Архив за етикет: geopolitics

How the West is Complicit in Nurturing Islamic Radicalism

Without Western support, the Persian Gulf’s petro-monarchies would not be able to rule over their forcefully suppressed and disenfranchised populations.


President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama walk with King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia at Erga Palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 27, 2015. (Pete Souza/White House)
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama walk with King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia at Erga Palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 27, 2015. (Pete Souza/White House)


by   ,

Foreign Policy Journal     August 20, 2016

The pivotal role played by the Wahhabi-Salafi ideology in radicalizing Muslims all over the world is an indisputable fact; this Wahhabi-Salafi creed has been generously sponsored by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab States since the 1973 oil embargo, when the price of oil quadrupled and the contribution of the Arab petro-sheikhs towards the “spiritual well-being” of Muslims all over the world magnified proportionally.

However, the Arab autocrats are in turn propped up by the Western powers since the Cold War; thus syllogistically speaking, the root cause of Islamic radicalism has been the neocolonial powers’ manipulation of the socio-political life of the Arabs specifically, and the Muslims generally, in order to exploit their energy resources in the context of an energy-starved industrialized world. This is the principal theme of this essay which I shall discuss in detail in the following paragraphs.

Peaceful or not, Islam is only a religion just like any other cosmopolitan religion whether it’s Christianity, Buddhism or Hinduism. Instead of taking an essentialist approach, which lays emphasis on essences, we need to look at the evolution of social phenomena in its proper historical context. For instance: to assert that human beings are evil by nature is an essentialist approach; it overlooks the role played by nurture in grooming human beings. Human beings are only intelligent by nature, but they are neither good nor evil by nature; whatever they are, whether good or evil, is the outcome of their nurture or upbringing.

Similarly, to pronounce that Islam is a retrogressive or violent religion is an essentialist approach; it overlooks how Islam and the Quranic verses are interpreted by its followers depending on the subject’s socio-cultural context. For example: the Western expat Muslims who are brought up in the West and who have imbibed the Western values would interpret a Quranic verse in a liberal fashion; an urban middle class Muslim of the Muslim-majority countries would interpret the same verse rather conservatively; and a rural-tribal Muslim who has been indoctrinated by the radical clerics would find meanings in it which could be extreme. It is all about culture rather than religion or scriptures per se.

Islam is regarded as the fastest growing religion of the 20th and 21st centuries. There are two factors responsible for this atavistic phenomena of Islamic resurgence: firstly, unlike Christianity which is more idealistic, Islam is a more practical religion, it does not demand from its followers to give up worldly pleasures but only insists on regulating them; and secondly, Islam as a religion and ideology has the world’s richest financiers.

After the 1973 collective Arab oil embargo against the West, the price of oil quadrupled; the Arabs petro-sheikhs now have so much money that they are needlessly spending it on building skyscrapers, luxury hotels, theme parks and resort cities. This opulence in the oil-rich Gulf Arab States is the reason why we are witnessing an exponential growth of Islamic charities and madrassahs all over the world and especially in the Islamic World.

Although, it is generally assumed that the Arab sheikhs of the oil-rich Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and some emirates of UAE sponsor the Wahhabi-Salafi sect of Islam, but the difference between numerous sects of Sunni Islam is more nominal than substantive. The charities and madrassahs belonging to all the Sunni denominations get generous funding from the Gulf States as well as the Gulf-based private donors.

All the recent wars and conflicts aside, the unholy alliance between the Americans and the Wahhabi-Salafis of the Persian Gulf’s petro-monarchies is much older. The British stirred up uprising in Arabia by instigating the Sharifs of Mecca to rebel against the Ottoman rule during the First World War. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the British Empire backed King Abdul Aziz (Ibn-e-Saud) in his struggle against the Sharifs of Mecca; because the latter were demanding too much of a price for their loyalty: that is, the unification of the whole of Arabia under their suzerainty.

King Abdul Aziz defeated the Sharifs and united his dominions into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932 with the support of the British. However, by then the tide of British Imperialism was subsiding and the Americans inherited the former possessions and the rights and liabilities of the British Empire.

