Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern regimes have, for years, co-opted religious establishments to serve their dictatorships. Thus, the more they heighten the differences between establishment Islam and ISIS Islam, the more they paint "establishment Islam" as a synonym for "brutal dictators who cynically exploit Islam for their own gain." Making this a fight over whose Islam is truer — the terrorist's Islam or the tyrant's Islam — offers the world a pretty unappealing set of choices, and it denies space for the vast majority of Muslims who want neither dictatorship nor terrorism.
Iyad el-Baghdadi, a prominent Middle East democracy activist, put this extremely well in a recent interview with my colleague Jennifer Williams. I've included the relevant snips of their conversation below.
His most important point, I think, is this: "The menu of ideas in the Arab world only has tyrants or terrorists. It doesn't have a third option. It's a very narrow menu." Because Saudi Arabia is leading this anti-ISIS, anti-terror coalition, it is exacerbating the perception that Middle Easterners must choose between those two bad options. And as long as those are seen as the only viable choices, at least some will pick extremism.
Full article on Vox here