UK Prime Minister Theresa May (L) is welcomed by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) in Riyadh, Saudi on April 5, 2017. ( Bandar Algaloud / Saudi Kingdom Council / Handout – Anadolu Agency )
By Yvonne Ridley
We need to talk about Saudi Arabia. We won’t, though, because this is something that both the British and American governments refuse to do, although they will talk endlessly about, and berate, their respective Muslim communities for “not doing enough” to tackle extremism.
Now it has emerged that there is a weighty report gathering dust on a shelf in Westminster which looks at foreign funding of extremist groups in Britain. The investigation was originally commissioned by the then British Prime Minister David Cameron as part of a deal with the Liberal Democrats in December 2015, in exchange for the minor party in the coalition supporting the extension of British air strikes against Daesh in Syria.
This report should have been published in early 2016 but the contents are rumoured to be “too sensitive” as much of the focus falls on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, so it has been sitting on the shelf ever since. The kingdom hosted current Prime Minister Theresa May recently, you may recall; she returned from the trip with a £3.5bn arms deal in her pocket.
Something similar happened several years ago when another lucrative arms buyer, the United Arab Emirates, cajoled the Cameron government into compiling a report on the Muslim Brotherhood. The UAE expectation was that the Islamic movement would be exposed as a shady international network linked to terrorist activities across the West. Sadly for the UAE, its hopes were dashed as the report completely exonerated the Brotherhood of any nefarious activities and so, in the finest traditions of British democracy, Cameron booted the report into a corner in Whitehall, hoping that it would be forgotten. It wasn’t, and the truth finally came out, to the intense irritation of the Saudis, the UAE and Egypt, who have demonised the movement at every opportunity in recent years.
So when Theresa May stands in front of 10 Downing Street and says that we are not taking radicalisation in Britain seriously and “things need to change” it is hard not to disagree. Things do need to change, and the British government must start by coming clean and publishing the report on terrorist funding.
The prime minister went on to say that there is “far too much tolerance of extremism in our country” and, again, many would agree with her; the tolerance, though, is in Westminster and not within Britain’s Muslim communities. For the sake of petro-dollars, the current British government is prepared to turn a blind eye to the extremist ideologies being pushed and funded by Saudi Arabia.
The general public, which includes Muslims, have proved that they’re far from tolerant of extremism in their midst. For instance, we now know that several concerned individuals contacted police and anti-terror hotlines about the behaviour of the young Manchester bomber long before he brought carnage to a pop concert in the North of England. And news is now emerging that similar calls were made about the behaviour of at least one of the three London Bridge terrorists who wreaked havoc in the heart of the capital for eight minutes on Saturday night, killing seven people and injuring dozens more.
Take another look, Mrs May, and you will see that the British people are doing their bit. What’s more, while the police may have dropped the ball on intelligence-led calls on several occasions their leaders have complained loudly that the so-called “thin blue line” is being stretched to breaking point after savage cuts imposed by the previous Home Secretary; a certain Mrs Theresa May. We certainly do need to talk, prime minister; it is more urgent than ever for you to sit down and talk about Saudi Arabia and its allies in the region.
Perhaps this message has got through to Riyadh and, true to form, it has made a pre-emptive strike. In the last 24 hours, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have broken off relations with Qatar in what is being described the worst diplomatic crisis to hit the region in decades.
The three Gulf countries and Egypt, who all helped cajole Cameron’s government into producing the Muslim Brotherhood report, remember, have now accused Qatar of supporting “terrorism” and destabilising the region. Qatar, which shares its only land border with Saudi Arabia, has rejected the accusations, calling them “unjustified” and “baseless”.
In some ways, this response by Saudi and its pals is the sort we’ve become used to seeing from the White House. Whenever Donald Trump is accused of anything, he simply accuses his accusers of the same thing and shouts “fake news”. We see a similar sense of dodgy victimhood in Tel Aviv, which now boasts of its friendship with the Saudi Kingdom. Perhaps in the unholy alliance forming between Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh, a strategy is developing to make the unbelievable believable.
It all sounds like fun and games to political observers in the West, except that it isn’t. In Manchester 22 young people, mainly young girls, lost their lives in a terrorist attack and in London a few days ago seven people were killed while more than 20 cling to life by a thread. Earlier this year a policeman was killed in the grounds of the Palace of Westminster at the hands of another knife-wielding maniac who had already killed four people after driving his car into crowds on Westminster Bridge.
In the Middle East and Asia, meanwhile, such terrorist atrocities have become an almost daily occurrence. We must not accept that the pain felt by the families who’ve lost their loved ones in Iraq or Syria is any less than that suffered by those who lost loved ones in the Manchester and London atrocities.
Just recently, nearly 100 people were killed on the edge of Kabul’s diplomatic zone in a suicide bomb that was so huge even war-weary Afghans were left breathless by its size and destructive power. This massive attack was followed by another at a high-profile funeral for one of the victims the following day, in which seven more people were killed and another 120 wounded in three separate explosions. The sudden increase in attacks in Kabul after years of relative security poses a huge threat to the Afghan government, economy and civil society.
No one is saying that Saudi Arabia or its friends are behind the recent events, but if a country is meddling in the affairs of others by funding terrorism or pushing a warped ideology which leads to radicalisation and its manifestation on the streets of Britain then people have a right to know. Power and wealth should not dictate the West’s reaction to terrorism.
It doesn’t matter how unpalatable the contents of the government report into the funding of extremism are, we need to see them and we need to discuss Britain’s relationship with some of its Middle East friends, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Riyadh may have bought our weapons, Mrs May, but it should not have bought our silence.