by Maniza Naqvi
I fear the perverse purchase of Saudi petrodollars: the twin ideologies of Salafism and Islamophobia. This is what the State of Saudi Arabia exports to the rest of the world its Salafist ideology along with oil and petrodollars (here). Saudi Arabia represents the single largest source of remittances to a majority of majority Muslim countries. Remittances to the tune of more than US$30.0 to US$50.0 billion per year from workers employed in Saudi Arabia go to 29 mainly majority Muslim countries. These remittances are a significant portion of total remittances in these countries and have an impact on the GDPs of these countries. India alone earns US$24.0 billion in remittances from Saudi Arabia while Pakistan and Bangladesh each earn US$4.0 billion. Then there are the other Saudi financial outflows to these countries in terms of trade, oil, subsidized and free oil, and direct investments in all sorts of industries including banking, media and tourism. And, included in these financial flows are the philanthropic grants earmarked for furthering Salafist thought. All together these add up to billions of dollars (here). Understandably, then, it pays Governments all over the world, royally not to criticize the State of Saudi Arabia or its actions and to instead remain silent. The specter for countries of being knocked off the gravy train and stripped of Saudi largess if the Saudi State should be displeased, can mean the loss of all the purchasing power and wealth being dispatched to millions upon millions of homes by migrant laborers in Saudi Arabia. It would mean the loss of thriving consumerism and prosperity. But that wealth is destroying whole homelands including Saudi Arabia.
I fear to imagine a country which produces no art, no films, no theater, no songs nor dance. I fear the perverseness and madness that would build a seperate city for women instead of recognizing women as equal human beings. I fear such a State of gender apartheid, where women are buried alive in the form of seclusion. I fear a country that cannot function as a civilized member of the human community of nations and treats women, the entire gender, as pariahs (here). Yet, such is the country created by the State of Saudi Arabia. I fear the reasons which cause 16 million citizens most of whom are not Saud in Saudi Arabia to remain silently compliant with such injustice. The bulk of this population is under the age of 25 and disempowered and is ruled absolutely by old men who do not tolerate dissent or diversity of opinion. I fear the mindset that treats women as blots and clots to be erased or managed. The total population living in Saudi Arabia is an estimated between 27 million to 28 million of which 9 million are registered as foreign workers and an estimated 2 million are illegal workers. 30% of the Saudi citizens are below the age of 14 and over 60% are below the age of 25. Of the youth population 28.2% between 15-24 are unemployed. They are unemployed, under skilled and under achievers of their potential. They live off of the state provided stipends. The heavy lifting in manual labor as well as professional skilled work and managerial work is all handled by foreigners.
I fear that while Saudi Arabia is oil rich it is poor in every other way. It is impoverished of water. It is impoverished of agricultural land. I fear the wholesale purchase of water-wealthy lands and homelands by the house of Saud investors. A few references about water: here, about land here, here, here and here.
I fear that these remittances and financial outflows are destroying homelands. I fear that after thirty years of petrodollar bonanzas and propaganda, Muslims are unable to delink Islam from the House of Saud. There are 5000 Saud and in comparison there are 1.2 billion Muslims all over the world. A majority of whom, for a myriad of reasons including illiteracy, poverty and sudden wealth are unable to resist or protest against the Saudi influence upon them. I fear that the populations of the world are unable to resist, protest and fight against the privatization of all that is their sacred to them: their lands where they grow their food, the places where they congregate and live, their own thoughts and even their bodies. I fear that people are afraid and unwilling to speak up against the Saudi regime because of the power of these remittances. I fear that the purchasing power of remittances is a powerful disincentive to resist or question the Salafist ideology espoused by the House of Saud. I fear that both the majority of Muslims, illiterate and uninformed of their own history and faith and the venal nature of their ruling classes whose money has come from the petrodollar bonanza will offer little resistance to the Salafist advance.
