Paul Pillar

Abdullah Convokes the Muslims

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has called for a summit meeting of Muslim leaders to be held next month in Mecca. Described as an “extraordinary” summit, the gathering will be only the fourth such event in the forty-three-year history of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said the aim of the meeting will be to try to achieve greater unity “during this delicate time as the Muslim world faces dangers of fragmentation and sedition.”

There is no shortage of agenda items for the leaders who will meet in Mecca. There has been more than enough in just the Arab portion of the Muslim world lately to distress the aged Abdullah and other Saudis. Syria will be at the top of the list; the Saudi call for the summit meeting coincided with another call by the Saudi government—for donations to help their Syrian brethren. Then there is the strife in neighboring states such as Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain. The Saudis will work hard to bring others to their point of view as much as possible on these and other divisive matters, but they are unlikely to achieve anywhere close to the unity they would like.

The main thing for Westerners to note about this convocation is that its impetus is not about opportunities for the Muslim world to expand its scope or influence, or even about anything involving confrontation with non-Muslims. Instead, it is about divisions within the Muslim world—what is fragmenting it and what is even, depending on one's viewpoint, a matter of sedition. Those divisions include ones among those who might all bear the label “Islamist”. (This includes the government of Saudi Arabia, whose king is Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and whose constitution is the Koran.) The reasons for calling the summit meeting are a reminder not only, as Ahmed Charai has pointed out, that it is mistaken to talk about a rising Islamist tide. It also is mistaken to lump widely varying Islamists together in the way that much commentary in the West routinely does.

Image: Pikutthong