“War is deceit,” said Muhammad (Bukhari 4.52.268), and Mohammed bin Salman is a knowledgeable and devout believer, but of course even to raise the question of whether Saudi Arabia is trying to deceive the West in order to gain its support against Iran would be “Islamophobic.” Deceive us? Inconceivable!
Nonetheless, in enthusiastically cheerleading for Mohammed bin Salman’s reforms, John Hannah in Foreign Policy inadvertently reveals how cosmetic and minor they are.
He compiles a wish list of what needs to be done, and it’s a serious list: reform hateful Saudi school textbooks, root out Wahhabism in mosques worldwide, and recall Saudi translations of the Qur’an (which are, in fact, not mistranslated, but which contain hair-raising marginal glosses encouraging the book’s martial passages to be seen in the context of modern jihad attacks against Infidels).
If any of that happens, then maybe this Saudi reform is genuine.
But if it does, Mohammed bin Salman will face an uprising from his nation of true believers.
And also, Hannah is correct in saying that “both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama understood that we wouldn’t be able to just kill our way out of the conflict with radical Islamists. Each devoted considerable resources to what’s been called the ‘battle for hearts and minds.’”
However, both falsely claimed that Islam was a religion of peace, and all the resources they poured into this battle for hearts and minds were designed to shame jihadis into laying down their arms by reminding them of how peaceful Islam is.
This effort was wrongheaded from the start, and doomed to failure, because the jihadis generally knew the Qur’an, and knew they weren’t violating its tenets.
The idea that they are is just Western wishful thinking.
“Saudi Arabia Can Win Islam’s War of Ideas,” by John Hannah, Foreign Policy, March 15, 2018:
…Both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama understood that we wouldn’t be able to just kill our way out of the conflict with radical Islamists. Each devoted considerable resources to what’s been called the “battle for hearts and minds.” Whether through programs to promote democracy or counter violent extremism, both administrations made ample efforts to dissuade Muslims around the world from the path of murderous jihad — but to little avail.
What’s consistently been missing from America’s strategy have been powerful partners in the Muslim world who can reliably be counted on to speak out authoritatively on matters of Islamic theology in ways that the United States simply can’t. That’s where Saudi Arabia comes in….
Unfortunately, for decades that power was wielded largely for ill. In an effort to counter the threat of Iran’s 1979 Shiite revolution, and burnish their legitimacy at home with powerful religious conservatives, Saudi rulers plowed billions of dollars annually into spreading the kingdom’s extremely harsh version of Islam — aka Wahhabism — around the world. Saudi funds built mosques and schools on every continent. They trained radical clerics and teachers to staff them. They distributed editions of the Koran and school textbooks heavily skewed toward messages of hatred against anyone — including other Muslims — who failed to toe the line of Wahhabi orthodoxy. In this way, millions of young believers from Mali to Malaysia, from Belgium to Bangladesh, have had their idea of what it means to be a good Muslim insidiously shaped by a narrative that systematically dehumanized the “other” — creating a large pool of potential recruits who inevitably had a heightened susceptibility to the siren song of jihadism.
Enter the enormous promise of Mohammed bin Salman. For months, the crown prince and his closest advisors have relentlessly hammered the theme that Saudi Arabia’s modernization requires an embrace of “moderate Islam.” He’s slammed the extremist ideology that the kingdom did so much to empower after the Iranian revolution and acknowledges that “the problem spread all over the world.” He’s vowed that “now is the time to get rid of it” and declared that “we won’t waste 30 years of our life combating extremist thoughts, we will destroy them now and immediately.”
It’s not just talk, either. At home, the powers of the kingdom’s notorious religious police have been scaled back. Prominent hard-line clerics have been jailed. On the all-important issue of female empowerment, the pace of change has been breathtaking. Women can now open businesses without the approval of a male guardian. They’re being allowed to enter the military for the first time and attend sporting and cultural events. This summer, the ban on women driving will disappear.
Now, the U.S. imperative should be pressing Mohammed bin Salman to take his campaign for moderate Islam on the road. His willingness to “destroy” the monster of global jihadism that the kingdom helped create needs to be turned into a concrete action plan. To their credit, the Saudis have already invested heavily in a center focused on countering extremism in cyberspace. Trump should press to make the ideological battle an institutionalized feature of the U.S.-Saudi dialogue. A bilateral working group should quietly be established to develop a strategy that can be jointly monitored. More than a decade ago, the U.S. Treasury did something similar to help the Saudis get on top of their terror finance problem, and by all accounts the collaboration has produced significant results.
There should be multiple elements to such an effort, but some immediate tasks come to mind. First, school textbooks. The Saudis promised to eliminate the hate-filled passages a decade ago. Progress has slowly been made, but the job’s still not done. Mohammed bin Salman should order it finished — this year. Behind the scenes, U.S. experts should provide verification.
Second, working with trusted partners in indigenous communities known for their religious moderation, the Saudis should conduct a thorough audit of the global network of mosques, schools, and charitable organizations that they’ve backed with an eye toward weeding out radical staff and content.
Third, initiate a worldwide buyback of Saudi-distributed mistranslations of the Quran and other religious materials notorious for propagating extremist narratives.
Article posted with permission from Robert Spencer