Jeremy Havardi
Jeremy Havardi

How Saudi petrol money oils the wheels of intolerance in Britain

The Henry Jackson Society has released a powerful report calling for a public inquiry into the foreign funding of extremism.

The report by HJS fellow Tom Wilson offers considerable evidence of how Gulf states, primarily the Saudis, have spent billions of petrodollars promoting their hardline Salafist ideology in countries around the world, including in the UK. The Saudis alone are estimated to have spent £67billion over the last 30 years, giving ample ammunition to extremist clerics while drowning out the voices of Muslim moderates.

Saudi funding has come in the form of endowments to mosques and Islamic educational institutions, which in turn have hosted extremist preachers and distributed anti-Semitic, anti-western and homophobic literature. It is now estimated that more than 100 British mosques officially identify with Salafist ideology.

Saudi money buys access to these places of worship, turning them into platforms for hosting hate preachers. A number were identified in the Dispatches documentary Undercover Mosque, among them the East London Mosque, which had received generous Saudi funding and given a platform to some extremist speakers. There were many other examples.

The Saudis have also paid handsome sums to bring people from the UK to the desert kingdom, enabling them to undertake religious study. These students have received generous scholarships to study at the Kingdom’s international university in Medina, only for them to return and establish mosques and bookshops which spread Salafist ideology. One such individual is the extremist preacher Shakeel Begg, an imam who, according to one High Court judge, ‘clearly promotes and encourages violence in support of Islam’.

The report also expresses justifiably deep concerns about Saudi infiltration of Muslim schools in the UK. Textbooks in some ‘Saudi schools’ have been found to be near identical to those which are used in the Saudi national curriculum. Indeed, the content of some is so extreme that they were adopted by the Islamic State. In the words of Imam Taj Hagey, these Saudi schools are serving as a ‘gateway to extremist theology and political radicalism.’ They are potential incubators of terror.

The report also highlights Iran’s involvement in funding Shia extremism. The Islamic Centre of England has helped to organise speaking tours for a Khomeinist preacher, Shaykh Hamza Sodagar, who has indulged hateful conspiracy theories about Jews and Zionism. The school’s director, Ayatollah Abdolhossein Moezi, is a devotee of the Islamic Republic.

In some ways, none of these revelations are new. We have known for years about the (primarily) Saudi penetration of western mosques, schools, universities and Islamic institutions and the likely growth in radicalisation that has resulted from it.

Nor is the government blind to these developments. In 2015, as part of a Counter-Extremism Strategy, ministers pledged to examine the role of overseas funding in driving domestic extremism. Their report specifically noted that “the extremism we see here is often shaped by and connected to extremism elsewhere in the world, including the movement of individuals, ideology, and funding.” But the subsequent research has not been published, given its highly sensitive content.

Some sensible measures are suggested in the HJS report and these deserve careful consideration. One is to simply ban the foreign funding of UK Islamic institutions, especially from nations that propagate extremist Islamist ideology. A number of countries have chosen to adopt this strategy, including Austria in 2015. In the words of Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, his country should give Islam a “chance to develop freely within our society and in line with our common European values.” Saudi funding prevents that possibility.

It is also necessary to deport foreign born imams who preach hatred of the ‘unbelievers’ and there should continue to be close scrutiny of all mosques in receipt of Gulf money. If schools are found to be inciting hatred or using radicalising textbooks, they should surely be closed.

The recent terrorist attacks in London and Manchester, which killed several dozen innocent civilians, have created a heightened sense of urgency. The terror threat needs to be comprehensively tackled using a range of military, economic, diplomatic and ideological weapons. Identifying the sources of funding for radical Islamic extremism and taking measures to curtail them are vital weapons in our armoury.

You can read the Henry Jackson Society’s report here:

About the Author
Jeremy is an author and the Director of B'nai Brith UK's Bureau of International Affairs
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