COMMENT: What a shame! Najib Razak is unable to debate Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. At 92, the former Prime Minister is still a formidable debater. And it is also clear to me that Najib is scared of his own of his own shadow. If so, he cannot be helped. He is wasting money engaging these thugs to disrupt the public forum (ceramah).
Najib Razak cannot run away from the facts which are already known to us Malaysians and the international community, that is, he is a very corrupt politician, a liar and an incompetent Prime Minister of Malaysia.
Today’s fracas is nothing but an act of political desperation. It will not dissuade Malaysians from attending future ceramahs by the political opposition. On the contrary, we can expect larger crowds at future gatherings.
What is the Royal Malaysian Police doing? Perhaps, they are waiting for orders from their Inspector-General of Police.
The Police are busy checking round the clock all postings on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. The IGP is equally occupied sucking up to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister-Home Affairs Minister.
We know that Khalid Abu Bakar is a weak IGP who got the job because he will be an obedient UMNO servant. So do not expect the IGP to act. Knowing how the Police in particular the Special Branch operate, it is more likely that their agent provocateurs could be among the UMNO thugs. And the whole thing could have been pre-arranged to scare the 92-year old rather than harm him.
Mariam is right when she suggested that at GE-14 we should overwhelmingly vote against Najib and his UMNO-BN. We can longer allow a corrupt and cowardly politician and his associates to remain in office even for another 24 hours. They should summarily be shown the exit door.–Din Merican
UMNO Biadap Culture on Display: Attacking Tun Dr.Mahathir Mohamad
Mahathir had been invited to the “Nothing to Hide 2.0” forum which had been organised by Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) .
It was supposed to be a debate between Mahathir and the incumbent PM, Najib Abdul Razak; but we know that Najib has an aversion to debates and usually skips the country, when things are getting too hot to handle. He runs away (only this time, he has no place where to run to).
Said one political observer, “This is the modus operandi of UMNO-Baru. They send their thugs to a peaceful event. They do this to create fear, to get the public to stay away and to send a message to the person or people who are staging the event, that they do not care about people’s rights, or safety, or democracy.
“The thugs, masquerading as the people who are going to a ceramah, will do anything to disrupt a normal event.”
His friend said, “They threatened Zunar, the cartoonist, and wrecked his exhibition and sent UMNO-Baru thugs to wreak havoc.
“It was UMNO-Baru thugs who planned an assault on the Penang State Assembly a few years ago, because they were displeased with a state assemblyman’s comments.
“UMNO-Baru thugs, attacked peaceful supporters and sent threatening messages to the Bersih 2.0 committee members, like Maria Chin and Ambiga Sreenevasan. Many other Opposition politicians are also targeted by this vile UMNO-Baru thugs. Their leaders run away, but they send their hooligans in.
Najib is very afraid
Today, who else do you think fears a 92-year-old man most?None other then Najib Abdul Razak and UMNO-Baru.
The more thugs attack a 92-year-old man, the more the moderate and usually reserved Malays will wonder why such tactics are employed. They will start to ask questions. Why? What harm can an old man do?
If the Malays were fence-sitters before, they will not be fence-sitters any longer.
This is NOT just about two adversaries having to fight a public political fight. The thugs sow more violence, but they will only make Malays question where their values have gone.
Desperadoes will do anything to stay out of jail. They are prepared to sacrifice the harmony of the nation. Pity we have such a weak IGP.
Let us show these UMNO-Baru thugs (and their backers including Najib Razak and UMNO-BN the exit at GE-14.
Man or Monster?: The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer
by Sharon Wu
Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, during trial proceedings at ECCC in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on 20 July 2009
In Man or Monster? The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer, Alexander Laban Hinton examines the trial of Kaing Guek Eav, more commonly known as Duch, who oversaw the torture and execution of prisoners during the Khmer Rouge’s rule of Cambodia in the 1970s. Bringing together creative ethnography, fieldwork and interviews and drawing on personal experience, this elegantly written and nuanced appraisal tackles the challenge of assessing the complexity of its central figure’s crimes, life and character, while addressing larger questions of transitional justice. writes Sharon Wu.
Man or Monster? The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer. Alexander Laban Hinton. Duke University Press. 2016.
Perpetrators of mass crimes are easy to condemn, but harder to understand. Although their crimes may be evident, the degree of guilt and level of responsibility can be difficult to establish. This becomes all the more complex when the perpetrator is put on the stand. In his latest book Man or Monster? The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer, Alexander Laban Hinton, a professor at Rutgers University and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights, dives deep into the tribunal of Kaing Guek Eav, more commonly known as Duch, and elegantly tackles this exact challenge of sifting through the many shades of one mass criminal’s life and character.
From 1975 to 1979, Duch served as the Deputy and then the Chairman of S-21 (also known as Tuol Sleng), the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime’s most notorious political prison and security complex. As many as 20,000 prisoners passed through Tuol Sleng’s doors to be tortured and executed on Duch’s instruction. In July 2007, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) arrested him on charges of crimes against humanity, breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the murder and torture of over 12,000 prisoners. His eventual guilty verdict was delivered almost five years later in February 2012.
Khmer Rouge Brutality on Cambodians will never be forgotten
But what Hinton exposes is a man more nuanced than the sum of his crimes. Born in Kompong Thom, Cambodia, Duch began his career as a school teacher. He excelled in his studies, and was observed to be incredibly meticulous and hard-working in his professional and academic pursuits. Even at Tuol Sleng, prisoners and guards alike found him to be equally scrupulous and diligent in record-keeping, experimentation in torture methods and political education sessions. He memorised French poetry, had a wife and four children, acknowledged the severity of his crimes and publicly apologised before the courtroom. The duality demonstrated by these details muddled the public’s perception of Duch and had a clear impact on his trial. Hinton captures all of these intricacies.
