Counterterrorism Efforts in Arabia
By Bill Roggio

An often overlooked theater in the war against al-Qaeda’s global network is right in the heart of the Middle East on the Arabian Peninsula. Saudi Arabia is a troubled ally in the War on Terror, as their internal politics and government support of the radical Wahabi strain of Islam often conflicts with fighting al-Qaeda’s support mechanisms within the country. However their efforts killing or capturing al-Qaeda members in the kingdom cannot be questioned.

Bill Roggio, who writes about terrorism at both Threats Watch and The Fourth Rail, writes here about the success of the Saudi government’s anti-terror efforts, at least when it comes to physical, shooting battles.

Bill is of the opinion that Wahhabism is one of the root causes of Islamist terror. Here, I disagree strongly.

On a purely logical level, if Wahhabism were a sufficient explanation for terror, then the vast majority of Saudis (who are Wahhabis) would also be terrorists. In fact, they are not. At best, Saudi terrorists represent a miniscule fraction of the Saudi population.

The Saudis are not about to abjure Wahhabism–though they don’t particularly like that name. It is a strain of religious belief accepted by the majority for over two hundred years–or 1,400 years, if you accept that it is truly fundamentalist in replicating the religious conditions of the beginning of Islam.

What Bill misses in his report–largely, I suspect, because it is not widely reported in Western media–is the fact that the Saudi government is also addressing the dangers that can come from the intolerance that many Wahhabi preachers peddle.

The Saudi media have been consistently reporting, and Saudi government officials–from the King downward–have been saying is that Saudis need to develop greater tolerance for diferences, including differences in religious interpretation. The widely reported Fifth National Dialogue, for instance, repeatedly raised the issue of greater tolerance within the country being needed.

The government has also been pulling extremist preachers out of the mosques and extremist teachers out of the classroom. It has been reforming its curricula in primary and secondary schools to get rid of the intolerance that has dominated textbooks. It has publicly called for greater tolerance, inclusion, and acceptance of variant forms of Islam.

The problem is not Wahhabism, per se. It is, rather, the extremes to which some preachers, classroom teachers, and others take it. The Saudi populace (as indicated by the Zogby poll reported below) recognizes that terrorism is a major issue. The Saudi government, on its part, has been condemning as un-Islamic extremist behavior, whether it come from jihadis, from the mosque, or in the classroom. It has condemned takfir (the claiming that another is not a Muslim), one of the main arguments that Usama bin Laden uses to justify attacks on other Muslims. It has also worked to bring Saudi Shi’a into the political world, though the extent of that effort appears somewhat limited.

The War on Terror is being fought with guns, as Bill notes. But it is also being fought with words and more peaceful deeds. The Saudis are effectively working to change the hearts and minds of the Saudi people. This will have a far longer-term effect than bullets.

[This post is also linked at Outside the Beltway.)


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