Saudi Arabia’s “Islamic Military Alliance”: A Sham Collation Nigeria Must Avoid By Pastor Gabriel Olalekan Popoola
The recent announcement by Saudi Arabia of the formation of an “Islamic Military Alliance” to combat global terrorism – an effort to respond to the claims of Western leaders that she could do more in the fight against extremism in general, and ISIS in particular – has been generating a lot of reactions in Nigeria. The reason for this is not far-fetched. While naming the 34-member group which is expected to be headquartered in Riyadh, the country’s capital, Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defence, Mohammed bin Salman, cited Nigeria as one of the countries forming the alliance. The name the collation has adopted, with regard to Nigeria’s involvement, instantly creates confusion and leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Nigeria, obviously, is not an Islamic country and does not qualify to be a member.
In a swift reaction, the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, in a statement issued by its General Secretary, Rev. Musa Asake, reiterated an important fact: Nigeria is not a Muslim or Arab nation and should not be tagged as one. According to the statement, “while joining hands with other countries to fight ISIS is something good, our country must not be tagged as a Muslim or Arab nation. Christians must make a public statement showing their discontent on this development which portends great danger to national unity and integration.” While CAN’s position is strongly valid and one that should not be toyed with, the essential justification for the call for Nigeria to immediately exit this amorphous body revolves around Saudi Arabia’s total lack of credibility and trustworthiness in the global war against terrorism.
To begin with, Saudi Arabia has, over the years, created an unmistakable identity of herself as a country which supports high end Islamic radicalism, as seen in her support of clerics who spread radical Wahhabism – a strain of Islam that influences extremism around the world. While it is true that following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. the Wahhabi curriculum was modified, it nonetheless remains regressive, bigoted and intolerant. In a 2006 report published by Centre for Religious Freedom of the Freedom House in association with the Institute for Gulf Affairs, in which a closer examination of the revised curriculum was carried out, the conclusion reached was that the curriculum “continues to propagate an ideology of hate toward the ‘unbeliever,’ which include Christians, Jews, Shiites, Sufis, Sunni Muslims who do not follow Wahhabi doctrine, Hindus, atheists and others.” This is taught not only domestically but also enthusiastically exported abroad.
In a January 20, 2015 article titled “How Saudi Wahhabism Is The Fountainhead Of Islamist Terrorism” and published by The World Post (a partnership of the Huffington Post and the Berggruen Institute), Dr. Yousaf Butt, senior advisor to the British American Security Information Council and director at the Cultural Intelligence Institute, asserts that “the more tolerant indigenous versions of Islam cannot survive in the face of the tsunami of money being poured into promoting theo-fascist Wahhabism. This is a major problem that the Muslim world must urgently address”. He argues further that “the House of Saud works against the best interests of the West and the Muslim world, and that Muslim communities worldwide certainly need to eradicate fanatical Wahhabism from their midst, but this will be difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish if the West continues its support of the House of Saud. The monarchy must be modernized and modified — or simply uprooted and replaced. The House of Saud, he says, needs a thorough house cleaning.”
It is worth-mentioning that Saudi Arabia, which today claims to be fighting terrorism, is, alongside some other nations in the Middle East, the major exporter of Islamic creed and dogma promoting Islamic extremism and aiding global terrorism expansion. The construal of the kind of Islam advanced by Saudi Arabia’s effort in indoctrinating and funding is the strict, conservative Saudi-based Wahhabism or Salafism. In its severest form, it preaches that Muslims should not only “always oppose” infidels in every way, but hate them for their religion for Allah’s sake; that democracy is responsible for all the horrible wars of the 20th century; and that Shia and other non-Wahhabi Muslims are infidels. As such, it has been argued that by its very nature, Wahhabism encourages intolerance and promotes terrorism. Former CIA Director, James Woolsey, once described it as “the soil in which Al-Qaeda and its sister terrorist organisations are flourishing.”
If all these submissions are true, and they are, given what is known of Saudi Arabia as a powerful exporter of Salafist Jihadism – a certain precursor to terrorism – one wonders why any serious nation would believe the subterfuge of the creation of terrorism-fighting alliance emanating from Riyadh. From whichever angle this is examined, it is clear as the noonday that this Saudi Arabia-sponsored alliance is wholly ironic and intent on deception, and the war it promises to wage a scam. Nigeria cannot therefore be part of this resources-wasting, phony pursuit. Riyadh is aware that a genuine fight against terrorism will shake the very foundation of her existence, as the fight must deal with radical Islamic messages of radical Islamic clerics originating from her soil. Fact is this is not the kind of war the House of Saud is willing to wage now; meaning that this stunt of an alliance is obviously needed for some diversionary purposes.
But it is not only in the promotion of extremism-advancing and terrorism-supporting philosophies that Riyadh is culpable, she is also one of the greatest financiers of terrorist cells around the world. Even former U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who, by the way, considers Saudi Arabia a major ally of the U.S., described her in a December 30, 2009 secret U.S. embassy cable, as a “critical source of terrorist funding.” According to the information contained in this cable, and which is now readily available online, “Saudi Arabia is said to be the world’s largest source of funds and promoter of Salafist Jihadism, which forms the ideological basis of terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, Taliban, ISIS and others. Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” This again reinforces the point made earlier that Nigeria needs to tread cautiously when dealing with Riyadh on anything bordering on terrorism.
In July 2005, the U.S. undersecretary of the Treasury, Stuart Levey, while testifying in the U.S. Senate noted that “wealthy Saudi financiers and charities have funded terrorist organisations and causes that support terrorism and the ideology that fuels the terrorists’ agenda. Even today, we believe that Saudi donors may still be a significant source of terrorist financing, including for the insurgency in Iraq.” It is on record that, beginning in the mid-1970s, the Islamic resurgence was funded by an abundance of money from Saudi Arabian oil exports. The tens of billions of dollars flowing in from oil sales are made available worldwide to fund and support groups whose messages are often confrontational and approved by Riyahd.
