Facebook Fatwa: Saudi Clerics, Wahhabi Islam and the Threat of Social Media Radicalization

May 23, 2012
7:30 pm -

Event Description

After the September 11 attacks of 2001, and following al-Qaeda’s violent campaign against Saudi Arabia in 2003 and 2004, Saudi authorities launched a crackdown on state-sanctioned radicalism in the Kingdom. This included tighter controls on terror finance, dismantling al-Qaeda’s local cells, and monitoring the country’s mosques. One decade later, a new study by FDD finds that elements of the religious establishment continue to disseminate rulings and opinions that run counter to U.S. interests, and they do so increasingly via social media. Leveraging internet technology usually deployed on behalf of the U.S. military, FDD found that Twitter, Facebook, and other social media tools have allowed many radical Saudi clerics to communicate with the Saudi public and wider Muslim world on an unprecedented scale.

How are Saudi clerics leveraging online social media? Do these “Facebook Fatwas” promote violence? Does this challenge outweigh the need for greater freedom of expression in the Kingdom?

FDD has assembled a panel of experts to tackle these questions:

Michael Doran is the Roger Hertog Senior Fellow at Brookings Saban Center for Middle East Policy, where he specializes in U.S. policy toward the Middle East, radical Islam, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. In academia, Mr. Doran has served as a visiting professor at the Robert. F. Wagner Graduate School for Public Service at New York University and previously taught at Princeton University and the University of Central Florida. Mr. Doran was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy at the Department of Defense in 2007 after serving as the Senior Director for Near East and North African Affairs at the National Security Council from 2005 – 2007, where his portfolio included Saudi Arabia.

Reuel Marc Gerecht is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former Iran analyst at the CIA’s Directorate of Operations. He focuses on the Arab Revolt, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, terrorism, and intelligence. Mr. Gerecht is the author ofThe Wave: Man, God, and the Ballot Box in the Middle East, Know Thine Enemy: A Spy’s Journey into Revolutionary Iran, and The Islamic Paradox: Shiite Clerics, Sunni Fundamentalists, and the Coming of Arab Democracy. He is a contributing editor for The Weekly Standard and a correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, as well as a frequent contributor to The Wall Street JournalThe New York Times, and other publications.

Steven Miller is a Research Associate at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where he monitors and analyzes the Arabic language press and conducts research relating online media in Saudi Arabia. Prior to joining FDD, Mr. Miller was a policy analyst at the Institute for Gulf Affairs, where he conducted research on Saudi Arabia’s education curriculum and the security of Saudi Arabia’s energy infrastructure. He studied Arabic at Indiana University and is the co-author of Facebook Fatwa: Saudi Clerics, Wahhabi Islam and Social Media.

Younesse Safaa is the Director of Strategic Research at ConStrat, a Washington, D.C.-based web technology and analytics company that the Foundation for Defense of Democracies contracted to collect and analyze data for Facebook Fatwa. Mr. Safaa previously served as a Senior Foreign Media Analyst covering Middle East and North Africa for U.S. Strategic Command, where he used cutting-edge technology to collect, analyze and synthesize messages in the blogosphere and traditional media outlets. He holds a BA in Government and International Politics from George Mason University and a degree in English Literature from the University of Mohammed V Rabat, Morocco.

Jonathan Schanzer is Vice President for Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the co-author of Facebook Fatwa. In 2010 he published a monograph with FDD’s executive director Mark Dubowitz titled Palestinian Pulse: What Policymakers Can Learn from Palestinian Social Media, which also utilized ConStrat’s technology. In 2008, he published the book Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine, the only book on the market that analyzes the internecine conflict between the two most powerful Palestinian factions. Dr. Schanzer previously worked as a terrorism finance analyst at the Department of the Treasury.


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