Saudi Arabia Steps Away from, but Does Not Repudiate, Religious Extremism

March 25 2020

For its entire history, the Saudi state has been wedded to an austere and stringent form of Islam known as Wahhabism, and has used its wealth and influence to disseminate it among Muslim communities the world over. In doing so, Riyadh did much to abet the rise of radical Islam in the 20th century. The kingdom began to shift gears in 2003, after it became a victim of jihadist terror. But greater changes have come since the reforms of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, which began in 2016. Ilan Berman writes:

Today . . . the Saudi government appears to be making a major effort to strike a more moderate religious tone globally. This is visible in the kingdom’s attempts at dialogue, with Saudi religious officials taking pains to engage other Muslim governments and movements that they had previously ignored or denigrated. It can also be seen in Saudi religious authorities’ official interfaith outreach, such as the recent delegation of imams, headed by the Muslim World League’s Secretary-General Mohammad al-Issa, that traveled to Auschwitz to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp by Allied forces at the end of World War II.

These overtures, however, do not constitute an outright repudiation of Wahhabism on the part of the House of Saud. Indeed, in his now-famous April 2018 interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, the crown prince refused even to acknowledge the existence of this creed, let alone its role as a driver of the kingdom’s foreign policy in decades past. Similarly, Saudi academics and officials are uniformly defensive when discussing the country’s role in the promotion of extreme Islam abroad, describing the kingdom’s well-documented exportation of Wahhabism over the past several decades as a “misunderstanding” or a conspiracy theory cooked up by the country’s enemies, like Iran.

Given these circumstances, the Saudi government’s recent turn on religion falls short of a fundamental change of heart or ideological reorientation. It is, rather, best understood as what scholars have termed a “course correction”—one designed, above all, to show the world a kinder, more inclusive side of the regime. Yet, whatever its limitations, this shift is nonetheless exerting a pronounced influence on the country’s domestic counterterrorism efforts.

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Read more at Center for Global Policy

More about: Mohammad bin Salman, Radical Islam, Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism, War on Terror

Reforms to Israel’s Judiciary Must Be Carefully Calibrated

The central topic of debate in Israel now is the new coalition government’s proposed reforms of the nation’s judiciary and unwritten constitution. Peter Berkowitz agrees that reform is necessary, but that “the proper scope and pace of reform, however, are open to debate and must be carefully calibrated.”

In particular, Berkowitz argues,

to preserve political cohesiveness, substantial changes to the structure of the Israeli regime must earn support that extends beyond these partisan divisions.

In a deft analysis of the conservative spirit in Israel, bestselling author Micah Goodman warns in the Hebrew language newspaper Makor Rishon that unintended consequences flowing from the constitutional counterrevolution are likely to intensify political instability. When a center-left coalition returns to power, Goodman points out, it may well repeal through a simple majority vote the major changes Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition seeks to enact. Or it may use the legislature’s expanded powers, say, to ram through laws that impair the religious liberty of the ultra-Orthodox. Either way, in a torn nation, constitutional counterrevolution amplifies division.

Conservatives make a compelling case that balance must be restored to the separation of powers in Israel. A prudent concern for the need to harmonize Israel’s free, democratic, and Jewish character counsels deliberation in the pursuit of necessary constitutional reform.

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Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Judicial Reform