Going further, Riyadh’s commitment to fighting terrorism and oppression, and promoting rule of law is not only hugely questionable but totally repulsive given her deathly suppressive actions, first within her own borders, and then in some of the nations closer to her. In this year alone, Saudi Arabia has executed, through open and shameful beheadings, a staggering 151 persons. As rights groups, including Amnesty International, continue to call for accountability on this, the head-chopping country has stuck to her guns, providing no opportunity for fair trial of those accused, and raising the bar of repressive, archaic killings to a new height – averaging one death every two days! Yemen, a neighbouring country to Saudi Arabia on the Arabian Peninsula, in Southwest Asia, has not been left out of Riyadh’s despotic feat. It is sound logic that interactions should be entertained solely for the positive benefits that one stands to contribute to, as well as received from, the other party. As things stand now, it is unclear what benefit(s) Nigeria hopes to derive from this unholy alliance with this antediluvian and tyrannical government which menacingly dangles swords and chops off heads with hilarity! Or, does Nigeria hope to follow in the steps of Saudi Arabia?
Riyadh’s deception in the formation of this coalition becomes more easily discernible when certain additional important points are contemplated.
First, the way the member-countries were brought into this alliance by Saudi Arabia poses more questions than answers. As reported by the Washington Post on December 17 in an article titled “Saudi Arabia’s ‘Islamic Military Alliance’ makes no sense”, some of the countries apparently in the alliance claim to have never heard of it. Take Pakistan, for instance. “We came to know about it (the alliance) through news reports,” a senior official of Pakistan’s Foreign Office told the Express Tribune after the announcement. “We have asked our ambassador in Saudi Arabia to get details on it.” Another unnamed individual told the newspaper that they were unsure whether they were part of any military alliance and noted that the country would not get involved in an alliance without United Nations backing. One wonders whether Nigeria was discussed with before the announcement, and whether this administration ever sought United Nations’ backing on it. But Pakistan isn’t the only country that got a surprise inclusion on the list. The governments of Malaysia and Lebanon have also suggested they knew little about the alliance that they were listed as a part of.
Second, while the Saudi government suggested the alliance’s members came from “all over the Islamic world,” a number of the countries listed as members do not have Muslim majorities. For example, over 80 percent of Uganda is Christian, while as much as 75 percent of Gabon is Christian. In Benin, the largest religion is Catholicism, and in Togo, the majority of the population holds indigenous beliefs. While these countries do have large Muslim minorities and ties to the Muslim world, including membership of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (another alliance created at the behest of the Saudis), none of them, like Nigeria, can be truly described as “Islamic country”. However, their involvement in the alliance is still surprising – especially when you consider the countries not in the alliance.
Third, some of the most important Muslim countries in the world, including Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Indonesia, are not part of the alliance. Why not exactly? The Washington Post answers: “Well, in the first two cases, the reasoning seems depressingly obvious – both are Shiite majority nations.” The exclusion of Shiite nations in an alliance designed to represent the Islamic world seems to reinforce the belief that Saudi Arabia’s alliance is motivated by a sectarian rivalry with Iran and not terrorism. Meanwhile, Afghanistan has been asked to join the alliance but has not made a decision at the time of writing, while it is not clear whether Indonesia has been asked to join yet.
Fourth, it’s unclear what exactly the alliance is aiming to do. This, according to the Washington Post represents, perhaps, the most damning criticism of the alliance. It is just too vague. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir has said that “nothing is off the table” when it comes to the alliance, which will not only have a military component but also tackle terrorist funding and ideology. What that means in practice is anyone’s guess. Saudi Arabia has also gone to lengths to suggest that the alliance would not be limited to attempts to fight the Islamic State, but would focus on terrorism in general. Some, such as Brian Whitaker of the al-Bab website, have argued that Saudi Arabia’s definition of terrorism is worryingly broad. “Under a law introduced last year, virtually any criticism of the kingdom’s political system or its interpretation of Islam counts as terrorism,” Whitaker writes. And I ask: Does this now apply to other countries in the alliance, too? More directly, will Nigeria now adopt this vicious approach?
For all of Saudi Arabia’s big talk in the fight against the Islamic State and global terrorism, the kingdom has proved unwilling to go after one of the key factors in the rise of terrorist groups and cells: the Saudi clerics who spread radical Wahhabism that influences extremism, and by extension terrorism, around the world.
Nigeria must therefore take the immediate and right step of pulling out of this bogus of an alliance created by one country that enjoys creating confusion to strengthen her geopolitical advantage. Nigeria is not an Islamic country. That is clear even to the blind! The Islamic countries of the world are all too well-known. Confusingly, Riyadh has chosen to leave out Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Indonesia – four important Islamic countries that should have formed the bedrock of a genuine “Islamic Alliance”. Instead however, Nigeria – a pluralistic, secularistic country – was drafted in.
While Saudi Arabia is at liberty to play her cards the way she likes, Nigeria must not prove foolish and insensitive by joining and remaining in a strange alliance – one that defeats all logic and insults religious sensibilities. President Mohammadu Buhari was supported, campaigned for, and voted into power by Nigerians, including myself, to stir the sinking boat of Nigeria out of the ocean of maladministration and corruption onto a higher ground, not to drag Nigeria into an Islamic alliance.
Pastor Gabriel Olalekan Popoola, a former University of Port Harcourt Students’ Union Leader, worships with the Living Faith Church.
Twitter handle: @Gabrolap