The Corner

I Was a Teenage Wahhabi

We’ve been hearing plenty about how the Saudi regime is cracking down on the religious extremists who have made their squalid and savage little ‘kingdom’ a byword for cruelty, ignorance and terror. It’s a story that I want to believe, but reading this piece in today’s New York Times by someone, who is, quite clearly, a truly brave individual, Saudi journalist Mansour al-Nogaidan, I’m not sure that I can:

“We cannot solve the terrorism problem as long as it is endemic to our educational and religious institutions.

“Yet the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs have now established a committee to hunt down teachers who are suspected of being liberal-minded. This committee, which has the right to expel and punish any teacher who does not espouse hard-core Wahhabism, last week interrogated a teacher, found him “guilty” of an interest in philosophy and put on probation.

“During the holy fasting month of Ramadan, imams around the country stepped up their hate speech against liberals, advocates of women’s rights, secularists, Christians and Jews — and many encouraged their congregations to do the same. I heard no sermons criticizing the people responsible for the attacks in Riyadh, in which innocent civilians and children were killed. The reason, I believe, is that these religious leaders sympathize with the criminals rather than the victims.

“I cannot but wonder at our officials and pundits who continue to claim that Saudi society loves other nations and wishes them peace, when state-sponsored preachers in some of our largest mosques continue to curse and call for the destruction of all non-Muslims.”

He’s right. To be sure, it is true that the Saudi authorities have been taking some steps against local terrorists, but it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that, in so doing, they are best compared with the arsonist who dials 911 after the fire he lit starts blazing too close to home.


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