Counter-Terrorism: Reining In Radical Clerics

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June 24, 2012:  Saudi Arabia has been quick to crack down on conservative Saudi clerics who seek to raise money for the rebels in Syria. The monarchy has learned the hard way that their radical clergy, while rarely in open rebellion, are often ready to support, any way they can, organizations like al Qaeda and others who would replace the Saudi monarchy with a religious dictatorship. That's what happened in the 1980s, when the monarchy allowed religious radicals to raise money for the Afghans fighting Russian invaders. This aid led to the formation of al Qaeda, which turned on the Saudi monarchy in the 1990s. Despite that experience, the Saudi government again allowed radical clerics to raise money for beleaguered Moslems in Bosnia. That led to the spread of Islamic terror groups in Europe and elsewhere and provided vital support for the September 11, 2001 attackers. Then came 2003, and the American invasion of Iraq. The Saudi royals were opposed to this, preferring a Sunni Arab to run Iraq, although there was general agreement that Saddam Hussein was not the best man for the job. As the Americans quickly deposed Saddam, the Iraqi Sunni Arabs began a terror campaign against the majority Shia Arabs (who outnumbered the Sunni Arabs three to one). The Saudi government looked the other way as radical Saudi clerics recruited young Saudis to go north and die, often as suicide bombers. The Saudi government did not look the other way as more radical groups in Saudi Arabia tried to overthrow the monarchy. Eventually, the monarchy shut down their local terrorists (largely in self-defense) and the radical clerics who were recruiting for Islamic terror groups in Iraq.

The Saudi royals have always maintained good relations with most of the clergy in the kingdom. These clerics are on the government payroll and the monarchy is generous to those who cooperate. This approach also makes it possible to mobilize the majority of clerics against any radical preachers who get out of line. This has not eliminated Islamic radicals but it has kept them perpetually on the defensive. The Saudi radical clerics see the situation in Syria as an opportunity to raise money and build an Islamic terror organization that could eventually help radical clerics acquire more power at home. The only problem with this scheme is that the Saudi royals also see what is happening and have shut down the clerical efforts to raise money, and volunteers, for Syria. At the same time the Saudi government is supplying the Syrian rebels with cash, guns, and volunteers. The Syrian rebels, who are largely Sunni Arabs, will not do without. But they will get what they need without using radical Saudi clerics as middlemen.

 


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