Although ISIS has not taken credit for the suicide bombings in three Saudi cities yesterday, there is little doubt that it was responsible. The targeting of the Prophet’s Mosque in the city of Medina might undermine allegations of an ISIS connection since it is considered the second holiest site for Muslims but only if you have not been following Saudi history for the past several decades. In fact, one of the biggest assaults on the Saudi state prior to this took place in late 1979 when jihadists seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the religion’s most holy site. Like ISIS, the heavily armed intruders considered the royal family to be apostates.
After the 1979 rebellion was drowned in blood, a new one began to take shape in the early 2000s around the same grievances, namely that the royal family was a tool of the West. In May 2003 bombs went off at three compounds in Riyadh frequented mostly by Westerners that resulted in 39 deaths and 160 wounded. Among the perpetrators identified by Saudi security forces was Khalid al-Juhani, a Saudi member of al-Qaeda who had promised retaliation for the American invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.
A year later jihadists mounted a suicide car bomb attack on the Saudi Interior Ministry and the Special Emergency Force training center. Although a draconian crackdown in 2005 tended to decrease the number of attacks, there has been a recent upsurge connected to the rise of ISIS as the NY Times reported on March 31 this year:
The men were not hardened militants. One was a pharmacist, another a heating and cooling technician. One was a high school student.
They were six cousins, all living in Saudi Arabia, all with the same secret. They had vowed allegiance to the Islamic State — and they planned to kill another cousin, a sergeant in the kingdom’s counterterrorism force.
And that is what they did. In February, the group abducted Sgt. Bader al-Rashidi, dragged him to the side of a road south of this central Saudi city, and shot and killed him. With video rolling, they condemned the royal family, saying it had forsaken Islam.
Despite an abundance of evidence that both al-Qaeda and ISIS were mortal enemies of the Saudi Arabian theocracy and that the July 4th attacks were consistent with a pattern going back 35 years, there is little doubt that the Baathist left will continue to believe that such groups are proxy forces directed by the Saudi state like pawns on a chessboard.
If you Google “Saudi Arabia, proxy, ISIS” you will end up with 436,000 results. In first place is an article titled “Saudi Arabia Admits to John Kerry that it Created ISIS” that appeared on Zero Hedge, a conspiracist website with both feet planted in the Putin/Assad camp. A runner up in third place is Jennifer Lowenstein’s CounterPunch article that claims “Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and the U.S. knowingly aided the rise of ISIS.” You can also find the ubiquitous Charles Glass telling Intercept readers that “To Stop ISIS, Outside Powers Must End Their Proxy Wars in Syria”. While I can go on forever, let me cite one more “expert”. Daniel Lazare, who is capable of trenchant analysis except when it comes to Syria, wrote a piece for the arch-Baathist Consortium News titled “The Saudi Connection to Terror”. Do you think he bothered to cite any of the hundreds of articles about how the Saudi state was on the jihadi shit-list for over three decades? Nah.
In “Khiyana”, a collection of articles that I contributed to, you can read Sam Charles Hamad’s “The Rise of Daesh in Syria—some Inconvenient Truths”, which effectively debunks the claim that Saudi Arabia is responsible for the rise of the Islamic State.
As opposed to most on the left who sling around terms like Salafist or Wahhabist interchangeably, Hamad takes considerable trouble to root them in the region’s history with the sort of erudition that is necessary to separate fact from fiction. To start with, Wahhabism is a current within Salafi Islam, a revivalist movement that sought to ground worship in the beliefs and practices of first generation Muslims, the as-Salafiyyah (pious forefathers). Mohammad al-Wahhab was an 18th century cleric who allied with the Al-Saud clan that eventually created the forerunner of the modern Saudi state. Warlike from the beginning, it attacked the Shia and Sufi sects as kuffar (unbelievers). So far this sounds just like ISIS, right?
Only if you do not understand that for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Saudi royal family is kuffar as well. That should be obvious at the outset from his belief that he is the new Khalifa, or steward of the Caliphate. The goal of ISIS is to create an Islamic state that honors no national boundaries. As such all states in the Middle East have to be subsumed under its authority, including Saudi Arabia. Muslims will belong to the new Caliphate, not any particular state nor take orders from the government that rules it. In a word, it is anti-national.
In November 2014 al-Baghdadi recorded an audio message declaring his intention to liberate the Saudi people from the Saloul, a derogatory name for the ruling family. Daesh threatened to invade Saudi Arabia from its redoubt in Anbar province. The Saudis placed sufficient weight in this threat to construct a 600-mile wall of the sort that Donald Trump could only admire. Like Trump, the Saudi royal family was deathly afraid of Islamic extremists. Unlike Trump, the Saudi fear was rooted in reality.
Despite Saudi efforts to thwart Daesh, the group has launched guerrilla attacks along the border with Iraq near the city of Arar that involved suicide bombers. But the more serious threat comes from Saudi citizens who have joined Daesh. The attacks are directed against Shia worshippers with the hope of sparking a sectarian war such as the kind that has been tearing apart Iraq and Syria.
Even more contrary to the dominant “anti-imperialist” narrative on Saudi Arabia, the Saudis have supported groups in Syria that have no connection to either ISIS or al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate. Specifically, when Daesh and the FSA had a pitched battle in Deraa province, the FSA used weaponry supplied by the Saudis.
Now these hard facts will have no influence whatsoever on the people writing for Salon, LRB, ZNet, CounterPunch, Consortium News, and dozens of other lesser-known blogs and zines. We have reached the point where the truth hardly matters. In Orwell’s “1984”, the world was divided into three superstates which demanded total fealty. We are living in a world today in which there is a wrinkle on Orwell’s narrative. For some, the fealty is not to the motherland but to the one your superstate opposes. You have the same kind of fierce devotion to the “axis of resistance” that Rush Limbaugh listeners once gave to George W. Bush. It is the classic case of putting a plus where the State Department puts a minus. As Trotsky put it in “Learn to Think”:
In ninety cases out of a hundred the workers actually place a minus sign where the bourgeoisie places a plus sign. In ten cases however they are forced to fix the same sign as the bourgeoisie but with their own seal, in which is expressed their mistrust of the bourgeoisie. The policy of the proletariat is not at all automatically derived from the policy of the bourgeoisie, bearing only the opposite sign – this would make every sectarian a master strategist; no, the revolutionary party must each time orient itself independently in the internal as well as the external situation, arriving at those decisions which correspond best to the interests of the proletariat. This rule applies just as much to the war period as to the period of peace.