Ed West

What’s the difference between Isis and Saudi Arabia? It’s a matter of degrees

What's the difference between Isis and Saudi Arabia? It's a matter of degrees
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There are now thought to be more British-born members of Isis than there are Muslims in the British Army, leading lots of people to ask how they could hate us so much. After all, we did everything right: we imported low-skilled migrants from among the most clannish and socially conservative societies on earth to do badly-paid industrial jobs that were disappearing, ensuring their children grew up in unemployment; then we taught those children that our culture was decadent and worthless and our history tarnished with the blood of their ancestors; then we encouraged them to retreat into their religion through financial subsidies to the most openly sectarian and reactionary members of their community. What did we do wrong?

Ironically this new Brits-on-tour army has managed to do what no one has done for about 1300 years – unite most of the Muslim and Christian world in opposition. And no one is more opposed, ironically, than Saudi Arabia, which has beefed up security on its border and is engaged in various way in destroying ISIS.

Saudi Arabia is a close ally of Britain and a keen customer of our killing machines, and like most of the Arab states is hostile to lunatic elements like ISIS and Hamas. Yet they are part of the problem; like many Islamists, including those in Britain, the Saudis are happy to condemn Isis in what they do but not their basic ideology – largely because it mirrors their own. Indeed many Islamists are using Isis to make themselves look moderate in comparison. Anyone can condemn the beheading of civilians, but it is harder to condemn the very ideas that inspire this mania – the absolute rejection of secularism and the freedom of the individual, including the freedom to leave Islam (punishable by death in Saudi Arabia).

The Saudi hostility to Isis could even be described in Freudian terms as the narcissism of small differences. Isis is dangerous to them because for those raised in the Saudi version of Islam the Islamic State’s even more extreme interpretation is not a huge leap.

As for those young British-born jihadis whose minds have been poisoned – who is to blame for that? Well, the Saudis can take a fair share of the blame, for they fund hard line madrasas across the world and have radicalised millions from Indonesia to Pakistan to Britain with their version of Islam. (Although they reject the label Wahhabist.)

There would be a certain poetic justice if the Saudis were overthrown by the very intolerance they have helped to promote, but as the War Nerd wrote in this brilliant analysis, in war ‘There is no poetic justice, just a lot of very prosaic injustice.’