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Islam In Alaska
Michael Fredholm
The Analyst
Wednesday/October 24, 2001

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have both declared their support for the United
States against Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan-based Islamic terrorism.
Yet, were the Saudi and Pakistani governments decisively to rally behind
the United States in an extended military campaign, they may fall victim to
the very Islamic extremism that they have nurtured elsewhere - which may
lead to violent popular unrest, civil breakdown, and eventually the
destruction of the two states. Neither outcome is likely to solve the
problem of Salafi Islamic terrorism.

BACKGROUND: The type of Islam espoused by Osama bin Laden and his fellow
extremists, Salafi Islam , is closely connected to the Islamic Wahhabi
movement. Salafism, derived from 'Salaf' or 'ancestor', is a purist
movement that rejects progress and technology, urguing Muslims to shun the
modern world and return to the austerity of the prophet's times. The
religious leaders of this moment are very prominent in Saudi Arabia and
since the late eighteenth century have a close relationship with the Saudi
rulers. Numerous individuals in Saudi Arabia, including members of the vast
royal family, have been known to directly and indirectly sponsor Salafi
Islamic extremism. While the Salafi extremist groups have sources of income
throughout the Islamic world, their chief financial support has hitherto
come from wealthy and influential members of the Saudi elite.

According to Salafi Islam, a modern state is fundamentally incompatible
with true Islam and has to be fought in a jihad (holy war). Traditional
Islamic law distinguishes between those born as infidels and those born
Muslims who later become infidels. The latter are regarded as apostates and
must be exterminated. Salafi thought takes this concept one step further:
all those who fail to rise against the corrupt, modern state by definition
are infidels and, if Muslims, apostates. This argument has frequently
clouded relations between proponents of Salafi Islam and the Saudi ruling
family. It should be noted that the killing of apostates is not only
sanctioned by Islamic law, it is regarded as the duty of each true Muslim.

The government of Pakistan is in an even more difficult situation than that
of Saudi Arabia. Although Pakistan until September 11, 2001 terrorist
attacks on the United States tolerated and even encouraged extremist
groups, including those of Salafi persuasion such as the Afghan Taliban,
created in 1994 with the help of Saudi funding, Salafi extremism poses a
threat to Pakistan too. Unlike traditional Middle Eastern terrorist
organisations, the Salafi extremists form part of a complex network of
relatively autonomous, loosely organised groups rather than hierarchical
organisations. They are joined by their common ideology of the Salafi
principles translated into politics rather than a shared organisational

IMPLICATIONS: While Saudi Arabia probably trusts her remoteness from
Afghanistan as a way to avoid confrontation with either the West or her own
extremists, Pakistan has found it necessary to turn against its former
disciples. This may come at a severe cost. The internal cohesion of
Pakistan is at stake, and the decision has already cost lives lost in
violent street demonstrations. As many as between 80,000 and 100,000
Pakistanis trained and fought in Taliban units between 1994 and 1999.
Pakistan has an estimated five to six thousand religious seminaries that
espouse extremist beliefs and continuously teach and inspire the spiritual
obligation to engage in jihad against the enemies of Islam. They are not
likely to meekly abide any government reaction against them. The inherent
conflict between secular rulers and Salafi Islam, no longer possible for
the Pakistani government to sidestep, has not been resolved.

A complication is the fact that the Taliban movement chiefly consists of
ethnic Pashtuns. So does some twenty per cent of the Pakistani army, of
whom many would be reluctant to confront their cousins in Afghanistan or
elsewhere. Many are high-ranking officers. Besides, most Pakistani
intelligence officers involved with the Taliban are Pashtuns. Musharraf has
yet to take decisive action against the extremists. While he has handled
the anti-American demonstrations with a minimal loss of life and sacked a
number of high-ranking military officers regarded as too close to the
extremists, he seems more uncertain on how to deal with the various
extremist organisations. While a few militant groups have been banned,
others have suffered no government interference. Certain extremist leaders
have been detained, but by no means all or even the majority. Musharraf's
hesitation was clearly shown when he first detained the influential
extremist leader Fazl-ur-Rehman Khalil, a leading associate of Osama bin
Laden, then had him released, only to detain him again after a few days.

CONCLUSIONS: Three conclusions can be drawn, none of which offers hope for
an easy solution to the problem of Salafi Islamic terrorism. Firstly, if
the Saudi government were to renounce extremist views that are widespread
among the Saudi elite as well as the population at large, this could lead
to its demise. But if not, Saudi Arabia is likely to remain a source of
funds as well as recruits for the jihad against the West. Secondly, the
Pakistani government is in an even more serious situation. Although
unlikely, there is still a chance that Pakistan may follow Afghanistan's
descent into civil breakdown and extremism. Whoever gains control of the
country's nuclear weapons programme will be of more than passing interest
to the international community. Finally, if  bin Laden were to be killed or
captured, this would not signify the end of the Salafi extremist movement,
as its various components already conduct many if not most operations
without his involvement, leadership, or financing. Simply having bin Laden
killed or punished for his role in terrorist activities will change
nothing, except possibly provide a highly inspiring martyr for his
followers. That will in no way solve the problem of Salafi Islamic terrorism.

AUTHOR BIO: Michael Fredholm is a defence analyst working for the Swedish
government. He has written extensively on the history, defence, and
security policies of Eurasia. The views presented in this article are those
of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent those of the Swedish
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