At the end of the Second World War on 14 February 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt held a historic meeting with King Abdul Aziz at Great Bitter Lake in the Suez canal onboard USS Quincy, and laid the foundations of an enduring American-Saudi alliance which persists to this day; despite many ebbs and flows and some testing times, especially in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy when 15 out of 19 hijackers of the 9/11 plot turned out to be Saudi citizens. During the course of that momentous Great Bitter Lake meeting, among other things, it was decided to set up the United States Military Training Mission (USMTM) to Saudi Arabia to “train, advise and assist” the Saudi Arabian Armed Forces.

Apart from USMTM, the US-based Vinnell Corporation, which is a private military company based in the US and a subsidiary of the Northrop Grumman, used over a thousand Vietnam War veterans to train and equip the 125,000 strong Saudi Arabian National Guards (SANG) which does not comes under the authority of the Saudi Ministry of Defense and which plays the role of the Praetorian Guards of the House of Saud.

Moreover, the Critical Infrastructure Protection Force, whose strength is numbered in tens of thousands, is also being trained and equipped by the US to guard the critical Saudi oil infrastructure along its eastern Persian Gulf coast where 90% of Saudi oil reserves are located. Furthermore, the US has numerous air bases and missile defense systems currently operating in the Persian Gulf States and also a naval base in Bahrain where the Fifth Fleet of the US Navy is based.

The point that I am trying to make is that left to their own resources, the Persian Gulf’s petro-monarchies lack the manpower, the military technology and the moral authority to rule over not only the forcefully suppressed and disenfranchised Arab masses, but also the South Asian and African immigrants of the Gulf Arab states.

One-third of the Saudi Arabian population is comprised of immigrants; similarly, more than 75% of UAE’s population also consists of immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka; and all the other Gulf Arab States also have a similar proportion of immigrants from the developing countries; moreover, unlike the immigrants in the Western countries who hold the citizenship status, the Gulf’s immigrants have lived there for decades and sometimes for generations, and they are still regarded as unentitled foreigners.

Notwithstanding, it is generally believed that political Islam is the precursor to Islamic extremism and terrorism; however, there are two distinct and separate types of political Islam: the despotic political Islam of the Gulf variety and the democratic political Islam of the Turkish and the Muslim Brotherhood variety. The latter Islamist organization never had a chance to rule over Egypt, except for a brief year long stint; therefore, it would be unwise to draw any conclusions from such a brief period of time in history.

The Turkish variety of political Islam, the oft-quoted “Turkish model,” however, is worth emulating all over the Islamic World. I do understand that political Islam in all of its forms and manifestations is an anathema to the liberal sensibilities, but it is the ground reality of the Islamic world. The liberal dictatorships, no matter how benevolent, had never worked in the past, and they will meet the same fate in the future.

The mainspring of Islamic extremism and militancy isn’t the moderate and democratic political Islam, because why would people turn to violence when they can exercise their right to choose their rulers? The mainspring of Islamic militancy is the despotic and militant political Islam of the Gulf variety. The Western powers are fully aware of this fact, so why do they choose to support the same Arab autocrats that have nurtured extremism and terrorism when the ostensible and professed goal of the Western policymakers is to eliminate Islamic radicalism and militancy?

It’s because this has been a firm policy principle of the Western powers to promote “stability” in the Middle East rather than representative democracy. They are fully cognizant of the ground reality that the mainstream Muslim sentiment is firmly against any Western military presence and interference in the Middle East region. Additionally, the Western policymakers also prefer to deal with small groups of Middle Eastern strongmen rather than cultivating a complex and uncertain relationship on a popular level; certainly a myopic approach which is the hallmark of the so-called “pragmatic” politicians and statesmen.

Nauman Sadiq is an Islamabad-based attorney, columnist and geopolitical analyst focused on the politics of Af-Pak and MENA regions, neocolonialism and petroimperialism.

Beijing Reconsiders Its Place in the International Order

Geopolitical Diary

June 22, 2016.

China is facing a potential decision point in its moves to assert its claims over much of the South China Sea. Beijing has reportedly told some Asian nations that it may withdraw from the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) if the ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, expected within days, goes against China’s interests.

