Nick Cohen on Saudi money power

Nick Cohen, in last Sunday’s Observer, posted an extraordinarily conspiracy-minded article about the Saudis’ financial muscle supposedly inhibits any investigation into their activities in the UK. He starts off on the subject of the investigation into British-Saudi arms deals, which was dropped a few months back on government orders, and also claims that public criticism of Saudi activities are inhibited by fear of being sued. According to one lawyer friend of his, “school fees and second homes depend” on Saudi libel actions. However, he also brings in the recent criticism of Channel 4 for their Undercover Mosque documentary, which provoked a police investigation into those featured in it, which turned on the programme-makers themselves once the police actually saw the tapes on which the documentary was based.

Cohen claims that British Muslims are being intimidated, and that there is a “Saudi attempt to convert Europe’s Muslims to wahhabhism and its sister creeds”, a propaganda effort unmatched in scale in British history:

True, the Soviet Union secretly funded its supporters in the 20th century, but the British Communist party was never much more than a small sect and, in any case, yesterday’s ‘Moscow gold’ was small change in comparison to today’s Saudi petrodollars. If Christian plutocrats returned the compliment and poured money into Saudi Arabia to convert Muslims to Protestant fundamentalism, I think we would hear a good deal about it. However, as the public celebration of and proselytising for non-Muslim religions are illegal in Saudi Arabia, and a Muslim converting to another faith faces the death penalty, the opportunities for Europeans to do to Saudi Arabia what Saudis are doing to Europe are limited. The traffic is all one-way, but few dare complain as it streams by. Official unwillingness to upset the suppliers of oil and buyers of arms isn’t the only reason for the silence. British Muslims have been intimidated.

He then goes on to explain that one supposed prominent Muslim figure, “who is occasionally allowed on to the airwaves to balance the Muslim Council of Britain”, is afraid to speak openly about Saudi Arabia or Wahhabism, referring instead to “foreign funding for extremist doctrines”, for fear of being blacklisted by the Saudis and banned from making the pilgrimage to Mecca! This is the first time I have ever heard of such a thing. Nick Cohen should know that most Muslims are not Wahhabis, and many Muslims who are, or who have some Wahhabi sympathies, have no sympathy for Saudi Arabia. Islamic scholars, particularly among the Indo-Pakistani diaspora, have been arguing against Wahhabism for decades. There were actually prominent anti-Wahhabi Islamic scholars living in the country throughout Fahd’s rule, notably Muhammad Alawi Maliki and several shaikhs of the Bani ‘Alawi group. Criticism of the Saudis has run high among Muslims for years, not only because of their support for Wahhabism, or their lack of support for “true” Wahhabism, but because of their repressive form of government and their unnecessary restrictions on people’s liberty, especially women’s liberty. I have never heard anyone say that they are afraid of being barred from the hajj or umrah because of it. To give one of numerous examples, earlier this year a group of Muslims from the USA, Canada and the UK affilitated to the Imam Ghazali institute (Imam Ghazali was a classical scholar whose opinions the Wahhabis generally reject) undertook a tour of the Hijaz, Jordan and Syria having publically announced that they would meet local scholars including the non-Wahhabi Ahmad Alawi al-Maliki, the son of the aforementioned Muhammad Alawi Maliki, in Mecca. They could not have done this if they thought the Saudis would ban their visit, or block them from visiting these scholars, on the grounds of their not being Wahhabi or being part of a pro-traditional, and thus anti-Wahhabi, Muslim movement.

If any Muslim figure is unwilling to publically speak out against Saudi-funded proselytism in the UK, it could be for one of two reasons. One is that they do not in fact have documentary evidence, and even so, Abdul-Hakim Murad (TJ Winter) was shown on Undercover Mosque claiming that traditional Muslim booksellers could not compete with Saudi-funded Wahhabi texts being distributed for free. However, if you make accusations against people without proof, you are liable to be sued for libel. You have to prove what you allege; they don’t have to prove their innocence. The second is that they do not want to be branded disloyal, or accused of sowing or perpetuating divisions in the community at a time when Muslims are being vilified in the press. Some people may also be afraid of losing funding.

However, Cohen seems unable to accept that Undercover Mosque was criticised for a reason, a reason he might be aware of if he had actually watched the tapes on which it was based. Clearly the producers sent their mole to investigate the Birmingham “salafis” expecting to find incriminating material, and when they found none, cherry-picked the few sentences they thought a non-Muslim audience would dislike, and broadcast them. I can’t possibly see any connection between the unwillingness to investigate Saudi arms deals and the West Midlands police’s action, since the deportation of undesirable foreign preachers is a very easy matter and British jobs definitely don’t depend on their being here.

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