Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Sat, Nov 28th, 2015

ISIS, Who’s Your Daddy?

There is no doubt that Islam, the faith of a billion plus individuals on the globe, is under duress from within and from without. Although often couched in terms of the infamous medieval crusades with dueling religious rhetoric about who is an infidel, the essential problem today is the future of religious tolerance.


Historically there have been many interpretive frames of Islam, the major distinction being between Sunni and Shi’a. In fact not all Islamic groups fit comfortably into this binary, which is itself misleading due to the variety of groups lumped together theologically as Sunni or Shi’a. The so-called “War on Terror” is obviously not against Muslims as a whole, but focuses on those groups which are intolerant both of fellow Muslims and other religions. The two most visible Islamic terrorist groups known to the West are al-Qaida, including its offsprings, and ISIS or Daesh. Al-Qaida has a limited number of operatives and has been largely overshadowed by ISIS, which physically controls a large swathe of land in Iraq and Syria.

Those familiar with old song lyrics may remember the classic line “Who’s your Daddy?”, sung by the English rock band known as the Zombies and by Country Western singer Toby Keith. In a recent op-ed piece both in French and English, Kamel Daoud argues: “Daesh has a mother: the invasion of Iraq. But it also has a father: Saudi Arabia and its religious-industrial complex. Until that point is understood, battles may be won, but the war will be lost. Jihadists will be killed, only to be reborn again in future generations and raised on the same books.” White Daesh or Saudi Arabia is the daddy of Black Daesh or ISIS. As Daoud notes, each “slits throats, kills, stones, cuts off hands, destroys humanity’s common heritage and despises archaeology, women and non-Muslims.” The history of the Wahhabi trail of death in Arabia and nearby Iraq is every bit as brutal as the antics of ISIS. Daesh did not spontaneously combust; it is one of the outcomes of the extremely intolerant Wahhabi worldview filtered through the disastrous American invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Dira Square in Riyadh, used for executions (photo: Luke Richard Thompson)

Dira Square in Riyadh, used for executions (photo: Luke Richard Thompson)

But this Daddy also happens to be fabulously wealthy and positioned at the center of Islamic geography, Mecca and Medina. For decades the oil wealth of the Saudis has been used by both the government and individuals to promote an Islamic worldview that is intolerant of other views. The deleterious impact of intolerant Salafism has reached almost every corner of the Islamic world and Europe. The impact of exported Wahhabi or Salafi views has led to the devastation of Yemen as part of a polarizing proxy war between the Saudis and Shi’a Iran. One only has to look at what Wahhabism has wrought in Saudi Arabia to realize how antagonistic it is to anything in the past, including long revered sites in the two holy cities. The giant clock tower shopping mall and hotel complex that now dominates the most sacred site of all Muslims is itself a telling reminder that the riyals of the royals rule over the faith. These riyals also buy the weapons of destruction, over a billion dollars worth recently from the U.S. and also from the U.K., which are callously used to destroy non-military targets and civilians in Yemen.

There is no little irony in the hatred that Daesh shows for the Saudis as a puppet (and in some ways a patron) of the West that Wahhabism itself brands as infidel. The pragmatic patricide advocated by the new Islamic caliphate that would replace the Saudis has not yet been taken to heart by the Saudi regime. To be sure their internal security works against anyone attacking the state or royal family, as the mounting executions in the kingdom show. The current unwinnable air war against Yemen has given the local variants of al-Qaida (especially Ansar Shariah) and ISIS a boost in Yemen’s south. As Frances Guy, a former British ambassador to Yemen, writes, “Because of the instability caused by the bombing, we have helped created the next space for Isis after Syria. This is where they will retire to.” Using their oil-soiled billions to buy destructive military equipment and weapons and to hire mercenary troops has received virtually no criticism from the same Western powers that have declared war on Islamic terrorism but forgotten what human rights are all about. It seems that this Daddy is too rich to fail, at least as long it remains a billion dollar baby.

About the Author

- Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Varisco is currently the President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Senior Fellow at the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of Bonn University, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.

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