7 Nov 2010

Saudi Arabia says it is waging "war of minds" against extremist ideology with Islamic summer camp

The San Francisco Chronicle - September 4, 2009

Islamic summer camp in Saudi targets extremism

By DONNA ABU-NASR | Associated Press Writer

Saudi Arabia (AP) --

Young men spray hoses in a car-washing contest and play pool. Children make paper crowns in an art class, while their parents have a picnic. Alongside the fun and games, Muslim clerics answer questions about jihad or give lectures about the proper dress for women.

This is Islamic summer camp, and it's part of Saudi Arabia's campaign to eliminate al-Qaida.

Saudi Arabia says it's waging a "war of minds" against extremist ideology, alongside the fierce security crackdown that has killed or arrested many al-Qaida leaders over the past six years. To do so, the kingdom plans to expand a broad public campaign aimed at preventing young people from being drawn to radicalism.

"We are working on the men of the future," Abdulrahman Alhadlaq, general director of the Interior Ministry's Ideological Security Directorate, told The Associated Press.

Islamic summer camps are a key part of the program, attended by thousands of families who consult with government-backed clerics instilling what Saudi authorities call a moderate message.

The teachings at the camps are still ultraconservative, in line with the kingdom's strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam — but the clerics drill the message that youth should turn to approved religious authorities for guidance, not radical preachers. For example, on the issue of jihad, or holy war, they teach that it can only be waged on the orders of the head of state.

"It is ... essentially about obedience, loyalty and recognition of authority," said Christopher Boucek, an associate at Washington's Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who has studied the camp programs. "That is what is stressed over and over again in these programs: Loyalty to the state and recognition that there are certain correct and qualified sources to follow."

Boucek said it will take a long time to evaluate the programs' effectiveness. "In many ways, these are generational projects," he said.

The kingdom's emphasis on ideological campaigns is a stark change from the defensive stance it took immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, prompting a storm of criticism in the U.S. that Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi thought fueled radicalism. Saudi Arabia staunchly denied the existence of any radical trend on its soil, dismissing warnings of al-Qaida's influence.

It was not until 2003, when al-Qaida launched a campaign of attacks in Saudi Arabia targeting foreigners and oil infrastructure in a bid to bring down the ruling family, that the kingdom seriously unleashed its security crackdown.

The government followed with a "rehabilitation" program seeking to reform detained militants, in which clerics teach that al-Qaida's calls for violence are un-Islamic.

Saudi Arabia has come under heavy criticism over its crackdown. Amnesty International condemned the use of torture against suspected militants. In August, New York-based Human Rights Watch said the kingdom is still holding 3,000 suspects without trial and is forcing them to undergo rehabilitation.

Saudi officials say their approach has succeeded in breaking al-Qaida's leadership and wrecking its ability to reorganize. Al-Qaida has regrouped in neighboring Yemen, but Saudi officials say it is having difficulty gaining new Saudi recruits.

The government is soon expected to endorse a National Strategy to Counter Radicalization, which broadens the ideological campaign to the entire public. Besides the summer camps, which began several years ago, the plan calls for increasing employment and addressing grievances that militants exploit to recruit Saudis.

The government has doubled the number of universities to take in more students and has increased the number of students who study abroad so they get exposed to other cultures. It is also arranging with private companies to provide paid training for Saudis who can't find jobs.

The summer camps have proved popular. The 3-year-old Rabwat Arriyadh camp in the capital — one of several organized by the Islamic Affairs Ministry around the country — attracts 700,000 visitors annually, with families attending every evening for three weeks.

Part of the curriculum is simply to have fun, not a minor thing in this kingdom where sources of entertainment are sparse. It also counters radicals' message that religion must eclipse all earthly matters. Girls and boys of all ages separately participate in games and sports, everything from volleyball to car-washing contests. The camp is segregated by sexes as is every aspect of public life in Saudi Arabia.

At the same time, the young people and parents attend lectures by Islamic clerics. They are encouraged to discuss their views on jihad and Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida's Saudi-born leader, and a cleric then "rectifies any radical misunderstandings," said ministry official Mohammed Mushawah.