Only Cowards like Khmer Rouge executioners dare take on innocent and helpless children
Like any other criminal of mass atrocities appearing before an international tribunal, Duch was presented with a range of dilemmas during his time as a murderous leader and again during his trial. Was he taking orders from the elite to save his own life or was he instrumental in ordering executions at S-21? Was he also a victim of the Khmer Rouge regime or was he complicit in carrying out its atrocities? Was he truly remorseful or did he publicly apologise in the hope of going free? In a shocking and bizarre turn at the end of the trial, Duch ultimately redacted his public apology and insisted that he was not guilty for his crimes. This manoeuvre led victims and courtroom witnesses to ponder his actions as a former chairman and as a defendant. His involvement at S-21 was indisputable, but his degree of guilt and responsibility less so.
In focusing on this one particular case and this one peculiar man, Hinton further expands on the ECCC and the intricate process of bringing justice, truth and reconciliation to post-conflict Cambodia through legal mechanisms. He includes the trial’s extensive witness testimony and spoke directly with many victims, illustrating the spectrum of emotions they endured in watching the trial unfold. Unlike the ad hoc tribunals of Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the Khmer Rouge tribunal was a hybrid court that combined both Cambodian and international law, and incorporated legal practitioners from Cambodia and abroad. But like the ad hoc tribunals, the ECCC also witnessed its own share of politicisation, controversy and criticism. Hinton discusses the ECCC’s decision to try only five top Khmer Rouge officials, choosing to focus only on a handful of big fish and thereby limiting the reach of the court. He also mentions the ECCC’s failure to introduce certain evidence from the years before the Khmer Rouge’s regime. Many believe this information to be crucial to understanding the defendants, but it would also implicate the United States and other Western powers for their more controversial involvement in Southeast Asia.
Man or Monster? is more than a microhistory of one specific case. Not only does it offer a detailed overview of the Khmer Rouge as a rebel group or government, but Hinton also uses Duch’s earlier life to briefly walk us through postcolonial Cambodian history, from gaining independence to the strengthening of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot to US military involvement in the region. He then draws on Duch’s time at Tuol Sleng to elaborate on the Khmer Rouge’s operations, goals and ideology as well as the various crimes and atrocities committed under their direction.
Hinton trades traditional textbook jargon for a more literary and theatrical approach in examining these court proceedings. He inserts himself into the narrative, speaking directly about his interviews, his relationships with various actors of the tribunal and his memories of visiting the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh. He succeeds in casting off dry academic and legal language, rendering this book easily readable and oftentimes thrilling. He tastefully describes the drama and intricacies of the courtroom and gives vivid personality to its many characters.
However, he falls short when discussing the actual decision to write in a more literary style. He addresses his own experimental approach three separate times — in the foreword, the final chapter and the epilogue — in each instance repeating what was already previously stated. In the last chapter, titled ‘Background: Redactic (Final Decision)’, he even writes, ‘I have tried to bear in mind the creative writing imperative “Show, don’t tell”’, and acknowledges his struggle to follow ‘this imperative’, which is at times evident. Nevertheless, these multiple explanations do not take away from the true success of the book.
Hinton does the reader a tremendous service by not reducing Duch to a single identity. The book is certainly not a sympathetic take on Duch’s character, but it is a concerted effort to create a multidimensional understanding of a complicated man acting in complicated circumstances. Duch was defined not only by his murderous actions, but also by his life before and after the Khmer Rouge. Hinton invites us to contemplate the notion that what one person, or even one nation, may think of Duch may not be an unequivocal truth, but rather one of many frames through which to examine him. Simply calling him a ‘monster’ is reductive and unhelpful: the label overlooks his agency, his actions and those of the individuals around him as well as the many dilemmas he faced in this perilous time period.
By using Duch’s trial as a case study, Hinton also addresses the many larger questions of transitional justice. How is a former war criminal reintegrated into a peaceful post-conflict society? How does a court best avoid politicisation? Do legal mechanisms truly deliver justice and foster reconciliation? These questions may never have definitive answers, but Hinton asks us to consider them regardless.
Sharon Wu is an MSc candidate in the Conflict Studies program at the London School of Economics. She received her undergraduate degree from New York University and previously worked for an independent publisher in the San Francisco Bay Area. Find her on Twitter at @sharonlxwu.
Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.
“Malaysian Muslims should struggle against anything in Malaysian culture which does not protect dignity and equality of human being.” — Tariq Ramadan, Kuala Lumpur, January 2015
Looking at developments in the US, I think there are few Muslims who would be unmoved by the large-scale protests against the #MuslimBan there. I wonder, though, how many of us Malay Muslims who have felt touched and inspired by the sight of non-Muslims in a “non-Muslim country” defending Muslims against oppression, felt a twinge of guilt at the fact that we have been complicit in, if not active participants of, oppression in our own country.
Barack Obama’s Moderate Muslim Najib Razak and Islamic Extremist Hadi Awang with India’s disciple of Sayyid Qutb. They are exploiting ISLAM for their political survival.
Quite apart from the “special position” of Islam in Malaysia, which has been used to exert a kind of dominion over members of other faiths—from the major, such as the illegal expropriation of Orang Asli lands in Kelantan and elsewhere, to regular microaggressions like calls to boycott businesses owned by non-Muslims—it has now become very obvious that we have a very sick society.
Malay culture has become one of judgment over mercy. We have abandoned the precepts of hikmah in da’wah and adab when we indulge in amar ma’ruf nahi munkar (enjoining good and forbidding evil). Indeed, more often than not, we relish in public undertakings of nahi munkar and barely enjoin good at all. Social media may not be a perfect yardstick, but given that Malaysians are one of the most active users of social media in the world, it’s a pretty reliable measure of social attitudes. Observe, for instance, the public shaming that occurs when a Malay Muslim is judged to have strayed from accepted mores, particularly in cases where women do not follow conventions in terms of dress.
This behaviour is tied to a development that goes unnoticed in our communities: rampant misogyny. Universities host “cover your aurat” week in which women who do not don the hijab are shamed and harassed, sometimes physically. While a lot of the conversations surrounding the return of a deported serial rapist have centred on safety concerns, another, more worrying, trend is Malay men indulging in victim-shaming—informing women that if they wish to be safe, they should police their dressing and their behaviour. At the extreme end some have wished that the serial rapist would rape women who do not police themselves. We have movies that turn rapists into heroes, and cases where rape survivors have been forced to marry their rapists, a ‘solution’ that is condoned by the community.
