Don't Fear All Islamists, Fear Salafis

(New York Times) Robin Wright - Salafis are ultraconservative Sunni Muslims vying to define the new order according to seventh-century religious traditions rather than earthly realities. A new Salafi Crescent, radiating from the Persian Gulf sheikdoms into the Levant and North Africa, is one of the most underappreciated and disturbing byproducts of the Arab revolts. In varying degrees, these populist puritans are moving into the political space once occupied by jihadi militants, who are now less in vogue. In Egypt, Salafis in January won 25% of the seats in parliament. Salafis are a growing influence in Syria's rebellion. And they have parties or factions in Algeria, Bahrain, Kuwait, Libya, Yemen and among Palestinians. A common denominator among disparate Salafi groups is inspiration and support from Wahhabis, a puritanical strain of Sunni Islam from Saudi Arabia. The Salafis' goals are the most anti-Western of any Islamist parties. Washington still embraces authoritarian Gulf monarchies like Saudi Arabia. Foreign policy should be nuanced, whether because of oil needs or to counter threats from Iran. But there is something dreadfully wrong with tying America's future position in the region to the birthplace and bastion of Salafism and its warped vision of a new order. The writer is a fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

2012-08-24 00:00:00

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