Filipino protesters in Manilla express their displeasure with China’s activities around disputed islands in the South China Sea. An international court decision on a complaint filed by the Philippines over the islands is expected in the near future. (NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)

The court case revolves around China’s claims to islands in the South China Sea also claimed by the Philippines — or more precisely, whether the islands fit the definition of islands under UNCLOS and thus grant their owner certain maritime territorial claims. The purported threat to withdraw from UNCLOS follows a similar report that China would consider expanding its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the whole of its claimed territories in the South China Sea if the court ruling is not in its favor.

On the one hand, neither of China’s reported threats carry much immediate meaning. First, Beijing has already said it considers the court ruling illegitimate, whatever the outcome, and refused to even take part in the hearing on the case. Second, a withdrawal from UNCLOS does not necessarily expand China’s options any more than simply ignoring or selectively interpreting UNCLOS. Finally, despite the uproar over China’s expansion of its ADIZ over the East China Sea in 2013, the announcement had little real effect on air traffic.

On the other hand, Beijing’s recent actions and comments suggest that it is feeling growing international pressure to curtail its territorial claims and actions in the South and East China seas. China has subtly altered its basic justification for claiming the maritime territory it has, now arguing not that the occupation of islands justifies the claim but rather that the possession of the water justifies the occupation of the islands. And following a recent increase in confrontations between Chinese fishing boats and Indonesian authorities near the Natuna Islands, China simply asserted that those were traditional Chinese fishing grounds — enough justification for the actions of the fishermen. Additionally, China continues to accuse other countries, particularly the United States and Japan, of double standards when it comes to the rights of freedom of navigation in the region.

The reported threat to leave UNCLOS is in some ways like North Korea’s repeated threat — which it eventually carried out — to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Pyongyang abided by neither the letter nor the spirit of the treaty when it was a signatory, yet participation brought certain self-imposed constraints and created a space for a common dialogue with others. In addition, the threat of leaving shaped the behavior of other countries that sought to pre-empt such an „extreme“ action.

China already selectively interprets the UNCLOS regarding midpoints, definitions of islands and what constitutes legitimate maritime action within its claimed waters, and Beijing refuses to participate in the Hague case (despite the arbitration fitting with the UNCLOS mechanisms). But the threat to withdraw from UNCLOS is an extreme action that, from Beijing’s perspective, is something other nations will want to avoid.

In its deliberations, however, the court is unlikely to take China’s threats into consideration, and if it sticks to the core elements of the case, China has little hope of a decision it likes — most of China’s artificially expanded „islands“ are unlikely to be considered islands under UNCLOS definitions and thus would not count for establishing territorial claims. Such a verdict would not strengthen Manila’s claims to the „islands,“ but it would invalidate China’s claims to the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zones around them, significantly curtailing China’s ability to even come close to justifying its so-called nine-dash line claims of maritime territory in the South China Sea — at least by UNCLOS standards. And if the court decides to take a stand on the nine-dash line itself, this would be even more disconcerting for Beijing.

And this is where the decision point comes for China. As a nascent „great power,“ China is shaping its relationship with countries around the world. For the past several decades, it has asserted the moral high ground in the international arena by emphasizing its adherence to U.N. guidelines — at least when they fit its agenda. China criticized the United States for unilateral military action overseas, whereas China had a strict official policy of noninterference and engaged in overseas military activity only under U.N. oversight. And more directly, China was always quick to emphasize that it had ratified the UNCLOS, whereas the United States has not and thus has no justification to criticize or challenge China’s maritime policies in the South China Sea.

Leaving UNCLOS would be an assertion by the Chinese that international law does not apply to them, at least in this case. As a matter of course, most nations pick and choose which international conventions to adhere to. But such a move by China on maritime policy would mark a sharp change in its behavior. If Beijing declared it no longer considered UNCLOS to be legitimate, then China could conceivably assert its own set of criteria to justify its claims to maritime territory. Already it is largely doing this, claiming territory based on its own interpretation of the history of traditional Chinese fishing grounds.

