Saudi Arabia is reportedly spending $1 billion to “confront extremism” in Lebanon, putting former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in charge of overseeing the effort. In a sign of convergence of regional interests, Hariri made a triumphant return to the country he abandoned years ago, carrying with him Saudi money to fight a new enemy: extremism. Now believing to be immune against Iranian and Syrian threats, Hariri has been charged to act like a Sunni moderate leader to counter the rise of extremist Sunnis, be they local or regional.
As Lebanese Sunnis engage in memory loss, and turn a blind eye to the past failures of Hariri to lead by example, we see the Saudis engaging in the same type of denial, albeit about the religious foundation of groups like ISIS.
A case in point is the statement by the Saudi Mufti about extremist groups.
حذر مفتي عام السعودية عبدالعزيز آل الشيخ من التساهل في جرائم القتل، مؤكدا أن الجماعات المتطرفة التي تدعي الإسلام، هدفها الإفساد في الأرض، وأنها أدوات في أيدي أجهزة مخابرات عالمية.
Saudi Mufti Abdelaziz Al Sheikh warned against leniency towards murder crimes, confirming that extremist groups that claim Islam as a religion aim to spread corruption on earth, and that they are tools of global intelligence agencies.
So when ISIS beheads and kills and spreads “virtue” in a fashion not dissimilar to how it is done in parts of Saudi Arabia, they are acting on orders from intelligence agencies?
Arguing the absurdity of this logic is a waste of time. Sadly, this mufti is only propagating a wide held belief that these Islamists must not be inspired by anything local. It’s the same denial that has been destroying the fabric of this region for centuries.
One billion dollars is not going to do anything long lasting, not in Lebanon, not anywhere else, as long as people in the region do not admit to themselves that they are, at least partly, to blame. Just like Hariri needs to live up to the “moderate” image by actually practicing moderation towards other sects, Saudis and Muslims everywhere need to accept that there is a reason these crimes are taking on this sectarian and religious dimension. Denial is not a river anywhere. It’s the refusal to critically examine beliefs that have remained unquestioned for far too long.