February 11, 2005


Saudis grapple with terrorism (Ehsan Ahrari, 2/12/05, Asia Times)

Saudi Arabia recently held a summit on countering terrorism. Considering that it has long denied that such a threat even existed, holding the summit was indeed a major development. Two other factors seem to have motivated the Saudi rulers. First, in the wake of several al-Qaeda attacks inside the kingdom, it appears that a consensus has been developed within the inner sanctum of the Saudi family that something needs to be done for the very survival of the regime. [...]

The Saudi government should realize that its chief problem stems from its closeness, its secretive nature, and its very approach to governance that exclusively relies on dynastic rule. Democracies have no problem debating about problems that ail them - no matter how serious - and then developing corrective policy measures. Close societies, on the contrary, silently suffer from major problems until the political system implodes. Such may be the fate of Saudi Arabia.

What the Saudi government needs to do is to systematically chip away at the Wahhabi version of Islamic puritanism that insists on maintaining the notion of monolithism - only their version of it - that is alien to Islam. Consequently, believers in such a monolithic notion have argued that any deviation from that particular interpretation is heretic, thus a cause for the elimination of all heretics. As a religion that is intended to be relevant until the end of time, Islam never meant to be monolithic, highly static, inward looking, or obscurantist. Doing away with the Wahhabi monolithic frame of reference means that the Saudi government will have to find an entirely new framework for its legitimacy, which, in turn, is likely to shake up the very foundation its polity. Is the monarchy up for such an iconoclastic task? Looking at its past record, there is little reason to be sanguine about it. The alternative might be the gradual opening of the Saudi polity through public debates on various controversial aspects of the Wahhabi school. Even when it is managed, such an approach is still potentially explosive. In the absence of such a radical approach, no Saudi government will be able to counter terrorism, much less develop an effective counterterrorism strategy.

The ulimate irony of 9-11 is that it doomed Islamicism, which we'd otherwise not have intervened to stop even from toppling the Kingdom.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 11, 2005 8:23 AM
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