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The undeclared long-range goal of IS is to overthrow Saudi Arabia. No document or video-clip says this but the broad sweep of Islamic history and the horrifying character of IS atrocities point in this direction.

Islamic law stipulates that only a caliph can declare a jihad. So in 1996, the Afghan Taliban swore loyalty to their leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, as Caliph or Commander of the Faithful.

Mullah Mohammad had no ambitions beyond the borders of Afghanistan. But in 2000 Osama bin Laden imputed to him a grander calling when he called on pious Muslims to abandon their jobs and families for jihadist training under caliphal aegis in Afghanistan. Thus did Caliph, the sanctified title theoretically borne by the leader of a universal Sunni Muslim state, get tied into international terrorism.

The title carried an uncertain meaning when fighters in Iraq and Syria declared an Islamic State in 2015 and swore fealty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as their Caliph. Were the Caliph's ambitions confined to Syria and Iraq? Or did they encompass all of Islam? After Paris, the world is asking that question.

Conquering the world or destroying Western civilisation is certainly beyond the capability of a small army of radicals concentrated in a land-locked swath of desert. But terrorising people in different countries into believing such a possibility not only brings in recruits, but also puts pressure on Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia to bring the Islamic State to heel.

And that suggests to a broader objective, and the only rational one: To replace the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with a caliphate based in Mecca.

Cleverly, the Islamic State has defanged potential Saudi opposition by targeting Shi'ites, whom Saudis deem heretical. Indeed, IS has reportedly received financial support from anti-Shi'ite individuals and groups—though not governments—throughout the oil-rich Arabian peninsula.

By playing the Shi'ite card, the Islamic State shows its Sunni credentials and buys itself time to consolidate territorial control and organise for a greater objective. And by playing the Caliph card, they challenge Saudi pre-eminence in the Muslim world.

In religious terms, the paramount title of the Saudi king is Servitor of the Two Holy Places (Khadim al-Haramain). Saladin, the storied foe of the Crusaders, first claimed the title in the late 12th century. And ever since, whoever has controlled Mecca and Medina, the two holy places located in modern-day Saudi Arabia, has appeared to millions of pilgrims to be the greatest political leader in Islam. King Faysal adopted the title in the 1970s and it continues today as the title of King Salman.

But the Servitor of the Two Holy Places is less than a caliph. A true caliph must be an Arab descended from the Quraysh tribe of the Prophet Muhammad. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi claims such descent but the Saudis cannot. If King Salman were to fudge matters by assuming the title of Caliph now in response to IS, his subjects would see him as a hypocrite. The historic rivals of the Saud family, the Hashimis, were and are direct descendants of the Prophet and are still honoured as such by pious Muslims, particularly those living around Mecca and Medina.

If IS terrorism forces the West to compel Saudi Arabia into becoming its declared enemy, King Salman will be publicly and militarily allied with the Americans who handed Iraq to the Shi'ites, the Russians who devastated Sunni Chechnya, the Muslim-hating French and British, and, worst of all, the Shi'ite Islamic Republic of Iran.

Such a step would prove the claim of Osama bin Laden that the Saudi royal family is corrupt and hypocritical, despite its superficial support for the most conservative form of Islam, and is actually the enemy of all pious Sunnis.

King Salman faces a difficult choice. Does he do what President Obama, Hillary Clinton and many Republican presidential hopefuls want him to do, namely, lead a Sunni alliance against the Islamic State? Or does he continue to ignore Syria, attack Shi'ites in Yemen, and allow his subjects to volunteer money and lives to the IS caliph's war against Shi'ism?

The former option risks intensifying unrest, possibly fatal unrest, in the Saudi kingdom. The latter contributes to a growing sense in the West that Saudi Arabia is insensitive to the crimes being carried out around the world in the name of Sunni Islam.

Prediction: In five years' time, Saudi Arabia will either help defeat the Islamic State, or become it. - Agence Global

Tag(s) : #Middle East

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