WASHINGTON, March 24 (UPI) -- The Saudi government is launching a program to retrain 40,000 Islamic clerics in a "culture of dialogue … centrism and moderation," reports as-Sharq al-Awsat.
The re-training is the latest element of a plan by Saudi authorities, under pressure from the United States and other Western allies, to rein in religious extremism and intolerance in the desert kingdom, especially in the nation's mosques, which have been accused of aiding in the recruitment of young men for terrorist violence.
As-Sharq al-Awsat, a Saudi-based daily newspaper, said Sunday on its Web site that the training would be carried out by the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue "in cooperation with" the Ministry of Islamic Affairs.
The center, set up in 2003, "is considered the largest project designed to achieve ideological change toward centrism and moderation and away from extremism and excess," said the paper and "to broaden … the base of dialogue among the various groups in Saudi society."
At the end of last year, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Naif Bin Abdulaziz told reporters that "security measures alone are not sufficient" to protect the Saudi homeland. "Ideological measures protect our youth and prevent deviant ideas from reaching their minds."
He accused the leaders of some mosques of "focusing on minor or outside issues," which he said "reflects incapacity and shortcomings."
"We must shift our focus to the greatest danger of all -- that is, deviation from religion and disobedience to those in charge."
"Unfortunately, to date," Naif added, "efforts to deal with the ideological aspect have fallen short of the standard that we hoped for."
The BBC says that the program has also already resulted in the dismissal of more than 1,000 clerics.