Jonathan S. Tobin
This week the national press has continued to keep the heat on Saudi Arabia as more details about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi have made it clear that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman probably ordered the killing. The outrageous slaying of Khashoggi, a resident of the United States who wrote for The Washington Post, has focused the world’s attention on the brutal nature of the Saudi regime and, as far as many Americans are concerned, called into question its status as a U.S. ally.
But while the Saudis are being subjected to even greater scrutiny than ever with many in Congress demanding that the United States stop assisting their war against Iranian allies in Yemen, another more insidious force for radicalism has been flying under the radar.
The emirate of Qatar on the coastline of the Persian Gulf has benefited greatly from the limited attention span of Americans, who think that the only threats in that region emanate from Iran, ISIS terrorists or Saudi Arabia. But given Qatar’s determination to spend a lot of its oil wealth on spreading Islamism and funding terror, even while this Gulf state enjoys the status of U.S. ally, it’s high time that the West started paying more attention to the insidious nature of its activities.
A start was made towards that goal with a conference held this week in Washington by the Middle East Forum under the title of “Qatar: U.S. Ally or Strategic Threat.” The daylong event brought together scholars, intelligence professionals, journalists (I moderated one of the panels) and some members of Congress to ponder the extent of Qatar’s reach, as well as what to do about a situation in which it has largely avoided being held accountable for its activities for the simple reason that it is not the Iranians, ISIS or the Saudis.
The answer that came out of the sessions was clear: Qatar is not merely a dangerous source of radical Islam and terror funding, but has also benefited from a successful effort to influence American thought leaders, including some American Jews, convincing some to view it as a force for moderation when in fact, it is anything but that.
The problem starts with the fact that the emirate has almost completely replaced the Saudis as the source of funding for Islamist education around the world. The Saudis are no longer trying to spread its own harsh Wahabi brand of radical Islam in the way they did as recently as a decade ago.
But the same madrassas and mosques that were being influenced by the Saudis are now getting money from Qatar. That wouldn’t be a bad thing if Qatar was pushing a moderate curriculum, but it’s doing just the opposite.
Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the exiled Egyptian cleric who is the chief ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood, is orchestrating all of Qatar’s efforts in spreading Islam. The Brotherhood is one of the chief sources of radical Islam in the region and was responsible for Egypt’s brief period of radical Islamic rule after the fall of the Mubarak regime, as well as serves as the spiritual godfather of the Hamas terrorist movement. Qaradawi is also deeply involved in the Qatar Foundation, an institution supported and sustained by members of the Qatari ruling family that has spread radicalism around the world while masquerading as a charitable group.
But Qatar doesn’t just fund institutions that promote Islamism. It has also been directly funding Hamas’s efforts to slaughter Jews and Israelis. It deserves to be held accountable for those killed by these murderers. Yet it’s clever enough to pose as an intermediary between Hamas and Israel through which its funding can be falsely represented as a gesture towards peace.
Qatar is also deeply involved with the Islamist government of Turkey and that of Iran. Indeed, it has served as Iran’s agent in the Arabian Peninsula—something that has led other nations there to seek to isolate it. And it has been a vital source of foreign currency to Tehran as the Trump administration has sought to tighten the screws on a dangerous regime that is determined to achieve regional hegemony and inch its way towards acquiring nuclear weapons.
But unlike Iran, which is still viewed with distaste even by many who favored President Barack Obama’s policy of appeasement, Qatar has acquired a misleading image as a force for modernity. Qatar controls a global media empire in the form of the Al Jazeera network (and other efforts to influence the press, such as helping to fund Khashoggi’s work), which operates not so much as a news source, but as a powerful agent of influence that undermines efforts to shine a spotlight on the way it supports radical Islam and terror.
The really difficult aspect of dealing with Qatar is that it is so adept at playing a double game with the United States. While serving as a regional clearinghouse for radicalism and funding terror, it also hosts a U.S. airbase. Yet rather than this being a source of U.S. leverage over Qatar, it has become an argument for ignoring the regime’s flaws and crimes.
As former U.S. intelligence expert and current Hudson Institute analyst Michael Pregent noted, the Qatari capital of Doha is the moral equivalent of the bar in the original “Star Wars” movie, where terrorists and bad guys of every variety gather with impunity even though American forces are stationed nearby.
America needs to starts trying to hold Qatar accountable for its bad behavior and make it clear that it will lose the U.S. base if it doesn’t do so. After all, there is plenty of flat land in the Middle East from which planes can take off and land. Even worse, as long as so many Americans allow themselves to have their heads turned by Qatari agents of influence—a term that includes friendly media, paid lobbyists and useful idiots who were impressed by the free trips to the emirate that they received—nothing will change.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @joanthans_tobin.