This misogyny seems to be founded on a culture of patriarchy that has been given an Islamist sheen. In official and unofficial sermons, women are constantly told that we must be subservient to men, that the one and only way to heaven is by serving the men in our lives, whether they are our husbands, our fathers or our brothers. Exposure to this male chauvinism starts from a young age: in mixed-gender schools, boys are encouraged to be leaders, girls their followers. By contrast, we don’t teach our boys that men, too, have duties and responsibilities to their wives, mothers, and sisters.
Al-Tirmidhi Hadith 3252 Narrated by Aisha ; Abdullah ibn Abbas Allah’s Messenger (saws) said, “The best of you is he who is best to his family, and I am the best among you to my family.”
This attitude stands in stark contrast to the fact that Islam is a religion for which the last Messenger’s (pbuh) first wife was a successful businesswoman and his employer, while another is widely acknowledged as one of the major narrators of hadith, for whom it is said, “the implications of her actions for women’s participation in scholarship, political life, and the public sphere clashed with later conservative conceptions of the role of women”. Indeed, Islam revolutionised the role of women in 7th century Arabia: where once women were thought of as nothing more than chattel and female infanticide common, Islam proclaimed that they were equal to men in God’s eyes.
Misogyny, in combination with a repressive and perverse attitude towards sexuality, has contributed to Malays having the highest rates of incest, rape, and unwed pregnancies. There has been no recognition that this is the direct result of a patriarchal and misogynistic culture that objectifies women, in addition to a refusal to educate children on sexual health and reproductive rights. Rather, proposed solutions again tend to focus on victim shaming and increasingly punitive measures.
We have now become a people who emphasise religiosity over spirituality, good deeds and good conduct; obsessed over the trivial and ritualistic. We are constantly preoccupied by perceived incursions into our ‘rights’ by non-Muslims, and this siege mentality permeates our interactions with them: a clearly non-Halal pork burger restaurant gives one of its dishes a traditionally Malay name, and we are up in arms, claiming it an insult to our religion.
Where, then, are similarly vociferous outcries in matters of grave injustice? We police outward shows of religiosity—what we eat and what we wear, and demand that our rights supersede those of others, always. As citizens of a multicultural country we ignore the rights of others and public interest (maslahah) in order to chase “religious points”. We stand quietly by as an Islamist State government destroys Temiar lands and punishes members of the tribe who are protecting their homes and trying to stop the environmental devastation that occurs through excessive logging.
We don’t question massive embezzlement of public funds, even when we know that those funds are used to finance people going for Haj and Umrah—which seems to me a very perverse way of “spiritual money laundering”. We allow for the fact that many of our mosques are not sanctuaries but places where the most vulnerable amongst us are turned away.
Our preoccupation with religiosity is aided and abetted by an institutionalised religious infrastructure that infantilises Muslims by claiming that only it can “defend the honour of our faith” and “protect Muslims from becoming confused”. We are constantly told that only the official way is religiously acceptable, even if some rulings rely on a narrow and highly literal interpretation of Scripture. Any form of questioning, however slight, or criticism, however valid, is automatically labelled deviant, and an attack on Islam. In addition, we have a moral police that has been known to harass suspects to the point of causing death—how is this following the precepts of ‘adab?
The fact that Islam in Malaysia is now represented by moral policing, religious bigotry and misogyny has contributed to resentment among non-Muslims, giving rise to Islamophobia. Many non-Muslims lauded Trump for his anti-Muslim views because they have been presented and oppressed by this narrow, intolerant and sometimes, absolutely distorted version of Islam their whole lives.
There are other challenges, but the final one I would like to put forth is the rise in violent extremism. According to IMAN Research, as at August 2016, 236 Malaysians have been arrested by the authorities for joining ISIS, including a 14-year-old girl. This is not surprising, given the fetishising of violent jihad above all other types of jihad, not only in some Madrasahs, but in ‘mainstream’ environments as well. In addition to that, official efforts by the establishment to counter violent extremism contrasts jarringly with domestic bigotry that continuously otherises those in the minority.
I highly suspect that part of this behaviour is due to the heavily politicised nature of Islam in this country, where UMNO and PAS regularly try to “out-Islam” the other, and all other political parties have to play along with this narrative. Thus has our faith been hijacked by rank politics and conflated with the bigoted ideology of Malay supremacy.
Of course, it can be argued that these are generalisations, and “not all Muslims” subscribe to these behaviours and have these views. I emphasise again that these are norms, in the sense that we have become desensitised to them and, apart from the statements made by more temperate Muslim organisations and our own private protestations, they continue on, generally unremarked and tolerated, if not accepted.
I am not at all questioning the position of Islam as the official religion of this country. Instead, what I am calling for is the end of this distorted misrepresentation of our faith. As those who are privileged to be in the majority, we have a duty to end oppression committed in the name of Islam.
I fully realise that I am preaching to the choir in an amplified echo chamber. However, ours is a more dissonant than harmonised, whereas those promoting a narrow and intolerant Islam far removed from the vibrancy and openness of the Muslim civilisations which continue to be our inspirations—of the Abbasids, Umayyads and Cordoba—are concentrated and organised. We have let this go on for far too long. If you care for an Islam in Malaysia that is representative of our faith’s beauty, ideals of justice, and rahmah, I submit that we have to act now.
Islam is also not conformity and compulsion, but reason and compassion
Firstly, we need to arm ourselves with knowledge. Of Islam, of other faiths, of socio-political and economic developments. Knowledge is, as always, power. If you choose to be devout, as Tariq Ramadhan, the Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University, has exhorted, “(i)f you want to be good Muslims, instead of preventing people from believing, you become better believers. Don’t be scared of people who are not Muslim. Be scared, be afraid, be worried about our own lack of consistency.”
