The Unz Review: An Alternative Media Selection
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
 BlogviewPatrick Cockburn Archive
Saudis Reveal Their True Feelings About ISIS on Twitter
They blame the clergy. The social network's free discussion contrasts with Riyadh's official line on the rise of radicals
🔊 Listen RSS
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information


Bookmark Toggle AllToCAdd to LibraryRemove from Library • BShow CommentNext New CommentNext New ReplyRead More
ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
These buttons register your public Agreement, Disagreement, Troll, or LOL with the selected comment. They are ONLY available to recent, frequent commenters who have saved their Name+Email using the 'Remember My Information' checkbox, and may also ONLY be used once per hour.
Ignore Commenter Follow Commenter
Search Text Case Sensitive  Exact Words  Include Comments
List of Bookmarks

What is the connection between Saudi Arabia and the rise of the Islamic State (Isis) militants? Did the Saudi state and the Gulf monarchies foster the growth of Isis and other jihadi movements in Syria only to find they had created a Frankenstein monster that today threatens the political status quo? Is the House of Saud itself in danger? Such questions are increasingly asked around the world, not least in Saudi Arabia, as the government appears to reverse course by joining the US-run bombing campaign against Isis in Syria.

How do people in Saudi Arabia, outside the ruling elite, view Isis and its demand for their allegiance? Ordinary Saudis are best placed to judge the extent to which Wahhabi ideology, the Wahhabi clergy and the Saudi education system have contributed to the creation and growth of Isis. Hitherto, the rigorous control of media and information in Saudi Arabia has meant that popular views, dissident or approving, are seldom heard.

Control over opinion is tight, but it is not total. Twitter provides one of the few forums in which Saudis can discuss what they really feel, which may explain why use of Twitter is more common in the Kingdom than in the US or China, taking into account the different levels of population. A fascinating analysis of attitudes to Isis in Saudi Arabia, as revealed by tweets, has just been carried out by Dr Fouad J Kadhem, a researcher at the Centre of Academic Shia Studies in London, in a draft paper to be published soon.

Many, though by no means all Saudis, applauded during the summer as Isis swept through northern Iraq and eastern Syria. Mani’a bin Nasir al-Mani tweeted approvingly: “The great land of Allah belongs neither to kings nor to nations. Those who deserve the caliphate are those who implement the Sharia of Allah on the earth and on people. Apostates and traitors deserve nothing but the sword.” Later, al-Mani himself goes to Syria to join the forces of Islamic State.

Those commenting on events in the months since Isis took Mosul on 10 June are conscious that Saudi Arabia will not remain immune from the crisis. One hashtag is titled: “what do you do if Isis enters Saudi Arabia”. It should be explained that tweets refer to Isis as “Daesh”, after the Arab acronym of its name, or simply to “Islamic State”. Supporters of Isis often express antagonism towards the Saudi government and suggest that Isis has many sympathisers within the Kingdom. Abdul Hakim al-Falih writes that “by the will of Allah, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi [the leader of Isis and self-declared caliph] accompanied by the soldiers of the Islamic caliphate, to teach the [Saudi] police a proper Eid [religious festival].”

If there are Isis supporters in Saudi Arabia, how numerous are they? A person calling himself Azf Minfarad declares “no need [for Isis] to enter …Our country is full of them”. A similar point is made by “Fata al-Arab”: “Islamic State is on the Saudi borders and its supporters inside Saudi Arabia are more than its organised members and armed fighters.”

With regard to the ideology of Isis, several people comment that this has long been present in Saudi Arabia. “Luma” says: “It’s normal: all our life we have lived with Isis and its thoughts, its schools and its curriculum.”

Evidence of the similarity between Wahhabism and Isis is that in the third of Syria seized by Isis, it is plagiarising Saudi textbooks for use in schools. A few Saudis think there is poetic justice in the threat facing their country, one person calling himself “Aqil Hur” (Free Mind) saying simply “magic rebounds on the magician” or, in other words, the tables have turned.

