Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Unified Saudi-Wahhabi 'masterplan'...or 'accident'?

AbuAardvark, (MESA), here
"...I also chaired a panel on Wahhabism and Saudi foreign policy, attended by about 125 people at a rather late hour in the conference. The size of the audience attests to the demand for quality research on these topics, and also speaks well to the respect commanded by young European scholars such as Thomas Hegghammer, Stephane Lecroix, Laurent Bonnifoy, and Bernard Rougier. Hegghammer offered a counter-intuitive revision of the nature of and reasons for Saudi support for the Afghan jihad in the 1980s, focusing heavily on Abdullah Azzam and the "Muslim Brotherhood" trend rather than on the official Saudi ulema. Lecroix presented a more general argument about the domestic political bases of variations in Saudi policies towards religious projects abroad, with a particularly interesting look at the struggles between competing trends at the Islamic University of Medina. Bonnifoy presented an exceptionally detailed, well-constructed account of the limitations of Saudi attempts to influence Yemeni salafists. I had hoped for a more direct intellectual confrontation between these three scholars - all of whose work deeply complicates any conception of a unified Saudi masterplan or of the easy reception of these Saudi efforts by their intended audiences - and a fourth panelist, Naveed Sheikh, whose paper (extracted from a forthcoming book), had presented a fairly strong argument for such a "masterplan". Unfortunately, the strong version of his argument did not really materialize in the presentation and little direct engagement between these positions really emerged. The final paper by Norman Cigar, focused on the military strategic text of al-Qaeda figure Abd al-Aziz al-Muqrin, didn't really fit the panel but was a fascinating contribution in its own right - though several people questioned the significance of such texts (it was David Patel, I think, who wondered whether there was an inverse relationship between successful campaigns and campaigns which produced a lot of such texts)."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One and a half middle-eastern names in all the 'experts' mentioned. Not that I am one, but why have so few folks from the area you try to study?