Analyzing the Causes that Foster Fundamentalism
Birth of Political Islam
The siege of Mecca was the first major challenge to the ruling group in Saudi Arabia since the Ikhwan rebellion. It brought into open the rising tension between the state and its own religion.
Madawi Al-Rasheed explains, “It was vital to devise a formula for reconciling the state’s immense wealth with the austerity of Wahhabi* Islam. The incompatibility between religious dogma and royal pomp and the vulnerability of the royal family to attacks from within the ranks of the most loyal supporters (the religious establishment) shocked inside and outside observers who considered Saudi Arabia one of the most stable states in the Middle East. The constant search of the Saudi state for ways to accommodate the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ crumbled with the siege of the mosque.”
It also forced the rulers to grant more powers to the ulama (Islamic scholars) and Islamic activities more political space in the early 1980s. The ulama seized the opportunity to reinforce the strict Wahhabi rules on ritual observance and moral behavior.
It was also the beginning of a new era where the banner of Islam was unfurled for political means. Thomas Hegghammer talks about its ramifications, “However, the ‘Wahhabism’ and the ‘pan-Islamisation’ of 1980 Saudi Arabia represented two distinct processes with different causes and results. While the first was a purely domestic process promoted by the Najdi Wahhabi ulama and resulting in social conservatism, the latter had international ramifications, was promoted by the Hijaz-based organizations such as the Muslim World League (MWL) and produced political radicalism. Nevertheless, both processes left more political space for Islamist activism of all kinds. The political opportunity structure for Islamist activists – especially those seeking to mobilize people for the jihad in Afghanistan – thus became highly beneficial.”
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 prompted several Islamic organizations to issue calls for jihad against the occupiers. This gave the conflict a whole new religious dimension.
Saudi involvement in Afghanistan was unprecedented and it exceeded even the assistance for the Palestinians. It also saw the Kingdom graduate from a passive and financial to an active and military approach to pan-Islamism. This was made possible by US approval, the access to Pakistani territory, and the willingness of the Afghans.
Iran, sharing its border with Afghanistan, saw this as an opportunity to increase its influence in the area. It backed the Afghan Northern Alliance, which included the Shiite Hizb-l Vahdat representing the Hazaras (a local minority Shia tribe).
The invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein forces gave another opportunity to the fundamentalists. Fearing a possible Iraqi attack on its own soil, Saudi Arabia welcomed foreign forces in 1990 to help defend the country. This was also the time when some sahwa** members began to speak out against the monarchy. Under pressure the government looked out for ways to compensate the lost credibility.
The opportunity came in the form of the Bosnian war of 1992.
Saudi was not alone in making the most of it. Iran and Sudan, too, tried to exploit the Bosnian crisis to gain regional control.
In fact Iran made good use of its long-standing links with Bosnian political leaders to provide substantial material support for the war ravaged country.
The roots of Political Islam were firmly established by now.
The Role of Wahhabism
The rigid views of Wahhabism and the patronizing it received from the Saudi rulers in the past, fostered Muslim fundamentalism. The doctrine considers Muslim sects like the Shiites and the Sufis as heretics. It even inspired people like Juhayman to take up arms against the royal family.
Although Juhayman was beheaded soon after the uprising, his ideals and vision survived long after. The baton was passed on to another misguided flag-bearer of Islam, Osama Bin Laden. Like Juhayman, Osama too, had issues with Saudi ties to the US.
It came as no surprise to many that 15 of the 19 al-Qaida jihadists involved in the 9/11 attacks were from Saudi Arabia. The sad news was followed by a discovery of a huge arms cache in Riyadh and subsequent attacks on residential compounds in 2003. The terror continued in the country so much that by the December of 2004, some 176 policemen and civilians (mostly foreigners) had lost their lives.
The events showed a scary trend. The home-grown fundamentalists were turning into terrorists. The rulers of the state had to take swift and strict measures.
Dr. Sherifa Zuhur gets the point across, “Saudi Arabian officials decried al-Qa’ida’s actions in the United States, and have captured and killed operatives, arrested more than 600 suspects, forced key clerical figures to recant their radical views on television, recalled more than 1400 imams who were counseled on their divergent opinions, and took a variety of measures to diminish the financial support of terrorist organizations. The government also announced modest political reforms that began with voter registration from 2004-05, and municipal elections in 2005 which will enhance political participation.” 
The tentacles of the Osama factory are now reaching Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Indonesia, among others. It misses no opportunity to unleash terror on countries and people in the name of God.
The Israeli Angle
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the stumbling block in the stability of Middle-East and a cause for Arabs to take up arms. For years now it has been the driving force behind Muslim fundamentalism across the globe.
The difficulty in resolving the issue has only frustrated the parties involved.
The sad part is those who were once the land owners are now refugees in their own land. More than 300,000 Jews immigrated to the then British Mandated Palestine between 1923 and 1938. Now compare this with the 3.5 million Palestinians displaced because of the 1948 and 1967 upheavals (500,000 alone during the Six-Day War in 1967).
Millions of Palestinians refugees are today dispersed throughout the Middle-East, many in camps in neighboring countries. They are still searching for a way to coexist with the nation that is responsible for the mess.
According to Amnesty International 2011 Report, in 2010, Israeli authorities demolished 431 structures in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, a 59 per cent increase over 2009. At least 594 Palestinians – half of them children – were displaced, while more than 14,000 Palestinians were affected by demolitions of water cisterns, wells and structures relating to their livelihoods.
The Israeli military killed 1,510 Palestinians in 2006-09. Of these, 617, including 104 children aged under 18, were not taking part in any hostilities when they were killed.
The Arab and Muslim worlds remain split between rejectionist forces and those willing to recognize Israel in the name of peace.
As for Israel it continues to enjoy strong support from both the Democrats and Republicans in the US. No US president ever questions the country’s so-called security needs.
Both Clinton and Bush failed to strongly take up the case of settlement expansion and certain occupation practices, which have nothing to do with security, with Israel.
Barack Obama generated so much hope in the Muslim world with his landmark speeches, but, he too couldn’t do much to help resolve the Israeli-Palestine conflict.
Flawed US policies in the past gave ample opportunities to other state actors with their own agendas. Both Syria and Saudi Arabia attempted to broker a Palestinian unity government without Washington’s help. Iran responded by strengthening its ties to Syria and Hamas, thereby increasing its influence in the region.
The Gaza blockade and the Israeli West Bank barrier have only added to the woes of Palestine. Indirectly it has fuelled the strong sentiments of the Arabs and Muslims elsewhere against the state of Israel.