Secondly, we need to strengthen our own communities, and get organised. We need to overcome petty disagreements surrounding minute differences in opinion and support those organisations that are already working to promote a tolerant Islam that fights oppression. We need to form alliances, and yes, we need to go beyond the echo chamber.
Finally, we need to act against oppressions conducted in our name. Loudly speak out and strongly act against bigotry, fight for the vulnerable and marginalised, insist that our mosques are opened as sanctuaries, promote Islam as it truly is.
We need to get to work.
*This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.
WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump do not agree on much, but Saudi Arabia may be an exception. She has deplored Saudi Arabia’s support for “radical schools and mosques around the world that have set too many young people on a path towards extremism.” He has called the Saudis “the world’s biggest funders of terrorism.”
The first American diplomat to serve as envoy to Muslim communities around the world visited 80 countries and concluded that the Saudi influence was destroying tolerant Islamic traditions. “If the Saudis do not cease what they are doing,” the official, Farah Pandith, wrote last year, “there must be diplomatic, cultural and economic consequences.”
Barack Obama soft on Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi ideology
And hardly a week passes without a television pundit or a newspaper columnist blaming Saudi Arabia for jihadist violence. On HBO, Bill Maher calls Saudi teachings “medieval,” adding an epithet. In The Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria writes that the Saudis have “created a monster in the world of Islam.”
The idea has become a commonplace: that Saudi Arabia’s export of the rigid, bigoted, patriarchal, fundamentalist strain of Islam known as Wahhabism has fueled global extremism and contributed to terrorism. As the Islamic State projects its menacing calls for violence into the West, directing or inspiring terrorist attacks in country after country, an old debate over Saudi influence on Islam has taken on new relevance.
Is the world today a more divided, dangerous and violent place because of the cumulative effect of five decades of oil-financed proselytizing from the historical heart of the Muslim world? Or is Saudi Arabia, which has often supported Western-friendly autocrats over Islamists, merely a convenient scapegoat for extremism and terrorism with many complex causes — the United States’s own actions among them?
Those questions are deeply contentious, partly because of the contradictory impulses of the Saudi state.
In the realm of extremist Islam, the Saudis are “both the arsonists and the firefighters,” said William McCants, a Brookings Institution scholar. “They promote a very toxic form of Islam that draws sharp lines between a small number of true believers and everyone else, Muslim and non-Muslim,” he said, providing ideological fodder for violent jihadists.
What Is Wahhabism?
The Islam taught in and by Saudi Arabia is often called Wahhabism, after the 18th-century cleric who founded it. A literalist, ultraconservative form of Sunni Islam, its adherents often denigrate other Islamic sects as well as Christians and Jews.
Yet at the same time, “they’re our partners in counter terrorism,” said Mr. McCants, one of three dozen academics, government officials and experts on Islam from multiple countries interviewed for this article.
Saudi leaders seek good relations with the West and see jihadist violence as a menace that could endanger their rule, especially now that the Islamic State is staging attacks in the kingdom — 25 in the last eight months, by the government’s count. But they are also driven by their rivalry with Iran, and they depend for legitimacy on a clerical establishment dedicated to a reactionary set of beliefs. Those conflicting goals can play out in a bafflingly inconsistent manner.
Thomas Hegghammer, a Norwegian terrorism expert who has advised the United States government, said the most important effect of Saudi proselytizing might have been to slow the evolution of Islam, blocking its natural accommodation to a diverse and globalized world. “If there was going to be an Islamic reformation in the 20th century, the Saudis probably prevented it by pumping out literalism,” he said.
The Seoul Central Mosque in South Korea, one of hundreds of mosques around the world built using Saudi donations.Credit Choi Won-Suk/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The reach of the Saudis has been stunning, touching nearly every country with a Muslim population, from the Gothenburg Mosque in Sweden to the King Faisal Mosque in Chad, from the King Fahad Mosque in Los Angeles to the Seoul Central Mosque in South Korea. Support has come from the Saudi government; the royal family; Saudi charities; and Saudi-sponsored organizations including the World Muslim League, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth and the International Islamic Relief Organization, providing the hardware of impressive edifices and the software of preaching and teaching.
There is a broad consensus that the Saudi ideological juggernaut has disrupted local Islamic traditions in dozens of countries — the result of lavish spending on religious outreach for half a century, estimated in the tens of billions of dollars. The result has been amplified by guest workers, many from South Asia, who spend years in Saudi Arabia and bring Saudi ways home with them. In many countries, Wahhabist preaching has encouraged a harshly judgmental religion, contributing to majority support in some polls in Egypt, Pakistan and other countries for stoning for adultery and execution for anyone trying to leave Islam.
And for a small minority in many countries, the exclusionary Saudi version of Sunni Islam, with its denigration of Jews and Christians, as well as of Muslims of Shiite, Sufi and other traditions, may have made some people vulnerable to the lure of Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and other violent jihadist groups. “There’s only so much dehumanizing of the other that you can be exposed to — and exposed to as the word of God — without becoming susceptible to recruitment,” said David Andrew Weinberg, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington who tracks Saudi influence.
The King Fahad Mosque in Los Angeles.Credit Patrick T. Fallon for The New York Times
Exhibit A may be Saudi Arabia itself, which produced not only Osama bin Laden, but also 15 of the 19 hijackers of Sept. 11, 2001; sent more suicide bombers than any other country to Iraq after the 2003 invasion; and has supplied more foreign fighters to the Islamic State, 2,500, than any country other than Tunisia.
Mehmet Gormez, the senior Islamic cleric in Turkey, said that while he was meeting with Saudi clerics in Riyadh in January, the Saudi authorities had executed 47 people in a single day on terrorism charges, 45 of them Saudi citizens. “I said: ‘These people studied Islam for 10 or 15 years in your country. Is there a problem with the educational system?’ ” Mr. Gormez said in an interview. He argued that Wahhabi teaching was undermining the pluralism, tolerance and openness to science and learning that had long characterized Islam. “Sadly,” he said, the changes have taken place “in almost all of the Islamic world.”
