One of the key contradictions of Western foreign policy toward the Middle East is the strong alliance with Saudi Arabia. With its vast oil resources and its strategic location between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, staunchly anticommunist Saudi Arabia became a key Western ally during the Cold War.
This alliance with the West and the influx of enormous oil revenues since the 1970s have allowed Saudi Arabia to export its brand of Sunni Islam, named Wahhabism after its founder Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, encouraging the homogenization of Islamic practices around the world after the model of the Wahhabiya. Known for its rejection of pre-Islamic history, visitation of tombs, the mixing of men and women, its zeal to purify Islam from allegedly deviant practices (such as Sufism and Shiism) and its disdain for other religions, the Wahhabiya was a puritan movement that gave religious legitimacy to the conquests of the Al Saud.
The United States teamed up with Saudi Arabia to undermine the Soviet Union in 1980s Afghanistan. This cooperation with radical Islam was to have disastrous consequences and the rise of Al Qaeda and ISIS is an outcome of this pairing of an alluring ideology with the resources of an oil-rich state allied to a global superpower.
The spread of extremist Islamist ideology is then as much a result of Western foreign policy as of Saudi machinations. Western and Gulf support for the rebels in Syria followed a similar path as the one observed in Afghanistan, before ISIS started to turn against the West and the Gulf states. But it is no coincidence that ISIS is adopting Saudi religious textbooks in its schools, killing Shia in Saudi Arabia just like the early Wahhabi zealots wanted to, and generally garnering much support on a popular level in the kingdom.
It's time to change this policy.
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