At the same time that Saudi Arabia is fighting a war on its northern borders against Houthi rebels in Yemen in order to restore political legitimacy to that neighboring country, the Kingdom is also fighting a much more dangerous battle within its own borders—against an enemy which uses Saudi citizens as mere cannon fodder. In just one tragic week, Saudi Arabia was stabbed twice in the back: first, when the suicide bomb attack targeted innocent worshippers in Qatif; and, second, when it was later discovered that the cell which carried out this heinous crime had recruited children in order to help carry it out. As for those truly responsible for the attack, they remain free and at large, blissfully unaware of their responsibility for the crime, unable―perhaps even refusing—to comprehend that they are in fact the real terrorists here.
Saudi Arabia has long fought against those who seek to implant discord between its citizens, but it is unfortunate that there are those who conflate between the policies of the country, its laws and institutions, with the actions of a group of extremists—whether they are out in the open or hidden from view. What is reassuring here, however, is that Saudi Arabia has never adopted a policy of discriminating between its citizens. Perhaps the strongest response to the tragedy came from the head of the Saudi state himself, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman Bin Abdulaziz, who spoke decisively and clearly, standing firmly by those affected by the tragedy. In a speech following the attack, the King said: “Anyone who carried out, planned, supported, was involved, or sympathizes with this awful crime will be held to account and subjected to trial [before the law], and will reap the rewards he deserves. Our efforts will not cease, not for one day, in fighting the deviant ideology [behind this crime] nor in confronting the terrorists and destroying their strongholds.”
Let me pause briefly to examine some of the words spoken by Saudi Arabia’s monarch, which were directed towards his Defense Minister, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Naif, whose men in the security establishment were able, in record time, to hunt down and apprehend those involved in the attack. The message spoke of those who sympathize with terrorism and its crimes. These chameleons, who one day condemn such attacks, and on another turn a blind eye, are, nonetheless, constant in their incitement of hatred. The reality is that they are the true and main players in this game, creating an ideological space for the terrorists to carry out their tasks with great ease, while being totally unconcerned with the crimes they are causing.
The outcomes of King Salman’s speech will block these ideological wellsprings, which are at the root of the tragedy, championing and emboldening these terrorists, providing a context which deems their actions as completely normal and acceptable—even if that includes murdering innocent children and people during prayer (somehow the perpetrator believed that this act would take him straight to Paradise).
I am not worried about the sectarianism which the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seeks to implant among Saudi Arabia’s people. The ISIS operative who blew himself up in a Shi’ite mosque would just as easily have done so in a mosque used by Sunnis; and those who make infidels of Shi’ite citizens, claiming that murdering them is licit, will find this just as easy to do for Sunnis. And just as the Kharijites did centuries ago before them, ISIS and its followers claim that it is even permissible to kill your own siblings and parents if they are not “true believers” in the group’s sense.
What we do need to worry about, however, are those sympathizers who inadvertently, and sometimes without any conscious knowledge, end up promoting terrorist acts, taking their cues from the toxic ideology provided by the deviant clerics they follow, and carrying out this tacit “support” without being made to stand before the law or prosecuted in any way.
King Salman’s speech following this recent attack in Qatif did not exceed 105 words. But the core of this brief speech went way beyond them to reach decisive actions—actions that will not allow extremists to meddle in the security and stability and the unity of an entire nation.
In fact, King Salman summed it all up in two words: “Sympathizers beware.”