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How the West backed radical Islam and unleashed global terror

From the extremist Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia to the Egyptian cult of the Muslim Brotherhood and Syrian terrorist groups allied with ISIS, the West has backed fundamentalist forces at the expense of nationalist Muslims.

Rakesh Krishnan        Last Updated: July 17, 2019  | 17:01 IST
How the West backed radical Islam and unleashed global terror
The battle is spilling over into the streets of Europe and Britain, occasionally the United States and increasingly into places like India. It'll take more than a miracle to put the jehad genie back into the bottle.

Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has for the first time openly said what has been the West's worst kept secret. According to him, the Saudi-funded spread of Wahhabism - the main source of the fundamentalist ideology of terrorist groups like ISIS began as a result of Western countries asking Riyadh to help counter Russia during the Cold War. Speaking to the US media, bin Salman said his Western allies prodded Saudi Arabia to invest in mosques and madrassas overseas, in an effort to prevent Moscow from making inroads into Muslim countries.

Bin Salman's revelation comes in the midst of increasing criticism in the West over his alleged involvement in the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. While he is clearly trying to deflect blame by pointing fingers at others, there is no denying that Western policies in the Middle East are responsible for incubating the ideal conditions for the growth of Islamic fundamentalists worldwide.

For, before the 2003 US invasion of Iraq there was no al-Qaeda or ISIS. President Saddam Hussein was the enemy of radical Islamists and in his eyes Osama bin Laden was a "zealot".

Decades before the US invasion transformed Iraq into hell on earth, it was Afghanistan that was the focal point for Islamic mercenaries from around the world. It was when the West started destabilising Afghanistan - in order to bait the Russians that the Mujahidin, and its later badass version the Taliban, were born. Until the late 1970s, Afghanistan used to be a country where women, at least in cities like Kabul, visited cafes, wore skirts and went to night clubs. The burqa was rare and so were men in long beards. Today Afghan girls are shot dead for going to school or merely talking to boys.

Also Watch: PM Modi attacks Pak, says those backing terror must be held accountable

This has happened because Western governments led by the United States have destabilised secular nationalist leaders such as Nasser of Egypt, Mossadeq of Iran and most recently Bashar al-Assad of Syria while cosying up to fundamentalist groups. From the extremist Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia to the Egyptian cult of the Muslim Brotherhood and Syrian terrorist groups allied with ISIS, the West has backed fundamentalist forces at the expense of nationalist Muslims.

In 1999, the year that Vladimir Putin came to power, the Russian President uncannily predicted the rise of the Islamic State. In a television interview he referred to Islamist groups backed by the West: "We are up against a very serious enemy, one that is in fact armed and trained abroad. What's actually happening is that the extremist part of the Islamic world - and only the extremist part, let me emphasise that has a solid infrastructure in the West, in North America and in Western Europe."

According to Putin, if Russia surrenders the territories (in its southern underbelly) that these extremists are coveting, it won't be the end of it. "Sure, we can give them the territory, but then we have to be prepared for the fact they're not going to leave it at that. They will go on to create an extremist Islamic State."

While individual European governments evade the issue, the European Parliament has presented a scathing report on how Western countries, especially the US and UK, have contributed to the growth of radical Islamic groups - including those that have targeted the West - by ignoring the financing of such groups.

The report warns about Wahhabi/Salafi organisations and claims that "no country in the Muslim world is safe from their operations as they always aim to terrorise their opponents and arouse the admiration of their supporters".

The West has a long history of supporting radical Islamists. Let's explore how three of the leading Western governments have contributed to the decline of the nationalist and secular forces in the Islamic world while at the same time they have cynically propped up their opponents, the extremists.

Also Read: US declares victory over ISIS in Syria; Trump calls troops home

Britain: In bed with the fanatics

When it comes to providing a safe haven for hardened terrorists, Britain never fails to rise to the occasion. "The British Empire had an overprotective attitude toward Islam," writes Nu'man Abd Al-Wahid of the Lebanon-based Al-Akhbar.

