The Arabic word Riyadh means meadow. A slight variation of the word, or if one adds the letter Ta Marbuta at the end, the word will read Riyadhah, meaning a sport. Well, what a spectacle Donald Trump’s Riyadh reception last week was? Its dangerous repercussions were felt on Monday night in Manchester where during a pop concert, 22 people, mostly children, died in a suicide bomb attack carried out by a killer who allegedly professed the very extremism that Trump condemned and wanted his Arab-Islamic hosts to fight.
It was a spectacle, nay charade, because the Trump speech lacked depth and it sounded as though it was custom-made for the Saudis. There was more Iran bashing than ISIS bashing. In fact, Iran was projected as a bigger terrorist than ISIS. It made aging Saudi King Salman happy. But no one is pointing a finger at Iran for the Manchester bomb. Instead, the focus should be on Saudi Arabia. But Britain, the United States or any other European power won’t point the finger at Saudi Arabia because of economic relations. They all milk the Saudi cow which also offers ideological milk to terrorists.
No condemnation of extremism is complete if it does not denounce forces behind such extremism. Well, it is no secret that some of the Riyadh summit leaders are culpable for the spread of violence in the name of Islam to achieve political ends.
Money, munitions and ideological support from Gulf Arab nations and Sunni bigots sustain the monster the Manchester bomber represented. In its insatiable thirst for human blood, millions of people – both Muslims and non-Muslims -- in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, France, Belgium, Britain, the United States and scores of other countries have become its victims since 9/11.
Nevertheless, many Arab nations struck a strategic alliance with the extremists for a regime-change game first in Libya and then in Syria. Joining this unholy alliance was the West, including Britain and France. The Europe nations turned a blind eye when hundreds, if not thousands, of European-based jihadi extremists moved to Libya and Syria, while the United States sent special forces to train the extremists, whom the West, by way of deception, called moderate rebels.
After the success in Libya, the rich and powerful Arab nations together with the Western powers turned their attention to topple the Bashar al-Assad regime, and they did not mind even if it meant an alliance with the most ruthless terrorist groups. The Manchester massacre was a result of such myopic policies. It is said that Manchester bomber Salman Abedi was radicalised by Libyan extremists.
Trump’s Riyadh speech was at best a sales talk, for it deliberately avoided including any mention of these home truths -- or where the roots of this dangerous ideology lay – and secured US$ 450 billion sales. Absent in Trump’s fake speech was any mention that the ISIS follows the same Wahhabi-Salafi Islam that is zealously promoted by Saudi Arabia. It was an ideology rooted in Ash’arism that stopped the progressive march of Mutazilism or rational Islam, which, during the Abbasid Caliphate (from the 8th to 13th century), took the Islamic world to the peak of science and philosophy, and brought life to an intellectually dying world, especially Europe. Ash’arism, with its anthropomorphic interpretation of matters spiritual contributed to the intellectual fall of the Islamic world. With its rise, the method of inquiry-based Islamic learning disappeared. Taqlid, or blindly following so-called scholars, became established. The spirit of Islam was ignored and the letter was liberally misused to suit the agendas of the ruling elite. Centuries later, with the discovery of oil and the establishment of Wahhabism, the Arab world became servile to the technologically advanced and militarily superior West. With all the money generated from oil, none of the Arab states, which came into being after the Arab betrayal of the Ottoman Empire, could rise as a knowledge-based nation, capable of making discoveries in science and medicine. Since they emerged as independent nations, their statecraft has been putting their trusts in one big power or another for survival, while suppressing dissent and democracy at home.
The dependence was evident when Saudi Arabia signed US$ 450 billion worth deals with the United States during the visit of Trump. The leader of the world’s most vibrant democracy said nothing about the Arab world’s pathetic human rights record or lack of democracy. The US$ 450 billion deal was a form of bribe to keep the new US president, a maverick of sort, on the side of Saudi Arabia, vis-à-vis the Sunni kingdoms hostility towards Shiite Iran and the Assad regime in Syria. The bribe is also to buy the Trump administration’s connivance so that the Saudis could continue their excesses with impunity in Yemen, where thousands of children die of cholera and malnutrition if they are not killed by Saudi bombs.
Days after selling US$ 110 billion worth of arms to the Saudis, Trump the arms salesman on Wednesday had no qualms about meeting Pope Francis, who has denounced the arms industry as an evil that promotes conflicts and prevents peace. The meeting with the pontiff came after his visits to Israel and the West Bank, where just as his fake speech in Riyadh, his pledge to revive the peace process sounded empty.
Incidentally, whatever the arms the Saudis buy from the US cannot be used against Israel: That’s the caveat linked to the deal. Even if they are allowed to, it is unlikely that the Saudis will take up arms against Israel to free Palestine.
They will fight only weak enemies – the poverty-stricken and under-nourished Yemenis or the unarmed pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain. Neither the Saudis nor any of the 50-odd Arab and Islamic leaders at the so-called Arab-Islamic-American summit corrected Trump for linking Palestinian group Hamas with al-Qaeda, Isis and Hezbollah. Ritualistic-minded Saudi King Salman told Trump not to drink from his left hand, but would not tell him that Hamas is a liberation movement. So much for their commitment to the liberation of Palestine!
Trump in his Sunday sermon to the Saudis said he did not come to lecture Arabs and Muslims what to do, but then he went on to give a lecture, urging the Muslims to condemn Islamic terrorism, and then assuming a holier-than-thou position, described the fight against Islamic terrorism as a war between good and evil.
In the runup to the presidential election, Trump had called for “a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” He had said “Islam hates us”. Embattled at home for his alleged Russian connections, Trump is neither an Islamophobe nor an admirer of Islam, the faith of the world’s 1.7 billion people. He is a salesman and bully. And he got what he wanted from the Riyadh visit – billions of dollars and the Arab world’s submission.