Influence is an art. It is a dance of subtlety and force. A moving of the mind and a journey of the heart. It is difficult enough to master at an individual level; so how can one possibly master it at a geopolitical level?
Yet, influence is the invisible hand in geopolitics. Hard to quantify and in constant flux, some countries wield it with brute might, while other countries seduce their counterparts into submission.
Qatar may be the per square mile most influential nation in the world. This little, lavish country has mastered the painting of perceptions through the art of influence. And more than that, Qatar has turned its art into action.
The tiny Qatari peninsula juts out of a much larger Arabian landmass into some of the most natural gas-rich areas on the planet. It is this gas that gives breath to Qatar’s mighty ambitions. Ruled by the House of Thani, Qatar has for years been in the shadow of its neighbors. That is until it discovered an island – Al Jazeera.
Al Jazeera (literally translating into “The Island” referring to the Arabian peninsula as a whole) was founded by the Qatari government and sponsored by Qatari royalty. It gave refuge to an exodus of journalists from the recently canceled BBC Arabic, which had closed due to Saudi pressure over BBC’s coverage of Sharia executions. In a region traditionally used to the iron grip over information flow, Al Jazeera sought to bring light to the stories of the Arab peoples. This is something that would irk many of Qatar’s neighbors over the years (even leading to a failed embargo by the Saudis and Emiratis) as Al Jazeera would grow not only in the Middle East but also beyond it.
This is the Way
Within a couple of decades of Al Jazeera’s birth, it has grown into a behemoth. It now has multiple channels in multiple languages for multiple peoples across the world. AJ+ posts highly inflammatory social media content that lights millennials’ and Gen Z’s feeds on fire. Al Jazeera English produces beautifully informative material that is an apex of presentation and persuasion, while Al Jazeera’s native Arabic channel bellows both Islamism and democracy through the airwaves to change the tides of nations. Al Jazeera’s role in the Arab Spring has become a tale of journalism’s impact across the world. Indeed, Al Jazeera’s journalistic ethos itself has become highly lauded internationally.
But how exactly is Al Jazeera so effective?
Let’s start with the basics:
- Aesthetics is the Emir – Al Jazeera uses beautiful graphics, cinematography, and eye-catching presentation to bring the halo effect into content creation.
- Turning Gas Into Cash – Natural gas reserves bankroll the operation ensuring that the bells of propaganda keep ringing and “experts” keep speaking in the right tongues.
- 80/20 Coverage – By using a rough 80/20 Pareto to concentrate 80% of their coverage playing to their biases while having 20% dedicated to lip serviced self-flagellation, the aura of neutrality is established.
One could create a university level course on Al-Jazeera’s psychology of influence, but for now let’s settle with these basics.
Qatar has also massively invested in “experts” to host at their media houses by cultivating extensive “assets” in academia, think tanks, lobbying, and other journalists. With this array of figures and institutions, Qatar sets up a powerful feedback loop. By essentially buying the voices of prominent academics and policy analysts, Qatar brings them on their media channels as field experts, direct a chosen agenda to the lay watcher, and thereupon proliferate their ideological and political goals across the world. With voting sympathies strengthened, Qatari lobbyists transform politics into policy. The House of Thani finally arrives in your house of parliament.
But what are Qatar’s goals and the ideology that drives them? Enter Islamism.
Islamism is a nebulous idea. But for our Qatari purposes today, Islamism is the belief that a nation should derive laws, culture, and policy from a Salafi or hardline interpretation of the Quran and Hadiths. One of its most prominent and shadowy proponents is the Muslim Brotherhood.
In the 1920s, Hassan al-Banna, an Egyptian Imam, founded the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood sought to transcend national and ethnic differences to unite the Muslim world under a stringent and conservative version of Islam. This Islamic concept of ummah or unity between Muslims was central to its belief. And from this populism also arose a fervor for democracy. Indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood would violently oppose British rule in the past and is very pro-democracy in the present, with it playing a pivotal role in the Arab Spring protests.
The Brotherhood grew with time, extending its family across Egypt first and then the entire Islamic World. During this growth, the Muslim Brotherhood learned the game of politics, persuasion, and people.
You see, the Muslim Brotherhood understood the numbers game of democracy and the alphabet soup of influence. It made sure to set up charities to project a friendly face yet covertly fund terror against its foes. In many ways, the Muslim Brotherhood “supports” several ideals that an average liberal finds palatable, but its intention and end goals differ greatly. Let’s take a sample view of its positions:
- Pro-Democracy – Influence peddling, clerics, and politicians create voting blocks of conservative Muslims in countries that vote Brotherhood approved parties to power. After which, pro-Sharia majoritarian policies are enacted and dissenters decimated. But hey, it’s democracy.
- Charity – Various NGOs and charities are either set up or have not so hidden links to the Brotherhood. Some cash is used to help people, others is to fund terror. But the Brotherhood sees it all as equal service to God.
