Soon after I started contributing to GetReligion last year I posted a piece that ran under the headline: "Do American newspapers have the time, space and patience to cover Saudi Arabia?" I concluded that more meaningful coverage of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), as the petroleum-rich monarchy is formally known, was needed for Americans to better understand the Middle East's interrelated array of serious problems.
I'm sure my post has nothing do with it, but I'm pleased to now write that The New York Times in recent months has published a series of probing, in depth stories on the KSA that should be required reading for all.
For religion and international affairs reporters in particular, Saudi Arabia is a critically important story to follow. That's because if for no other reason, global Muslim terrorism is a deadly, ongoing phenomenon that has no end in sight.
And guess what. The KSA's brand of deeply conservative Islam known as Wahhabism is one reason for this brutal chaos.
Journalists should learn all they can about the kingdom's exportation of Wahhabism throughout the Muslim world, including its influence on the Islamic State (ISIS), Al Queda and other jihadi groups.
The Times is as well positioned as any elite, international newspaper -- and, seriously, how many are in its league to begin with? -- to report the breath of the KSA's often negative impact on global affairs. The Times still has the bucks, journalistic talent, and, perhaps most importantly, an understanding of the time and investment of resources required to nail down the toughest stories.
No matter what you may think about the paper's generally liberal take on most social and political issues of the day, I'd say all serious and fair-minded journalists owe a nod of appreciation debt to The Times for its recent coverage of the KSA.
Here's an example of that coverage from May. It's a piece on how the Saudis have used their extraordinary wealth to turn the Balkan nation of Kosovo from a land of laid back Islamic moderation (moderate, that is, from my non-Muslim Westerner's perspective) to one in which hardline Wahhabism now flourishes.
The Times' story, was headlined, "How Kosovo was Turned into Fertile Ground for ISIS." Here's the top of it:
PRISTINA, Kosovo — Every Friday, just yards from a statue of Bill Clinton with arm aloft in a cheery wave, hundreds of young bearded men make a show of kneeling to pray on the sidewalk outside an improvised mosque in a former furniture store.
The mosque is one of scores built here with Saudi government money and blamed for spreading Wahhabism — the conservative ideology dominant in Saudi Arabia — in the 17 years since an American-led intervention wrested tiny Kosovo from Serbian oppression.
Since then — much of that time under the watch of American officials — Saudi money and influence have transformed this once-tolerant Muslim society at the hem of Europe into a font of Islamic extremism and a pipeline for jihadists.
Kosovo now finds itself, like the rest of Europe, fending off the threat of radical Islam. Over the last two years, the police have identified 314 Kosovars — including two suicide bombers, 44 women and 28 children — who have gone abroad to join the Islamic State, the highest number per capita in Europe.
They were radicalized and recruited, Kosovo investigators say, by a corps of extremist clerics and secretive associations funded by Saudi Arabia and other conservative Arab gulf states using an obscure, labyrinthine network of donations from charities, private individuals and government ministries.
The Times followed up this story with an editorial highly critical of the desert monarchy's self-serving dealings with the West in general, and the United States in particular (while other unnamed Arab Gulf states are also referenced, the Saudis are the region's undisputed majordomo). It contained this paragraph:
The United States and NATO invested heavily in helping Kosovo gain independence from Serbia in 2008 and establish democracy. That Saudi Arabia should be using Kosovo as a breeding ground for extremists, or allowing it to be used as a breeding ground by any Saudi entity or citizen, is a cruel reminder of the contradictory and even duplicitous behavior of America’s partners in the Persian Gulf and helps to explain why its relationships with those countries have become increasingly troubled.
Other recent Times stories have focused on how Wahhabism is dividing Saudi families and even threatening the monarchy from within, and how America's relationship with the KSA forced the U.S. to get entangled in fighting in Yemen between the government and jihadis,
No wonder a frustrated Senate backed legislation that will allow Americans to sue the KSA over Saudi involvement in the 9/11 attacks (15 of the 19 9/11 terrorists were Saudi citizens) This, despite strong Saudi objections and counter-threats and President Barack Obama's pledge to veto the bill.
If you've been reading my posts on this site about the KSA, you know that I've focused on how the kingdom uses its power -- which flows, in addition to its wealth, from the KSA's status in the Muslim world as the place where Islam first appeared and where the holy cities of Mecca and Medina are located -- to assume strategic positions at the UN. Those positions are key to allowing the KSA to escape international approbation for its horrendous human rights record. Click here for one such piece.
So I, for one, am delighted with The Times' spate of stories about the KSA. The Times should be acknowledged in this instance for providing us an example of big-issue newspaper journalism at its best.