Thursday, November 1, 2007

With friends like these

by Jason Burke from The Guardian

In the spring of 2003, local imams in northern Iraq were worried. Not just about the impending war, but about the inroads that ultra-conservative, intolerant and aggressive strands of Islam were making among their traditionally moderate congregations. The enemy in this particular struggle was not Saddam, they said, but Saudi Arabia. Since the Kurdish regions had established a de facto autonomy in the wake of the first Gulf war, the imam at the main mosque in Sulaymaniyah explained, hundreds of mosques had been built by Saudi Arabian religious foundations, their ultra-conservative imams imported from the Arabian peninsula. He and his fellow clerics simply did not have the means to compete with the massive aid being distributed by Saudi-based charitable organisations - aid contingent on attendance at special Qur'anic lessons, on wives or sisters wearing a veil and leaving secular political parties. Most damaging of all, he said, was the flood of pamphlets and books that pushed a worldview in which Jews, Christians, Shias and the west were cast as Muslims' sworn enemies ... What I heard in Sulaymaniyah should surprise no one. For many decades, Saudi Arabia has used its prodigious profits from oil not just to buy off domestic dissent but to fund the export around the world of one of the most conservative, rigorous and intolerant strains of Islam.

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