The religious freedom director compared this weak U.S. effort to the substantial progress made on the subject of terrorist funding, “to the point where the Saudi religious establishment issued a fatwa in 2010, saying that financing terror was a sin. That's an amazing breakthrough. It took a long time to get that.”
“But there's no hope in sight for reform of the Saudi textbooks, because there isn't that kind of pressure from the United States.” Shea thinks that's because “the U.S. just doesn't want to get involved in the ideological contest.”
More specifically, she believes that both Republican and Democratic administrations have been reluctant to quarrel with Saudi officials over what's seen as an exclusively religious matter.
“I think that the diplomats, frankly, are very uncomfortable talking about religion. They don't know how to analyze it, and they are really blind to it … There is a reluctance, by diplomats, to talk about religion. (As though) somehow they're 'criticizing Islam' if they say that.”
“I think that they're afraid to anger the Saudis. But they're not afraid (when) insisting that terrorist financing stop. They've made some success there. They need to see this in the same light.”
Diplomatic pressure would succeed if applied, Shea says, because of the oil-rich kingdom's sensitivity to criticism and its need to maintain a good relationship with the U.S.
“The Saudis do care about their reputation. And seeing the United States as the guarantor of their own security (against regional rivals) … they don't defend this education. When it's raised, they either say that it's been cleaned up or it will be cleaned up.”
“They don't defend it at all – and that's what makes me feel that if we keep the spotlight on it, and keep pressure on, they will eventually have to do something about it.”
But since there is not an incentive, the pace of progress in reforming the textbooks since 9/11 has been “glacial.”
In the meantime, the Saudi clerics' Wahhabist interpretation of Islam continues to spread throughout the Muslim world.
“Indonesia which was traditionally noted as a very moderate, open society, has become more radicalized,” she noted, describing the progress of the ideology in the world's largest Muslim country.
“It's not just confined to Saudi Arabia. They're posted online, these textbooks, and also shipped around the world to Muslim communities by the Saudis – free of charge, using their vast oil wealth. And it's radicalizing societies.”
(Story continues below)
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