The Greater Middle East and the danger of fundamentalism

September 14, 2021
The Greater Middle East and the danger of fundamentalism

Abdullah Bin Bjad Al-Otaibi

The clashes among global powers are instrumental in constantly changing the scenario in the world and its balance of power. As far as nations, peoples and societies are concerned, nothing remains the same and this is also the case with countries and international institutions. Monitoring these changes and the resulting transformations is useful for forming awareness, building visions and foreseeing the future.

Some analysts and thinkers from within and without the United States of America are talking about the decline of the US role internationally, and this is a retreat and “withdrawal” that was theorized by a broad ideology inside America. One of its most prominent preachers and theorists was former President Barack Obama, who unlike other presidents, was not satisfied with authoring one biographic work but he wrote more than one, and is still promising more. The incumbent President Joe Biden was Obama’s deputy for two presidential terms, and understanding the propositions of such an ideology with this strength is a great, noble and beneficial task.

This decline of the American role at the international level and the rise of new global powers — in the forefront of which is China — is a decline that can be easily monitored. America is abandoning its allies around the world while its decisions weaken allies through banning strategic weapons, impeding reforms, exercising pressures on allies, and showing leniency with opponents at the same time. All point to the fact — the gradual decline of US in its international role and imperial power.

Talking about the decline of the American role does not mean, in any way, “the end of history” nor will America become a weak state overnight. No one talks about this, and what can be observed in parallel with this is the resurgence of fundamentalism in the Islamic world with the support of the American and Western liberal leftists as America and the West have become a refuge and an international center for all fundamentalist groups and their leaders.

It becomes clear from here an important difference on how countries deal with existing and future challenges. The Arab and Muslim countries are more exposed to the dangers of this fundamentalism that will also affect the West and the world. In the face of an international phenomenon of terrorism, the difference between the Western countries and the Arab countries is wide in terms of the nature of the danger and the depth of understanding of this phenomenon.

Saudi Arabia has dealt with all the necessary seriousness in confronting the phenomenon of terrorism. The Kingdom and the other leading Arab countries such as Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have learned, through depth of knowledge and extensive experience, that it is not possible to eliminate terrorism and its organizations without dealing with its main source — the political Islam groups.

The statements of the Saudi Crown Prince are the best evidence for this. Moreover, Saudi Arabia has tightened control over the “funding” and the institutions into which these groups had previously infiltrated; some of them became a model for what institutions can do in the face of terrorism when they are restructured in the proper way by redefining their priorities and cleaning them from the elements of “political Islam.”

The renewed accusations against Saudi Arabia of any responsibility for the terrorist crime of Sept. 11, 2001 is a politically failed and academically exposed approach, and it represents cheap blackmail that is inappropriate for respectable countries that are also big powers in the world. On the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, there has been an apparent difference between those who are aware of the reality and depth of the fundamentalist danger as Saudi Arabia does, and those who deal with phenomena emerging out of it as what is happening in the Western countries, and this is not out of ignorance, but due to the order of their priorities and interests.

The Western countries have previously found their interests linked to political Islam groups repeatedly over the past decades, and one of its most prominent evidence was those ominous events in what was known as the “Arab Spring” where fundamentalist groups were intended to impose their direct rule over the Arab countries.

The dangerous fundamentalist threat is not confined to a specific country. The threat has a unified goal and purpose but with diverse sources. To understand its scope and spread, it is sufficient to know that it originates from the Indian subcontinent and Afghanistan in the east; Egypt, Libya and Morocco in the west, and from Malaysia in the south to Turkey in the north. In the middle of all this danger lies Iran, its regime, its followers and its militias in Iraq and Syria as well as in Lebanon and Yemen. Maududi, Khomeini, Hassan Al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb are examples of what ideas and organizations that fundamentalism can create and change over decades.

For decades, all attempts to differentiate between political Islam and terrorist groups have failed academically and politically. No solid scientific approach has been able to prove any coherent distinction between them. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s statements can be remembered when he reiterated and affirmed that there is no difference between the Brotherhood and other terror groups, and that “wilayat Al-murshid” is no different from “wilayat al-faqih.”

No one denies America’s power and influence, but Saudi Arabia and the Arab countries are not banana republics in any way. The reasons for the weakness of states and empires include the poor understanding of reality and its balances; the divergence of goals; and the change of the nature and strength of alliances. As a quick example, the decline in the strength of the Soviet Union took place over seven decades until its disintegration, but Russia, its heir, is still one of the most powerful and influential countries in the world today and in the future.

Mistakes are made when complex scenes are read superficially, and these include the portrayal that the legacy of fundamentalist groups in Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco, or other countries has ended. Fundamentalism is still present in all these countries in various manifestations.

Finally, the fundamentalist heavyweights in the region are supported by the fundamentalist heavyweights that exist in a number of Western countries where these groups continue operating safely with maintaining their organizational structure and receiving of support.

— Al-Otaibi is a Saudi writer. This article was originally published in Al-Sharq Alawsat newspaper.

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