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It’s a joke, US terror expert baffled by Saudi-led Putrajaya centre

 | July 14, 2017

Zachary Abuza says there is nothing moderate about the Saudis whose restrictive version of Islam is now a threat to Muslims in the region.

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KUALA LUMPUR: An American expert on terrorism said he was baffled by Malaysia’s decision to work closely with Saudi Arabia in promoting moderation and countering terrorism through the establishment of a new centre in Putrajaya.

Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College in Washington and an expert on Southeast Asian conflicts, said he failed to understand why Prime Minister Najib Razak is partnering with Riyadh, which is known for its spread of Wahhabism which he described as an “intolerant version of Islam”.

“Saudis have been spreading Wahhabism throughout the world, especially Southeast Asia, from a more tolerant brand of Shafi’ite Islam to a more austere version,” said Abuza in an interview with FMT.

“To reach out to Saudis to form a centre of moderate Islam is a joke. Nothing moderate about Saudi Arabia,” said the professor, who has done extensive research on terror-related activities as well as the conflicts in southern Thailand and southern Philippines.

Najib recently announced that the government had approved 16ha of land in the administrative capital of Putrajaya to build a new “centre for peace” named after the present Saudi king.

The King Salman Centre for International Peace (KSCIP) followed a highly publicised visit by the Saudi ruler to Malaysia last March, as well as Najib’s participation in a summit in Riyadh attended by US President Donald Trump.

It has emerged that the Muslim World League (MWL), an organisation heavily funded by the Saudi government to prop up the kingdom’s Islamic image worldwide, is also involved in the new centre.

MWL has for decades acted as Riyadh’s chief mouthpiece through the publication of Islamic materials and the financing of mosques and Islamic centres from Asia to Europe.

But a recent report by a British think tank linked MWL to extremist ideologies behind militant groups such as Al-Qaeda, Taliban and Islamic State (IS), adding that MWL’s associate World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) “has had a long history of involvement with the promotion of violent Islamist extremism and the distribution of hateful literature”.

“Equally, MWL has had officials and member organisations linked with both Al-Qaeda and the Taliban,” said the London-based Henry Jackson Society in its report, “Foreign Funded Extremism in the UK”, released early this month.

Formed by Saudi intelligence

Abuza said he was not surprised by the report, saying MWL was a creation of the Saudi intelligence when the kingdom was financing the Mujahidin fighters in Afghanistan who fought the invading Soviet Union, the US’s main rival in the 1980s.

He said the group had channelled “money and extreme elements”, but acknowledged that Saudi-sponsored groups including MWL had carried out many humanitarian projects in far-away Muslim heartlands such as the Philippines and Indonesia.

However, he said many of the charities “have been misdirected or misused by militant groups”.

He said in recent times, Saudi-linked organisations have been actively promoting Wahhabism, the controversial strand of Islam which has inspired the Saudi ban on women from driving, among other restrictions.

Abuza did not dismiss the possibility that KSCIP was also geared towards promoting Wahhabism.

“The Saudis want to spread Wahhabism, because that’s their soft power over the Muslim world,” he said.

He said IS has gained a proportionately large following among Malaysians when compared to neighbouring countries, citing the Khatibah Nusantara, the IS-linked group consisting of Southeast Asian militants.

‘Najib does not need Saudis’

Abuza said Malaysian authorities had so far done well in countering IS, and that this was in contrast to their denials in the past over Jemaah Islamiah, a regional organisation linked to Al-Qaeda.

But he still could not understand the need for the Saudi connection in countering terrorism, adding that it could have to do with 1MDB.

“Saudi Arabia has always been important to Najib, politically and financially, like 1MDB, investments. In terms of foreign policy, that’s a harder question. Clearly Najib is following the Saudi line. Whether he’s doing it out of principle or investments, that’s hard to say.

“Najib doesn’t have to go to the Saudis,” said Abuza, adding that there was no ideological difference between the Saudis’ interpretation of Islam and that of IS.

“The Saudis are not challenging IS ideology.”

Abuza said KSCIP was “counter-productive” in fighting IS and terrorism.

“If you want to set up an idealogical challenge to IS, it has to be more pluralistic, tolerant rather than mimicking less barbaric practices.”

Saudi body involved in Putrajaya ‘peace centre’ linked to extremism


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