Considering that Britain was one of the prime culprits in the destabilisation of Iran in the 1950s and is behind the devastation of Iraq, Libya and Syria in more recent times, one would be tempted to take the view the British are anti-Muslim. But in fact they are only opposed to nationalist Muslims and the moderate middle classes.

Al-Wahid explains: "When the Empire began to consolidate its lordship over the Arab world after World War I, it partnered with Saudi Wahhabis and the Muslim Brotherhood. The trends these movements represented were not so much 'invented' by the British but favoured and promoted.

"Before the British allowed the Wahhabis to establish themselves in Riyadh in 1901, they were an isolated, exiled cult in the Basra region known as 'Kuwait'. With further support from the Empire, the Wahhabis expanded into the western part of the Arabian peninsula in 1924 and 1925."

The British advocated the Muslim Brotherhood brand of Islam rather than the traditional moderate Islam as practised by the oldest university in the Islamic world, Al-Azhar.

"The British Empire heroically and selflessly defended Islam, even if al-Azhar, the traditional bastion of Islamic learning in the world, didn't comprehend this urgency. By the time these two major trends of Islamism strategically coalesced in the 1950s to meet the challenge of third world independence and socialism, the Americans had embraced the British Empire's imperialist strategy."

"This embrace meant bringing British puppets, such as the al-Saud clan of Saudi Arabia and the Thani clan of Qatar, under its protective umbrella. This American appropriation of the puppets had initially gained doctrinal credibility through the Eisenhower doctrine and extended all the way until the 1980s to support the Islamist mercenaries, or mujahideen, against the Soviets in the 1980s."

Also Read:Pakistan's crackdown on terrorism; seizes 182 madrassas, detains over 100 people

Britain's pro-Islamic policies in India

Britain's infatuation with extremism was evident during its colonial presence in India. In a speech before the British Parliament in 1843, Thomas Macaulay offered a suggestion on how Britain should deal with India's Hindu majority versus its Muslim minority. Britain, he said, should "take no part in the disputes between Mahometans and idolaters. But, if our Government does take a part, there cannot be a doubt that Mahometanism is entitled to the preference".

Winston Churchill took Islamophilia to another level. The murderous British politician who later became Prime Minister became so interested in the Muslim world that he took to dressing in Arab clothes. In fact, his family feared he might convert to Islam. In 1907 his future sister-in-law Gwendoline Bertie wrote to him: "Please don't become converted to Islam; I have noticed in your disposition a tendency to orientalise, Pasha-like tendencies, I really have."

During the Indian freedom movement, Churchill blathered, "I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion." He, of course, was referring to Hindus. At the same time, he and his ministers were constantly goading the Muslims to demand Pakistan and thereby Balkanise India.

Alex Von Tunzelman writes in 'Indian Summer' that although Muslims made up just 35% of the Indian Army, Churchill lied that they constituted 75%. This was done to buttress the claim that Indian Muslims did not want to be ruled by the "Hindu priesthood".

Churchill was inspired by Beverly Nichols' 1944 book 'Verdict on India', which argued the British could not quit without creating a separate homeland for the Muslims. Tunzelman explains: "Afterwards, he declared to his wife he was depressed by the scorn with which the Raj was viewed in India and America. 'I agree with the book and also with its conclusion - Pakistan.' Churchill's vocal support of Pakistan would be instrumental in creating the world's first modern Islamic state."

Churchill behaved very much like Ahmad Shah Abdali or Timur, who roused their troops with the promise of plunder and rape in India. In a letter to Muslim leader Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the pudgy Prime Minister hinted that India would be easy pickings for Pakistan. "Having got out of the British Commonwealth of Nations, India will be thrown into great confusion, and will have no means of defence against infiltration or invasion from the north." According to Tunzelman, Churchill was "implying that a future Pakistan might be able to invade India".

