Saudi Arabia and the Global Islamic Terrorist Network
Sarah N. Stern (ed.)
(Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) 288 pp.

Reviewed by Rachel Bzostek, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science and History, The University of Texas at Tyler

Recently, the academic literature has been filled with numerous pieces examining various facets and aspects of international terrorism. What has been missing, however, is an in-depth examination of one of the key actors in international terrorism-Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia and the Global Islamic Terrorist Network, edited by Sarah N. Stern, fills much of this gap.

With a series of concise and diverse chapters, the book addresses a multiplicity of ways in which Saudi Arabia is involved (directly or indirectly) with terrorism or radical ideology. For example, there are chapters that address topics as diverse as financing, indoctrination, lobbying, and education. This type of analysis is critical for both students and scholars alike since the involvement of the Saudi regime is often hidden behind multiple layers of NGOs, PR firms, or other “shadow” actors.

Additionally, many of the chapters discuss elements that are not often highlighted within the academic community. For example, within the political science/international relations or history literature, there is not very much discussion about elementary, high school, or even college area studies curricula. In this book, however, there is a vibrant discussion about various groups that are working to dominate the discussion about Islam within these areas. In fact, the book illustrates the development of a parallel education system within the United States designed to facilitate an Islam-based primary educational system, without any oversight for textbooks or curriculum. Additionally, to a certain extent, these same actors are also infiltrating various aspects of area studies programs across many college campuses. While diversity and freedom of expression are laudatory goals, it is also essential (particularly with respect to school curricula) that the equally laudatory ideals of tolerance and respect are also presented. According to the information presented here, however, this is not the case.

The United States is not the only focus of the analysis. Various other chapters address elements such as international finance or operations within Europe, Canada, and the Balkans. By expanding the analysis beyond the United States, the overall picture presented is much more robust-and to a certain extent more concerning. No longer can Saudi activities be dismissed as a state behaving “actively” in a “friendly” manner, but rather, a state engaging very deliberately in a geographically (and politically) diverse area. In this respect, the behavior can be viewed as systematic.

Many chapters in the book also conclude with insightful strategies for policies that can be adopted in the future. Rather than just pointing out what is wrong right now, these strategies can be used by those in power to make things better in the future. This type of analysis is essential for any type of progress to be made in countering terrorism or radical extremism.

While some of the chapters do ask the reader to make a few conceptual leaps that are not fully supported, on the whole the book offers much needed insight and analysis. The book does an excellent job shining a bright light onto elements such as Islamic financing-an obscure topic that many are unaware of, but impacts most of us-or the role of Saudi oil companies in promoting educational tools in the United States. Through this type of analysis, the true links between the propagators of radical ideologies, the financiers of terrorism, and those who carry out acts of terrorism can become clear. Only when we understand all of those links can we truly begin to successfully battle terrorism.