In a huge embarrassment to the Saudi authorities, the Islamic State adopted official Saudi textbooks for its schools until the extremist group could publish its own books in 2015. Out of 12 works by Muslim scholars republished by the Islamic State, seven are by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the 18th-century founder of the Saudi school of Islam, said Jacob Olidort, a scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. A former imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Sheikh Adil al-Kalbani declared with regret in a television interview in January that the Islamic State leaders “draw their ideas from what is written in our own books, our own principles.”
Small details of Saudi practice can cause outsize trouble. For at least two decades, the kingdom has distributed an English translation of the Quran that in the first surah, or chapter, adds parenthetical references to Jews and Christians in addressing Allah: “those who earned Your Anger (such as the Jews), nor of those who went astray (such as the Christians).” Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University and the editor in chief of the new Study Quran, an annotated English version, said the additions were “a complete heresy, with no basis in Islamic tradition.”
Accordingly, many American officials who have worked to counter extremism and terrorism have formed a dark view of the Saudi effect — even if, given the sensitivity of the relationship, they are often loath to discuss it publicly. The United States’ reliance on Saudi counter terrorism cooperation in recent years — for instance, the Saudi tip that foiled a 2010 Qaeda plot to blow up two American cargo planes — has often taken precedence over concerns about radical influence. And generous Saudi funding for professorships and research centers at American universities, including the most elite institutions, has deterred criticism and discouraged research on the effects of Wahhabi proselytizing, according to Mr. McCants — who is working on a book about the Saudi impact on global Islam — and other scholars.
One American former official who has begun to speak out is Ms. Pandith, the State Department’s first special representative to Muslim communities worldwide. From 2009 to 2014, she visited Muslims in 80 countries and concluded that Saudi influence was pernicious and universal. “In each place I visited, the Wahhabi influence was an insidious presence,” she wrote in The New York Times last year. She said the United States should “disrupt the training of extremist imams,” “reject free Saudi textbooks and translations that are filled with hate,” and “prevent the Saudis from demolishing local Muslim religious and cultural sites that are evidence of the diversity of Islam.”
Yet some scholars on Islam and extremism, including experts on radicalization in many countries, push back against the notion that Saudi Arabia bears predominant responsibility for the current wave of extremism and jihadist violence. They point to multiple sources for the rise and spread of Islamist terrorism, including repressive secular governments in the Middle East, local injustices and divisions, the hijacking of the internet for terrorist propaganda, and American interventions in the Muslim world from the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan to the invasion of Iraq. The 20th-century ideologues most influential with modern jihadists, like Sayyid Qutb of Egypt and Abul Ala Maududi of Pakistan, reached their extreme, anti-Western views without much Saudi input. Al Qaeda and the Islamic State despise Saudi rulers, whom they consider the worst of hypocrites.
“Americans like to have someone to blame — a person, a political party or country,” said Robert S. Ford, a former United States ambassador to Syria and Algeria. “But it’s a lot more complicated than that. I’d be careful about blaming the Saudis.”
While Saudi religious influence may be disruptive, he and others say, its effect is not monolithic. A major tenet of official Saudi Islamic teaching is obedience to rulers — hardly a precept that encourages terrorism intended to break nations. Many Saudi and Saudi-trained clerics are quietist, characterized by a devotion to scripture and prayer and a shunning of politics, let alone political violence.
And especially since 2003, when Qaeda attacks in the kingdom awoke the monarchy to the danger it faced from militancy, Saudi Arabia has acted more aggressively to curtail preachers who call for violence, cut off terrorist financing and cooperate with Western intelligence to foil terrorist plots. From 2004 to 2012, 3,500 imams were fired for refusing to renounce extremist views, and another 20,000 went through retraining, according to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs — though the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom expressed skepticism that the training was really “instilling tolerance.”
An American scholar with long experience in Saudi Arabia — who spoke on condition of anonymity to preserve his ability to travel to the kingdom for research — said he believed that Saudi influence had often been exaggerated in American political discourse. But he compared it to climate change. Just as a one-degree increase in temperature can ultimately result in drastic effects around the globe, with glaciers melting and species dying off, so Saudi teaching is playing out in many countries in ways that are hard to predict and difficult to trace but often profound, the scholar said.
Saudi proselytizing can result in a “recalibrating of the religious center of gravity” for young people, the scholar said, which makes it “easier for them to swallow or make sense of the ISIS religious narrative when it does arrive. It doesn’t seem quite as foreign as it might have, had that Saudi religious influence not been there.”
Why does Saudi Arabia find it so difficult to let go of an ideology that much of the world finds repugnant? The key to the Saudi dilemma dates back nearly three centuries to the origin of the alliance that still undergirds the Saudi state. In 1744, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, a reformist cleric, sought the protection of Muhammad bin Saud, a powerful tribal leader in the harsh desert of the Arabian Peninsula. The alliance was mutually beneficial: Wahhab received military protection for his movement, which sought to return Muslims to what he believed were the values of the early years of Islam in the seventh century, when the Prophet Muhammad was alive. (His beliefs were a variant of Salafism, the conservative school of Islam that teaches that the salaf, or pious ancestors, had the correct ways and beliefs and should be emulated.) In return, the Saud family earned the endorsement of an Islamic cleric — a puritanical enforcer known for insisting on the death by stoning of a woman for adultery.
Wahhab’s particular version of Islam was the first of two historical accidents that would define Saudi religious influence centuries later. What came to be known as Wahhabism was “a tribal, desert Islam,” said Akbar Ahmed, the chairman of Islamic studies at American University in Washington. It was shaped by the austere environment — xenophobic, fiercely opposed to shrines and tombs, disapproving of art and music, and hugely different from the cosmopolitan Islam of diverse trading cities like Baghdad and Cairo.
The second historical accident came in 1938, when American prospectors discovered the largest oil reserves on earth in Saudi Arabia. Oil revenue generated by the Arabian-American Oil Company, or Aramco, created fabulous wealth. But it also froze in place a rigid social and economic system and gave the conservative religious establishment an extravagant budget for the export of its severe strain of Islam.
