As many prepare to protest outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in London on 25 September, over a cemetery that was destroyed 85 years ago, they will also be making a stand against an ideology of intolerance that has affected billions across the world.
The ‘Jannat al-Baqi’ [Garden of Paradise] cemetery is located near Prophet Mohammed’s mosque in Medina and was the site where many shrines and monuments were built in honour of the early Muslims buried there. The shrines were levelled to the ground because they went “against the teachings of Islam.”
Many in the west realised the danger of Islamic extremism after the deadly attacks on 9/11, but in reality, it is the Muslims themselves who have been the most targeted group throughout history and it is they who make up the overwhelming majority of casualties – murdered indiscriminately by a group of violent and bigoted individuals who decide they no longer have the right to live.
The problem with fighting terrorism, besides the obvious logistical military setbacks that come with confronting an unconventional enemy, is that some countries that openly profess to being anti-terrorism are themselves directly and indirectly funding terrorism through their dependence on oil.
The history of the link between the US and oil can be traced back to the infamous meeting during WWII between President Roosevelt and King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud (who ordered the destruction of the Jannat al-Baqi cemetery in 1925). Although the oil concessions were awarded to the Americans in 1933, the meeting between the two heads of state marked the official start of the strong relationship which has been unwavering to this day. Power has switched several times between the Republicans and Democrats, but they all seem to have at least one thing in common – dependence on oil.
Although no official minutes exist of the meeting held on the USS Quincy on 14 February 1945, US foreign policy since indicates that the deal struck was oil for protection. Saudi Arabia is the only supplier that can compensate the US for any cut-offs from other major suppliers – thanks to their some 260 billion barrels of oil. The United States Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf is more than enough muscle to convince the Saudis that the Americans can honour this marriage of convenience.
So what has this got anything to do with terrorism? Well, 200 years before the meeting between FDR and Abdul Aziz, another pact was made between the first head of the House of Saud, Mohammed ibn Saud, and the leader of a militant Islamic movement, Mohammed bin Abdul Wahhab. The Wahhabis, named after their leader, stressed on the principle of Jihad in order to raid and kill “infidels” (mainly other Muslims) who were on the wrong path. They were on a militant mission to “reform” Islam.
Bedouin society at the time was already well accustomed to raids, war and violence, so the two men gained much support throughout the Arabian Peninsula. The First Saudi State was created and tribal armies combined with religious zeal to pave the way for the conquering of neighbouring territories. In the mid-18th century the zealots were camel-riding Bedouins who felt a unique harmony between their own pre-Islamic traditions and a violent interpretation of Islam.
Today, however, they are well-funded by petro-dollars and have mutated into a dangerous global empire with off-shoots and cells that strike not only the very heart of the western world – New York, London and Madrid to name a few examples – but also other Muslim-dominated countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.
The teachings of Mohammed ibn Abdul Wahhab are still popular throughout much of the Arab and Muslim world. The Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, besides being the only officially recognized religion in Saudi Arabia, is of paramount relevance to many terrorist organisations with a truly global reach.
Expecting the Shia and Sunni sects to come together and unite seems like wishful thinking, because neither side is willing to compromise on theology, but in rare occasions like this, where too many have felt and understood the pain of terrorism, all Muslims and non-Muslims alike can at the very least show solidarity.