- Minority Rights – The Brotherhood stands up for minority rights in countries that may be seen as “unfriendly” (USA, Europe, India, etc…). However, the Brotherhood doesn’t solely focus on Muslims; it seeks to create coalitions with other minorities to enact policies that further its agenda and uses copy+paste rhetoric that would make a sophomore sociology major at Berkeley or JNU proud. AJ+ promotes Black Lives Matter abroad while Qatar promotes slavery of Africans and South Asians back home.
- Anti-Nationalism – The ummah bests boundaries. Notions of ethnocentrism, regionalism, and especially ethnic nationalism damage the unity of Muslims in the eyes of the Brotherhood. Its goal is a movement that transcends nation-states and is very much globalized. As long as that globe is Islamized.
The Brotherhood would slowly but surely build an arsenal of lobbyists across the world with powerful connections in the Islamic world and nowadays even beyond it. One of its prime benefactors was the House of Thani in Qatar.
With the slick and much-lauded Al-Jazeera now in fore, the Brotherhood had a powerful mouthpiece. The Arab Spring produced parties loyal to the Brotherhood winning elections and controlled various countries across the Middle East and North Africa. The image of an Islamist as a ragged, rabid, never shaven brown man gives way to a new edition, bankrolled into a smart navy blazer, suave British accent, and Oxford rhetoric to match. An enabler. An adjacent. An influencer.
Today, countries like Qatar and Turkey enact the Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda, while it works in the shadows elsewhere.
From observation comes perception. From perception comes belief. From belief comes desire. From desire comes action. Add consistency to this movement, and the cycle of change commences. Qatar turns the wheel of extremism to drive terrorism.
Ties to Hamas, the Taliban, al-Shabaab, other terror organizations show how the Qatari fingerprint is often found on the hands of terror. The state has mainstreamed extremism; not just by hosting meet and greets with the Taliban or laundering money to terrorists, but also by way of providing an eloquent suit and tie to radical views through al-Jazeera. Qatar is a minaret in the Islamic world; Al-Jazeera is the muezzin. And its call to prayer is instead a call to extremism. There is a reason that 47.6% of Qatari ISIS-related posts in 2013 had a positive tilt towards the terror organization, the highest rate in the world.
One of the most reprehensible examples in Qatar’s catalog of terror funding is its record in Iraq and Syria. You know where this is leading – the apex of extremism: ISIS and al-Qaeda. Reports show that Qatar has funneled millions to al-Qaeda’s Iraqi branch (al-Nusra), ISIS, and various other affiliates such as al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent, and Lashkar-e-Taiba, the outfit responsible for the horrific 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Ironically, the prime victim of Qatar’s Islamist fetish has been Muslims themselves as we’ve seen Iraq and Syria implode over the last several years.
However, Qatar also doesn’t let its Sunni affinity get in the way of the ummah. It has cultivated strong links with Shia Iran, which has severely soured its relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The fact that the Saudis and Emiratis marked the Muslim Brotherhood as a terror organization hasn’t sweetened ties either. This is a strange yet curiously steady relationship as Iran supports many of the Shia militants and regimes who clash directly with Qatar funded Sunni terror organizations. But Qatar understands the importance of a diverse portfolio and hedging one’s investments, whether financial or terror-related.
Qatar has cultivated a breed of soothsayers and experts to narrate its grand Islamist narrative. Oil fuels the journey of radical gulf clerics to far off lands and cooks the lobbyist’s posh dinner to feed Islamist causes. Islamists revel in the West’s regime change wars aimed at “spreading democracy” as the chaotic fallout provides the perfect shelter for extremism’s expansion.
Qatar and Islamism’s future will depend on petroleum prices and the acceptance of Islamism – whether by voters in Islamic countries or Left parties that continue to either turn a blind eye or see eye to eye with Islamist causes.
The sultanate has taken advantage of recent turbulence to double down on its dominance in the natural gas market in addition to its persistent efforts to diversify its economy; efforts which have shown success in buoying the country past the recent Saudi-UAE led economic blockade. Qatar’s economic base looks to provide a strong foundation for the tower of Islamism.
While the Brotherhood pushes its agenda through Al-Jazeera, TRT, and other media avenues, it has dug into policy peddling through cultivating ties with organizations such as CAIR, Jamaat-E-Islami, and various other NGOs. Qatar’s mission is going pretty well.
But how to stop this persistent spread of extremism? Can democracy work properly in countries where the majority is radicalized or should these countries be condemned to live under the heel of the “lesser evil” dictators? The plain reply is to reduce the violent, terrorist spawning interventionism in the Middle East and economic maneuvering versus Qatar. But a more subtle answer lies in the war over myth.
Down the Arabian coastline lies Qatar’s nemesis – the United Arab Emirates. It is in Mohammed bin Zayed’s pluralistic and tolerant vision of Islam that may prove the bulwark against Qatar’s bigotry. The UAE has put much effort into creating a diverse and fairly religiously tolerant country in the middle of the Persian Gulf, a hotspot of Islamism. In an unprecedented move, the UAE even donated land to build a traditional and massive stone Hindu temple in its capital emirate, Abu Dhabi. It is the Emirati myth that must be supported and exported internationally to combat Qatar and save the Islamic world from its current spiral into hatred and decay.