“One day you find oil, and the world is coming to you,” Professor Ahmed said. “God has given you the ability to take your version of Islam to the world.”
In 1964, when King Faisal ascended the throne, he embraced the obligation of spreading Islam. A modernizer in many respects, with close ties to the West, he nonetheless could not overhaul the Wahhabi doctrine that became the face of Saudi generosity in many countries. Over the next four decades, in non-Muslim-majority countries alone, Saudi Arabia would build 1,359 mosques, 210 Islamic centers, 202 colleges and 2,000 schools. Saudi money helped finance 16 American mosques; four in Canada; and others in London, Madrid, Brussels and Geneva, according to a report in an official Saudi weekly, Ain al-Yaqeen. The total spending, including supplying or training imams and teachers, was “many billions” of Saudi riyals (at a rate of about four to a dollar), the report said.
Saudi religious teaching had particular force because it came from the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad, the land of Islam’s two holiest places, Mecca and Medina. When Saudi imams arrived in Muslim countries in Asia or Africa, or in Muslim communities in Europe or the Americas, wearing traditional Arabian robes, speaking the language of the Quran — and carrying a generous checkbook — they had automatic credibility.
As the 20th century progressed and people of different nationalities and faiths mixed routinely, the puritanical, exclusionary nature of Wahhab’s teachings would become more and more dysfunctional. But the Saudi government would find it extraordinarily difficult to shed or soften its ideology, especially after the landmark year of 1979.
In Tehran that year, the Iranian revolution brought to power a radical Shiite government, symbolically challenging Saudi Arabia, the leader of Sunnism, for leadership of global Islam. The declaration of an Islamic Republic escalated the competition between the two major branches of Islam, spurring the Saudis to redouble their efforts to counter Iran and spread Wahhabism around the world.
Then, in a stunning strike, a band of 500 Saudi extremists seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca for two weeks, publicly calling Saudi rulers puppets of the West and traitors to true Islam. The rebels were defeated, but leading clerics agreed to back the government only after assurances of support for a crackdown on immodest ways in the kingdom and a more aggressive export of Wahhabism abroad.
Finally, at year’s end, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and seized power to prop up a Communist government. It soon faced an insurgent movement of mujahedeen, or holy warriors battling for Islam, which drew fighters from around the world for a decade-long battle to expel the occupiers.
Throughout the 1980s, Saudi Arabia and the United States worked together to finance the mujahedeen in this great Afghan war, which would revive the notion of noble armed jihad for Muslims worldwide. President Ronald Reagan famously welcomed to the Oval Office a delegation of bearded “Afghan freedom fighters” whose social and theological views were hardly distinguishable from those later embraced by the Taliban.
In fact, the United States spent $50 million from 1986 to 1992 on what was called a “jihad literacy” project — printing books for Afghan children and adults to encourage violence against non-Muslim “infidels” like Soviet troops. A first-grade language textbook for Pashto speakers, for example, according to a study by Dana Burde, an associate professor at New York University, used “Mujahid,” or fighter of jihad, as the illustration: “My brother is a Mujahid. Afghan Muslims are Mujahedeen. I do jihad together with them. Doing jihad against infidels is our duty.”
Pressure After 9/11
One day in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks, Robert W. Jordan, the United States ambassador to Saudi Arabia, was driving in the kingdom with the longtime Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan. The prince pointed to a mosque and said, “I just fired the imam there.” The man’s preaching had been too militant, he said.
Mr. Jordan, a Texas lawyer, said that after the Qaeda attacks, he had stepped up pressure on the Saudi government over its spread of extremism. “I told them: ‘What you teach in your schools and preach in your mosques now is not an internal matter. It affects our national security,’” he said.
After years of encouraging and financing a harsh Islam in support of the anti-Soviet jihad, the United States had reversed course — gradually during the 1990s and then dramatically after the Sept. 11 attacks. But in pressuring Saudi Arabia, American officials would tread lightly, acutely aware of American dependence on Saudi oil and intelligence cooperation. Saudi reform would move at an excruciatingly slow pace.
Twelve years after September. 11, after years of quiet American complaints about Saudi teachings, a State Department contractor, the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, completed a study of official Saudi textbooks. It reported some progress in cutting back on bigoted and violent content but found that plenty of objectionable material remained. Officials never released the 2013 study, for fear of angering the Saudis. The New York Times obtained it under the Freedom of Information Act.
Seventh graders were being taught that “fighting the infidels to elevate the words of Allah” was among the deeds Allah loved the most, the report found, among dozens of passages it found troubling. Tenth graders learned that Muslims who abandoned Islam should be jailed for three days and, if they did not change their minds, “killed for walking away from their true religion.” Fourth graders read that non-Muslims had been “shown the truth but abandoned it, like the Jews,” or had replaced truth with “ignorance and delusion, like the Christians.”
Some of the books, prepared and distributed by the government, propagated views that were hostile to science, modernity and women’s rights, not to say downright quirky — advocating, for instance, execution for sorcerers and warning against the dangers of the Rotary Club and the Lions Club. (The groups’ intent, said a 10th-grade textbook, “is to achieve the goals of the Zionist movement.”)
The textbooks, or other Saudi teaching materials with similar content, had been distributed in scores of countries, the study found. Textbook reform has continued since the 2013 study, and Saudi officials say they are trying to replace older books distributed overseas.
But as the study noted, the schoolbooks were only a modest part of the Saudis’ lavishly funded global export of Wahhabism. In many places, the study said, the largess includes “a Saudi-funded school with a Wahhabist faculty (educated in a Saudi-funded Wahhabist University), attached to a mosque with a Wahhabist imam, and ultimately controlled by an international Wahhabist educational body.”
This ideological steamroller has landed in diverse places where Muslims of different sects had spent centuries learning to accommodate one another. Sayyed Shah, a Pakistani journalist working on a doctorate in the United States, described the devastating effect on his town, not far from the Afghan border, of the arrival some years ago of a young Pakistani preacher trained in a Saudi-funded seminary.
