Published on 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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22 reader comments

  1. Zeeshan mian says:

    It is very optimistic idea that Britain will priorities the world peace( or at least peace in middle east) over its economic interests.

    1. Andrew Dundas says:

      We may all be losing our sense of proportion here.
      Kosovo has a population of 1.8 millions, most of whom have inherited the Islamic persuasion for centuries. Europe is hundreds of millions more people, and we share the bloodiest history of all the world’s continents. And which we’re trying v hard to change.
      The Wahhabi movements are predominately peaceful and of no threat to us at all. But like all religions a few enthusiasts are swept up into aggressive attitudes which, in the fragile ‘state’ of Kosovo, may lead to very small scale problems that an effective police force would be able to deal with.
      In short, Kosovo is no threat to the EU or to Britain.

  2. anon says:

    Agree fully, but the problem is how do good people fight all this lot, also one of the agendas of some here is I think to destroy the Muslim world, the target originally was Iran and not Iraq and still is. the supply lines to IS have been through Turkey, our side have always known this, so many have a financial interest in the deaths of innocents, how does one fight all these people Mr Snow? as an aside thought I glimpsed Sir John Scarlett on the tube the other day, perhaps I could have casually engaged him in conversation and asked him such things, but would have caused alarm so didn’t, but our country is supposed to stand for decency and justice, what has gone so badly wrong?

    1. Lita says:

      The answer is to stop funding Saudi Arabia.

      1. Michael Edwards says:

        Yes I would agree with you. Definitely a highly relevant point.

  3. Maryam Goodarzi says:

    The arms industry worldwide needs to put greed aside. Many wars, including the wars in the Middle East today have been created/exasperated on the back of this industry. Surely, Britain could find more honourable sources of income. It is a disgrace to the intellect and creativity of this nation. By selling killing machines to extremists such as Wahabi fundamentalists, the UK government is putting at risk the security of it’s own citizens; as we have witnessed recently, the Jihadi ideology and violence inevitably becomes contagious and comes back to haunt the western world.

    1. Jack says:

      Perhaps the British government could concentrate on enabling OUR NATION to rebuild its OWN forces before we begin to look for “Problems” to solve across the world?
      Get our NAVY up to date and up to strength??

      After the EU fuss is over, it will be ESSENTIAL to police OUR WATERS around the UK!
      We need a strong and effective RN to do this.

      Perhaps, for 10 years or so we could stop “overseas aid” and spent that money on rebuilding OUR Forces instead.??

      We have lost shipyards and run down our aircraft industry. Over 70 yrs ago we won the Battle of Britain, after we had appeased from 1933. Today our politicians appease once more similar to how they did so in the 1930s,

      We are entering another era where GB will once again make a considerable contribution with its allies, to the wellbeing and democracy of the world
      When that day comes,we must as a nation once again,stand firm with honorable men for BRITISH Democratic values!
      We are coming to a time when we will need politicians with the honour and vigour to make those great nation saving steps that the wonderful pre war generaton showed the fortitude to deal with other threats that faced them.
      Future times will no doubt necessitate strong and acute leaders with the nations safety and security at heart.
      We may once more, find ourselves “standing alone” as we once did in this changed world. Perhaps our steadfast friends of the past will see the benefits of co-operating in a different way for the same standards?
      It is clear that as before our friends will be needed to help build not a war winning army, but a great technologically rich nation immune to the designs of others. in a new world!

      How will we rise to the challenge if our children have been led in a stupor of collective values so different than those we once spread across the globe?
      Competent leaders are required to face challenges and dangers to our society we can today not even fathom!
      As in centuries past our small nation has risen to challenges to allow itself to overcome perceived threats that were in that time turned by great statesmen to our nation`s advantage!
      Histories threats were indeed great, but our nation with its reservoir of brilliance can no doubt overcome in the future as it did in the past

  4. Ursula De Brun says:

    As usual John Snow nails it. He’s a man of great moral fibre. The sense of powerless one feels when contemplating the political, and economic web involved in the devastation of millions of people in Syria Yemen Libya and elsewhere is overwhelming. So called democratic governments/leaders speak out of two sides of their mouths – Britain, France, the US etc. while millions of lives are are either lost or displaced day after day. Saudi Arabia is major key. What is the West so afraid of that we don’t/won’t/can’t tell it like it is? So too is the Zionist Government of Israel (not to be confused with the right of Isreal to exist in peace but rather to call out the extremists who won’t afford the same right to their neighbours). It’s difficult to turn on a tap and drink a glass of clean water, lie in a warm bed at night without fear the house will crumble and know that millions and especially children are denied that every hour of every day. It’s shameful and even writing this carries a shame – it’s just words. Actions speak louder.

  5. Terry says:

    KSA the elephant in the room but they have oil
    Therefore they do what they want

  6. Heather Bolton says:

    Expedience: apparently comes at great cost especially regarding suffering for masses of people. For example- America’s aid of arming opposition in the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. This comes back in the forms of Osama Bin Laden/The Taliban. The ME is now well flooded with weaponry how can any Peace be on any horizon. It is difficult to see a differentiation of Policy between this Country and America. Many of these crucial issues barely get an airing in the House of Commons. These “wars/meddling” are fought on two fronts: in the apparent location and with the minds of the public. They are also inter-related because of the reliance within our economy on the production of weaponry.

