26/04/2013 14:03 BST | Updated 26/06/2013 06:12 BST

How Did Richard Dart Become a Terrorist?


The sentencing of British Muslim convert, Richard Dart, known as Salahuddin, at the Old Bailey for engaging in conduct in preparation of acts of terrorism is a chilling reminder of the extremist threat amongst us. Dart pleaded guilty to plotting to target Royal Wootton Bassett, the Wilshire town where mourners gathered to pay their respects to British troops killed in Afghanistan. Evidence was heard that he was radicalized by British Islamist Anjem Choudary and trained at terrorism camps in Pakistan.

Featured in a documentary made by his half-brother, Dart showed the fanatical belief and unquestioning adherence to his new "family", more typical of cult and gang members. Out of step with their own provincial community, the young British converts shown in the documentary are obviously caught up with the new language, symbols, clothing and rituals and the camaraderie of like-minded "brothers", inspired by the radicalism instead of the religion itself.

Alienated youth in Western and Middle Eastern countries are attracted to the message of violent action and Muslim converts can be dangerous activists if influenced by radical well-funded Islamist movements.

Significant blame lies with the ideological foundation of such groups - which comes in the form of the conservative belief of Wahhabism - the official state doctrine of Saudi Arabia. Though the Saudi government does not explicitly promote terrorism, its official state doctrine of Wahhabism advocates anti-Semitism, misogyny, inter-action with non-Muslims only in cases of necessity and the ex-communication (takfir) of many Muslims who do not subscribe to their extreme interpretation of Islam.

At one point in the documentary Dart refuses to shake hands with his half-brother as he feels he is unclean - this is Wahhabism in its purest form - the de-humanisation of non-Wahhabis. Wahhabism therefore provides the ideological justification for animosity and hatred of wider society laying the perfect foundation for radical preachers to then advocate violence as a religious duty to cleanse the faith of impurities.

Through their embassies and charities, the Saudis have built multi-million dollar mosques and schools and sponsor international students to study in Saudi on full scholarships, sending them back with funding and lifetime jobs as Wahhabi proselytizers to their respective countries. All this whilst the Wahhabis at home continue to demolish and bulldoze all signs of Islamic history from the Arabian Peninsula.

The Wahhabi movement was instigated by the eighteenth century theologian, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (c.1703-1791) who believed that Muslims had strayed from the authentic teachings of Islam. The movement condemned visiting shrines and tombs of saints and Muslims who did not agree with his teachings were excommunicated or killed in an effort to purge Islam from what Wahhab believed to be unsanctioned innovations. Wahhabi military campaigns waged war against moderate Muslims, demolishing Islamic shrines and slaughtering entire villages of Muslims who did not subscribe to his extremist interpretation. This same extreme ideology is behind the present day destruction of shrines and mosques in Libya and the continuing violence against minority and mainstream Muslims all over the world such as the Shia in Pakistan.

Wahhabism would have remained a footnote in history as a puritanical cult movement even after it was adopted as the official state religion, were it not for a single factor - the discovery of oil. The flood of petro-dollars meant that the Saudis could then spend an estimated $ 2 to $3 billion each year promoting the extreme and conservative ideas of religious leaders who in turn helped maintain the Saudi royal family's position of power.

Radicalisation of Muslim youth can no longer be seen as an isolated UK problem when it is funded by wealthy Wahhabis who are continuously supporting groups to further their ideology. It is clear that Wahhabism isn't Islam - it is a cult movement which uses Islamic terminology and has hijacked the religion using Saudi petro-dollars. In the process, they are killing and maiming more Muslims than people of other faiths and are creating deep societal rifts and lasting enmities within their own communities.

Emboldened by anarchy in failed and failing states, funded by petro-dollars and justified by fundamentalist ideology, extremist groups similar to Al Qaeda are seizing the moment and endeavoring to impose Wahhabi ideas wherever possible. It is surely time that Muslims everywhere realized that efforts to police terrorism are futile in the face of this well-funded religious extremism, whose adherents are fighting not only modern democratic ideas but also any signs of liberalism in their own religion.

The Muslim world must pressure Saudi Arabia to change and together or separately they must develop a convincing strategy for reducing Wahhabism and its global influence. Whether Muslims can achieve this or not remains to be seen, but it is certainly time that the relationship undergoes more intense scrutiny and recalibration in the name of Islam.

Dr Azeem Ibrahim is the Executive Chairman of the Scotland Institute and a former International Research Scholar at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and a World Fellow at Yale.