Saudi Arabia, though officially a Sunni Muslim country, is deeply conflicted when it comes to religion and what flows from religion.
It is, first, committed to the strict Wahabbi form of Islam. But even when you say that you have to recognize that there are Wahabbis and then there are Wahabbis. Some are considerably more reasonable and moderate than others. And some, indeed, are committed to the Wahabbi path in name only, as I learned when I visited the country in 2002 and spent time speaking with religious and government leaders, including the man who now is king.
But Saudi Arabia spends considerable money exporting its austere Wahabbism -- or, anyway, a rigid vision of Islam -- to other countries. And some of the people who buy into that vision turn even further from the center of Wahabbism and become violent extremists.
So the religious leaders are wont to promote Wahabbism even while urging people not to become "deviant" in their Islamic theology and practice. That was the term used just the other day by the top religious leader in the country when he urged young people to ignore calls for violent jihad. "Deviant" means al-Qaida type terrorists.
Who are these extremists, the ones we now call Islamists? Well, one of them is a cleric in the United Kingdom, Anjem Choudary, who recently said he endorsed the beheading of American journalist James Foley. This is the kind of outrageous language, belief and behavior that gives Islam a terrible name. This is what the fight for the heart of soul of Islam is all about.
And it's why you find pieces such as this one, which urges the elimination of ISIS, one of the current names for the brutal fanatics who are churning up Syria and Iraq and murdering people like Foley.
There are reformers in Saudi Arabia, but theirs is a difficult lot -- sort of like being a liberal in these days in Kansas, where, as some people like to say, the earth has barely cooled.
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RECRUITING AMERICAN RADICALS
What is radicalizing some American youth to the point that they want to join ISIS and fight in Syria and elsewhere? Authorities are working hard to find out. It might help them to read this piece in The Economist, which offers some answers, and this Associated Press article, which talks about two Minnesota high school classmates who wound up dying as Islamist fighters. And the sooner they do the sooner they can adopt ways to stop this. But it would help to have everyone's cooperation, including the big majority of American Muslims who are appalled by this misuse of Islam.