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Opinion: America’s Deadly Ignorance | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Syrian rebels head to the town of Bsankol in the northwestern province of Idlib to join comrades fighting regime forces for the control of the highway that connects Idlib with Latakia on July 11, 2013. (AFP PHOTO/DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS.)

During a recent talk with an American journalist in Riyadh, I could sense his keenness to speak about Saudi jihadists in Syria.

He had an obsession with Al-Qaeda-linked organizations and with the involvement of some Saudi youth in them, and he alluded to the Saudi state’s “support” for those Syrian jihadists. In that journalist’s view there was a fundamental contradiction in the Saudi position. On the one hand, the Saudi state is fighting Al-Qaeda, but on the other, it is backing Al-Qaeda’s affiliates in Syria.

This is the core understanding of an American journalist, who represents the public mood across a wide spectrum of US and Western countries regarding this particular issue. Such understanding mimics the trend of even media and cultural elites, such as that of Fareed Zakaria, who brandished his sword and wrote an outspoken—and ignorant—article in Time magazine last month in which he railed against Saudi Arabia.

I told the American journalist that for him and the Western media, the issue was one of pure contradiction.

Saudi Arabia is very clearly against President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, and it is also against Al-Qaeda groups in Syria. As for the question as to why the Kingdom is against Assad, the answer is because he declared himself an enemy of Saudi Arabia, as well as of the entire Arab people, when he became involved with Iran.

As to why Saudi Arabia is against the Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other Al-Qaeda groups, well, only those who are completely unaware of the war Saudi Arabia fought against Al-Qaeda more than a decade ago would ask this question, as Saudi Arabia is still the prime objective of Al-Qaeda’s operations.

To illustrate this point, let us take as an example the story of the young Saudi man, Ahmed Abdullah Al-Shaya, who sneaked to Iraq in August 2003 and bombed the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad, killing 12 people and injuring up to 50 others.

Ahmed survived, miraculously, when he was thrown from the cab of the bomb-laden truck he was driving. Saudi Arabia received him back and offered him medication and care in response to an appeal from his family. Nevertheless, he once again sneaked into Syria to join Al-Qaeda there, and these days he writes about Saudi Arabia in a manner that shows his bitter hatred of the Kingdom. This case alone is enough to prompt Saudi Arabia to feel hostile towards Al-Qaeda and the Assad regime, and equally so towards Iraqi and Lebanese gangs.

There seems to be an odd rush in the Western press to brand Saudi Arabia as a devil. What is even more hard to take is the remarkably ignorant yet outspoken chatter about Saudi Arabia—purely superficial and lacking the most basic facts—which would take only a five-minute Google search to find.

The Saudis are also to blame—we fail to explain and defend our point in Western circles. Iran and Assad’s adherents in the West are more active. Yet this does not justify this ignorance of our affairs, which is not only neither harmful nor beneficial, but flat-out deadly. The current horror in Syria has been partially caused by the Obama administration’s ignorance.And that ignorance is the most serious of all.