Saudi Gazette runs a brief piece noting that the Ministry of Islamic Affairs has said they’ve identified 100 problematic imams (out of a total of 15,000 in the Kingdom) who exhibit extremist tendencies. These imams are being given a chance to get with the program of condemning extremism or find themselves out of work.
RIYADH — The Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance has identified about 100 mosque imams out of 15,000 with extremist tendencies. He said the imams are currently being rehabilitated but will be dismissed if they do not repent, the ministry’s undersecretary for mosque affairs Tawfiq Al-Sudairy announced. He said the ministry is closely monitoring the performance of all imams and their Friday sermons. The undersecretary said following the terrorist attack against a police checkpoint in Sharoorah in Ramadan, the ministry asked all mosque imams to denounce the incident and to criticize any anti-Islamic ideologies. “The response of the imams was excellent. Those who did not implement the ministry’s instructions were given another opportunity to do so,” he said. Al-Sudairy warned that any imam who conveys any extremist ideas in his sermon would be sacked.
Over the past several years, relations between Saudi Arabia and the US have become strained. The Saudis have not appreciated the American approach toward dealing with Iran, nor did they think much of the weak response from Washington to the atrocities committed by the Syrian government. The Saudis made their displeasure clear.
Now, argues Fahd Nazer in an article for “Foreign Affairs,” things may be getting back to normal. The catalyst is ISIS and the threat it represents to not just Saudi Arabia, but to the region as a whole. Recognizing a common enemy, however, is not sufficient to form new bonds or to reinforce older ones. The actions taken by both the US and Saudi Arabia will be watched closely by the other. Walking the walk is more important than talking the talk.
Making Amends in Saudi Arabia
The United States and Saudi Arabia — one, the world’s preeminent liberal democracy; the other, a conservative monarchy that declares the Koran to be its constitution — have never been the most natural allies. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that the relationship has had its ups and downs. It reached an apex in 1991, when Saudis fought alongside U.S. troops to reverse Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait, only to hit a nadir a decade later, when 15 Saudis participated in the devastating terrorist attacks in New York and Washington organized by al Qaeda. Since then, the Saudi government has become more suspicious of U.S. foreign policy, bristling at the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the encouragement of pro-democracy protests during the Arab Spring, and the ongoing attempt to strike a nuclear deal with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival.
But the sudden rise of the brutal militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS, also known as the Islamic State) could change all that. Riyadh and Washington have both recognized that ISIS poses a serious threat to Middle Eastern security and stability. By working together against the group, they might shore up the region — and their relationship. But much will depend on the Obama administration’s ability to articulate a clear long-term strategy for the Middle East — and specifically for the two countries where ISIS rose to prominence.
With the Jeddah coordinating meeting finished in Jeddah, there is a common concern about ISIS and its future in the region. As Asharq Alawsat reports, the US is looking for partners who will play an active role in trying to contain and destroy the extremist group and, so far, it is meeting with some success. Regional states face peril from the group and agree that something must be done about it. This is spelled out in the communique issued following the conference.
What is not spelled out is exactly what each country is to do. All are reluctant to put “boots on the ground” for a variety of their own political reasons.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held a series of meetings with his Arab counterparts in the Saudi city of Jeddah on Thursday to coordination military and other forms of action against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
A joint -Arab communique said the countries agreed, as appropriate, to join in “many aspects” of the military campaign against ISIS.
Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates agreed to “do their share” in the fight against ISIS.
The 10 countries pledged to stop the flow of funds and fighters to ISIS and help rebuild affected communities.
The meetings came hours after President Barack Obama unveiled his strategy to counter the militant group, which has occupied swathes of land in Iraq and Syria.
Asharq Alawsat reports on some of the reasons for Arab hesitation, or at least the lack of full-blooded eagerness to get militarily involved in dealing with ISIS. It also notes Turkey’s reluctance in the face of its nationals being held hostage in Iraq:
A significant problem seems to be that large parts of their populations approve of the group’s ends while remaining silent about their means. Once again, the intolerance taught in regional schools, madrassas, and mosques is rearing its head and threatening the stability of regimes and the region.
Syrian writer Ghassan Al Imam has an interesting opinion piece in Asharq Alawsat. He’s right, but for the wrong reasons.
