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Opinion: Protecting Our Youth | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Saudi security forces march during a military parade at a base near Mount Arafat, southeast of the holy city of Mecca, on November 22, 2009. (Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images)

In a frank and direct address broadcast last Monday, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz made reference to the tense state of affairs in a number of Arab states. His speech focused on those who seek to deceive Arab youth into travelling to international hotspots to fight, where they are either killed or detained.

This address demonstrated tenderness towards the inexperienced youth, but a firm stance against those who seek to deceive them, opining that we must impose harsher punishments for this crime. Since 2003, Saudi Arabia has fought one of the fiercest battles against Al-Qaeda, emerging victorious from this conflict and succeeding in defeating domestic terrorism and terrorists. Despite this, a handful of terrorists—by which I mean those who seek to lure Saudi youth into leaving their lives of ease and comfort for the battlefield—are still at large.

Terrorism becomes active wherever chaos exists, and chaos is present across large swathes of the Arab world, whether in the so-called Islamist Spring states or elsewhere, like Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Many Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, have felt the bitterness of witnessing its own citizens being pushed to get involved in wars in which their country of birth is not involved, under false slogans of holy jihad put forward by those seeking to provoke sedition and chaos.

Saudi Arabia has done far more than duty calls for in the fight against terrorism. Now, it is the turn of the Western states that backed this Islamist Spring to shoulder their responsibilities regarding the movements of religious violence that could emerge there. These movements have found a safe haven under these new radical authorities. This can be seen in the new international hotspots that have emerged, which the international community has failed to find solutions for, such as the situation in Syria.

To return to the crux of the matter, we must ask: Who are these figures seeking to deceive our youth? How can we get to know their discourse? How can we monitor and analyze this discourse? Does this have a fixed style and approach, or do they periodically renew this?

More importantly, just who are these figures? In reality, they are a category of the so-called preachers. This is a career that has no exact specification or limitation; a career that almost anybody with the required outwards religious manifestations can pursue.

However, we are focusing on those who adopt provocative and incendiary language in order to deceive the Arab youth and push them towards destruction. These preachers have their own style and discourse, mixing old methods of provocation with newer ones. They attempt to hide behind religious and popular slogans, justifying terrorism and inciting youth to carry out such acts.

It has become clear that this deceptive and provocational discourse relies on a variety of different methods.

First is the “discontent industry.” This includes magnifying domestic problems by exaggerating any problem suffered by a government so that problems appear critical. In doing so, these preachers act against the state and societal development by portraying all the major reform projects as being unrealistic, in addition to levelling random accusations. In this way, one must say that the discontent industry is completely different from constructive criticism.

Second, they rely on defending terrorism. These preachers always exaggerate Al-Qaeda’s terrorists and prisoners, defending them as “prisoners of conscience” and hiding behind the banner of “human rights and freedom of expression,” among other concepts. Although we recognize that these terrorists—along with all prisoners—have the right to a fair trial, it is unacceptable to use this cause as a pretext to incite chaos.

Third is promoting superstition. This can be seen in the talk of supernatural aid or angels sent by God fighting beside them, which aims to incite Arab youth into joining up and fighting battles that have nothing to do with them.

Fourth they engage in conspiracy theory. These preachers attempt to fill the minds of Arab youth with conspiracies about Western hegemony, claiming that all government decisions are influenced by this factor and exploiting these claims to incite youth to travel abroad and fight.

In this endeavor, these so-called preachers use everything from fatwas and newspaper articles to social media to explicitly deceive our youth. This is not to mention the false rhetoric they spout at youth meetings in remote homes or isolated mosques.

Our experience shows that many of these preachers are inspired by their own personal ambition and greed, whether financial greed, or fame- and power-seeking. This is because when there is no legal deterrent for such behavior, preachers such as this go even further in terms of provocation and incitement.

Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan Al-Banna initially focused on spreading religion and promoting religious and moral values. However, later on, he inclined towards political action. Al-Banna built a secret organization on the ground that incorporated youths who killed opponents and political dissidents. Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb similarly talked about regional and international affairs, as well as Islamic doctrine. Today, some of Qutb’s disciples are present on the political scene in many Arab states.

More recently, Juhayman Al-Otaibi succeeded in deceiving a number of youths to the point that he was able to take over the Mecca Grand Mosque, inciting one of the ugliest examples of sedition in Saudi history. Sheikh Abdullah Azzam previously sought to gather Arab youth to fight in Afghanistan, with the secondary objective that they would return and perform jihad in their own countries. In the mid-1990s, the radicalization of those who committed the bombings in the heart of the Saudi capital, Riyadh, could be traced back to these very same preachers. When Al-Qaeda appeared in Saudi Arabia, its leadership had put in place certain figures and symbols to applaud their actions and promote their ideology.

All of the above highlights that combating terrorism is not the sole responsibility of the security authorities in any single country or state; rather, it is the responsibility of society at large. In order to confront terrorism, there must be an integral system in place that acts to create a more tolerant religious discourse with the aim of exposing the true nature of these preachers, and keeping them out of places of guidance or education, whether we are talking about mosques, universities, charities or elsewhere.

These preachers would always seek to go beyond the positions taken by their own country, whether domestically or internationally. The Syrian revolution is just one example of this. These preachers are keen to carry out charitable work themselves, rather than via the official authorities. In fact, they attack their own countries’ policies and positions, but applaud the same policies and stances when adopted by the new, more radical authorities.

In conclusion, our regimes and legal system must seek to deter these preachers who are trying to deceive the Arab youth by creating a state of discontent, defending terrorism and propagating superstition and conspiracies.