Tunzelman points to Jinnah's trip to Britain in December 1946. "At Buckingham Palace, he found that the king was in favour of Pakistan; on talking to the queen afterwards, he found her even more in favour; and finally he spoke to queen Mary, who was '100% Pakistan'."

Clearly, the British royalty, which was required by protocol to be apolitical, was in fact enthusiastically cheering for Jinnah, jehad and Pakistan. The British, cutting across classes, tried to forestall India's independence by opportunistically supporting Muslim separatism.

Also Read: ISIS claims it has established new branch 'Wilayah of Hind' in India

London: R&R for Terror Inc

The end of empire did not end Britain's dangerous ties with Islam. In fact, they grew stronger. In his landmark book 'Secret Affairs', Mark Curtis reveals the secret history of British collusion with radical Islamic and terrorist groups. It shows how both Labour and Conservative governments have connived with militant groups linked to al-Qaida to control oil resources, overthrow governments and promote Britain's financial interests.

British collusion with radical Islam is intimately related to its post-war imperial decline. Curtis says Britain has covertly supported radical Islamic groups in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, the Balkans, Syria, Indonesia and Egypt.

According to Curtis, Britain had a strategic alliance with the two major state sponsors of radical Islam - Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Two of the most active Islamist commanders carrying out attacks in Afghanistan, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalalludin Haqqani, both based in Pakistan, had close contacts with the UK.

Hekmatyar met Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street when he was a favourite of MI6 and the CIA in the war against the Russians. Thatcher declared that these Islamists were engaged in "one of the most heroic resistance struggles known to history", as cited in Sandy Gall's 'Afghanistan, Agony of a Nation'.

Blowback on Britain

If Britain is hoping the jehadi snakes it is rearing in its backyard would only bite countries it is civilisationally opposed to - such as Russia, India, China or Serbia - then it is sorely mistaken. Kim Sengupta writes in The Independent:

"For years, violent Islamist groups were allowed to settle in Britain, using the country as a base to carry out attacks abroad. This was tolerated in the belief that they would not bomb the country where they lived and that, as long as they are here, the security service would be able to infiltrate them. At the same time mosque after mosque was taken over through intimidation by the fundamentalists. Police and others in authority refused pleas from moderate Muslims with the excuse that they did not want to interfere.

"There was even a name for this amoral accommodation: the 'covenant of security'. We now know that jihadists will indeed blow up their home country and that the security agencies signally failed to infiltrate the terrorist cells while they had the chance."

America's infatuation with radical Islam

When the history of terrorism is written, Ronald Reagan's name will stand out. In 1985 the US President received an Afghan mujahidin delegation at the White House with the words: "These gentlemen are the moral equivalent of America's Founding Fathers."

As if arming the Mujahidin wasn't enough, the US went on to establish the conditions for the rise of another more dangerous scourge, the Islamic State. The illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 not only removed President Saddam Hussein from power, it also destroyed the remnant of a proud civilisation. The US then disbanded the entire Iraqi Army and air force, sending highly trained and battle hardened soldiers into the unemployment heap.

According to Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general, the US-led invasion of Iraq was a mistake and helped to create the Islamist State militant group. "I was against this invasion and my fears have been founded," he says. "The break-up of the Iraqi forces poured hundreds if not thousands of disgruntled soldiers and police officers onto the streets." These men later formed the core of al-Qaeda and later the Islamic State.

Not many Westerners realise they are being attacked by vengeful Iraqis and other Middle Easterners whose countries, neighbourhoods, families and their own lives are wrecked beyond redemption. The invasion of Iraq was savage beyond most people's imagination. The 'Coalition of the Willing' - the group of allied countries in the Iraq War - basically used Iraqis as target practice. Iraqi children were shot dead for fun or raped by British and American soldiers. Without a ray of hope and seeing their country's entire infrastructure destroyed, many Iraqis turned to terrorism as the only way to avenge their humiliation.

