Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Happy New Terrorism! - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
Select Page

After every announcement made by Saudi Arabia that a fundamentalist terrorist group has been arrested the same question follows: what is the failing?

On 23 December, it was announced that 28 militants were arrested. This means that over the past two months the Saudi Ministry of Interior has repeatedly announced that it has detained groups of terrorist suspects affiliated to Al-Qaeda.

Last month, the ministry stated that 208 suspects were arrested, which followed the arrest of a terrorist network that was comprised of 172 people. Earlier in the year; January 2007 to be more precise, 10 Al-Qaeda financial supporters were detained in Saudi Arabia.

This is a brief glimpse into the ongoing terror sweeps that are executed by Saudi security, which brings to mind the “long-winded talk” about intellectual and educational confrontation and the repeated campaigns calling for ‘al Munasaha’ committees (advisory committees).

Many have spoken of the crippled state of the organization’s ideology  not of its soldiers and cells.

In my opinion, the media clamor that surrounds any great successes [in combating terrorism] and the preoccupation with propagating them has reached a point that has made states, Eastern and Western alike, scramble towards these ‘reformers’ with the intention of exporting the experience.

However; the reality on the ground away from this media parade is that we are barely skimming the surface and not reaching the core of the matter. The reason is clear: Some people are deluded into believing that intellectual confrontation will lead to posing daring questions, the repercussions of which public opinion could not handle. Questions such as: Is the present religious discourse capable of counteracting Al-Qaeda’s ideology and preventing its impact on societies? Do we suffer from an inherent social and religious extremism that has facilitated the spread and impact of Al-Qaeda on those whom it has influenced?

Such questions are always answered in an evasive manner rather than a critical one. Meanwhile, if these questions are not answered frankly this confrontation against ‘terrorist ideology’ will be prolonged and perhaps even evolve in an unprecedented manner that we cannot imagine. I do not claim to have the answers to these questions; however, I am calling for a new way of thinking in Saudi Arabia with which to approach this dilemma that has been destroying society since Al-Qaeda was struck in May 2003.

In light of this; I would like to raise a crucial point: Why do we always think about the results and forget about the introductions? By this I mean; why do we do focus on terrorism, which is inevitably rejected, and yet disregard extremism? Isn’t this extremism the source of terrorism, since every terrorist is necessarily an extremist but the opposite is not necessarily true?

We were conquered early on when the weakest amongst us were conquered; we were lenient towards the decreasing tolerance in our societies which caused more damage with every passing day. Most of us avoided really seeing what was happening and ignored it.

Following are some examples that demonstrate how overlooking the protection of values of tolerance from the start has led to repercussions and facts on the ground that are difficult to change later on. We are embroiled in an endless auction of religious one-upmanships.

I read an article written by Saudi journalist Mamdouh al Meheni in the online newspaper ‘Elaph’ about the transformations that have taken place within the faculty of medicine at the King Saud University in Riyadh over the recent years. The report shocked readers with the magnitude of the changes that had occurred.

The article referred to a crisis that the dean of the faculty of medicine, a religious and conservative man, was enduring. He had introduced new conservative features within the college, such as obliging female students to wear long black skirts, among other new rules. And yet this did not spare him the criticism of those who are more possessive about religion and who call for a “purer” society.

The dean was subjected to a systematic attack because of his insistence upon maintaining a bare minimum of professional and academic requirements in medical study, including enabling students to practice clinical training which entails examining human bodies, male and female alike, to learn medical procedures.

“Fourteen doctors who work under the supervision of the dean had staged a protest after putting pressure on the dean to impose a new policy that states upon forcing male and female medical students at the university to only treat patients of the same sex, forbidding them from examining members of the opposite sex.”

“The purer” doctors succeeded in mobilizing the fundamentalist and conservative opinions in general to the extent that their campaign became an intolerable one that was featured on the internet and in gatherings. It was propagated in a manner that made it seem like the college dean’s only preoccupation was to corrupt public morals, while the university’s obsession transformed from medicine to sex and abstinence.

Al Meheni’s article is an interesting one and apparently, according to a professor friend who teaches political science at King Saud University; it is a common model as well. He said that there were similar ones, in varying degrees, that can be found in other departments at the university.

Such activities work on the infrastructural level of society with the intention of reformulating its taste, culture and consciousness through controlling all the sectors of society, including its universities, colleges and non-profit organizations. This is a known trend among politicized fundamentalist parties  or rather, all totalitarian parties.

However, our age-old predicament lies in the fundamentalist parties; through their control of the community and the inherent solutions within it. Thus, the helm of society is managed by a new reality that is imposed upon it and which becomes increasingly difficult for any politician or decision-maker to change. And if such a politician were to attempt to elicit any change, he would need a much greater effort as opposed to taking earlier initiative from the start.

The real issue here is about the transformation of such groups into “religious authorities” that decide what is forbidden in the community, creating new trends that all heed mostly out of conviction but also others decide to just follow the herd or join as a way of avoiding troubles.

But this trait does not only characterize the politicized fundamentalist groups in Saudi Arabia alone, or even the Sunni ones as an exception. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is a pioneer in this slow and gradual tactic. In fact; this trait is the common denominator amongst all extremist parties  the most prominent example of which is the other sectarian-driven plot and Lebanese party, Hezbollah, with its ‘Khomeini identity’.

Hezbollah’s opposition today against all parties and the automatic manner by which people join its ranks is attributed  amongst other reasons  to a long past of preparation and restructuring within Lebanon’s Shia community, in addition to imposing a new “culture” that has led to the creation of the “Hezbollah state” within the state, as stated in Waddah Sharara’s book entitled ‘The Hezbollah State’.

In his book, Sharara talks about the need to spread awareness about the social revolutionary objective of the party from an early stage among its leadership and the affiliated intelligentsia. He quotes Mr. Ibrahim Amin, one of the party’s symbols and the head of the party’s politburo in an interview with the weekly ‘al Shahri’ magazine as saying, “The region should be dominated by Islam again; it should not be governed by man but rather by Islam,” (State of Hezbollah, p.210). Sharara commented by stating that this trend connotes, “the formation of new social and civil ties that revolve around the notion of Islam.”

This ‘Islam’ is that which was conceived of by Khomeini, as the leader of Hezbollah referred to the concept of exporting the Iranian revolution.

In practice, this new reformation of the community and the nation; the nation of Hezbollah, had already taken place on various levels: from the status of women to fashion, restaurants and new terminology, as recorded by Fadi Tawfiq in his book ‘God’s Narrow Land’.

One of the anecdotes recounted by Tawfiq is the story behind the breakaway faction that became Hezbollah after splitting from Amal movement. He maintains that it was because the latter had deviated off Musa al Sadr’s track, even on the level of its leader’s personal appearance; as in the case of head of Amal movement Nabih Berri’s clean shaven face.

The purpose behind such talk is to say that confronting terrorism and getting results is much more difficult than most can imagine. Combating terrorism and social isolation is but the first battlefield so that the people may be protected against the proliferation of terrorism. Any leniency towards extremism means weakening the efficiency of the fight against it.

In the end, this article is not an analysis of terrorism; rather it aims to point out a deficiency in understanding it. Also, what was mentioned above does not necessarily mean that all extremists are terrorists; however it does mean that extremism is a battlefield for an unadulterated ‘ideological’ confrontation.

Unless that were to happen we could very well find ourselves saying at the end of the year: Happy New Terrorism!

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

More Posts