Ashton in Wonderland

Catherine Ashton and the rest of Europe are lost down the rabbit hole as the Saudis and Qataris are well placed to gain from the Arab Spring

The Saudis are well focused: $6 billion Masjid an-Nabawi Mosque
Douglas Davis
On 18 January 2013 08:09

When it comes to the Arab Spring, Europe’s leaders have yet to learn that their strategy of wishful thinking is flawed. Just show them a demonstration in a Middle East capital and they will dump old allies while sending breathless messages of support, cash, and military strikes to aid the rebels. Sadly, the result has not produced more democracy but more instability, more unrest, more Islamism.

No sooner had the Eurozone officially sunk into recession last October than Europe’s foreign policy supremo, Catherine Ashton, rushed off to Cairo with the good news that Islamist President Mohammed Morsi’s bankrupt kleptocracy was the lucky winner of a $6.4 billion aid package (the Europeans also fell over each other to pledge military support, plus the inevitable donors’ conference, even before the flaky National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces had time to hang out its shingle).

Who are they actually supporting? I don’t know. They don’t know. You couldn’t make it up.

Meanwhile, the cool-headed Saudi and Qatari leaders, along with junior partners Bahrain and Kuwait, have been swifter and smarter. They have been engaged in Syria for months, not currying favour with possible future leaders or preaching good governance, but surgically directing their military and financial largesse at achieving specific national interests: bolstering the Wahhabi-inspired, über-extremist Sunni Salafists, who are prominent in the fighting over Aleppo, Syria’s commercial centre, and other areas of the conflict.

The Salafists are not dominant – yet – but they did garner an impressive 25 percent of the vote in Egypt’s post-revolutionary election. And with backing from the fabulously wealthy Saudis and Qataris, their stocks are set to soar. Already, they are flexing their muscles in the lawless Sinai Desert, now a jihadi base. Qatar’s leader, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, showed his appreciation late last month by visiting Gaza to inaugurate an investment project worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Good luck with that.

At the same time, Murjan Salem al-Johari, who has long-standing ties to al-Qaeda, launched the Salafist’s religious agenda in Cairo. He announced that it was the duty of all Muslims to destroy the Pyramids and the Sphinx, just as the two ancient statues of the Buddha in Afghanistan were destroyed in 2001. “All statues in Egypt must be destroyed,” he declared. “Muslims must implement the rules of Sharia and we will destroy the statues of the Sphinx and the Pyramids because they are idols.”

He’s not joking. In fact, the Saudis have gone one better: the Wahhabis are not just talking about it, they are actively trashing all signs of Islamic history in Saudi Arabia, with each act of destruction cheered by the religious police.

While publication of the Mohammed cartoons in Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten triggered riots throughout the Islamic world and the trashing of Western embassies, there is not the teeniest peep of protest as all physical signs of early Islam are systematically bulldozed in Saudi Arabia. According to the Washington-based Gulf Institute, about 95 percent of sacred sites and shrines in the Mecca and Medina have been destroyed over the past two decades. The rest will be razed in the coming weeks.

No site is too sacred. The Prophet’s birthplace was turned into a library and the home of his first wife, Khadijah, was replaced with a public toilet. The Ottoman-era Ajyad Fortress, which was built to protect the Kaaba and other holy sites in Mecca, had a happier fate. It was destroyed in 2002 and is being replaced by the Jabal Omar complex, which consists of six five-star hotels, seven 39-storey residential towers, 520 restaurants, 4,360 shops – and another Grand Mosque.

And at the end of the recent hajj season, a seventh-century mosque in Medina containing the tomb of Mohammed, along with those of his two closest companions, Abu Bakr and Umar, is scheduled for demolition to make way for the new $6 billion Masjid an-Nabawi Mosque, which will hold 1.6 million people and become the world’s largest building.

While timorous Europe treads on eggshells to avoid offending Muslim sensibilities, there has been silence from the Islamic world about the Saudi vandalism. Dr Irfan Alawi, of the London-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, explained that, “Muslims remain silent about the Saudi Wahhabi destruction because they fear they will not be allowed to visit the Kingdom again.”

One media commentator was moved to observe that, “what sticks in the craw is the hypocrisy of Muslims, who throw a fit if Israeli archaeologists carry out non-intrusive work underneath the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem… Such anger would be more convincing if the [Saudi] holy sites weren’t being ploughed up by a police state”.

Why are the Salafists bent on wiping out all physical signs of Islam’s beginnings? Some officials say the ancient sites have to make way for the millions of pilgrims who visit the country each year; others say the sites encourage idolatry.

But there is a deeper reason for all this wanton destruction: Islam is the newest of the monotheistic religions, constructed largely on the shoulders of its older brothers, Judaism and Christianity. This is intolerable for the Wahhabis, who insist that Islam is cosmic, timeless, and eternal. By destroying the physical evidence, they believe they can change the chronological reality.

The Europeans, eagerly trashing their own heritage, would understand.

Douglas Davis is a former senior editor of the Jerusalem Post

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