The campaign that is being waged by some Islamists, backed by some nationalist and left-wing writers and a new generation of their students, against the new international alliance against religious terrorism reminds us of the cynicism and skepticism that dominated the scene during the war to liberate Kuwait in 1991. At the time, the Muslim Brotherhood united with Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athists, Arafat’s PLO and the rest of the pan-Arab movements to attack Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states for the decision to build an international alliance—with the US providing the bulk of the military force—to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein.
In Saudi Arabia, the most active opponents of this alliance were the mainstream Islamist preachers who issued statements and held lectures, confusing the atmosphere at home and sowing doubts about the intentions behind this alliance. They claimed that what was happening represented a new Crusade. The most prominent preacher to make these claims was none other than Safar Al-Hawali.
Saudi Arabia found itself in a difficult position at the time. As Saudi monarch King Fahd Bin Abdulaziz said at the time, Kuwait must either return to its people or “we” would all have to take action to intervene. In any case, anyone who lived through that period of time knows what I am talking about here; for those who didn’t, old news reports and history books will have to suffice.
An international alliance—which is something Saudi Arabia has called for on numerous occasions—has now been formed. However, as Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal said in his speech in Paris on Monday, this alliance will seek to combat not just the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but all armed groups that use murder and violence and spread chaos and hatred. This is an important mission, even if it takes a decade.
Iran has been excluded from this alliance as Tehran is part of the problem, not the solution. After being discharged from hospital, we saw how Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei complained about Iran not being invited to the Paris conference; he even claimed that Iran had rejected a previous US offer of military coordination against ISIS. This, of course, is patently false, and just last month a US State Department spokesperson denied the US had ever issued any such request to Tehran, adding that Washington has no intention of asking Iran to participate in this international alliance.
The same anger that Iran is experiencing can be seen in the statements of Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who says he is not pleased by the US taking the decision to confront ISIS. In a tweet earlier this week, Qaradawi said: “I oppose ISIS in its ideological path and its methods of action, but I will never agree that the country to fight it should be the United States, which is not motivated by the values of Islam, but by its own interests, even if blood is spilled as a result.” His colleague at the International Union for Muslim Scholars, Dr. Salman Al-Ouda, reiterated this, also via Twitter, asking: “Who empowered America to define the meaning of the term ‘moderation?’”
However, Qaradawi and Ouda did not display any such reservations or skepticism when NATO fighter jets and US cruise missiles were used in Libya. Of course, this was to the benefit of Qaradawi’s own allies in Libya, like Abdelhakim Belhadj and the rest. Qaradawi and other preachers spoke out on YouTube in favour of “infidel” NATO’s military operations against Gaddafi. As for Syria, when it looked like it might be his allies who would topple and succeed Assad, Qaradawi indicated to Britain’s Financial Times in 2011 that NATO intervention in the country would be permissible.
Qaradawi’s comments placed the International Union for Muslim Scholars in an embarrassing position, particularly after other members of the group explicitly rejected NATO’s role in Libya.
Ultimately, this international alliance will hurt ISIS, the Al-Nusra Front, Iran and Assad while benefiting the forces of regional security and stability, as well as the “moderate” Syrian opposition.