Christina Lin

ISIS recruitment: Kerry faults Israel, Singapore’s Lee faults Saudi/Qatari ideology

Before linking the rise in enlistment to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, listen to Lee Kwan Yew

Secretary Kerry on Thursday again called for resumption of Israel-Palestinian peace talks and linked it to the cause for ISIS recruitment.

He claimed “there wasn’t a leader I met with in the region who didn’t raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and the Palestinians, because it was a cause of recruitment and of street anger and agitation.”

This, however, is perplexing, because ISIS is recruiting Asian jihadists in droves, and Asians for the most part do not care much about the Middle East Peace talks. On 25 September, U.S. Pacific Command Admiral Locklear disclosed that ISIS had recruited 1,000 Asian fighters using social media, a number that is probably higher by now.

Moreover, it is likely that Secretary Kerry’s good friends in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, rather than the stalled Middle East peace process, are causing the jump in ISIS recruitment in Asia and elsewhere in the world.

Singapore’s former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew already recognized the root cause of ISIS back in 2003, and pointed the finger at Saudi Arabia for the cause of terrorism in Asia.

A well-respected leader over the past half-century, Henry Kissinger in writing the foreword to the book “Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World” (2013) wrote “I have had the privilege of meeting many world leaders over the past half century; none, however, has taught me more than Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first premier and its guiding spirit ever since.”

Perhaps Secretary Kerry could benefit from a discussion with Minister Lee on terrorism.

According to Lee, Muslims in Southeast Asia were traditionally moderate and tolerant. But in the 40-odd years since the oil crisis and petrodollars became a windfall in the Muslim world, Saudi extremists have been proselytizing, and building mosques and madrassas that preach Wahhabism. Lee argued this Wahhabi brand is a “venomous religion” that has radicalized Southeast Asian Muslims, and marketed to Muslims throughout the world that the gold standard for being a good Muslim is Saudi Arabia.

Southeast Asia has thus fallen victim to the Wahhabi-driven al Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiah (JI) that was responsible for the 2002 Bali bombing and a string of terrorist attacks in Indonesia from 2003 to 2005. Now, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Philippines are witnessing a revival of Islamic extremism via the spread of ISIS.

In fact militants from Indonesia and Malaysia fighting in Syria have formed a military unit for Malay-speaking ISIS fighters called Katibah Nusantara Lid Daulah Islamiyyah, or Malay Archipelago Unit for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (Ipac) disclosed this unit was formed in the town of Al-Shadadi in Syria’s Hasaka province last month.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict does not seem to be a cause for their radicalization.

In a 2002 speech for Singapore’s National Day, Lee stated he did not believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or U.S. action in the Middle East in Iraq and Afghanistan, are the causes of Islamic terrorism. He believed terrorism would continue even if Middle East peace were achieved.

Rather, he argued the big divide in the new world order is now “between Muslim terrorists versus the US, Israel, and their supporters. A secondary battle is between militant Islam and non-militant modernist Islam.”

When Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek interviewed Lee in 2003 regarding al Qaeda and Islamic extremism in Iraq, he warned, “In killing terrorists, you will only kill the worker bees. The queen bees are the preachers, who teach a deviant form of Islam in schools and Islamic centers, who capture and twist the minds of the young.”

He further warned, “Americans, however, make the mistake of seeking a largely military solution. You must use force. But force will only deal with the tip of the problem.”

A decade later, General Jonathan Shaw, Britain’s former assistant Chief of the Defence Staff, echoes the same warning as we face ISIS in Iraq redux. In a 4 October Telegraph article he said that Qatar and Saudi Arabia had ignited a “time bomb” by spending billions of dollars promoting and proselytizing the militant Wahhabi Salafism, and this must stop. “The root problem is that those two countries are the only two countries in the world where Wahhabi Salafism is the state religion—and ISIL is a violent expression of Wahhabist Salafism.”

General Shaw likewise argued that in the short term the U.S.-led coalition could achieve tactical success via military force against ISIS, but in the long-term this will be an ideological battle to counter extremist theology.

The air campaign would not “stop the support of people in Qatar and Saudi Arabia for this kind of activity…it’s not addressing the fundamental problem of Wahhabi Salafism as a culture and creed, which has gotten out of control and is still the ideological basis of Isil.”

Perhaps, it may be more helpful for the US-led anti-ISIS coalition if Secretary Kerry would ask his Saudi and Qatari friends to stop feeding those queen bees.

About the Author
Dr. Christina Lin is a US-based foreign policy analyst specializing in China-Mediterranean relations. She has extensive US government experience working on national security issues and was a CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear) research consultant for Jane's Information Group.
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