  7. Alan says:

    Given the factual omissions, akin to ignoring the ‘elephants in the room’, is there any wonder Mr Snow continues to pose such questions? No mention of US and US friendly nations creation, training and funding of radical groups. No mention of those nations economic and military policies designed to fragment the Middle East. No mention of the covert civil unrest operations and especially no mention of the role the western press played to dis inform it’s audience.
    One can only have disbelief where Mr Snow’s views of Kosovo are concerned. A criminal state created as a US, NATO base via the destruction of Yugoslavia based upon a tissue of lies diligently reported by corporations such as this. Mr Snow your analysis appears paid for.

  8. James Hanson says:

    Channel 4, again, strangely omitting to provide any context of the Yemen conflict – a rebellion against the legitimate Government and a Saudi-led Coalition working to implement a unanimous UN resolution.

  9. Sarah A says:

    Used to have lots of respect for you & channel4 but after this article not any more..this article showed that you lack professionalism,truth & depth in your analysis, writing according to second hand information, not even you witnessing ithem. Yes there is a problem in our region & mistakes where done but it doesn’t mean we are supporting it, infact what’s happening is beyond religion & forsure beyond Saudi Arabia which is already suffering from it & trying to stop it ..most of what’s happening in Europe are from people who lived in it and was suppressed by it and most important has nothing to do with our religion or Wahhabism.. Middle East is what is it now because of the West including UK & there war against Iraq ,Libya & Syria war whom they didn’t even see share border or get bombed by them like Saudi Arabia & Yemen.. No one here wants war and perhaps it would been better if your article reflect wish of millions of people…

  10. Rem rehman says:

    The hijab, beards, and now the burkini are manifestations of the peril of wahabism. The West is inadvertently encouraging the spread of Islamism by giving into their religious demands. The French approach to curb religious symbolism in public places is one of the measures needed in Europe to stop the menace.

    1. Andrew Dundas says:

      You may not know this, but we don’t do official discrimination here. Here’s some examples:
      When Karl Marx needed a library in which to write his tomes, the British Museum was helpful to him. Why not? [I should add that Marx was the european correspondent for the NY Tribune for a decade. The US didn’t mind his views either …then].
      Our British cities also provided homes for the ‘Lone Star State’ when Texas didn’t want to re-join the USA. And for numerous others who’ve come here because, for as long as they don’t make too much noise, we don’t really care what they do within our laws.
      If you prefer discrimination, there several other countries that can oblige you.

  11. Jason McGuire says:

    A threat to our own security? British lives have been saved by our relationship with Saudi Arabia. That’s why we’re allies. The threats come from ISIS, Al Qaeda etc…two groups who are growing in Yemen, another reason why our relationship with Saudi Arabia is important.

  12. Josh Monk says:

    Wahhabism is a Western term not currently applied to any form of Islam in Saudi Arabia.

    There is such a lack of Western understanding about the real issues and drivers in global terror.

    Saudi Arabia is fighting terror, on behalf of its Western allies.

  13. Bob V says:

    It is entirely illogical to accuse Saudi of promoting the very ideology that has threatened it with deadly attacks.

    Terrorists are attempting to undermine Saudi stability. Extremists are more of a threat to Saudi Arabia than to any other part of the world.

  14. Samuel C says:

    The US CIA has stated that Saudi Arabia is its closest ally in the fight against terror. They are the victims, and not the protagonists of terror.

  15. Aftab Baig says:

    Hi Jon,

    I’m no Wahabist, but the criticism alleged against Wahabism, I think goes too far. Wahabism is the Saudi state back interpretation of Islam. But, it is Saudi itself which is anti ISIS.

    Abdul Aziz Abdulah Bin Baz, one of the biggest Wahabi scholars, was disliked by extremists (read more here: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/obituary-sheikh-abdul-aziz-bin-baz-1093400.html)

    Wahabist teachings are inflexible, it is why it is one sect of Islam which forbids “suicide bombings” in EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE. Many sects will permit it, (permitted if not targeting civilians and during war – a bit like kamikaze).

    I have a Muslim friend who is, without a doubt, the best Muslim I have ever come across. I always thought Muslims the world over should be like him. Kind, considerate, honest. It was only recently did I realise that he was a follower of Wahabi Islam. He’s a strict follower of Wahabi Islam. He’s so strict, that when I was promoting BDS of Israel, he was against it on Islamic grounds.

    I’m not saying Saudi Arabia is the greatest country in the world, but Wahabi Islam and Saudi Arabis should be seen as two separate entities. If Wahabi Islam is the cause of terrorism, then why are the vast majority of Wahabis not terrorists? Why have they not joined ISIS?

  16. stephen collier says:

    And who was chiefly responsible for kicking off all this horror in the first place? You don’t have to be a bit of a sage to fathom that one out.

    1. Andrew Dundas says:

      Originator ‘… responsible for kicking off all this horror …’ Could have been the medieval Popes. Or even our ‘Richard Lionheart’. Could have been any of those and including the monarchs of Spain who ordered the mass murders of muslims in what is now southern Spain.

      It’s a very long history.

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