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Opinion: Extremism only thrives when it is left unchallenged - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Saudi security forces in six cities have gone after terrorist cells linked to the terror attack in the district of Al-Ahsa that killed seven citizens earlier this week. During a confrontation with gunmen, two members of the security forces were killed, including one who had been injured in 2005 during clashes with Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists in the same area.

It is interesting here how history repeats itself: Extremist teachings produce acts of terror; unarmed civilians are killed; the country becomes overwhelmed with fear about the return of terrorism; and a member of the security forces who survived a previous fight is destined to die in a later battle.

People are not born terrorists; they are victims of extremism in a broad sense—where a local culture fails to challenge extremism, and through defects in the judicial system. Several people arrested on terrorism charges were freed from custody due to complaints regarding their detention, despite their having been active in extremist circles.

Extremist teachings and discourse became more widespread because the situation was left to get worse. The circle of extremism thus expanded until it all became as if we were living among the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It is as if extremism had settled everywhere, controlling the mentality of a large minority and sparking fear among a majority who were afraid to confront it and who were afraid for themselves, their children, and their future.

Are we aware of the size of the problem, and that it is not just one of ensuring security? Every time a terrorist cell is formed, we expect the security forces to pursue it and treat it as a threat to society and to emerging generations. However, every time an extremist movement within one generation is prosecuted or suppressed, a more dangerous one emerges in the subsequent generation. These generations are a threat to the international community, which publicly complains about them and has no qualms over causing discomfort to Saudi citizens around the world’s airports and universities. The same societies also criticize us, alleging that the same terrorism that threatens the entire world is a product of our culture and a result of our failure to curb extremism and get rid of the disease that has terrorized the world since the 1990s.

We must realize that there is an international responsibility we must all bear, and that our rivals will exploit any failure in doing so when the rest of the world holds us accountable. The world will not just settle for avoiding us as it is currently doing with societies stricken by the Ebola virus and similar fatal diseases.

Extremists are a source of internal and external threat. Hostile countries use our children, their organizations, crimes, publications and media as a means to turn the international community against us, to isolate us, and thus destroy everything we have built.

Our record in fighting terrorism will not serve as a defense. Is there someone who realizes the scale of the threat and is doing something to prevent it, other than just counting on security forces to pursue terrorists who become like ticking time-bombs walking among us?

It hass been a long time since the issue of terrorism surfaced and we have been aware of the extent of the problem since the mid-1990s, during the first wave of bombings. Then we were shocked by the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York in 2001. Similar attacks struck us directly in 2003 in Riyadh, and we were then engaged in a fierce war against Al-Qaeda across Saudi Arabia for around six years.

We thought all of the Al-Qaeda cells had been destroyed, but their extremist ideology reproduced itself in even more cells. These same cells made their first move in Al-Ahsa, and their crime was the first of its kind.

Truth be told, the Saudi Grand Mufti’s robust stance against the perpetrators is what encouraged many to say that we must not be silent regarding these terrorist cells—as the lives of millions of people are in danger. We must not get caught between becoming either victims of the deceit of extremist ideologues, or becoming victims of extremist violence.

The responsibility of confronting extremism must not be left up to hesitant, fearful, suspicious people. The practice of leaving it up to such individuals has not stood the test of time. They have done nothing to deserve success during a whole decade since the War on Terror was declared. Funds continue to be collected, leaflets continue to be distributed, and extremist doctrines continue to spread through different media outlets.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of extremists in universities and schools—both teachers and students—and this leaves no room for doubt regarding the danger this poses for future generations. Even our students abroad are not left alone to develop and flourish in an atmosphere beyond their influence.

This tough talk about the Kingdom is not exclusive to us. It applies to similar countries in the Gulf, and to Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia, and other migrant communities in the West—in short, to all societies in which this Ebola-like virus of religious extremism has spread.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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