1 Sep 2016

Our permissive friendship with Wahhabism

With Prime Minister May back at her desk, still with the flush of youth in her Premiership sails, perhaps her mind will begin to turn to foreign affairs beyond Brexit.

Most pressing must surely be the unending chaos across the Middle East, most notably and tragically in Syria, Yemen and Libya, fuelled in large part by the speeding spread of Wahhabi fundamentalism and active Jihadism across the world, and by Saudi Arabia’s unending rivalry with Iran.

What is her government’s relationship to be with these countries and their leaders, and how will she deal with those who host and seem to aid the export of Islamic extremism?

It’s a tough question, but her misgivings over part-Chinese funded Hinkley Point might suggest that she well look again at another huge priority relationship she has inherited – that of Saudi Arabia.

Most immediately, the question is how much longer Britain is to continue its active engagement in the war in Yemen.

TOPSHOT - A Yemeni boy stands in the rubble of buildings destroyed in an air-strike by the Saudi-led coalition on February 25, 2016 in the capital Sanaa. / AFP / MOHAMMED HUWAIS (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)A child stands in the rubble following an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition in Sanaa, Yemen (Getty)

British military advisors have assisted the Saudi-led coalition which is bombing in Yemen.

Much of the weaponry in the Saudi war effort there is British-made. Security is so bad that it is very hard for western reporters to enter and report objectively, although my colleague Krishnan Guru-Murthy has produced heart-rending reports on one devastating side-effect – starvation.

But when it comes to the spread of extremism there is much more to be addressed even than Yemen’s tragic war.

Not least is this: how did the youngest state in Europe – Kosovo, just 17 years old – become the biggest per capita source of fighters joining Isis of any country on the European continent?

In the last two years, 314 young Kosovans joined up, two of them suicide bombers, 44 of them women, 28 of them children, and the number is rising. At last, the truth is finally beginning to clarify, thanks in good measure to the good work of journalist, Carlotta Gall.

She was on America’s National Public Radio last week laying out, once again, the evidence she had previously reported in the New York Times in May.

In the years since the end of the Balkan wars in which Kosovo suffered at the hand of the Serbs, in the ravaging what once had been Yugoslavia, the country has become increasingly influenced by radical Wahhabi Islam – funded, trained, and exported from Saudi Arabia.

Wahhabism is a practice of extreme Islam that until fairly recently was almost completely alien to the mainstream low-key Muslim faith long practised in the Kosovan region of the Balkans.

In those 17 years since the Kosovan war ended, Ms Gall reports how the country has become the playground of preachers exported from Saudi Arabia together with the money to build hundreds of mosques and madrassahs.

In post-war Kosovo, despite American aid, one strong rising force in Kosovan society is increasingly that of radicalising Islam.

The question for the new British Prime Minister surely has to be this – is the value to the British economy, and the UK’s place in the world supposedly contributed by our relationship with Saudi Arabia, so great that we can ignore the very real possibility that the export of Saudi-based Wahhabism – tolerated by the Saudi Kingdom – is a potentially devastating threat to world peace and to our own security?

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