President Trump’s visit this weekend to Saudi Arabia was largely hailed as a success: He appeared to enjoy himself on his first foreign trip as president; he announced billions in Saudi investment in the U.S.; and his speech on terrorism was well received. But it was one photograph Sunday that got much of the attention online:
In the image, Trump, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, and Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi have their hands on an orb that lit up upon their touch, an image that immediately drew humorous comparisons online with comic-book villains, Star Wars protagonists, and Star Trek mind control—not to mention references to the Illuminati and Lord of the Rings. Saudi news reports set the record straight, saying the illuminated orb was, in fact, a globe, and that by placing their hands on it, the three leaders “officially activated the” Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology in Riyadh, a facility that will monitor extremist messaging in real time.
Extremist messaging online has been particularly effective in attracting recruits to terrorist groups such as ISIS, which espouses a strict version of Sunni Islam, and which the U.S. and its allies, including Saudi Arabia, are fighting. But Saudi Arabia also finances religious schools around the world that teach a form of Sunni Islam that many critics say contributes to the spread of radical ideology among youth.