I fear that the people unlearned and illiterate impressed by influence and the purchasing power of Saudi Arabia might be confused and unable to distinguish the House of Saud as being apart and separate from the origin and the authors of Islam. I fear that this may be the case for Pakistan where matters are so far gone that if the father of the Nation, Mohammad Ali Jinnah were alive today he would not be able to go about freely for fear of being shot to death for being a Shi’a. Or the men who bank rolled the fledgling state of Pakistan with their wealth, M.M. Isphahani and Habib Ishmael, would if they were alive have been in danger. Or Mohammad Zafurallah Khan, who represented the Muslim League, upon the request of Jinnah, at in the Boundaries Commission which decided the borders of India and Pakistan at Partition and was the first foreign minister of Pakistan, if he had been alive today he would have been threatened with death for having the name Mohammad as his first name. Or Jogendra Nath Mundal the first law minister of Pakistan who would have also been threatened. Or the first finance Secretary Sir Victor Turner, the Christian, English Pakistani in the first cabinet. I fear that if any of them were alive today, they would surely have been in danger of being killed. Or the great poet Iqbal had he been alive he would have been targeted for his poetry in praise of Ali and views on Islam; the very poet for whom the myth has been created by the State of Pakistan, that he dreamt of a state of Pakistan. Or, infinitely worse, the very founder of the faith, itself, if he were to be alive today and in Pakistan he would be in danger at the hands of these murderers who have bestowed the agency of the Divine upon themselves!
I fear that the new middle class beholden to petrodollar remittances and fearful of jeopardizing their opportunities of working in the Middle East and Saudi Arabia are afraid to speak out, while the ruling elite are also beholden to petrodollars. I fear that the power of the Salafist Saud because of their petro dollars and the dependency of the middle class all over the Muslim world on lucrative jobs as domestic servants, skilled workers and executives in construction, trading, banking and healthcare are akin to an oil spill which is choking Islam and its many diverse communities
I fear that the effect of these Saudi petrodollars on most countries over the past 30 years, particularly the effect of it on Pakistan has been the support of dictatorships that atrophied public space, did not create jobs, burglarized the national treasury and supported the export of extremist thinking. The lack of opportunities and jobs in Pakistan drove skilled labor to Saudi Arabia to endure there extreme social and political repressive conditions so as to earn petrodollars and support whole neighborhoods back home. While in Saudi Arabia if these workers do anything that is outside the extreme views of the Saud they are, if lucky, deported or imprisoned but in many instances publically beheaded. Public beheadings and amputations of limbs continue in the Kingdom of the Saud. And yet these are people welcomed in all the enlightened, free Capitals of the world and are given a free pass rather than a serious push back in inquiry or criticism.
I fear but I cannot remain silent. While being applauded in the shadows for showing courage I have been told that I should be afraid of writing against the Kingdom of Saud and that it is wiser to remain silent. I have received primarily two types of responses: one applauding me for my “courage” and the other accusing me of “sectarian propaganda”. Both of these are astonishing, bewildering and frankly frightening. I did not write The Architects of the War on Islam, out of courage but rather out of fear. I am not brave I am afraid. However, if being on the side of the public or of the people is to be sectarian then so be it. I fear that the applause in the shadows and the lack of strong vocal resistance is equally discouraging and threatening. The applause in the shadows is as much a coercion towards silence. But now the time has come, silence won’t make a difference it won’t keep anyone safe. I fear that both of these views one that it should take courage to speak up and the other that to speak up is sectarian contribute to the architecture of war and the condoning of silence. The power of violence and the financing of violent power bring about this notion of courage because silence is security. Much is at stake if people are not silent. Much is at stake if people remain silent. I fear that this absolute power wielded by the Saud demands that those who speak up against it must be viewed as sectarian.
I fear that Muslims have remained largely silent about the violence done by Salafists on people and on the Ka’aba too, while there has been much rage about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and its spillover into Pakistan. During the last decade the Salafists have been silently busy destroying the Ka'aba and other holy sites in Mecca and Medina. The Saudis have been constucting commercial skyscrapers and such monstrosities surrounding the Ka 'aba, while razing and destroying historical sites. This was going on while there was the unaccounted for destruction of homes, of whole towns and villages in Iraq and Afghanistan through wars. All the while the Salafists have been raging their own war against whole communities of people mostly Muslim, while the Ka’aba too was being destroyed by them.
