President Trump has vowed to accomplish what the previous two administrations since 9/11 have not been able to— eradicate radicalism and terrorism from the face of the earth. In order to do so he would have to discover what the previous administrations have overlooked— a strategy addressing the radical ideologies and regimes that suppress the freedom of religion, and the role US foreign policy plays in it.
Terrorism, per se, is an outcome—a symptom of a deeper process of radicalization. The genesis of radicalization spawns in a number places—one of them being be a Saudi-funded madrassa (a religious school) in Pakistan.
In Pakistan, where the poverty line surpasses 1/3 of the population, hordes of 7-year olds are enrolled into these affluent madrassas where they are well-fed and provided for. They will also undergo radical indoctrination— how the West seeks to control Muslim lands and resources (or destroy them with drones), how godless Western entertainment and hedonism has infected Muslims, and how Muslim leadership is too inept and corrupt to deal with any of this. They will be indoctrinated in extreme intolerance-- that apostates and blasphemers should be put to death; the antithetical of the freedom of religion.
And “you”—the nascent minds at the madrassas are told—are the army of God raised to rescue the world from this decadence; you can either pursue a meaningless life of poverty in subjugation to a system rife with nepotism and hedonism. Or, if you’re lucky, you will die a martyr’s death fighting the enemies of God, resurrecting His law and attaining paradise.
This is the kind of ideology that US foreign policy fanned, and US taxpayers funded, under the geopolitical impulse of defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan. President Reagan even invited the Afghan Mujahideen to the oval office. In fact, the US government spent $50 million from 1986 to 1992 on a jihad literacy project—printing books for Afghan children inciting violence against infidels to prop up resistance against the Soviets.
But, it’s even ever deeper than that, and goes further back.
Saudi Arabia And The New World Order
Afghanistan was not the first instance, in the modern era, of geopolitical aims leveraging a radical ideology.
Saudi Arabia, a key relationship in the war-on-terror now frowned upon by media and the public, was born out of the ashes of the First World War. The Saud’s genesis to power was fueled by the Wahhabist doctrine as a pan-Islamic movement underwritten by eschatological zeal of an Armageddon-like victory over anyone with a different view of God and religion: Muslim or non-Muslim.
Colonel T.E. Lawrence, romanticized as Lawrence of Arabia, warned that the Wahhabis were ‘posing’ as reformists, that they hardly ‘represented’ Islam, and if they prevailed, “we would have in the place of the tolerant, rather comfortable Islam of Mecca and Damascus, the fanaticism of Nejd (birthplace of Wahhabism), intensified and swollen with success”.
The Saudi-Wahhabi consortium, fighting their Ottoman occupiers, successfully channeled its zeal into the battlefield and emerged as the new sheriffs of Mecca and Medina. Soon they will reap prolific oil-wealth to propagate their condemnation of the freedom that permitted a multitude of Islamic sects and schools across the Muslim world.
Alastair Crooke, author of ‘Resistance: The Essence of Islamic Revolution’, wrote, “the West would acquiesce to Saudi Arabia’s soft-power wahhabisation of the Islamic world with its concomitant destruction of Islam’s intellectual traditions and diversity”. And Farah Pandit, the State Department’s special representative to Muslim countries, likewise concluded, “the Wahhabi influence was an insidious presence, changing the local sense of identity; displacing historic, culturally vibrant forms of Islamic practice”.
Perhaps the ultimate confrontation of the Wahhabist pan-Islamic ideological program was with The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community— also a modern pan-Islamic revivalist-movement, but characterized by missionary outreach with a theological and eschatological interpretation antithetical to the Salafist-Wahhabist doctrine.
Pakistan and The Ahmadiyya
Pakistan has been a major recipient of the Saudi-Wahhabist largesse-- in funds and in ideology. Pakistan’s clerical-ideological godfather, Maulana Maududi, in his book, “Jihad in Islam”, proclaimed that subjugating states and governments was ‘the program and ideology of Islam’. He was a recipient of the Saudi King Faisal award.
Moving smack into the cross-hairs of Maududi and the far-right clergy was The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community that propagated Jihad as essentially a spiritual and moral struggle. The movement’s founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908), wrote in his book, ‘British Government and Jihad’, “Today’s Islamic scholars completely misunderstand jihad and misrepresent it to the general public, clerics who persist in propagating these blood-spattered doctrine”.
In 1953, Maududi and the hard-line clerics published anti-Ahmadiyya hate-literature that led to riots with hundreds reported killed. Martial law was imposed and a military court sentenced Maududi to death for his role in orchestrating the riots. He was subsequently released, reportedly upon Saudi insistence. But in 1974 the hardliners finally succeeded in making the government bend to its demands— Pakistan’s parliament amended its constitution to ex-communicate the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, again reportedly under Saudi pressure.
Pakistan then intensified its anti-Ahmadiyya campaign by legislating Ordinance XX in 1984 imposing prison terms for any Ahmadi practicing any emblem of Islam: even saying “As-salaamu-Alaikum” (peace be on you) carries a 3-year prison sentence. As Pak-Saudi plans to destroy the Ahmadiyya movement intensified, its Caliph (leader) migrated to London that same year.
All this occurred as US foreign policy took Saudi Arabia and Pakistan as allies against the Soviets in Afghanistan, while cultivating extremists around the world and transporting them to Afghanistan in what came to be filmed as Charlie Wilson’s War.
Combating Radicalism: Freedom of Religion
Finally, in October of 1998, President Bill Clinton signed into law the International Religious Freedom Act mandating the establishment of an office of Religious Freedom in the Department of State.
Though it is encouraging to see official support for the cause, the office simply does not enjoy the needed level of influence. Renowned American diplomat, Thomas Farr, writes, “Recently, a bipartisan group in the House sponsored a bill with amendments that would force the State Department to prioritize religious freedom—putting the ambassador under the Secretary, allocating democracy funding to religious freedom, and mandating training for American diplomats. Unfortunately, neither Senate Democrat nor House Republican leaders appear to see the value of passing these amendments… all State Department language was summarily stripped from the bill, leaving only the reauthorization of an advisory panel called the Commission on International Religious Freedom.”
Government policy analysts have long underscored the need for pressing freedom-of-religion to mitigate radicalization abroad. William Inboden, former Senior Director on the National Security Council, emphasized, “there is not a single nation in the world that both respects religious freedom and poses a security threat to the United States...including World War II, every major war the United States has fought over the past 70 years has been against an enemy that also severely violated religious freedom”.
Holding up a firm criterion of the freedom-of-religion in foreign policy will scrub our own initiatives of any double-standard with allies. And, as history dictates, it will check against reacting into ideally (and morally) ambiguous alliances under geopolitical impulses.
US foreign policy needs to reflect our commitment to the merit and character of our democracy. It must vet our foreign alliances— that these may not be constitutionally feeding the very doctrines that threaten our national security, and are antithetical to our values—the freedom of religion.
This article was originally published in The Hill. This article is dedicated to Abdul Shakoor Rana, who was arrested in Dec, 2015 in Rabwah, Pakistan under Anti-Terrorism charges for propagating his faith.