Education and religious policy – and the Wahhabi clergy – are widely blamed for spreading extremism. Souad al-Shimmary replies to his own question “Where did Daesh come from?” saying “it’s our product returned to us”. Rajah al-Jihni puts the blame squarely on the education system in Saudi. He says, “your schools are the ones that produce Daesh … what are you waiting for when you seek this educational policy?”

There are interesting critical comments about the case of Faisal Shaman al-Anizy, a Saudi doctor who joined Isis in Iraq. Many condemn him for taking part in fighting against innocent people and blame Wahhabi preachers for turning him into a suicide bomber. Abdullah al-Kwalit tweets “you [the Saudi government] should punish these snakes [preachers] … Allah dam[n] them”. And Halimah asks what was it that turned “a doctor who treats patients into a killer who bombed the bodies of innocent people”.

The Wahhabi clergy are not given to self-criticism, but Adil al-Kalbani, a Wahhabi shaikh, who has for many years led prayers as an Imam of the Holy Shrine in Mecca, says that “Isis is a Salafi [fundamentalist] offshoot … a reality we should confront with transparency”. Commenting on this admission, Abu Hamza al-Masa’ary says that IS is the fruit of “the tree of Wah[h]abi preaching”.

But it is the Saudi education system that critics return to again and again. Wael al-Qaim says “they did not teach me that one day what we are learning will be implanted by Daesh and its offshoots”. Somebody else suggests the Saudi state borrow a curriculum from neighbouring Oman which teaches “tolerance and religious pluralism” in order to eliminate Isis ideology. A more radical commentator, “Arabic Batman”, says changing the education curriculum is not enough and instead calls for “kicking the al-Saud out of the country”.


Tweeters from Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority say that they feel excluded and discriminated against. One recent issue is a Saudi Ministry of Education order to withdraw a book designed for elementary schools that accidentally showed a Shia religious man on the front cover. Naji al-Zayed says that “the good thing about this incident is that it revealed the hypocrisy of [the claim there is] equality among [Saudi] citizens and the reality of sectarian discrimination”. To this, Nidhal Mom writes, “as a Shia … they were fair to me, as they taught me that I am an infidel, libertine and it’s their obligation to fight me”.

There are signs that in the past few months the Saudi state has become even more rigorous in enforcing Islamic law – sharia – and clamping down on non-Muslim religious practice, possibly to show that it is no less committed to sharia than Isis. In August some 22 people were beheaded, including one man who was accused of “sorcery” and another who had been diagnosed as mentally ill, compared with 79 last year. On 5 September, Saudi police raided a house in Khafji, near Kuwait, charging 27 Asian Christians with holding a church service. Many Saudi tweeters were outraged by this, Shadyah Kazandar asking “will we tolerate raids on our mosques, which are located in every corner of the globe”.

Dr Khadem says the significance of the Twitter discussion is that “the extremist trend within Saudi society” is still very active. But liberal and moderate Saudis are increasingly confident enough to make their voices heard.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: ISIS, Saudi Arabia, Twitter 
Hide 7 CommentsLeave a Comment
Commenters to FollowEndorsed Only
Trim Comments?
  1. Lumpy says:

    What is this article even saying? Y’all need a new insurgent group to obsess about.

    What is the connection between Saudi Arabia and the rise of the Islamic State (Isis) militants?

    Money and arms poured towards the latter.

    Did the Saudi state and the Gulf monarchies foster the growth of Isis and other jihadi movements in Syria only to find they had created a Frankenstein monster that today threatens the political status quo?

    Nope. Perfect move by the Saudi royal family to further destabilize one of the two major Shia powers in the middle east, Syria.

    The two sources of threat would be IS itself in Sauda Arabia and internal Shia dissent in Saudi Arabia. I’ll comment on both.

