The Terrorists the Saudis Cultivate in Peaceful Countries
In the NY Times Nicholas Kristof writes:
FIRST, a three-part quiz:
Which Islamic country celebrates as a national hero a 15th-century Christian who battled Muslim invaders?
Which Islamic country is so pro-American it has a statue of Bill Clinton and a women’s clothing store named “Hillary” on Bill Klinton Boulevard?
Which Islamic country has had more citizens go abroad to fight for the Islamic State per capita than any other in Europe?
The answer to each question is Kosovo, in southeastern Europe — and therein lies a cautionary tale. Whenever there is a terrorist attack by Muslim extremists, we look to our enemies like the Islamic State or Al Qaeda. But perhaps we should also look to our “friends,” like Saudi Arabia.
For decades, Saudi Arabia has recklessly financed and promoted a harsh and intolerant Wahhabi version of Islam around the world in a way that is, quite predictably, producing terrorists. And there’s no better example of this Saudi recklessness than in the Balkans.
Kosovo and Albania have been models of religious moderation and tolerance, and as the Clinton statue attests, Kosovars revere the United States and Britain for averting a possible genocide by Serbs in 1999 (there are also many Kosovar teenagers named Tony Blair!). Yet Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries poured money into the new nation over the last 17 years and nurtured religious extremism in a land where originally there was little.
The upshot is that, according to the Kosovo government, 300 Kosovars have traveled to fight in Syria or Iraq, mostly to join the Islamic State. As my colleague Carlotta Gall noted in a pathbreaking article about radicalization here, Saudi money has transformed a once-tolerant Islamic society into a pipeline for jihadists.
In a sign of the times, the government last year had to turn off the water supply in the capital temporarily amid fears of an Islamic State-inspired plot to poison the city’s water.
“Saudi Arabia is destroying Islam,” Zuhdi Hajzeri, an imam at a 430-year-old mosque here in the city of Peja, told me sadly. Hajzeri is a moderate in the traditional, tolerant style of Kosovo — he is the latest in a long line of imams in his family — and said that as a result he had received more death threats from extremists than he can count.
Hajzeri and other moderates have responded with a website,Foltash.com, that criticizes the harsh Saudi Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. But they say they are outgunned by money pouring in from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to support harsh variants of Islam through a blizzard of publications, videos and other materials.
“The Saudis completely changed Islam here with their money,” said Visar Duriqi, a former imam in Kosovo who became a journalist who writes about extremist influences. Duriqi cites himself as an example: He says he was brainwashed and underwent an extremist phase in which he called for imposing Shariah law and excusing violence. Those views now horrify him. . .