Jonathan Schanzer
Jonathan Schanzer
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Cover of Facebook Fatwa

Facebook Fatwa
Saudi Clerics, Wahhabi Islam and Social Media

by Jonathan Schanzer and Steven Miller
Washington, D.C.: FDD Press, 2012. 79 pp. $9.99
May 2012

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies has released the first-ever study of what radical Saudi Wahhabists are preaching to their followers about the United States and non-Muslims on social media sites.

In the report, titled "Facebook Fatwa," FDD vice president for research Jonathan Schanzer and FDD research associate Steve Miller applied military-grade software to cull Arabic and English language data from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, message boards, wikis, and RSS feeds.

"A staggering 75 percent of the Arabic-language posts we saw reflected xenophobic beliefs, or hostility toward the United States, the West, and non-Muslim cultures," said Schanzer. "To say the least, this contradicts what we hear from Riyadh about Saudi attempts to mitigate Wahhabi-inspired hatred throughout the Muslim world."

"Yet at the same time," he added, "we noted a precipitous drop in overt calls for violence. This may have been the most surprising take-away from our study."

At FDD's direction, the Washington, D.C.-based web analysis company ConStrat used its proprietary software to collect and score approximately 40,000 Saudi social media entries in Arabic and English between January 1 and June 30, 2011.

Among the other interesting findings, FDD noted that despite the Saudi religious establishment's historical opposition to the "corrupting" influence of modern technology, Saudi clerics are increasingly gravitating toward these tools to spread their own messages. As unsanctioned clerics embrace social media platforms, the Saudi regime may find them harder to control. In time, emboldened clerics could potentially challenge the regime itself, with greater effect than they have in the past.

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