    Is the House of Saud itself in danger?

    lolol. Dealing with the threat of actual territorial claims from IS first. Even if the Saudi royal family wasn’t ideologically aligned with them, go look at a f*****g map of the middle east. The primary routes of IS advancement in Iraq and Syria have been along the Tigris and Euphrates. Go to google maps and turn on the satellite mode and look at the Iraq/Saudi border. What do you see? A giant pile of b*ttf**k empty desert. Why would IS waste time crossing it when they apparently have more pressing targets? (Baghdad, lol)

    How do people in Saudi Arabia, outside the ruling elite, view Isis and its demand for their allegiance?

    Dr Khadem says the significance of the Twitter discussion is that “the extremist trend within Saudi society” is still very active. But liberal and moderate Saudis are increasingly confident enough to make their voices heard.

    WRT Shia dissent in Saudi Arabia, Dr. K is a Shia shill and of course he would say that they have political influence but the reality is laughable. Shiites compromise like 5% of SA and if they ever had a chance of real political change they’d be “called in for questioning”/have their fingernails ripped out until they stopped twittering.

    SA is fucked up but geopolitically they and Iran are in it for the long haul. Sorry for the vulgar comment. I’m still a bit drunk.

    • Replies: @KA
  2. KA says:

    I think you should stay drunk and gaze at the crystal full the fermented dates .

  3. Pete says:

    Sounds like the author needs another shot of that “white lightening” brewed up in Ellijay, just to clear his head. All the talk, and not one word about why the USA is there. Oh; excuse me; must be the “war on “turrur”, to quote G. Bush; or those “weapons of mass destruction”, as described by the immortal Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Colin Powell, et. al.

  4. KA says:
    “A few days after the pronounced death-threats, a list of over 100 Swedish companies was published which Islamists say should be punished just for being of the same nationality as Vilks. “Take revenge,” these fanatics urged. However, when journalists rang some of these companies for a comment, they were surprised. “We have received no indications of any threat,” a spokesperson of one of the companies said. In fact, it turns out, these companies haven’t received any direct threats. The list of companies, as well as the death-threats against Vilks and the editor, all originate from one source: The Search for International Terrorist Entities (SITE) Institute.”

    SITE is the source of so many misinformation about IS,AlQuida,Middle East

    It is possible that they are involved in generating tweets and making false videos .

  5. eah says:

    How foolish of them.

    Too bad twitter wasn’t around in 2001 — it would have been interesting to see the Saudis ‘reveal their true feelings’ about 9/11.

  6. Art says:

    Is ISIS a religious problem or is it really a political problem? Have the Sunni peoples been pushed into a corner without any political power over their lives? Look at poor Egypt – democracy was tried – but it ended up with a new dictator more vicious then the old dictator. Has the worst among the Sunni culture taken advantage of this sad situation? Is there NO choice for the Sunni peoples but ISIS?

    To the AIPAC types all is going well. The Zionist plan from day one was to create a religious war between the Sunni and Shea with the outcome of breaking up the Muslim states into powerless small fiefdoms. (Of course spilling Christian blood and treasure along the way only makes it sweeter.)

    Again, this is not a religious problem – it is a political problem. The real problem is that the Sunni Arab people have no political power over their lives. Between the kingdoms and the AIPAC backed coercive regimes, these poor people have no avenue to a better future.

    We have to wake up to the real problem – not be misdirected into religious hate by AIPAC.

Current Commenter

Leave a Reply - Comments on articles more than two weeks old will be judged much more strictly on quality and tone

 Remember My InformationWhy?
 Email Replies to my Comment
Submitted comments become the property of The Unz Review and may be republished elsewhere at the sole discretion of the latter
Subscribe to This Comment Thread via RSS Subscribe to All Patrick Cockburn Comments via RSS
Personal Classics
Full Story of the Taliban's Amazing Jailbreak
"They Can't Even Protect Themselves, So What Can They Do For Me?"
"All Hell is Breaking Loose with Muqtada" Warlord: the Rise of Muqtada al-Sadr