A Saudi Speaks Out

Mansour al-Nogaidan has a critical editorial on the repression in Saudi Arabia. He describes in some detail the kind of Wahhabist extremism that is taught in Saudi madrassas and exported across the world.

It is clear that Saudi Arabia is one of the linchpins of terrorism, and eventually the House of Saud will have to reform from within or be swept away directly or indirectly. Hopefully these changes will come from within, as a direct attack on Saudi Arabia would be seen by many in the Arab world as a direct attack against some of the holiest places in Islam. Images of US soldiers in Mecca would be even more difficult than images of US soldiers in the Shi’ite holy city of Karbala.

However, al-Nogaidan does offer some hope of reform:

But we must be aware that this religious extremism, which has been indoctrinated in several Saudi generations, will be very difficult to defeat. I know because I once espoused it. For 11 years, from the age of 16, I was a Wahhabi extremist. With like-minded companions I set fire to video stores selling Western movies and even burned down a charitable society for widows and orphans in our village because we were convinced it would lead to the liberation of women.

Then, during my second two-year stint in jail, my sister brought me books, and alone in my cell I was introduced to liberal Muslim philosophers. It was with wrenching disbelief that I came to realize that Islam was not only Wahhabism, and that other forms preached love and tolerance. To rid myself of the pain of that discovery I started writing against Wahhabism, achieving some peace and atonement for my past ignorance and violence.

And that is what Saudi Arabia, as a nation, also needs: a rebirth. We need to embrace the pain of it and learn how to accept change. We need patience and the ability to withstand the consequences of our crimes over the past two decades. Only when we see ourselves the way the rest of the world sees us — a nation that spawns terrorists — and think about why that is and what it means will we be able to take the first step toward correcting that image and eradicating its roots.

The US is now working to free Iraq, a process which will have a domino effect throughout the region once it is clear that the specter of terrorism will not dissuade us from action. Yet more needs to be done – as Secretary Rumsfeld notices, the madrassas will only continue to create more terrorists unless they are countered. Countering the influence of Wahhabi radicals is absolutely critical to winning the war on terrorism – which is why the United States must act to support Islamic moderates like al-Nogaidan and others to help spread a more moderate version of Islam that does not condemn its followers into a lifestyle more fitting for the fourteenth century rather than the twenty-first.

One thought on “A Saudi Speaks Out

  1. Thank you, Jay. Couldn’t agree more about the need to confront Saudi extremism. I think the “domino effect’ might be a bit optimistic, but the overall point of the post is spot-on.

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