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Foreign Extremists Blamed For Inspiring Saudis To Join IS


A Saudi writer claims that many men from his country are being radicalized by foreign extremists. (file photo)

A Saudi writer claims that many men from his country are being radicalized by foreign extremists. (file photo)

A Saudi writer has criticized what he said has been Saudi Arabia's policy of allowing Salafist thinkers from the Muslim Brotherhood to come to the Gulf state, which he believes has led to the radicalization of young Saudis, some of whom have joined the Islamic State (IS) group.

In an op-ed in the "Al-Madina" newspaper, which has been widely circulated among other Arabic sites, Saudi writer Qaisar Hamid Metawea said that Saudi Arabia had even hosted many of "the disciples of Sayyid Qutb," the Egyptian Islamist Muslim Brotherhood thinker who was executed in 1966 for being part of a conspiracy to assassinate the then Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Qutb's brother Mohammad once taught at a Saudi university, Metawea claimed.

Metawea tries to make the case that Saudi Arabia's extremist problem comes from external elements (and by extension, therefore, cannot be a problem of local culture). He argues that, while there have been some "extremist Saudi teachers," the bulk of the proponents of radical Salafist Islamist ideology were non-Saudis who came to live and work in the kingdom.

These foreign Islamist thinkers had helped draft the Gulf state's education syllabuses, Metawea argued.

According to Metawea, where Saudi Arabia has erred is in its policy to continue to recruit such foreign extremists, who are responsible for radicalizing young Saudis, and pushing them to join IS.

"We open our doors for them to come and propagate their devious thinking and fill the minds of our young people with their extremist ideology," he writes.

Metawea uses the example of a recent scandal involving a young Syrian academic, Dr. Eman Mustafa al-Bogha, who last month left her job teaching jurisprudence and Islamic economics at the University of Dammam to join IS. Bogha had reportedly been known for publishing pro-IS extremist comments on Facebook and Twitter, and used the latter to announce her loyalty to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

"We shouldn't be surprised if we find out that some of her female students listened to her, and even if they don't join her in jihad, they will surely sympathize with her and that is tragic," writes Metawea.

Metawea's solution is simple: he argues that Saudi Arabia need not amend the content of its educational syllabuses, but it should "be careful in its choice of teachers, especially those recruited from foreign countries."

The Saudi writer does acknowledge that some of Saudi Arabia's problems with extremist Islam are homegrown, however.

"There is no lack of IS terrorists in our country so we don't need to bring them from abroad," he concludes.

Metawea's blaming of foreigners for the growth of pro-Islamic State ideology on its soil reflects sensitivity to critics of the Gulf state, who have said that the extremist ideology of IS has stemmed from Saudi Arabia's ultraconservative brand of Wahhabi Islam.

His references to the Egyptian-founded Muslim Brotherhood (banned in Saudi Arabia) and Egyptian thinker Sayyid Qutb are part of a trend within the Gulf state to argue that the Muslim Brotherhood is at the roots of IS ideology and not Wahhabism.

As the "Financial Times" (FT) reported in September, other Saudi columnists have offered similar views. The FT quotes Abdullah bin Bijad al-Otaibi of the pan-Arab daily "Asharq Al-Awsat," who argued that the Muslim Brotherhood and Sayyid Qutub's writings inspired IS as well as violent groups in Egypt that predated Al-Qaeda.

Some Western scholars have disagreed with this argument, however.

Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, told "The New York Times" that IS's ideology is "a kind of untamed Wahhabism....Wahhabism is the closest religious cognate."

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena

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