Al Imam rattles on about the pipe dream of “Arab unity.” There has not been Arab unity since the first century Hijra, when the Battle of Karbala defined the first major split among Arabs and Muslims. The idea has its philosophical charms, but has been disproved in reality for over a millennium. Dreams have a value of their own, of course, but they rarely convert into useful plans of action.
What is not a dream is that by declaring itself the new Caliphate, ISIS has led to a sort of unification among the Arab states, if not precisely among Arabs. Arabs, after all, are engaged on all sides of a multifaceted conflict.
Al Imam is correct in noting that Arab audiences are ill-prepared to deal with ISIS propaganda. This is the fault of those Arab states. Each, for its own reasons, spent the bulk of the 20th C. in trying to create one “truth” for its citizens. Controlling media; controlling what could and could not be taught in schools; forcing particularized interpretations of history in the service of the state have all led to ignorance and confusion among Arabs. Intolerance of religious differences and political differences has led to people’s now finding conflict between what they’d been assured was true and what the actual world shows them to be true.
It’s not too late for the states of the region to break with the past and start promoting the value of tolerance to different views. Arab unity cannot be forced upon the citizens of 20-odd countries. But a common core of values — especially the adoption of toleration of differences — can arise, if and only if the governments permit it. These states, including Saudi Arabia, need to squelch the promotion of sectarian differences that they themselves promote.
Opinion: ISIS and Arab Unity
Ghassan Al Imam
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claims to have achieved in a few months what other projects seeking Arab unity have failed to do since Mustafa Kamal Atatürk abolished the Ottoman Islamic caliphate in 1924. In a blink of an eye, ISIS has called on 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide to move to the new “land of Islam” after they have “purged” it from Shi’ites, Christians and Yazidis, and beheaded journalists and slaughtered “crusaders.”
ISIS has called for divine governance and has taken it upon itself to ensure it is applied. It has imposed the burdens of allegiance, obedience and absolute loyalty on people in territory under its control. Without dialogue, institutions, or political parties, silence has descended on the “Islamic State.” The “caliphate” denies the need for politics, culture, or freedom.
It has modified school curricula and banned the teaching of the humanities, physical education and music. It has shut down girls’ schools and banned women from working or traveling, lest it distracts them from their domestic chores. It urges believers to receive the afterlife with satisfaction and joy, following the gloom of their temporary abode in this world.
ISIS has abolished the colonial borders between Arab countries, and declared “jihad.” It has killed more Muslim civilians than Westerners and slaughtered captured soldiers. It has arrested people from all religions and creeds. Its actions have provoked the world against it, with religious and sectarian wars breaking out on our lands.
This view of ISIS which I have just given is not mine. It is a summary of the propaganda the group itself broadcasts extensively via electronic media to reach broad segments of Arab society, given that the Arab media is reeling under ever-stricter censorship.
Asharq Alawsat reports on the meeting to be held tomorrow in Jeddah that will bring together regional representatives (along with US Secretary of State Kerry) to discuss how to deal with groups like ISIS.
There have been a lot of meetings of late discussing this issue. The Arab League recently conducted its own. Saudi King Abdullah has enlisted the entirety of his government in condemning and, in some cases, jailing supporters of extremist groups. But much is left to be done.
The problem lies in definitions. What one country or government may see as extremist, another may see as simply “the opposition.” Getting everyone in the region on the same page, working from the same definitions, ought to help. But if “extremist” is going to be used to round up any and everyone who has political views not in accord with those of his government, more problems will ensue, including the loss of support by others who need to be working together.
Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia is set to host a special regional meeting in Jeddah to discuss the issue of terrorism on Thursday, the state-owned Saudi Press Agency (SPA) has announced.
The meeting will be attended by representatives of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Egypt, Jordan and Turkey, as well as officials from the US. The meeting will discuss the issue of terrorism in the region, extremist organizations and their ideology, and ways of combating them.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavu?o?lu is currently on a tour of Gulf states and will attend the regional meeting in Jeddah, along with other regional foreign ministers. US Security of State John Kerry is traveling to Saudi Arabia and neighboring Jordan this week to discuss the latest regional developments, including the new Iraqi government and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and is also expected to attend the Jeddah meeting.
The announcement comes one day after Riyadh backed an Arab League resolution emphasizing the need to take quick measures to crush ISIS and other regional terrorist organizations.