I fear, as to what may be the reasons for why UNESCO has remained silent about the destruction of the Ka’aba. Why have Muslim states remained silent about this? Why have those who’ve gone to perform the Haj remained silent. Is it because all of them can’t afford to earn the ire of the State of Saudi Arabia?
I fear that Haj and the Ka’aba, a central principal of Islam, sacred to 1.2 billion people have been privatized, by an estimated 5000 people belonging to one family. Why? How is the privatization of the Ka'aba different from the wholesale seizure and privatization of the commons and public lands and spaces all over the world? I fear that the Ka’aba and the Haram Shareef which is sacred to 1.2 billion people has been privatized and occupied by the members of one family and that this is the same as what is happening to the entire world and its public goods and commons and public space which have been eroded and literally stolen from the people. Public space which has been stolen, through war, occupation, and the creation of sectarian strife has led to the clearing of whole tracts of lands of their owners and users. Signs of “no trespassing” and barbed wires are going up everywhere. And security and police forces are being used to primarily enforce the ownership of the new private owners who have almost all the worlds resources and wealth concentrated in their hands and are as though a close kinship of financial interests: The Saud, Shell Oil, British Petroleum, Exxon, Haliburton, Bechtel Corporation, Dyncorp, Xe (formerly known as Blackwater) and so forth and so on.
I fear Saudi Arabia’s main products and exports: oil, remittances and Wahabism. Saudi Arabia has an estimated 7,288,900 million foreign workers from 29 countries. Most of these workers are from countries with sizeable or majority Muslim populations. These workers in Saudi Arabia are employed in its petroleum industry and its related benefits in construction, domestic work, hospitals, finance and banking services, and other service Of these workers in Saudi Arabia, India has the largest contingent there of 1,452,927 workers. Followed by Pakistan and Egypt with each having 1,005,873 workers. Then Yemen: 894,109, followed by Philippines 558,818, Bangladesh 447,055. Sri Lanka: 391,173; Indonesia 279,409; Sudan 279,409; Jordon 172,266; Kuwait 136,916; Syria 111,764; West Bank and Gaza 122,608. The rest are from Afghanistan 17,227; Chad 11,231; Eriteria 40,644; Ethiopia 28,618; Lebanon 58,261; , Morocco 20,584; Nepal 18,282;, Nigeria 14,976; Somalia 27,252; Thailand 23,547;, Tunisia 12,410, Turkey 89,411; United Kingdom 31,999; and USA 36,258. Data on bilateral migration and remittances is available (here).
I fear that Saudi Arabia represents the single largest source of remittances for countries with large Muslim populations from the Philippines to Canada. Whole communities in Canada are made up of female headed families whose male bread earners are working in the Middle East (here). Data on Remittances worldwide and what its percentage of national GDPS is available here. India earns US$64.0 billion from remittances which represents 3% of its GDP of which a very significant amount a third or a reported US$24.0 billion is from an estimated 1.5 million high skilled workers in Saudi Arabia (here and here). Philippines receives a total of US$23.0 billion in remittances which represents 10.7% of its GDP. Mali earns US$457.0 million which represents 5.1% of its GDP. Remittances to Nepal represent 20% of GDP. For Nigeria these represent 4.5% of GDP. For Senegal these are 11% of GDP. For Sri Lanka these are 6.9% of GDP. For Yemen these are 3.9% of GDP. All of these countries have significant numbers of workers in Saudi Arabia, of these countries Sri Lanka has a third of a million, Philippines has over half a million workers, while Yemen has close to a million there.
Bangladesh and Pakistan each earns US$12.0 billion annually from remittances from foreign workers most of whom are in the Midde East. For Bangladesh these remittances represent 9.6% of GDP of which an estimated US$3.3 billion reportedly come from workers in Saudi Arabia. For Pakistan remittances represent 4.8% of GDP. Of these total remittances to Pakistan and Bangladesh 22% come from Saudi Arabia. For Pakistan, of its documented 4.68 million workers abroad, Saudi Arabia represents the largest single employer with over a million documented workers remitting almost US$2.0 billion or 22 percent of the total US$12.0 billion in remittances (here). While another million Pakistanis work in the rest of the Middle Eastern countries. This makes Saudi Arabia the single largest source of remittances for Pakistan—it is the largest employer of Pakistani skilled labor and is Pakistan’s supplier of cheap and subsidized if not free oil. A benefit, which has routinely, been threatened to be cut off, if Pakistan does not tow the Saudi line.
