Over the last one week, there have been two terrorist attacks in Bangladesh. In the first one, in the capital Dhaka, seven terrorists stormed into a popular cafe in a posh locality, killing 22 people. In the second one, on the auspicious occasion of Eid, in Kishoreganj, 140 km from Dhaka, three terrorists nearly succeeded in creating a mayhem at a prayer-gathering of around two lakh people; the timely police intervention saved the situation, but in the process two policeman and a woman were killed, and 13 people were wounded.
Notably, most of the attackers identified were from affluent backgrounds, and were said to believe in Mumbai-based controversial Indian preacher Zakir Naik’s sermons. And as I write this, the "breaking news" is that the three Bangladeshi youths – who appeared in the latest IS video and threatened more terror attacks not only in Bangladesh but all over the world – are also well educated and rich (a dentist, an aspiring singer and an MBA student). If anything, it only proves that Islamic terrorism today is getting increasingly ideological.
As I had once written before, Islamic terrorism is an ideological war – a war between those who believe in a peaceful co-existence and the pluralities of beliefs, and those who say that theirs is the only way that must prevail. It has nothing to do with “injustice to Muslims” in Palestine or in Kashmir.
That explains why Islamists (who believe their interpretation of Islam is the true Islam that must dominate the world) are killing Muslims in Muslim-majority countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iraq, Turkey and even Saudi Arabia. In fact, last fortnight witnessed terrorist attacks in each of these countries.
In Saudi Arabia, there have been three separate incidents. In the first incident, a Pakistani suicide bomber blew himself up near the United States Consulate in Jeddah. The second incident was that of a bomb-attack near a mosque belonging to the “heretical” Shiite minority – which is allowed by the Saudi royalty to go on pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, despite the so-called Islamic State (IS) announcing death-sentences for every Shia pilgrim. And the third incident was caused by a bomber near the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, a must visit for every pilgrim.
Saudi Arabia merited a special mention because, and it is a big irony, this is the country that has financed and nurtured the most the fundamentalist version of Islam, that preachers like Zakir Naik glorify and jihadists all over the world are fighting for.
In fact, as Bruce Riedel has revealed, the present Saudi ruler, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, has played an important role in raising funds for Islamic causes all over the world, over the last 50 years.
It all began in December 1967, when (the then) King Faisal created the Popular Committee for Support of Martyrs, Families and Mujahedeen in Palestine. He then chose his half-brother, then Prince Salman and governor of Riyadh, to chair the committee. Even today, as the King, he remains the chairman of the committee that has donated trillions of dollars to spread what is called Wahabism.
King Salman’s committee raised funds for the Afghan mujahedeen fighting the Russians in the 1980s. And in this task, he was helped by the American CIA and the Saudi intelligence. In the 1990s, he raised funds for Bosnia and its struggle with Serbia.
In subsequent years, his committee was not the only source of such funding; the Saudi royal family encouraged other Saudi “charitable organisations” to finance “the spread of Islam”. As the 9/11 commission found out, "Al Qaeda found fertile fund-raising ground in Saudi Arabia where extreme religious views are common and charitable giving was both essential to the culture and subject to very little oversight."
The report found similar issues in the other Gulf kingdoms. In fact, a Saudi organisation called al-Furqan had emerged as the principal source of financial support to Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
It was only when, under American pressure, the Saudi royalty squeezed the financing to Al Qaeda (but it continued funding other extremist outfits in other parts of the world) in 2003, that the latter began attacking targets inside Saudi Arabia and called for the overthrow of the monarchy.
The Saudi regime has also fallen out with the IS today, even though the latter supported the former’s rise as an instrument to resist the Shia power in Iraq and Iran. The fall is essentially due to the battle between the Islamic State and the Saudi regime, over whose model for Islamic statehood is correct.
It is in this context that the latest terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia needs to be seen. In fact, the attack at the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina could be construed as a careful strategy to challenge the Saudi King to be “the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques”, a key source of his legitimacy.
Will the Saudis now stop financing the spread of Wahabism? Unlikely. Because, the very survival of the Saudi regime is dependent on its capacity to lead the Sunni-world and establish its supremacy over Shia-led Iran.