Village residents had long held a mélange of Muslim beliefs, he said. “We were Sunni, but our culture, our traditions were a mixture of Shia and Barelvi and Deobandi,” Mr. Shah said, referring to Muslim sects. His family would visit the large Barelvi shrine, and watch their Shiite neighbors as they lashed themselves in a public religious ritual. “We wouldn’t do that ourselves, but we’d hand out sweets and water,” he said.
The new preacher, he said, denounced the Barelvi and Shiite beliefs as false and heretical, dividing the community and setting off years of bitter argument. By 2010, Mr. Shah said, “everything had changed.” Women who had used shawls to cover their hair and face began wearing full burqas. Militants began attacking kiosks where merchants sold secular music CDs. Twice, terrorists used explosives to try to destroy the village’s locally famous shrine.
Now, Mr. Shah said, families are divided; his cousin, he said, “just wants Saudi religion.” He said an entire generation had been “indoctrinated” with a rigid, unforgiving creed.
“It’s so difficult these days,” he said. “Initially we were on a single path. We just had economic problems, but we were culturally sound.”
He added, “But now it’s very difficult, because some people want Saudi culture to be our culture, and others are opposing that.”
C. Christine Fair, a specialist on Pakistan at Georgetown University, said Mr. Shah’s account was credible. But like many scholars describing the Saudi impact on religion, she said that militancy in Pakistan also had local causes. While Saudi money and teaching have unquestionably been “accelerants,” Pakistan’s sectarian troubles and jihadist violence have deep roots dating to the country’s origins in the partition of India in 1947.
“The idea that without the Saudis Pakistan would be Switzerland is ridiculous,” she said.
Elusive Saudi Links
That is the disputed question, of course: how the world would be different without decades of Saudi-funded shaping of Islam. Though there is a widespread belief that Saudi influence has contributed to the growth of terrorism, it is rare to find a direct case of cause and effect. For example, in Brussels, the Grand Mosque was built with Saudi money and staffed with Saudi imams. In 2012, according to Saudi diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, one Saudi preacher was removed after Belgian complaints that he was a “true Salafi” who did not accept other schools of Islam. And Brussels’ immigrant neighborhoods, notably Molenbeek, have long been the home of storefront mosques teaching hard-line Salafi views.
After the terrorist attacks in Paris in November and in Brussels in March were tied to an Islamic State cell in Belgium, the Saudi history was the subject of severalnews mediareports. Yet it was difficult to find any direct link between the bombers and the Saudi legacy in the Belgian capital.
A wounded man at the airport in Brussels after an attack by jihadists in March. There appears to be no direct link between the bombers and the Saudi legacy in the Belgian capital.Credit Ketevan Kardava/Associated Press
Several suspects had petty criminal backgrounds; their knowledge of Islam was described by friends as superficial; they did not appear to be regulars at any mosque. Though the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the blasts, resentment of the treatment of North African immigrant families in Belgium and exposure to Islamic State propaganda, in person or via the internet and social media, appeared to be the major factors motivating the attacks.
If there was a Saudi connection, it was highly indirect, perhaps playing out over a generation or longer. Hind Fraihi, a Moroccan-Belgian journalist who went underground in the Brussels immigrant neighborhood of Molenbeek in 2005 and wrote a book about it, met Saudi-trained imams and found lots of extremist literature written in Saudi Arabia that encouraged “polarization, the sentiment of us against them, the glorification of jihad.”
The recent attackers, Ms. Fraihi said, were motivated by “lots of factors — economic frustration, racism, a generation that feels it has no future.” But Saudi teaching, she said, “is part of the cocktail.”
Without the Saudi presence over the decades, might a more progressive and accommodating Islam, reflecting immigrants’ Moroccan roots, have taken hold in Brussels? Would young Muslims raised in Belgium have been less susceptible to the stark, violent call of the Islamic State? Conceivably, but the case is impossible to prove.
Or consider an utterly different cultural milieu — the world’s most populous Muslim country, Indonesia. The Saudis have sent money for mosque-building, books and teachers for decades, said Sidney Jones, the director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict in Jakarta.
“Over time,” said Ms. Jones, who has visited or lived in Indonesia since the 1970s, the Saudi influence “has contributed to a more conservative, more intolerant atmosphere.” (President Obama, who lived in Indonesia as a boy, has remarked on the same phenomenon.) She said she believed money from private Saudi donors and foundations was behind campaigns in Indonesia against Shiite and Ahmadi Islam, considered heretical by Wahhabi teaching. Some well-known Indonesian religious vigilantes are Saudi-educated, she said.
But when Ms. Jones studied the approximately 1,000 people arrested in Indonesia on terrorism charges since 2002, she found only a few — “literally four or five” — with ties to Wahhabi or Salafi institutions. When it comes to violence, she concluded, the Saudi connection is “mostly a red herring.”
In fact, she said, there is a gulf between Indonesian jihadists and Indonesian Salafis who look to Saudi or Yemeni scholars for guidance. The jihadists accuse the Salafis of failing to act on their convictions; the Salafis scorn the jihadists as extremists.
Whatever the global effects of decades of Saudi proselytizing, it is under greater scrutiny than ever, from outside and inside the kingdom. Saudi leaders’ ideological reform efforts, encompassing textbooks and preaching, amount to a tacit recognition that its religious exports have sometimes backfired. And the kingdom has stepped up an aggressive public relations campaign in the West, hiring American publicists to counter critical news media reports and fashion a reformist image for Saudi leaders.
But neither the publicists nor their clients can renounce the strain of Islam on which the Saudi state was built, and old habits sometimes prove difficult to suppress. A prominent cleric, Saad bin Nasser al-Shethri, had been stripped of a leadership position by the previous king, Abdullah, for condemning coeducation. King Salman restored Mr. Shethri to the job last year, not long after the cleric had joined the chorus of official voices criticizing the Islamic State. But Mr. Shethri’s reasoning for denouncing the Islamic State suggested the difficulty of change. The group was, he said, “more infidel than Jews and Christians.”