I fear that in Bangladesh and Pakistan as well as all the other Muslim countries dependent on Saudi Arabia there has been a sea change from moderate religious attitudes to Salafists. For example, Pakistani workers who are dependent on the lucrative employment in Saudi Arabia are obliged to adopt or acquiesce to a social and spiritual system alien to their own for the sake of economic expediency. The same is largely true for all the other workers in Saudi Arabia who do not have the luxury of managerial jobs and do not live in expatriate compounds. I fear the magnitude of the direct financial investments by the Saud in these 29 countries and how it ensures silence. What is the magnitude of this petrodollar wealth of Saudi Arabia in investments in Europe and North America in media, in tourism, financial services, health services, real estate, politics? Have the military industrial complexes of Pakistan, the United States, Great Britain, France and Italy and elsewhere benefited royally from these investments?
I fear the financial support in the form of grants earmarked for the advancement of extremist ideology which has resulted in the closure of public freedoms and public debate and curtailing of the expression of a diversity of thoughts and religious freedoms. Everywhere in the world where there are Muslim populations a new feature, the Saud-ization of society has steadily encroached into the traditions and cultures: the full covering of women in the Saudi desert style no matter the country or climate (this change has happened in the cities of Saudi Arabia as well in the past two decades), and this garb is a pre-requisite for setting foot anywhere in Saudi Arabia outside of the expatriate compounds there; the rise of mosques with sharp, missile like minarets in the Salafist taste of architecture can be seen even in places such as Bosnia where this is now being resisted and stopped, the presence of men in unruly beards and clothing associated with the Arabian desert, insertion and replacement of greetings and religious terms in Arabic rather than in local languages and finally the names given to children in the past two decades are specifically Arabic and not Bosnian, South Asian, or Bengali, Turkish and so forth.
I fear the perverse purchase of the petrodollars that has served to destroy reason and maintain the shrill and vitriolic discourse of the last three decades has served only to create bile and the hardening of defensive positions. The noise has targeted Islam and benefited the Saud ideology and left it intact and in fact advancing. The twin sentiments of Salafism and Islamophobia are on the rise. Both are dangerous, violent and destructive. There has been scant discussion on the exported and enforced ideology from the State of Saudi Arabia or a public discussion for a forensic analysis of the financial flows and their support of extremism. While the Saudi State has remained focused on what is profitable for the royal family and their creed, the main stream Muslims, Sunni and Shi’a have fallen further into their ridiculous fissures and diverted themselves into increasing polarization towards cultish adherence to personalities rather than principles and values. This complete dissolution of discourse was started by the ridiculously childish, tactless and disgraceful action of a fatwa three decades ago by Ayatollah Khomeni on Salman Rushdie for his novel Satanic verses. A fatwa which Khomeni hastily woke up to months after newspapers in Iran and in Pakistan and elsewhere had routinely reviewed the book and not blinked. Only after Kashmiris rioted in Srinagar and considered it an insult to their religious beliefs did the champions of Islam in Pakistan and Iran and elsewhere hypocritically move to further idiocy. An idiocy so colossally perpetuated, that the worldwide Murdochized media championed it relentlessly from then onwards. Rushdie went from being a novelist to a central issue of foreign policy and an article of faith for the West and for every Muslim country as if there were no other more pressing issues such as the war being waged against the Soviets in Afghanistan or the Iraq initiated war on Iran. And all the while the extreme ideology of Salafists was on the rise. Since then, uttering anything that is counter to the extremist view of the world is in danger of being labeled as a blasphemy if it’s expedient to do so. Since then fear reigns supreme and wisdom dictates silence and Salafism and Islamophobia grow louder and flourish.
Other Writing by Maniza Naqvi here.