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Paris attacks – the Saudi connection

Saudi Arabia

Egypt’s largest terrorist group pledges allegiance to Islamic State, November 2014. Day Donaldson under a Creative Commons Licence

To tackle Islamic State’s terrorism we must stand in solidarity with its mainly Muslim victims, argues Vanessa Baird.

One reaction to the horrors in Paris is to blame Western foreign policy. For sure, the disastrous fall-out from the Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq should not be minimized.

And the trope of a clash of civilizations – between the secular West and Islam – appears to have been reinforced by the horrific attacks on fun-loving young Europeans.

But despite the declarations of the Paris killers, that they were acting in revenge for Western involvement in Syria and Iraq, the origins and motives of the group that calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS, IS or ISIL) are far more complex.

Their primary aim is domination of Islam and domination by Islam. Their doctrinal inspiration comes from Muhammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the hardline and puritanical prophet whose pact with Muhammed bin Saud established the first Saudi state in 1744. Today’s Saudi regime (though conflicted about Wahhabism) still gets its religious legitimacy from this connection.

To understand (and therefore know how to combat ISIS) you need to know about the history of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, writes expert and former intelligence officer Alastair Cook.

The prophet, whose violent teachings have been revived in the equivalent of a ‘cultural revolution’, demanded total conformity, arguing that all Muslims must individually pledge their allegiance to a single Muslim ruler (or Caliph).

‘Those who would not conform to this view should be killed, their wives and daughters violated, and their possessions confiscated,’ writes Cook. ‘The list of apostates meriting death included the Shiite, Sufis and other Muslim denominations, whom Abd al-Wahhab did not consider to be Muslim at all.’

This is exactly what ISIS is doing. So far it has killed many more Muslims than non-Muslims. Of all people, it is Muslims who are most threatened by ISIS and a deepening of social divisions its zealots are determined to achieve – and, if we are not careful, will achieve – in multicultural cities such as Paris.

In this context, the best and safest action for non-Muslims is to create solidarity with all Muslims who do not identify with Wahhabism, and to resist the siren calls of Islamophobia and xenophobia.

Vanessa Baird is New Internationalist co-editor. The March magazine will have a special focus on Saudi Arabia. Subscribe to our magazine.

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