I remember, in 1992, some of us made an official fence-mending trip to Australia after Dr Mahathir Mohamad earned the ‘recalcitrant’ label. Our then-international trade and industry minister led the trip. In Perth and Canberra, one of the questions asked by the journalists of the minister was, “Are you a fundamentalist?”
MITI Minister Rafidah Aziz –“An Intellectual and an Intuitive Scholar who understood concepts and ideas”–KJ John
Minister Rafidah Aziz was a lecturer and was supposed to pursue a Colombo Plan scholarship for a doctorate when the then-PM, Hussein Onn, invited her to join his cabinet as Parliamentary Secretary based in the Finance Ministry. She never looked back.
Being also an intellectual and an intuitive scholar, she understood concepts and ideas well. So, most journalists who asked questions without much thought usually got their pound of flesh taken, too. She is the same with journalists as with officers; whether in Malaysia or overseas. Most unassured journalists or officers cannot handle her.
While the words ‘fundamentalist Muslims’ were the phrase of the day then, today’s words are ‘radical Islam’, or even extremist Muslims. Now, if we do not know the factual difference between these concepts; we are going to have serious problems, or as two of our Muslim scholars who are professionals wrote: “We are on the slippery slope and road to anarchy.”
Minister Rafidah was not only smart but was usually a teacher as well with officers and journalists, even though she did never suffer fools. Therefore, she answered the Australian journalist’s question by first explaining that most average Muslims in Malaysia were fundamental Muslims; which means, they believe in the fundamentals of Islam. But she also always clarified that they were not extremist Muslims. What is the difference?
Extremities in science are those who fall outside of two standard deviations of the mean. Please review your basic statistics if you do not follow my argument. Within the normal distribution curve; the middle majority can be divided into two halves, i.e. those who are the early majority and those who are the late majority to any new idea for change. Both groups are fundamentalist Muslims as defined earlier; but they cannot be called extremists.
Extremists are those who take an extreme view of the interpretation of the fundamental precepts of Islam; as in, they are literalists in terms of interpretation of scriptures. They do not believe and argue against any philosophical view of the particular verses of scripture. Theirs is a single and closed interpretation as per their source of authority as interpreters of their scripture.
In that view, only ‘experts’ can interpret scriptures; all others are not qualified. Sounds to me like the Catholic Church before the Copernican revolution.
Finally there are always the radicals in every faith system. Who then are they? These are really anarchists who condemn the entire human enterprise and want to see it destroyed for the promise of what lies ahead; in their view and vision of the other world and for eternity.
They fully and truly believe such in their hearts and minds. They then can also become self-appointed caliphs to usher in their version of their ‘kingdom of God’. They want to see their view of the world established, by the force of their will. It is always a contradiction in terms.
Do we have deviants in Malaysia?
More than 95 percent of Malaysian Muslims are Sunnis and of the Shafie sect in terms of interpretation. Then there are Ismailis, Shiites and Ahmadiyaa. These all however only make up less than 5 percent of Muslims in Malaysia. All Muslims, by official records, make up 62 percent of all Malaysians.
Now, based on the normal distribution curve of Muslims, I suspect about 90 percent belong in the middle majority category and I would call the majority the urban Malay Muslims. These are about equally divided between literalists while the other half are Muslims who consider that verses can be philosophical with their interpretation of and practice of Muslim Scriptures. I would label them conservatives and moderates in terms of interpretation of scripture.
Nonetheless, all 90 percent of them are progressives in terms of interpretation of all Muslim Scriptures in a modern world and view.
Who then are the deviants? In my view, these are pseudo-scholars of Islam but who push their own versions of truth by the sheer use of force of their interpretation but safeguarded by the false idea that only experts of the Quran and Hadith are qualified as interpreters.
They put aside rationalism or the capacity of the human mind to reason and make choices about right and wrong, and instead prefer to assert blind obedience to one set of interpretations; only theirs.
The majority of Malays are not deviant, by any means of differentiation and regardless of who does the classification of typologies. The reality is, however, that in the modern world it is the noisy minority who get heard and voices are amplified. Statistically, these deviants make up less the 2 percent of the entire population of Malay Muslims.
Terrorism in Malaysia
Between the years 1948-1960, Malaysia fought against the most militant form of deviants deploying terror that the nation state has ever seen. There were militant Malayans who were committed to communist ideals and standing against colonialism. That period of war against these terrorists was called and declared ‘The Emergency’.
The government representatives then finally met with Chin Peng and they signed a peace accord to officially end that war in 1989. My question to the inspector-general of police (IGP) today is: if our war against communists are over, who then is your new terrorists? Who is the prime target of the Royal Malaysian Police for today and tomorrow? Are you serious about focussing only on the political opposition?
Dear IGP, in the mid-1970s, I used to take our Administrative and Diplomatic Service (PTD) Officers at the National Institute of Public Administration (Intan) to their one-week training at the Police College in Kuala Kubu Baru (KKB). One of the most exciting lecturers was none other than CC Too. I was privileged to have met him in KKB then.
My question to the new Royal Police College is and the IGP is: which room, or library, or which hall in Police College is named after this great man? If none, just please tell me why?
CC Too was born as (Tan Sri) Too Chee Chew. In January 1957 he was awarded the Member of the British Empire (MBE) and the Panglima Setia Mahkota (PSM) in 1986 which carried the title of Tan Sri. He was head of the Psychological Warfare Division of the police. If anyone Malayan ever was singly responsible to “win the war of hearts and minds in Malaya”, it would be him. We should never forget him for our Merdeka.
He also served as a consultant to the US military at Fort Leavenworth, and in the Vietnam War and also for the Korean War. Do we therefore really need to go to US to learn about how to deal with home-grown radicals and deviants who are deviants, Mr IGP? Please let us honour the man, understand his methodology and apply them to again get rid of deviants from Malaysia.
KJ JOHN, PhD from The George Washington University, Washington DC, was in public service for 32 years having served as a researcher, trainer, and policy adviser to the International Trade and Industry Ministry and the National IT Council (NITC) of the government of Malaysia. The views expressed here are his personal views and not those of any institution he is involved with. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org with any feedback or views.