What the Saudis Can Do to Fight Ter­ror­ism

There are things they can do all by them­selves with­out re­course to the new so-called coali­tion

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Saudi Ara­bia’s mid-De­cem­ber an­nounce­ment that it will cre­ate a Mus­lim na­tion coali­tion against ter­ror­ism was greeted with faint praise and loud skep­ti­cism, and with rea­son. It turns out that Pak­istan had no idea it was part of the al­liance, and Afghanistan and In­done­sia are only con­tem­plat­ing join­ing. No Shi­ite-ma­jor­ity states were in­vited. And even by stan­dards of in­ter­na­tional diplo­macy, the Saudi state­ment was vague: It said noth­ing about what the part­ners would do or whether any mil­i­tary ac­tion was con­tem­plated.

If the Saudis are se­ri­ous about com­bat­ing global Is­lamic ex­trem­ism, there are many use­ful steps they could take— be­gin­ning by clean­ing their own house. For decades, pri­vate Saudi money and in­flu­ence has gone to­ward cre­at­ing mosques and schools across the Mus­lim world that in­doc­tri­nate young peo­ple into Wah­habism, the Saudi ex­trem­ist Is­lamic doc­trine. The Saudi in­flu­ence on ter­ror­ists ex­tends to Europe as well. Af­ter the Char­lie Hebdo at­tacks in Paris last Jan­uary, French leg­is­la­tors con­sid­ered a law to ban for­eign fund­ing of fun­da­men­tal­ist mosques. Aus­tria has such a law.

While there’s lit­tle gov­ern­ment fi­nanc­ing for the ex­port of Wah­habism, the Saudis could do more to stem the flow of pri­vate money to “char­i­ties” linked to ter­ror­ism whose op­er­a­tors the Saudi gov­ern­ment shields from pros­e­cu­tion. The king­dom also har­bors in­di­vid­u­als and com­pa­nies sanc­tioned by the U.S. for aid­ing ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Saudi Ara­bia could crack down on ex­trem­ist cler­ics at home, and not just those who ex­plic­itly back Is­lamic State. Hate­ful ide­ol­ogy is so preva­lent in the king­dom that it’s no won­der at least 2,500 Saudis have joined Is­lamic State. Saudi lead­ers should also ful­fill their prom­ise to re­move from state-is­sued text­books pas­sages so in­tol­er­ant—in­clud­ing in­struc­tion on how best to ex­e­cute heretics and ho­mo­sex­u­als—that Is­lamic State has down­loaded them for chil­dren in its ter­ri­to­ries.

As it be­gins a cam­paign against ex­trem­ism, Saudi Ara­bia should end its crack­down on free speech. One law, for ex­am­ple, equates open demon­stra­tions and in­sults to the state as ter­ror­ist acts. The blog­ger Raif Badawi has been sen­tenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for merely call­ing for mod­er­a­tion.

Saudi Ara­bia could also fight ter­ror­ism by re­dou­bling ef­forts to make peace with the Houthi rebels in Ye­men. That coun­try’s con­tin­u­ing dis­in­te­gra­tion makes it a hot­bed for ter­ror­ism. Fi­nally, Saudi Ara­bia should ful­fill its obli­ga­tion to pro­vide air sup­port and fi­nan­cial aid for the fight against Is­lamic State in Iraq and Syria. It now av­er­ages only a sin­gle airstrike per month.

In the so-called Jed­dah Com­mu­nique of Septem­ber 2014, Saudi lead­ers have al­ready sworn to “cut off the re­sources for ter­ror­ists” and be­come a “model” for ad­dress­ing ex­trem­ism. That’s a prom­ise they can make good on all by them­selves.

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