We have had a triple shock in this country in rapid succession. A British boy who goes to fight for Muslim terrorists in Kenya and is killed. A British boy who has martyred himself in Syria. Three British sisters . . . have emigrated to Isis in Syria with their nine children to join their brother and leaving their husbands back here.
To indigenous Britons, used to occasional bouts of religious fanaticism from individual Pentecostalists and other strange Christian sects, the Islamic variety is now becoming so weird that it is becoming almost impossible to contemplate, never mind understand. Those who know a little of English history are now being reminded of the mutual savagery that used to go on between Protestants and Catholics in Tudor times. That took at least a hundred years to simmer down to civilized acceptance of each other and even now there are residual tensions.
How long will it be before the Sunnis and Shias settle their differences? It is their mutual animosity that is one of the underlying reasons — if not the principal one — for what is now going on in the Middle East. And now we are hearing rumours that Isis terrorists are stirring up trouble among the minority Shia population of Eastern Saudi Arabia.
The Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia — extremist Sunnis, just like Isis — might very well be provoked into taking their second step in establishing total religious control over Saudi Arabia just as the Shia Ayatollahs did in Iran. Wahhabis’ first step occurred in 1992. During 1991, hundreds of thousands of American troops were parked in Saudi Arabia preparatory to re-taking Kuwait from Saddam’s control and their partial invasion of Iraq (before President H. W. Bush — the father of G. W. Bush — called them back).
But while the troops were accumulating in Saudi Arabia over several months, their social behaviour so shocked the local Saudi Arabian townspeople that the Wahhabi mullahs virtually took the Royal Family by the scruff of it neck and told it to institute a Sharia Constitution. Which was done in 1992. That was their first step.
What else happened in 1992? The American experience also radicalized Osama bin Laden. Hitherto, he’d been a spoilt son of a very rich bin Laden family who had many times visited Europe and America and enjoyed many of their pleasures. But seeing Americans enjoy themselves in his own country — that was quite another matter. He became a religious fanatic and started so many incidents in Saudi Arabia that he had to be exiled. He subseqeuntly started Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and later, of course, began preparations for the Al Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center jn New York, the Pentagon and the White House. The last didn’t succeed but the first was a great deal more successful that he’d contemplated.
What else happened in 1992? Another consequence of the partial invasion of Iraq was that, although American troops were withdrawn, Saddam Hussein was worried about the demoralising effect of his defeated troops as they returned home, and particularly in Baghdad, and thought it was about time that Sunniism should be strengthened. Hitherto, he’d kept the Sunnis and the Shias well under the control of his non-religious Ba’ath Party and his secret police. But he now started to subsidise Islamic theology — grants to Sunni organisations, professorial seats in the universities, etc. — and, in due course, one of the products of Baghdad University was none other than Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, BA, MA, PhD.
Al-Baghdadi not only became a terrorist fighter but he proved to be a brilliant commander and tactician, and one of the chief persecutors of Shias in Baghdad. But, similarly to Osama bin Laden in Saudi Arabia, Al-Baghdadi, too, was too much for either the Sunnis or Saddam Hussein so he had to leave his native country and gain more military experience elsewhere. Ultimately, falling out with Al Qaeda. he founded his own group which became Isis. His military reputation became so great that he was able to recruit a major-general from the Iraqi army and the head of Saddm’s military intelligence as his deputies.
Already possessed of two qualifications — religious and military — al-Baghdadi then started to lay claim to a political role. This was because, by birth, he was also a Qurayshite — a member of the Qurayshin tribe from which all previous Caliphs had been chosen (or more likely, chose themselves!) The previous Caliph of Islam, dethroned in Istanbul as a consequence of the British-French dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in 1920 at the end of the First World War and consolidated by the rise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as the great Turkish reformer. Last year, Al-Baghdadi promoted himeslf (with a strong supporting cast) to be the next Caliph.
More than anything else, al-Baghdadi is known for his surprise tactics. Now that there are rumours of disturbances in Eastern Saudi Arabia caused by Isis, perhaps to divert the government attention from its warfare agaiinst Shias in Yemen, almost anything might happen from now onwards in Saudi Arabia. What if the Wahhabis, in conjunction with Isis, now take their second step to taking complete control?