interviewing LJ leader Ahmed Ludhianvi saw him “and his aides st[an]d up to warmly welcome a visitor: Saudi Arabia-based cleric Malik Abdul Haq al-Meqqi”, known as one of the middlemen between Arab donors and the LJ. In 2015, Pakistan minister Riaz Hussain Pirzada accused the Saudis of destabilising the Muslim world by distributing money to promote Wahhabism.

The Saudis are also using more benign conduits, like TV channels, to promote their version of Islam. In Pakistan, Paigham TV (broadcasted in Urdu and Pashto) is a case in point. It was inaugurated in 2011 by Abdul Rahman Ibn Abdul Aziz Al-Sudais, the imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

On the Indian side, a similar development has taken shape with the creation of Peace TV by Zakir Naik, who reached a reported 100 million viewers. Naik spoke against Sufi devotions and Shiism in more or less explicit terms. He once declared that “seeking the intercession of sacred Islamic personalities, including that of Prophet Muhammad, with God is heresy”, a remark he withdrew subsequently. He also praised the murderer of Imam Husayn, offending the Shias. Naik has been censured by several Indian Muslim clerics, but praised by Gulf leaders. In 2013, Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktum, vice president and prime minister of UAE and ruler of Dubai conferred on Naik the Dubai International Holy Qur’an Award’s Islamic Personality of the Year. In 2015, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud awarded him the King Faisal International Prize for “service to Islam” — $2,00,000 — in Riyadh.

The Saudis are supporting Salafi enterprises in South India, including in Kerala. According to a Saudi embassy cable in Delhi, millions of riyals have been reserved for the Islamic Mission Trust of Malappuram (Kerala), the Islamic Welfare Trust and the Mujahideen Arabic College in Palakkad. Two Islamic organisations have benefited from Saudi financial support: The Popular Front of India and the Social Democratic Party of India. Their names do not reflect their religious overtone, but they are propagating a Salafi version of Islam.

While one of the oldest Salafi madrasas of India, the Jamia Salafiya, is located near Varanasi, Kerala is probably where Salafism is gaining momentum more vigorously. This pan-Islamic orientation is more pronounced among those who were already part of local reform movements like the Kerala Nadvathul Mujahideen (KNM),formed in 1950. This movement developed through connections with the Arabian Peninsula, but also from the dynamics of the local society. Similarly, today, the draw of Salafism increases with education, so much so that the cult of saints and Sufism is associated, according to Filippo and Caroline Osella, “to ignorance, superstition and uncouthness; it is seen as characteristic of either rural (Mappila) or poor Muslims”.

By the end of the last century, the chief of the Nadwat al-Ulama, Sayyid Abu’l-Hasan Ali Nadwi (1914-1999), dared to attack the Arabs in the name of South Asian Islam: Arabs had betrayed the other Muslims of the world by indulging in nationalism and losing faith in religion, in contrast to the Indian Muslims. Nadwi emphasised in 1975 that these Indian Muslims’ “culture, which has taken centuries to evolve, is a combination of both Islamic and Indian influences”.

Today, Nadwi would not be in a position to say the same thing so easily. On one hand, the rise of Hindu nationalism in India is gradually transforming Indian Muslims into second class citizens, on the other the South Asian brand of Islam has lost some of its “autonomy” because of the growing influence from the Gulf. The Indo-Islamic civilisation has shown great resilience but may follow one of the most aggressive routes of Pakistani Islam today, not only because of the Hindutva push, but also because of factors drawing inspiration and finances from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. Sufism is already under attack in Pakistan, where sectarian and jihadi repertoires are gaining momentum.

