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"Saudi Specialist"

Reader comment on item: [Brandon Mayfield Case:] "If You Are Muslim, You Are Suspect"

Submitted by Carool Kersten (Thailand), Jun 1, 2004 at 22:15

I was surprised to read your qualification of Stephen Schwartz as a "Saudi specialist". Mr. Schwartz is a capable writer and journalist; he has done important work in connection with the situation in the Balkans during the 1990s, but he is not an expert on Saudi Arabia. Not only does he have no academic background in Arabic, Islamic or Middle Eastern studies -- that in itself can easily be compensated for -- but he has, to my knowledge, never even visited the country.

I am assuming you have used this qualification because he is the author of "The Two Faces of Islam". While I sympathize with Mr. Schwartz' advocacy of that 'other' -- more tolerant, Sufi-inspired -- Islam, his account of things Saudi and Wahhabi is undermined by factual errors and the use of vitriolic vocabulary. Details can be found in my critical review of the book on amazon.com

As an arabist and former ten-year resident of Saudi Arabia, I agree that the country's regime deserves to be severly criticized for sustaining a highly intolerant doctrine and keeping an out-dated political system in place. However the stereotypical pro- and con-accounts that either romanticize it as some exotic 'desert kingdom' or vilify its 'barbarian Muslim fanatics' do not contribute to our understanding of this complex country.

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