In the aftermath of the November 13 Paris terror attack there has been a noticeable uptick in coverage of the repressive authoritarian nature of the Gulf monarchies that the U.S. calls its allies. Along with a spotlight on sentencing artists to death, flogging bloggers and torturing activists, The New York Times has also devoted its pages here and there to limning the ideological links between the Islamic State and the fundamentalist Wahhabi version of Islam that is officially endorsed by the royals who rule in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.
An excellent example of this was the Gray Lady's publishing of Kamel Daoud's "Saudi Arabia, an ISIS That Has Made It" a week after the Paris attack. Then this past Saturday there was an excellent piece by Joe Cochrane, "From Indonesia, a Muslim Challenge to the Ideology of the Islamic State," contrasting the tolerant form of Sunni Islam practiced in Indonesian, the planet's most populous Muslim nation, with the violent Wahhabism exported by the Sheikhdoms of the Gulf. The Indonesian Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) is stepping into the fray to counter the jihadist propaganda of ISIS:
"The spread of a shallow understanding of Islam renders this situation critical, as highly vocal elements within the Muslim population at large — extremist groups — justify their harsh and often savage behavior by claiming to act in accord with God’s commands, although they are grievously mistaken,” said A. Mustofa Bisri, the spiritual leader of the group, Nahdlatul Ulama, an Indonesian Muslim organization that claims more than 50 million members.
“According to the Sunni view of Islam,” he said, “every aspect and expression of religion should be imbued with love and compassion, and foster the perfection of human nature.”
The campaign by Nahdlatul Ulama, known as N.U., for a liberal, pluralistic Islam also comes at a time when Islam is at war with itself over central theological questions of how the faith is defined in the modern era.
In a way, it should not be surprising that this message comes from Indonesia, the home of Islam Nusantara, widely seen as one of the most progressive Islamic movements in the world. The movement — its name is Indonesian for “East Indies Islam” — dates back more than 500 years and promotes a spiritual interpretation of Islam that stresses nonviolence, inclusiveness and acceptance of other religions.
Analysts say the theology developed organically in a place where Hinduism and Buddhism were the primary religions before Islam arrived around the 13th century. Indonesian Islam blended with local religious beliefs and traditions, creating a pluralistic society despite having a Muslim majority.
Indonesia today has more than 190 million Muslims, but also has a secular government and influential Christian, Hindu and Buddhist minorities.
Such liberalism poses a counterargument to the Islamic State, analysts said.
“We are directly challenging the idea of ISIS, which wants Islam to be uniform, meaning that if there is any other idea of Islam that is not following their ideas, those people are infidels who must be killed,” said Yahya Cholil Staquf, general secretary to the N.U. supreme council. “We will show that is not the case with Islam.”
The Islamic State’s theology, rooted in the fundamentalist Wahhabi movement, takes its cues from medieval Islamic jurisprudence, where slavery and execution of prisoners was accepted. . . .
“The problem with Middle East Islam is they have what I call religious racism,” said Azyumardi Azra, an Islamic scholar and former rector of the State Islamic University in Jakarta. “They feel that only the Arabs are real Muslims and the others are not.”
Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and the main source of financial support for Wahhabism worldwide, has had more success in imposing its interpretation and has even made inroads in Indonesia. Analysts say a steady flow of money from Persian Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, supports an active and growing Wahhabist movement here.So there you have it. A rare admission of how the global jihadist efflorescence operates. A main U.S. ally in the Middle East waters it, fertilizes it and watches it grow. Then the U.S. military steps in to prune it a little. This is the prescription for perpetual warfare.
Certain U.S. senators in the employ of the Gulf sheikhs make sure there is no end to this process. Note the following blurb that appears in this morning's "Situation Report" by Foreign Policy's Paul McLeary and Adam Rawnsley:
Pounding sand. That air war might have a larger international ground component, if a few influential U.S. Senators have anything to say about it. In a Monday appearance on CNN with Sen. John McCain (R-Az.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called for the creation of a 100,000-strong “regional army to go into Syria” to fight the Islamic State, claiming that Qatar and Saudi Arabia were already on board with the plan. And now it looks like you can add the United Arab Emirates to the list.
Speaking with local media on Monday, Emirati State Minister for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said his country would "participate in any international effort demanding a ground intervention to fight terrorism,” and “regional countries must bear part of the burden” in the Syrian fight. Speaking with reporters on a trip to Baghdad over the weekend, Graham -- who is running for president on the Republican ticket -- also called for more than doubling the number of U.S. troops in Iraq from 3,500 to 10,000.But after November 13 there are those in government and the Fourth Estate who have decided that the ideological incubator of Wahhabi jihad needs a little daylight. That is why on Monday of last week there were two -- two! -- stories about the backward, violent, medieval nature of the Gulf Sheikhdoms: Ben Hubbard's "Artist’s Death Sentence Follows a String of Harsh Punishments in Saudi Arabia" and Kareem Fahim's "Bahrain Abuses Continue Despite King’s Pledge, Rights Group Says."
This is unusual. If there is any untoward news about U.S. allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Gray Lady usually limits it to a small paragraph nestled among the other Reuters and AP wire reports. It is as if the Islamic State's backers, safely ensconced in Jeddah and Abu Dhabi, are being warned to tether their jihadists; otherwise, the spotlight will grow more intense.
The ballyhooed U.S. airstrikes on Islamic State's black-market oil convoy to Turkey have already largely ceased to exist (from yesterday's Foreign Policy "Situation Report"):
The war on the Islamic State’s oil smuggling operations looks to have slowed down a bit after a series of recent high-profile strikes, however, with only one airstrike having been conducted against the group’s oil operations since Nov. 22, according to figures provided by the U.S.-led coalition. Back on the 22nd, a raid on a convoy of oil trucks in eastern Syria demolished 283 oil trucks, following on a similar raid days before that tore through another 116 oil trucks.The same can be said of the recent focus on the Gulf Sheikhdoms support for ISIS. It is already dimming. More a temporary warning than a policy change, perpetual war will proceed as before.