The clerics also advise on religious matters in general — and their answers reflect Saudi society's deep conservatism. In past lectures, one cleric denounced the "decadent" influence of Western movies and television. Another urged husbands and fathers to ensure women wear the Islamic headscarf.

Evan F. Kohlman, an analyst at the NEFA Foundation in Washington, said the program "couldn't hurt."

The message may still be ultraconservative, he said, "but you have to speak to people in language that they're going to respect and ... the only people that hardcore extremists in Saudi Arabia listen to are the clergy."

Alhadlaq said the strategy is based on extensive studies of why Saudis join al-Qaida. The average Saudi al-Qaida militant is a high-school graduate from a middle-class background, usually from a family larger than the Saudi average of 6.5 members per family, making parental control weak. Almost a third had traveled to hot spots like Afghanistan and Iraq.

Studies found that the main reason for joining militant groups is anger over issues like the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Alhadlaq said. Next are poverty and unemployment, followed by resentment over government attempts at liberalization.

Preventing the adoption of extremist mindsets is a challenge, said Alhadlaq. "You can't open up everybody's mind to determine if he's OK or not. That's what makes it hard."

"Sometimes you sit with a radical guy, and you say, 'He's a good guy,'" he said. "But inside his mind, he's got a different story. Change needs time."

This article was found at: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2009/09/03/international/i235949D18.DTL

1 comment:

  1. Saudis export anti-Christian and anti-Jewish textbooks across the world: report

    by Charles Lewis National Post Sept 28, 2011

    Textbooks used in Saudi Arabia’s schools contain virulent forms of anti-Christian and anti-Jewish bigotry that continue to fuel intolerance and violence around the globe, says a new report.

    The problem is far greater than the five million students in Saudi Arabia who use these texts every day, said Nina Shea, director of the Washington-based Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.

    “Because of the Saudis’ great oil wealth, it is able to disseminate its textbooks far and wide,” she wrote in the report, Ten Years On. “[These textbooks] are posted on the Saudi Education Ministry’s website and are shipped and distributed free by a vast Saudi-sponsored Sunni infrastructure to many Muslim schools, mosques and libraries throughout the world.

    “This is not just hate mongering, it’s promoting violence,” she said in an interview. It is exporting terrorism through textbooks. Christians are referred to as “swine” and Jews as “apes,” while being blamed for much of the world’s ills.

    She notes in the report that since the Saudis control Islam’s holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina, they can “disseminate its religious materials among the millions of Muslims making the Hajj each year. Hence, these teachings can have a wide and deep influence.”

    It was not a coincidence that 15 of the 19 attackers on 9/11 were Saudis, she added. Ms. Shea, a human rights lawyer for 30 years, said a prime example of the texts’ influence can be seen in Indonesia, a country with a history of religious tolerance.

    In 2005, Abdurrahman Wahid, the then-president, wrote about the danger of the Saudis’ exported ideology, saying it was fueling a “well-financed, multifaceted global movement that operates like a juggernaut in much of the developing world, and even among immigrant Muslim communities in the West.”

    In the report, Ms. Shea cites dozens of examples of inflammatory language used against several groups, including Baha’is. The following excerpts come from supposedly revised books produced in 2010-11.
    Ms. Shea said the books are often exported by the Saudi education ministry to poor Muslim communities around the world who need textbooks.

    Last year, the BBC said they were being used by 5,000 Muslim students in Britain. Some of them have turned up in Islamic schools in the U.S., she said.

    And because the texts are posted online, they are easily available.

    Ms. Shea is especially critical of the U.S. State Department for not exerting enough pressure on the Saudis to change the texts. It talks about getting the Saudis to reform, but does little, she says.

    In the latest report, her fourth on the subject, she says four years ago the Saudis gave a “solemn promise” to undertake a program of reform to “eliminate all passages that disparage or promote hatred toward any religion or religious groups.”

    “I think it is a lack of guts and a certain amount of naiveté because [State Department] staffers believe what the Saudis tell them. But in the end we’re hooked on their oil, that’s what it comes down to.”

    A spokesman from the State Department refused to respond.

    read the full article at: