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Opinion: Khalid Al-Fawwaz and the Problem of Terrorism | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A courtroom sketch shows Khalid Al-Fawwaz (C), a 52-year-old Saudi national described as a top Osama Bin Laden deputy, during his sentencing hearing at the New York Federal Court, on May 15, 2015, during which he was sentenced to life in prison in connection with the deadly 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. (Reuters/Marilyn Church/Handout)

On Friday the New York Federal Court sentenced Khalid Al-Fawwaz, a suspect in the deadly 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, to life in prison.

It took 16 years after the crime was committed to issue the sentence against Fawwaz, who for a while was the subject of a legal and political debate between Britain, where he lived, and the US, which insisted that he be extradited to Washington in order to be sentenced. Eventually, Fawwaz was sent to the US, and now he has been duly sentenced.

Prior to his involvement in the bombings of the US embassies, Fawwaz was Osama Bin Laden’s spokesman in London. At the time, Bin Laden presented himself as a pro-reform political activist through his London-based Advice and Reform Committee, a mere façade for his terrorist activities, exploiting the then-fashionable buzzwords, “opposition” and “political reform.” Later, the reality of the committee became apparent to British authorities, including the House of Lords, Britain’s highest judicial body.

The sentencing of Fawwaz serves as a fresh reminder that religiously inspired terrorism has been a chronic problem for a long time, even before all the recent events that have taken place in our region—from the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, to the Muslim Brotherhood-led Arab Spring of 2011, down to Operation Decisive Storm launched by Saudi Arabia in 2015 against the Houthis in Yemen.

It is a problem that relates first and foremost to culture before the political and economic situation. Two reasons are responsible for the exacerbation of this phenomenon, whose most prominent manifestation came with the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS): First, the imbalance of power in the Arab world caused by the Western-backed wave of turmoil, dubbed the Arab Spring. Second, the ease of communication and interaction through social media.

However, this should not divert our attention from the root of the problem, namely the flawed condition of the prevailing thought and the lack of critical engagement with the main concepts that dominate and form the extremist ideology, which serves as the foundation on which terrorists base their actions. Such concepts include Al-Hakimiyyah (divine rule), Al-Jahiliyya (ignorance of divine guidance), the velayat-e faqih (the guardianship of the jurists), Islamic government, Kufr (disbelief), apostasy, and the caliphate.

All minor and major events related to the phenomenon of religiously inspired terror—from the collapse of nation states to the drawing of cartoons derisive of Islam—are mere windows for the emergence of extremism but not of course the authors of such acts.

The two versions of terrorism committed in the name of Islam—that is, the Shi’ite and Sunni varieties—feed into each other. Confronting them, in equal measures, represents a major task facing Arab politicians and an end indispensable to their work in general. This is why the Gulf States sought to emphasize this approach at the recent Camp David summit with Barack Obama.

In a recent interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said the Obama administration and the representatives of the Gulf states had discussed three main points of action at Camp David: “First, consolidating military cooperation; second, countering terrorism; and third, dealing with the challenges, foremost among them Iran’s interference in the region’s affairs.”

This is the right approach. In order to remove ISIS’s raison d’être, Iran’s Khomeinist regime should be eliminated. On the other hand, in order for Khomeneist propaganda to be broken, ISIS must be destroyed. This is a purely practical need before being a moral obligation.

What remains after these obstacles are removed is the ideology of terror itself; in essence it concerns one’s reasoning, upbringing, and culture. The rest is just details.