…The [Saudi] cabinet called for Arab states to “take the necessary measures to maintain Arab security, [and] confront all terrorist and extremist organization … at all political, security, defense, judicial, media and intellectual levels,” according to the SPA.
Al Arabiya TV reports that Saudi Arabia is launching a new project to improve border security. The issue of border security is important for the Saudis not only because of groups like ISIS at their gates, but also due to the current porosity of its long borders with Yemen, Iraq, Jordan, and both sea coasts. Illegal immigration, the smuggling of arms, drugs, and even cattle have proved problematic for the country. Improved border security should help address the problems, but is unlikely to solve them.
Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, in the presence of Bahraini King Hamad bin Issa, inaugurated on Friday the first phase of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ project for border security.
The border security project includes 3,397 trainees, 60 trainers to supervise operations, eight command and control centers, 32 interrogation centers, three rapid response units as well as 38 back and front gates with surveillance cameras.
The project includes 78 communication and surveillance towers, 38 of the former and 40 of the latter, and is equipped with 85 surveillance posts, 50 day-and-night surveillance cameras, 10 monitoring and surveillance vehicles, a 1.4-million meter fiber optics networks, 50 radars, five 900 kilometer security fences, in addition to other barriers that have helped drop the number of infiltrators, drug traffickers, as well as arms and cattle smugglers to zero.
An interesting paper (5-page PDF) on how ISIS, Al-Qaeda and its spin-offs, and other extremist groups make use of social media to promote their messages and to recruit new members. The report is from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism.
The innovative ways that foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq are leveraging social media and mobile apps to recruit aspirational supporters in the West reveal what is actually a paradigm shift occurring within the global jihadist movement, away from the organization-centric model advanced by Al-Qaida, to a movement unhindered by organizational structures. Counterterrorism policy and practice must rethink the way it approaches countering online radicalization.
Saudi Arabia has arrested eight men who had been working to recruit young Saudis to join up with ISIS, Al Arabiya TV reports. It might well serve the Saudi government if, when they are tried, it relax its rules about not naming names and fully publicize its efforts to eradicate extremism within the country.
The Saudi interior ministry said Tuesday it detained eight individuals for trying to recruit youth into “extremist groups abroad.” Al Arabiya News channel that the recruits were for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
“Security authorities conducted on Monday an operation that led to the arrest of eight citizens who were involved in recruiting youth to join extremist groups abroad,” an interior ministry statement carried by the country’s Saudi Press Agency said.
Saudi Arabia has taken a tough stance against militant groups in the kingdom and has made arrests of cells with links to extremist elements in different Arab countries.
Asharq Alawsat reports that similar arrests have been made in Jordan:
Jamal Khashoggi has an interesting article translated on today’s Al Arabiya TV website and in Arabic at Al-Hayat newspaper. He takes a look at ISIS and sees it as a “third-generation” takfirist/salfist movement. He sees its origins in Egypt of the 1990s. I’d put it earlier, if not with the 1979 takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, then at least in the 1980s, with the conflict between Muslim Brotherhood associates and the Syrian government in Hama. There, the Syrian government succeeded in (bloodily) suppressing the group. This time around, it’s not being terribly successful.
Khashoggi is right in pointing out that you don’t fix a problem or cure a disease until you have a correct diagnosis and understand the cause. There is far too much refusing to look for, look at, or otherwise identify the causes, but they are known. Treating the symptoms may make things look or feel better for a time, but that does not solve the problem. Nor do $100 million dollar donations to talk about the problem.
How can we defeat ISIS if we don’t understand it?
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been digging its own grave, just as it has irrationally led many to their graves. It did not disappoint all those who followed its rise and predicted the inevitability of its end, as it carried the seeds of its own destruction within itself.
Last year, I published an article entitled “What history teaches us about Syria’s extremists.” At the time, ISIS was emerging in Syria and rebelling against those involved in the revolution. It was like an uninvited guest. I wrote about a story that took place in the Indian continent in the 18th century; the story of a young fighter who became the Emir of Peshawar after the success of the Islamist corrective movement to liberate the city from the rule of the “Maharajah” in just two months.
After the imposition of hardline provisions by the new emir on the tribal population of the region, they rebelled against him and brought back the Sikhs and their army to rule again. They did not rebel against the emir alone but against the whole movement, and its spiritual leader.
