Originally Published in The Hill
President Trump has vowed to accomplish what the previous two administrations since 9/11 have not been able to: “eradicate” radicalism and terrorism “from the face of the earth.” If he is sincere, he would need to discover what the previous administrations may have overlooked: a strategy addressing the radical ideologies and regimes that suppress the freedom of religion, and the role U.S. foreign policy plays in it.
Terrorism, per se, is an outcome — a symptom of a deeper process of radicalization. The genesis of radicalization spawns in a number places, one of them being a Saudi-funded madrassa (or religious school) in Pakistan.In Pakistan, where the poverty line surpasses one-third of the population, hordes of 7-year-olds are enrolled into these affluent madrassas where they will be well-fed and provided for. They will also undergo radical indoctrination — how the West seeks to control Muslim lands and resources (or destroy them with drones), how Western hedonism and godlessness has pervaded and polluted Muslim countries, and how Muslim leadership is too inept and corrupt to deal with any of this. They will be indoctrinated in extreme intolerance, taught that apostates and blasphemers should be put to death: the antithesis of freedom of religion.
And YOU, the nascent minds at the madrassas are told, are the army of God raised to rescue the world from this decadence. YOU can pursue a meaningless life of poverty in subjugation to a system rife with nepotism and hedonism, or, if you’re lucky, you can die a martyr’s death fighting the enemies of God, resurrecting His law and attaining paradise.
This is the kind of ideology that U.S. foreign policy fanned, and U.S. taxpayers funded, under the geopolitical impulse of defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan. Ronald Reagan even invited the Afghan Mujahideen to the oval office. In fact, the U.S. government spent $50 million from 1986 to 1992 on a jihad literacy project, printing books for Afghan children inciting violence to prop up resistance against the Soviets.
But, it’s even ever deeper than that, and goes further back.
Saudi Arabia and the new world order
Afghanistan was not the first instance in the modern era of geopolitical aims leveraging a radical ideology. Saudi Arabia, a key relationship in the war on terror now frowned upon by media and the public, was born out of the ashes of the First World War. The Saud’s genesis to power was fueled by the Wahhabist doctrine as a pan-Islamic movement underwritten by an eschatological zeal of an Armageddon-like victory over anyone with a different view of God and religion, Muslim or non-Muslim.
Col. T.E. Lawrence, romanticized as Lawrence of Arabia, warned that the Wahhabis were posing as reformists, that they hardly represented Islam, and if they prevailed, “we would have in the place of the tolerant, rather comfortable Islam of Mecca and Damascus, the fanaticism of Nejd (birthplace of Wahhabism), intensified and swollen with success.”
The Saudi-Wahhabi consortium, fighting their Ottoman occupiers, successfully channeled their zeal into the battlefield and emerged as the new sheriffs of Mecca and Medina. And, they would soon reap prolific oil wealth to propagate their condemnation of the freedom that permitted a multitude of Islamic sects and schools across the Muslim world.
Pakistan and The Ahmadiyya
Pakistan has been a major recipient of Saudi-Wahhabist largesse, in funds and in ideology. The nation’s clerical-ideological godfather, Maulana Maududi, in his book “Jihad in Islam,” proclaimed that subjugating states and governments was “the program and ideology of Islam.” He was a recipient of the Saudi King Faisal award and has been quoted in sermons by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Moving smack into the cross-hairs of Maududi and the far-right clergy was The Ahmadiyya Muslim community that propagated jihad as essentially a spiritual and moral struggle. The movement’s founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908), wrote in his book, “British Government and Jihad,” “Today’s Islamic scholars completely misunderstand jihad and misrepresent it to the general public, clerics who persist in propagating these blood-spattered doctrine.”
In 1953, Maududi and a coterie of hardline clerics published and distributed anti-Ahmadiyya hate-literature that led to riots with hundreds reported killed. Martial law was imposed and a military court sentenced Maududi to death for his role in orchestrating the riots. He was subsequently released, reportedly upon Saudi insistence.
In 1974 the hardliners finally succeeded in making the government bend to its demands. Pakistan’s parliament amended its constitution to ex-communicate the Ahmadiyya Muslim community — again, reportedly under Saudi pressure. Pakistan then intensified its anti-Ahmadiyya campaign by legislating Ordinance XX in 1984 imposing prison terms for any Ahmadi practicing any emblem of Islam: even saying “As-salaamu-Alaikum” (peace be on you) carries a three-year prison sentence. As Pak-Saudi plans to destroy the Ahmadiyya movement intensified, its caliph (leader) migrated to London that same year.
All this occurred as U.S. foreign policy took Saudi Arabia and Pakistan as allies against the Soviets in Afghanistan, while cultivating extremists around the world and transporting them to Afghanistan in what came to be known as Charlie Wilson’s War.
Combating radicalism: Freedom of religion
Finally, in October of 1998, Bill Clinton signed into law the International Religious Freedom Act mandating the establishment of an office of Religious Freedom in the Department of State.
Though it is encouraging to see official support for the cause, the office simply does not enjoy the needed level of influence.
Government policy analysts have long underscored the need for pressing freedom of religion to mitigate radicalization abroad. William Inboden, former senior director on the National Security Council, emphasized, “there is not a single nation in the world that both respects religious freedom and poses a security threat to the United States … including World War II, every major war the United States has fought over the past 70 years has been against an enemy that also severely violated religious freedom.”
Holding up a firm criterion of the freedom of religion in foreign policy will scrub our own initiatives of any double-standard with allies. And, as history dictates, it will check against reacting into ideally (and morally) ambiguous alliances under geopolitical impulses.
U.S. foreign policy needs to reflect our commitment to the merit and character of our democracy. It must vet our foreign alliances, to ensure they are not constitutionally feeding the very doctrines that threaten our national security and are antithetical to our values: the freedom of religion.