The writer is senior research fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS, Paris and professor of Indian politics and sociology at King’s India Institute, London

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  1. S
    Sandeep Suresh
    Jul 6, 2017 at 12:44 pm
    A beautiful article .
    Reply
    1. R
      Richard Prior
      Jul 5, 2017 at 8:23 pm
      You guys in India are not keeping up At the International Islamic conference, President Trump launched the Multi-Faith Coalition against Extremism. Listen to his speech - "Drive them Out - Drive them off the face of the Earth." s: /h8bQH32pvgA The entire membership of The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) signed up, The Pope has signed up and the entire NATO membership has been conscripted. Every member of the coalition has the responsibility to Drive the Extremist from their Holy Places, Their Countries, to Deprive the Extremists of Finance and finally to Drive them off the Face of the earth. Qatar is in conflicts with the conditions of the Multi-Faith Coalition and is being brought into line or it will become an enemy of the world and be targeted as such. So Mr Indian Journalist - Keep up. Just looked you up Christophe, as a Frenchman you should be better informed.
      Reply
      1. J
        Jaideep Ahuja
        Jul 5, 2017 at 9:39 pm
        The trouble Mr. Richard Parker, is that the guy who has launched the so called Multi-Faith Coalition against Extremism is the worst extremist. And the guys against Qatar, dear Saudi Arabia is the greatest supporter of extremism. If you have anything to say, please use arguments not homilies.
        Reply
        1. S
          Sandeep Suresh
          Jul 6, 2017 at 12:48 pm
          First thing to do is to drive you off.
          Reply
        2. S
          Seshubabu Kilambi
          Jul 5, 2017 at 7:51 pm
          Qatar is being made a scapegoat ...the real terrorist hub is in Saudi and Israel financed by US
          Reply
          1. S
            Satindra Paul Singh
            Jul 5, 2017 at 6:53 pm
            Eye opener for the Indian people and its rishwat khor leaders.Rule of law must not be compromised at any cost.Petro dollars will burn the country dia have problems because of corrupt and bikau politicians.
            Reply
            1. P
              pseudo
              Jul 5, 2017 at 6:39 pm
              elot is blaming Saudi's of what he himself has practiced with finesse. A case of pot calling the kettle black! Pseudos have the nerve!
              Reply
              1. A
                Ashraf
                Jul 5, 2017 at 3:08 pm
                Why does Indian Express publish articles of such persons who are biased, immature, islamophobic unfamiliar with the basics of Islam?
                Reply
                1. R
                  Rajat
                  Jul 5, 2017 at 5:51 pm
                  Haha, की औलाद, यही असलियत है इस्माल की. मुस्लमान सु-अर की टट्टी में पलने वाले कीड़े हैं, ही फैलते हैं. ों को भेज देना चाहिए सऊदी अरब.
                  Reply
                  1. R
                    Rajat
                    Jul 5, 2017 at 5:51 pm
                    मादर-चो-द रण्डी की औलाद
                    Reply
                  2. B
                    bob
                    Jul 5, 2017 at 1:58 pm
                    Most of the funding is through the UK's welfare system
                    Reply
                    1. B
                      bob
                      Jul 5, 2017 at 1:59 pm
                      In the UK that is....
                      Reply
                    2. N
                      Naim Naqvi
                      Jul 5, 2017 at 1:11 pm
                      A sound analysis to a piquant situation. Everyone, even the Saudi Bhagats know well that the fountain head of international terror is no other country but Saudi Arabia. Its ironic that US, a country that had been the worst sufferer of fi Saudi terror 9 / 11 is afraid of Saudi ire. Another tragedy is that rational and progressive Muslims around the world are too shy rather feel intimidated to speak against these Wahabi Saudi Evangelists and brutal dictators who spread nothing but hate against fellow Muslims. However, as there is going a big show down in near future as the issue of succession of Royal House of Al Suds won't easily accept the ascendency of son of Salman Al Saud to throne. Curious times ahead!
                      Reply
                      1. M
                        Murthy
                        Jul 5, 2017 at 3:14 pm
                        Naim bhai, I agree with your comment. Both USA and U.K. sell a lot of military hardware to the Saudis. Their 'Oil Economy' is largely run by Western expatriate staff. USA has made Saud.Arabia a pillar of energy security. No Indian Government, including the present Modi Sarkar, can afford to antagonise the Saudis. India is "oil dependent" on the Saudis. I think Indian government is unable to curb the spread of Wahabism in India. Shias and Ahmadis would have to look to Indian Police for security in the coming decades.
                        Reply
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