Monday, September 08, 2003

Saudi Arabia: how close to the edge? Inside the Kingdom -- Sep. 15, 2003
This summer, however, hardly a week has gone by in which the kingdom's newspapers haven't carried sensational headlines about the latest police shoot-out with an al-Qaeda cell or the discovery of an illicit stash of arms and explosives. The streets are blocked by police checkpoints. In an unprecedented step, the Interior Ministry has published the names and photos of al-Qaeda suspects at large, appealing to the public to turn them in. Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto ruler, has declared his own war on terrorism. The kingdom's highest religious authority has issued a declaration backing him. Saudi spokesmen claim they have fired hundreds of clerics for being too extreme and are re-educating thousands more in the ways of moderation.

This TIME magazine piece is quite interesting. The struggle in Saudi Arabia may be the most important front in the war on terrorism. It's probably not a coincidence that "Wahhabism" is replacing "Islamic Fundamentalism" in western media commentary. Wahhabism is the state religion of Saudi Arabia ...

Lots of questions ... Is Wahhabism really a more accurate definition of the core problem? I think it may be a better restatement, though doubtless still inaccurate. Can Wahabbism be reformed? I suspect so. Look at the history of Mormonism in the United States, and the transformations that religion has gone through (though also producing extreme Fundamentalist offshoots along the way) -- albeit over about 100 years.

Do we understand Wahhabism and its enemies? I don't think we do. I think Wahhabism is essentially a reaction to secular humanism, and that it shares with many fundamentalist faiths a visceral and powerful reaction to secular life. It is sadly ironic that the the US should be their primary target -- it is the least secular of wealth nations. History is funny that way.

Can Wahabbism be reformed in the next few years, and without a Saudi civil war? Has the way the Bush Administration carried out the Iraq war made it easier or harder to reform Wahhabism?

The last two are the hard questions. Maybe the Republican House shouldn't cut funding for bicycle paths just yet. If there's a Saudi civil war we'll need something besides automobiles.

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