The Saudi-brand of Islam may be relatively liberal against the one propounded by the IS; but it is still too extreme to accept the importance of pluralities and peaceful coexistence with other religions or faiths.
So, it is difficult to fathom the severance of connections between Saudi Arabia and the fanatics, be they in India or Bangladesh or Pakistan, any time soon. Outfits like Jama’at ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B), Lashkar-e-Taiba and their colleagues in India (Zakir Naik, Madani, Hurriyat leaders in Kashmir) will survive in some form or the other, thanks to the Saudi generosity.
The Saudi duplicity with regard to Islamic terrorism is understandable, but what about the duplicity of the United States? It is an open secret that it was the American CIA that created the Taliban when the then Soviet Union was in Afghanistan. That was the period of the Cold War. The CIA financed the Taliban, encouraged drug trafficking and supported Pakistan (Taliban’s base) wholeheartedly in its nuclear weapon programme.
In their book, Deception: Pakistan, the United States and the Global Nuclear Weapons Conspiracy, Adrain Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, award-winning investigative journalists, have provided details on how AQ Khan stole, with full American knowledge, nuclear material and technologies from the Western countries, including the US.
Be it Ronald Reagan or George Bush (father) or Bill Clinton or George Bush (son) – every American President and his officials not only concealed but also helped Pakistan in making and improving the bomb.
Reagan deceived the world as he “ignored” when Pakistan cold-tested the bomb in 1983 and hot-tested it in 1984 in the Chinese soil with the Chinese help. Bush Sr. and Clinton suppressed and punished the officials who wanted to tell the world this entire story.
And finally, Bush Jr. forgave all the sins of Pakistan and AQ Khan, despite the fact that “a mountain of incredibly precise intelligence portrayed Pakistan as the epicentre of global instability: a host and patron for Islamist terrorism, ruled by a military clique that was raising capital and political influence by selling weapons of mass destruction”.
All this is evident from the shocking story of Rich Barlow, superbly described by the two authors. He was the CIA’s expert on Pakistan’s nuclear secrets, but Barlow was thrown out and disgraced when he blew the whistle on a US cover-up.
Pakistan’s nuclear bombs are intrinsically linked with Islamic fundamentalism, because Pakistan sought financial assistance and got it from the Arab countries, particularly from Saudi Arabia, under the pretext that it was making an “Islamic Bomb”. But then the fact remains that Saudi Arabia has been the closest ally of the United States in the region.
In fact, if the US wants to defeat the global terrorism, which, in turn, emanates mostly from the Islamic fundamentalism, then the easiest way to do this is to impose unbearable pressure on two countries – Saudi Arabia (source of money) and Pakistan (place for training and planning). But these are two countries that happen to be America’s close allies in the region.
Even otherwise, the US, while fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan was allowing, at the same time, arms and material to flow to radical opposition groups fighting common US enemies in Iraq, Libya and now Syria. The biggest supporter of the radical Islamists in Egypt, who were waging armed violence in various parts of that country, happened to be the United States.
Even in Bangladesh, see the way the Americans were shedding tears for the fundamentalists and their supporter Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by Begum Khaleda Zia, who are hell bent on eliminating non-Muslims from its soil, in the aftermath of the 2013 general elections.
In fact, one is getting increasingly convinced that the US has been the real supporter and promoter of Islamic fundamentalism all over the world. One may remember in this context the investigating report that appeared in the Washington Post some years ago on how the US spent millions of dollars producing fanatical school books, which were then shipped and distributed in Afghanistan and other countries of West Asia.
“The primers, which were filled with talk of jihad and featured drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines, have served since then [i.e., since the violent destruction of the Afghan secular government in the early 1990s] as the Afghan school system’s core curriculum. Even the Taliban used the American-produced books…” the Washington Post reported.
How does one explain the American duplicity? In my considered opinion, the duplicity could be in line with the long-term American strategic goal of containing Russia, China and India, the three countries that could challenge the US global hegemony in the long run. Just see how each of these countries is now facing neighbours that are coming under the increasing influence of Islamic fundamentalism.