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Saudi Arabia Moderating?

"Saudi officials refuse to accept that Wahhabism, the extreme form of Islam which has dominated the kingdom for 70 years, provides a theological justification for terrorism by preaching the absolute renunciation of all non-Muslims. None the less, in the past year, the government has barred a thousand clerics from teaching, in the first concerted move to foster a more tolerant brand of Islam." This case is made by Lindsey Hilsum in the New Statesman.

Saudi Arabia's government is finally making moves to "re-educate" Islamic extremists - but a new generation of jihadis is ready to take their place.

If true and actually embraced by Saudi Arabia's leadership, then this is the first truly positive development in the ongoing Global Jihad that gives hope that America may not have to fight alone, if at all. The generational change needed in order to defeat the extremist ideology has not necessarily begun in full. The influential Sauid clerics take their teachings beyond the Kingdom, but have not yet done so. Islam moves slowly and deliberately - how long has it taken the extremists to sell their version of Islam? How much violence has it taken to remove western criticism? How much peace will it take to remove the violence?

Moderate imams have been deployed to enter the chatrooms of radical jihadi websites and persuade extremists that their ideology is wrong, as part of a campaign called al-Sakinah (Tranquillity). Yet according to Khaled al-Maeena, editor of the English-language newspaper Arab News, roughly 30 to 40 per cent of the Saudi population resists change, and conservative clerics still wield influence. "It's a cultural thing," he said. "And it's about power. They're a hydra-headed monster. They control education, the pulpit and the media. Until now, the government turned a blind eye, but 9/11 and the attacks in Riyadh gave them a cudgel."

And Hilsum goes on with more.

About 500 Saudi men are believed to have gone to fight in Iraq, and some fear that they could become like the generation of fighters who returned from the war in Afghanistan, reintroducing extremism to the kingdom. Such fears are the basis for what reformers regard as an excuse for delaying liberalisation. "If the reform is perceived as being in line with Islam, then it will be helpful in the fight against terrorism," says General Mansur. "But if it's seen as competing with Islam, you never know - it could encourage the extremists to do something again."

Hope comes at a cost. The price is of those who have learned terrorism to resist democratic change - the bin Laden's who fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan and the al Zarqawi's who fought against democracy in Iraq could form the basis of future efforts for world peace, but only if their cause is successful and only if they escape Iraq. That's one reason why our mission in Iraq is not only to support the democratic process, but to hunt down and neutralize (either capture or kill) any foreign terrorist plying his trade in Iraq. The two goals are mutually supporting. Although the real victory will not be seen for many years to come, when it is realized, it will be looked back upon as Reagan's victory over the Soviets in the Cold War has been.

1 Comment

I do see the reforms as both real and extensive. I've been blogging about them as Crossroads Arabia for the past several years, based on my experience there with the US Embassy in 1981-83 and 2001-03.