Leaving UNCLOS would mark a more direct challenge by China to the way the international system is structured. China’s emergence is by its very nature changing the status quo in the Asia-Pacific and beyond. Behavior that would have seemed perhaps natural in the 19th and early 20th centuries is now seen as anachronistic. And near zero-sum assertions of territoriality and spheres of influence, which would also have seemed the norm during the Cold War period, are also now deemed outdated.

As China seeks its place regionally and internationally, it is doing so in a world system it deems restrictive and favoring the United States (which, Beijing is quick to point out, fails to adhere to selected international norms or constraints itself). China may be nearing a point where its national interests are no longer entirely compatible with current international structures. Beijing may now be deciding whether to continue trying to formulate its policies and positions to fit within the existing constructs or assert that those structures are unfair and outdated and seek to change them, whether through consensus or fait accompli.

Borders Come and Go, but Geography Remains

Global Affairs,
The Judean Desert, near the West Bank city of Jericho, has found itself behind various borders over the past century. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)

Editor’s Note: The Global Affairs column is curated by Stratfor’s editorial board, a diverse group of thinkers whose expertise inspires rigorous and innovative thought in our analyses. Though their opinions are their own, they inform and sometimes even challenge our beliefs. We welcome that challenge, and we hope our readers do too. 

By Anisa MEHDI

A quote from Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl comes to mind as my Global Affairs colleagues consider Parag Khanna’s Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization. The anthropologist famous for his voyage on the Kon-Tiki said, „Borders? I have never seen one, but I have heard they exist in the minds of some people.“

Heyerdahl would have appreciated Ian Morris’s Why the West Rules — For Now, in which he suggests, „Geography has been the main force determining the different fates of each part of the planet for the past 20,000 years.“ Once human beings began to settle rather than wander — about 10,000 years ago — our attachment to place transformed. We could grow food. We could build homes, cities and walls. We could set sail from Peru to Polynesia and return to Norway, as did Heyerdahl. And we could fight to keep what we had created.

Looking back only half a millennium, when land travel was still a primary option for transit, trade flourished along the Silk Road. Goods moved from China through the built and protected cities of Samarkand and Damascus, across Anatolia into the European continent and back. Once trade opened to the Americas, however, the eastern route gradually fell into disuse and the Atlantic, once a barrier, became the preferred path to bounty.

With the shift in trade came a shift in power, too. Asia lost its primacy and Europe found its legs; the Ottoman bridge between the two began to show its age. It took centuries, but geography wielded its hard hammer, reconstructing human priorities, popularity and affinities. We could credit the hammers of Mark Sykes and Francois George-Picot with nailing the geographical coffin of the sick man of Europe, but in truth its demise was already well underway.

Khanna suggests an evolution from actual geographic ownership to virtual control, shifting power from the resident culture to its administrator, who may reside anywhere.

„The long-standing mantra of the de jure world is ‘This land is my land.’ The new motto of the de facto, supply chain world is ‘Use it or lose it.’ In a supply chain world, it matters less who owns (or claims) territory than who uses (or administers) it.“

The Middle Eastern Exception

But Khanna’s theory of connectography will find tough customers in the Middle East. Here, the land itself is the connection. The region dominated global intellectual inquiry and economic advancement for 700 years. Recovering from its decline and decay will require more than remapping the region „in terms of its connections rather than its borders.“ It’s going to take anger, education and patience to affect its proper rescue.

Today anger abounds and patience is scarce. The value of education is being resurrected. But right now in the Middle East, dictators and monarchs are barely holding nation-states together. Khanna’s „connective infrastructure“ can’t hold a candle to rampant „separatist nationalism.“

In the 100 years since the lauded and damned Sykes-Picot Agreement, Middle Eastern borders have continued to shift. In fact, they have for centuries. All borders shift. Claimants to the land shift. But between the Tigris and the Mediterranean, Khanna’s refrain, „This land is my land,“ is as relevant now as it was in 1916. One hundred years after Sykes-Picot, those lines on paper conjure unfulfilled wishes for locals and foreigners alike. Only briefly did they give regional dominion to Europeans who envisioned sharing a new empire underlain with a new form of fuel. Nationalism, Pan-Arabism, Baathism and sectarian conflicts have successively intruded on that fantasy. A mere 99 years ago, London was said to:

„Favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people … it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.“

Lord Arthur Balfour was clear about parity for all potentially affected communities in his remarkable offer. However, the second and third parts of that promise are dreams deferred, stubbornly stirring the roots of current conflicts.

