EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The driving forces behind the growth of Islamic radicalism –
- the Islamic revolution in Iran and
- the immense Saudi funding for spreading Wahhabism
US action is not required for the Iranian regime to fall – although it could be a big help.
On the other hand it is probably only the US that could convince the Saudis to hold onto their money rather than using so much to sell Wahhabism throughout the world.
It is important to understand that two quite possible developments could bring about a sea change in the worldwide confrontation with radical Islam....
...Since coming to power [in 1979] Iran’s Islamic revolutionary regime has been ...spreading Islamism throughout the Muslim world through religious/political leadership, inspiration and advocacy, terror and political violence, and national political measures.
...This possibility frightened the Saudi leadership, for whom Shiites were historic enemies. The Saudis felt compelled to compete with the Iranian revolutionary regime for leadership of radical Islam.
The result of this political pressure on the Saudi leadership, plus the great increase in their wealth following the oil price increases of 1979-1980, led to a multiplication of Saudi efforts to spread Wahhabism – the backward-looking Saudi version of Islam – throughout the world. Since 1980, Saudi royal family members and their beneficiaries have been exporting some $4 billion or more dollars a year to spread Wahhabi doctrines and influence throughout the world, from the US through Indonesia, from Chechnya and Bosnia through central Africa. One-hundred-and-twenty billion dollars for ...propaganda is a lot of money.
The result of this immense flow of resources from Saudi Arabia has been a complete transformation of religious and political life in the Muslim world. Wahhabism was a relatively small and somewhat despised element of Islam around the world in 1979. Today Wahhabi-controlled mosques, schools, preachers, and NGOs are a main if not dominant feature in both Muslim majority and Muslim minority communities in almost every country. Wahhabis control, for example, the great majority of Muslim institutions in the US – although certainly most Muslims in the US are not Wahhabis.
...The internal legitimacy of the Iranian revolutionary regime has in the last year become fatally undermined. There is a massive rejection of the regime by the general public because of its destruction of the Iranian economy, because of the forceful imposition of fundamentalist Muslim behavior on the general public, because of the corruption of the regime, and because of its use of violence against public protest of the stolen election last year. And the religious leadership of the revolution has become bitterly divided. Many of the highest religious authorities, and the original leaders of the revolution, have formally proclaimed that the current regime is no longer legitimate. The result has been thousands of defections, and purges, from the leadership of the regime, including the Revolutionary Guards.
It is quite possible that this fatally undermined regime could continue in power – on the bayonets of the Revolutionary Guard – for many years, especially if the outside world continues not to provide moral, political, or financial support for the internal opposition. But it is also possible that the regime will collapse or be overthrown this year or next, or the year after. While no one can predict when this will happen, it is certainly possible that the original engine of the expansion of radical Islam will disappear in the not too distant future.
...it is hard to understand why no democratic government has done anything at all to provide some moral and political support to the opposition or to provide small-scale, non-military assistance, such as communication equipment and Radio Free Europe-style broadcasts. The US in particular could improve the opposition’s position by speaking positively about Iranians imprisoned for political protest and treating the regime with mere diplomatic correctness and by ceasing its policy of going out of its way to demonstrate great respect for the regime. One cannot be sure, but it is entirely plausible that those Iranians trying to replace the regime would have an easier time if Iranians could see that a new regime would be welcomed by the democratic great powers. Iranians may have more respect for these powers, and especially the US, than we realize.
...The main requirement to end the flow of Wahhabi funds from the Saudis is for the US to recognize the harm being produced by these funds and appreciate its power to influence – even to compel – the Saudis into halting this activity. ...The basic US message would be, “Stop giving away so much of your money; keep it at home and use it for yourselves.”
...Despite all their oil money, and oil power, the Saudi leadership understands very deeply that they and their regime are weak and vulnerable, and that the US is infinitely more powerful. If the US comes to understand this half as well as the Saudis, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the US could lead the Saudis to understand that they could expect America to continue to be their protector if they keep their money at home, but that the US would come to see them as an enemy if they continue to export their funds to promote Wahhabism in the world. Such a change would not have to take many years.