A new report raised questions over the Saudi Arabia’s role in fueling the global extremism across the world.
Scott Shane wrote in the New York Times that it has become a commonplace to think that “Saudi Arabia’s export of the rigid, bigoted, patriarchal, fundamentalist strain of Islam known as Wahhabism has fuelled global extremism and contributed to terrorism.”
Shane quoted William McCants, a Brookings Institution scholar, as saying: ” In the realm of extremist Islam, the Saudis are “both the arsonists and the firefighters”.
“They promote a very toxic form of Islam that draws sharp lines between a small number of true believers and everyone else, Muslim and non-Muslim,” McCants said.
Yet at the same time, “they’re our partners in counterterrorism”, said McCants, one of three dozen academics, government officials and experts on Islam from multiple countries interviewed for this article.
Thomas Hegghammer, a Norwegian terrorism expert who has advised the US government, said the most important effect of Saudi proselytizing might have been to slow the evolution of Islam, blocking its natural accommodation to a diverse and globalised world.
“If there was going to be an Islamic reformation in the 20th century, the Saudis probably prevented it by pumping out literalism,” Hegghammer said.
The reach of the Saudis has been stunning, touching nearly every country with a Muslim population. Support has come from the Saudi government; the royal family; Saudi charities; and Saudi-sponsored organizations including the World Muslim League, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth and the International Islamic Relief Organisation, providing the hardware of impressive edifices and the software of preaching and teaching, Shane said in his report.
For a small minority in many countries, the exclusionary Saudi version of Sunni Islam, with its denigration of Jews and Christians, as well as of Muslims of Shiite, Sufi and other traditions, may have made some people vulnerable to the lure of al-Qaeda, ISIL and other violent Takfiri groups, the report noted.
“There’s only so much dehumanizing of the other that you can be exposed to – and exposed to as the word of God – without becoming susceptible to recruitment,” said David Andrew Weinberg, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington who tracks Saudi influence.