Tuesday, December 12, 2017

High-Wire Act

The ship of Islam will take a long time to turn around, but the tiller has to be pulled hard over right now to get it started in the right direction.

I don't care if Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's motives are pure but I sure as Hell want him to succeed in this transformation:

Economic modernization and diversification, the prince saw, were essential, and they required social liberalization as the first order of business, beginning with allowing women to drive cars, the royal road to women’s liberation. Already, Saudi women are casting off the hijab and seizing modern social pleasures. The important point is that half the kingdom’s potential workforce will become free to produce, with hugely positive consequences for the economy.

But that’s only part of the social revolution that the prince’s economic transformation entails. Crucially, the royal family will find it harder to fund the radical Wahhabi Islam that OPEC has let grow like mushrooms. It’s hard to imagine that this well-established, well-fed worldwide network of terrorist-supporting fanatics, in their opulent mosques and madrassas—and especially in the more Spartan ones in Pakistan—will go quietly; little wonder that the prince has surrounded himself with a repressive security apparatus reminiscent of the Shah of Iran’s. He appears to be a quiet but inexorable foe of Muslim extremism, and consequently it is uncertain that he will emerge from his heroic and visionary remaking of the Saudi order with his head intact on his shoulders.

This was exactly the hope I had when I first heard the news of the purges.

Yet I worry that the constituency for change could be a single man who will be the target of jihadis and Islamist sympathizers.

But it is better to have that one vulnerable man trying to change Saudi-defined Islam than not to have that one man and continue on as is.

And I hope enough of the elite see their personal survival and wealth as under threat by the jihadis more than by Salman's reforms.

And if Salman succeeds in Saudi Arabia, there is a lot of damage that past Saudi religious foreign policy has to undo:

Pakistan's army chief on Thursday criticized madrassas that have mushroomed nationwide for mostly teaching only Islamic theology, saying the country needs to "revisit" the religious school concept.

Modernizing madrassa education is a thorny issue in Pakistan, a deeply conservative Muslim nation where religious schools are often blamed for radicalization of youngsters but are the only education available to millions of poor children.

The damage runs deep. It takes a village to craze a child, after all.

Not that Pakistan's potential for fragmentation is Saudi Arabia's fault. But Saudi past influence has to be undone to give Pakistan a fighting chance.