Asharq Alawsat runs an interesting piece from the Associated Press on how a campaign of the war with IS is taking place in social media. Social media platforms like Twitter and YouTube are taking down the graphic images of the murder of American journalist James Foley. The platforms do not wish to be engaged — or to be used — as part of IS’s propaganda.
This raises issue itself, however. Not only is there a form of self-censorship going on (not that that is all bad), but publicizing that you will not publicize something is, in fact, publicizing it.
The article notes that IS is far more sophisticated in its use of media than were the Taliban in Afghanistan, who had a visceral dislike of media, particularly electronic media. The current group, perhaps aided by volunteers from the technologically-advanced West, are taking the conflict to new and wider levels.
Beirut, AP—The extremists of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have turned their social media into a theater of horror, broadcasting a stream of battles, bombings and beheadings to a global audience.
The strategy is aimed at terrorizing opponents at home and winning recruits abroad. But there are increasing signs of pushback—both from companies swiftly censoring objectionable content and users determined not to let it go viral.
Public disgust with the group’s callous propaganda tactics was evident following their posting of the beheading video of American journalist James Foley—footage that spread rapidly when it appeared online late Tuesday.
The slickly edited video begins with scenes of Obama explaining his decision to order airstrikes in Iraq, before switching to Foley in an orange jumpsuit kneeling in the desert, a black-clad ISIS fighter by his side.
The fighter who beheads Foley is then seen holding another US journalist, Steven Sotloff, threatening to kill him next. “The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision,” he says.
By Wednesday, many social media users were urging each other not to post the video as a form of protest.
Phillip Smyth, a University of Maryland researcher who tracks the social media activity of jihadists, has noted a modest but noteworthy rise in the speed with which rogue accounts are being removed from Twitter and terror-supporting pages are being pulled from Facebook.
“It’s happening,” he said. “I can tell you first-hand because I look at this stuff every day.”
Saudi Arabia makes its condemnation of the Islamic State complete with a statement from Grand Mufti Sheikh Abudulaziz Aal-Alsheikh. The government has already placed the group on its list of terrorist organizations and has promised to punish those found supporting it. It has followed through on that promise by firing imams and jailing Saudis who return to the country after fighting alongside the group in Syria and Iraq. The country has also warned those who offer support — financial or other — to the extremist group.
Grand Mufti: IS is Islam’s ‘enemy No. 1’
Saudi Gazette report
RIYADH — Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Aal Alsheikh on Tuesday blasted Al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants as “enemy number one” of Islam.
“The ideas of extremism, radicalism and terrorism… have nothing to do with Islam and (their proponents) are the enemy number one of Islam,” the Kingdom’s top scholar said in a statement issued here on Tuesday.
He cited militants from the Islamic State, which has declared a “caliphate” straddling large parts of Iraq and Syria, and the international Al-Qaeda terror network.
“Muslims are the main victims of this extremism, as shown by crimes committed by the so-called Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and groups linked to them,” the grand mufti said, quoting a verse from the Holy Qur’an urging the “killing” of people who do deeds harmful to Islam, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.
Alsheikh’s stance reflects the growing international hostility toward Islamic State militants, known for their brutality.
Asharq Alawsat reports that Saudi Arabia is fully backing a UN resolution that attacks the funding of ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front. The resolution names six individuals to be blacklisted, including two Saudi nationals. Both already appear on Saudi Arabia’s list of “most-wanted” criminals.
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia committed to implementing a UN Security Resolution targeting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Al-Nusra Front on Friday, after the measure blacklisted two Saudi nationals.
Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UN, Abdullah Al-Maulamy, told Asharq Al-Awsat the Kingdom was always in agreement with the “international legitimacy” of the Council and its decrees, and that the latest resolution was being studied closely so that “decisions could be made in light of them.”
The Security Council unanimously adopted a UK-drafted resolution on Friday designed to attack the sources of funding for both groups, blacklisting six individuals believed to be associated with the groups and freezing their assets.
Two of the six individuals, Abdul-Mohsen Abdullah Ibrahim Al-Sharekh and Abdulrahman Mohamed Zafir Al-Dabidi Al-Jahani—both accused of links to the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front group currently active in Syria—were Saudi nationals.