Counter-Terrorism: The King Makes A Move

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October 22,2008:  Saudi Arabia, capitalizing on its success in suppressing al Qaeda in the kingdom, has turned to the mosques and universities to halt the spread of Islamic radicalism. This is a big deal, because Saudi Arabia is the most religious state in the Moslem world, and the home of the most sacred shrines. For that reason, Saudis were prominent among the first wave of Islamic terrorists. This was disturbing to the Saudi royalty, as many of these Islamic radicals were calling for the establishment of a religious dictatorship in Arabia, and the destruction of the Saudi monarchy.

Now the government has warned the imams (clerics) of the kingdom's 15,000 mosques that they had best tone down promotion of Islamic radicalism, or else. This is not an idle request, because the kingdom pays for the mosques, and pays the salaries of the imams. The monarchy also decides who can run a mosque, so the threat is real. The government has already removed several of the most rabid Islamic radicals running mosques, and the new rule is that many more will get punished if preaching does not push a softer and gentler version of Islam.

The universities are also held responsible for the spread of radical religious ideas. Until recently, the universities taught a lot of religion, and a disproportionate number of students, and graduates, shunned science for religious studies and non-science degrees. This will change. The Saudi leaders have noted the poor performance Arabs have had in the scientific world. The Saudis plan to change this, by encouraging the study of scientific subjects, and establishing a major new university devoted to science. This new school has a huge budget, and is recruiting top scientific talent from all over the world. In addition to high salaries, the new school will be a self-contained academic environment, where the Saudi religious police, and many of the strict Islamic lifestyle rules, will not be found.

The government is pushing the agenda of the Arab Reform Movement, which encourages Arabs to look within for the causes of their problems, and the source of the solutions. The movement stays away from demanding democracy, and acknowledges that local customs must be respected as much as possible, while changing that culture for the better. This new view of the Arab world does not include the promotion of Islamic terrorism, so the kingdom does not feel politically threatened. By producing thousands of new Arab scientists and engineers, the kingdom, and the reform movement, hopes to make the Arab world economically competitive in a world increasingly dependent on new technology.

The Saudi royal family has long kept the peace by cultivating good relations with key tribes and members of the religious establishment. It was the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, and the violent reaction of al Qaeda inside the kingdom, that finally brought everyone over to the "counter-terrorism" faction in the government. The Saudi monarchy rarely makes a move unless it has the ability to follow through and prevail. So things do not look too good for radical clerics in the kingdom.

 


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