But the Americans have learnt nothing. The bipartisan deep state has continued its policy of supporting ISIS-affiliated terrorist groups in order to remove one of the last surviving secular regimes in the Middle East. The millions of Syrian refugees who have flooded Europe and America are going to be the seed for future Islamic terror groups.

France: How to destroy a secular regime

During the Cold War, while most NATO countries blindly toed the American line, France pursued an independent foreign policy. Under President Charles De Gaulle, France had even pulled its military out of NATO. However, under Nicolas Sarkozy Paris pursued a more Washington-aligned foreign policy - no questions asked.

France is the prime culprit in the razing of Libya's beautiful cities, its free education and excellent health care system. In the spring of 2011, Sarkozy took the lead among European nations in pushing for an air campaign against Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi. The ostensible motive was to protect civilians in the so-called civil war.

However, leaked Hillary Clinton emails suggest Sarkozy organised Gaddafi's removal with five specific purposes in mind: "To obtain Libyan oil, ensure French influence in the region, increase Sarkozy's reputation domestically, assert French military power, and to prevent Gaddafi's influence in what is considered Francophone Africa."

France feared Libya was going to lead North Africa into a high degree of economic independence with a new pan-African currency backed by its gold reserves of 143 tons of gold and billions of dollars in oil earnings. French intelligence "discovered" a Libyan initiative to freely compete with European currency through a local alternative, and this had to be subverted through military aggression, reports Vice News.

Libya's end is almost as complete as the destruction of Carthage, a North African power by the Romans 2,000 years ago. Worse, freebooting terrorists backed by French and American intelligence agencies are now extending their reach into the Syrian civil war. Libya's weapon stocks were looted by these rebels, who have since supplied Gaddafi's guns and ammunition to various terror groups.

From a benign dictatorship, Libya has transmogrified into a jehadi hell.

The way out of the mess

An impression has grown among Muslims globally that the West wants to destroy Islam. But this is not quite true because the political leadership in the West has never viewed Islam as an enemy. It just used weak and disparate Islamist groups - such as the Mujahidin - as cannon fodder in order to target Russia. In fact, many Islamist groups today regret being so cynically exploited.

It is a measure of the West's desire to destabilise non-western powers that it refuses to acknowledge its Cold War mistakes and keeps arming jehadis. The West continues to have its 'good' terrorists such as the Al-Nusra Front that are being used against Syria and indirectly against Russia. Pakistan-based terrorist groups that target India are largely left alone unless they attack the Americans. Uighur terrorists who knifed to death dozens of Chinese are described as rebels by CNN and their liberal experts. On the other hand, terrorists who attack Russia, China and India are always "gunmen", never terrorists.

It is not that there are no sane voices left in the West; it's just that they are smothered by opportunists like Hillary Clinton and Sarkozy and John Bolton, the preternaturally evil US National Security Advisor. In an article that ran contrary to its traditional stance of backing anti-nationalist forces around the world, the New York Times wrote a few months before the Iraq War:

"Iraq and Al Qaeda are not obvious allies. In fact, they are natural enemies. A central tenet of Al Qaeda's jihadist ideology is that secular Muslim rulers and their regimes have oppressed the believers and plunged Islam into a historic crisis. Hence, a paramount goal of Islamist revolutionaries for almost half a century has been the destruction of the regimes of such leaders as Presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar el-Sadat and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, President Hafez al-Assad of Syria, the military government in Algeria and even the Saudi royal family."

And as Hillary Clinton scolded the Pakistanis about their funding of terrorism directed at India and Afghanistan: "You can't rear snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours."

However, the desire to play cynical geopolitical games is too strong in the West. In most cases Western politicians and generals are way over their heads in events they cannot begin to understand, let alone control. Meanwhile, the battle is spilling over into the streets of Europe and Britain, occasionally the United States and increasingly into places like India. It'll take more than a miracle to put the jehad genie back into the bottle.

(Rakesh Krishnan is a New Zealand-based defence and foreign affairs analyst)

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