Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Understanding the new Saudi-American ideology

Ghassan al-Imam is another weekly columnist at the Saudi-oriented Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, like Mamoun Fandy who was mentioned a couple of posts back. Like Fandy, he seems to be able to offer an authoritative rendition of current Saudi regime views, in broad outline, that is. Al-Imam's latest column dated Tuesday October 10, starts like this:
Following the jihadi Hizbullah war, the Arab order [meaning the big Arab regimes including Saudi Arabia] was frankly in a state of anxiety about national security, and pessimism about the future. The reason was the escalating wave of narrow-minded religion, and the political-chaotic exploitation of it by fundamentalists controlled by the brotherhood, the jihadi-hood, and the takfiiri-hood.
Notice the contemptuous lumping together of the Muslim Brotherhood (religiously inclusive) with the takfiiris (the opposite); the dismissal of the Hizbullah response to the Israeli attack as "jihadi"; and the outpouring of Arab-street admiration and support for Hizbullah as a reflection of "narrow-minded religion". (The word here means strict or puritanical or narrow-minded; some take the liberty of translating this as "extremist", making it sound more like Condi speaking).

Al-Imam goes on to explain the anxiety of Arab officialdom has been on the rise "since the return to power of the Khomeni revolutionaries, and their resumption of the export of the Shiite revolution to the Arabs, igniting a religious rising via their 'support' (Al-Imam's quotation marks) for the Palestinian cause, based on delaying any political settlement, and concocting losing confrontations whose price would be paid by Lebanon and the West Bank and Gaza".

Suspension by Israel and the US of the Palestinian peace process gave Iran a further chance to promote "emotion on the Arab street", and this provided further cover for its (Iran's) other aims, which included among other things "strengthening its agent regime in Iraq, financing and training militia and sending them to tear apart this Arab country (Iraq), and splitting it up according to the federalism project and (the project of) self-governing regions".

And what have the Arab regimes done about this? Nothing yet, says Al-Imam, citing general weakness and internal dissension as one reason. But he says there is a much more important reason for the lack of any anti-Iran response, and it is the following

The official Arab order has behaved, and still behaves, with self-flagellation and refutation of itself and of its future, and it has done this since the 70s of the previous century. Confronted with radical nationalism [he is talking about Nasser] and Marxism [probably talking about the Baath movement, although not really Marxists], they formed an alliance with the traditional religious-institutional order. [This traditional religious-institutional order], in the course of its religious instruction, was able to lay the groundwork and prepare the framework for a politicization, and a party-ization of religion. It built up missionary and other fundamentalist organizations that became politicized and narrow-minded. And from them in turn were hatched the so-called "jihadi" and takfiiri organizations, which are even more closed and more intolerant [actually "more takfiiri", meaning more inclined to excommunicate anyone outside their group].

In fact, it is pretty well accepted that this is in fact what the Saudi regime, at least, did in response to their fears about a nationalist-leftist upsurge in the 60s and 70s, then amplified with their support for jihad against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. What the Saudi regime is now saying, and this is amplified and explained by writers like Al-Imam and Fandy, is that this whole alliance with religion was a mistake. The "correct line" is no longer the state wrapped in the flag of religion. The correct line is now the state independent of religion. This is a huge 180-degree turn in Saudi ideology and policy. Fear of secular activism in the 70s led the Saudi regime to embrace religion as its ideology; now the fear of Hizbullah and others has led the Saudi regime to reverse course, renounce official religion, and embrace the secular state as its ideology. In both cases the Saudi policy nicely complements that of the US: Anti-communism in the 70s; neo-con demonization of religion-based activism in the new century. What is more virulent this time around is the fact that the animosity is more finely calibrated and has a racial component (race-based anti-Persian feelings on the Saudi side; generalized fear of Arab terror for the Americans); and the more-aggressive Bush "preemptive" approach in place of mere "containment".


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you saying that the Saudi ruling family has renounced official religion, and embraced the secular state as its ideology? I think they're a long ways from that. And I'm curious to know what leads you to believe that the racial component is a big factor?

12:59 PM  
Blogger badger said...

anonymous, I'm sorry I didn't see this until today (Oct 14). I try to put things in a netshell and maybe sometimes I overdo it. The regime obviously didn't renounce official religion in the sense of giving up the Quran as the constitution or anything like that. But from the writings of people close to the regime like Fandy and al-Imam, it is clear that they have given up that kind of alliance with religion that eventually led to an environment of support for armed jihad. I was just trying to put that in simple terms. As for the secular state as ideology, it would be better to say the new position is merely that the state as such is the legitimate political entity, and in secular or political issues, the state acts on its own without relying on a religious ideology to back it up. This is especially clear from the Fandy piece (a couple of posts back) where he talks about the dangers of Ismalization of issues that are property in the sphere of the state. As for race, that is a big issue. The new policy demonizes Iran, and correct me if I am wrong, but isn't "Safavid" a racial epithet?

I appreciate all your comments, and I'm sorry I didn't see this right away.

9:43 AM  

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