It is unimaginable today that one nation would promise a second nation the country of a third that was still part of a fourth imperial entity. Unless perhaps there were an international offer of parts of northern Iraq, eastern Turkey and northwest Iran to Kurds that guaranteed the rights of non-Kurdish speaking peoples residing therein … or an utter division of Iraq into pseudo-sectarian silos, with concomitant social engineering like that which accompanied the division of India into India, Pakistan and Bangladesh … or a unilateral declaration that occupied Palestinian territories were to be free and independent with a contiguous geography and protection for settler communities that remained. These are the kinds of interventions that began 100 years ago. Dare the international community intrude like that anywhere again?

Emboldened by Sykes, Picot and Balfour, a swift rewriting of the region continued. At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, Iraq was formally made a Class A mandate entrusted to Britain. Palestine was also placed under British mandate. Syria, under French influence thanks to the Sykes-Picot Agreement, was placed under French mandate. The Europeans ousted locally elected leaders. Mandate language referenced Balfour, maintaining „that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced,“ and assuring the „acquisition of Palestinian citizenship by Jews who take up their permanent residence in Palestine.“ More dreams of self-determination, deferred.

Fast-forward to 1947. During the 27-year mandate, increasing hostility among native Palestinian populations, their British overlords and Jewish immigrants from Europe became unacceptable to post-World War II powers. The fledgling United Nations attempted to draw a new map that might resolve post-World War I problems: the partition of Palestine.

That did not go over well with most Palestinians.

Only 20 years later the Six-Day War brought another rewrite of borders, as did the Camp David Accords in 1978. With the Oslo Accord of 1993 came other suggestions for workable boundaries. Wars in Lebanon (2006) and Gaza (2007, 2014 and 2015) changed the northern and southern edges of Israel. The disastrous fallout from the allied invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the riotous aftermath of the Arab Spring left internal Iraqi and Syrian borders in shambles, crippled by the new dream-deferring nightmare: the Islamic State.

Looking Beyond Borders

It is time to imagine new geographic — and potentially connected — possibilities for this war-weary expanse. Twentieth-century efforts to determine the region’s future without conferring with locals have proved futile. The 21st century offers new opportunity. Much iteration of maps will proceed as provincial players consider their options regarding food, water, trade, energy and safety.

Eventually Khanna’s insight may be appreciated: „Geography matters intensely, but it does not follow that borders do. We should never confuse geography, which is paramount, with political geography, which is transient.“ To wit, some of these borders change every 60 to 70 years; Israel’s change every 10 to 15 years. Given the foreseeable dearth of resources, 21st-century cartographers will need to envision a shared geographic model for survival rather than the punishing „winner takes all“ paradigm.

There was a time when wise men from this region proclaimed „be a light unto the world,“ preached „love your neighbor as yourself,“ and repeated „mercy and compassion“ to all, above all. Today, those ideologies are all but buried in blood and dust. It’s as if a geopolitical spell has been cast on the people who populate the formerly Fertile Crescent, encouraging new ideologies that willfully disrupt the region’s foundational enchantment: the Abrahamic culture of hospitality and welcome.

Referring to Khanna’s predictions, Jay Ogilvy notes „the economics of supply lines moves into the foreground as politics and ideology fade into the background.“ If that is the case, the Middle East may be doomed. Its supplies of oil are waning; its water is evaporating; agriculture and other industry are limited, and tourism is virtually gone. Without a turnaround, competing ideologies may be all that are left.

Connectography could be the future’s forecaster. Human beings have developed analytics and technology to look back and see what hasn’t worked and could appropriately alter our approach. With the capacity to look forward and explore scenarios, a higher-functioning tomorrow is possible. It will take communication rather than combat among allies and foes to agree on what would be best for the region that we today call „the Middle East“ as it runs out of oil and water and as temperatures rise.

Borders? Ask the land if it has seen a border. Borders will come and go, as will governments, villages, temples and towers. Geography remains.

Source: Stratfor,