In spite of what I have read and heard about the turmoil and attempts to ruin a seminar at the International Book Fair in Riyadh, which prompted people to speak of despair and anger at the course of events, I believe that the Book Fair is an astounding success.
Why? What happened at the Book Fair gave us the chance to discover, face-to-face, the vision of those who used to incite on extremist websites. They did not shy from objecting to all those who held different views and even attacked people’s private affairs. Their appearance out in the open is proof that they are aware that they no longer have the same effect as in the past, when they used to whip up public sentiment and call for an event or cancel a talk. Their appearance confirms their fears that their role is diminishing.
Their objections and protests are not related to current events but have more to do with settling old scores. Otherwise, how are we to explain the arrogance shown to someone as old as Dr. Mohammed Abdu Yamani, who served the nation, whether we agree with his actions or not. He is no longer Minister of Information and no longer a decision-maker. The same goes for the attack on Turki Al Sudeiri, Editor in Chief of Al Riyadh newspaper, because he allegedly did not publish some of their articles!
Another achievement in the Book Fair was that the government, accused of banning certain books, represented by the Ministry of Information, did not only permit these books be exhibited, but also invited some of the authors to attend. This is a positive development, as the government did not head opposition voices and the Book Fair will continue as scheduled. This is a success for the government, because the nation is home to all, not just one group at the expense of others. Two individuals suspected a few months ago of posing a threat to national security were even invited to attend the Book Fair and take part in seminars with other officials.
More importantly, the groups which sought to halt the seminar showed that they are in the minority. It is not the majority that causes uproar, as was demonstrated when no one thought about hindering their activities in the way they tried to obstruct the Book Fair. They were not backed by any fatwa or supported by any sides that are respected by non-ideologically driven citizens. Saudis were more concerned with the fluctuations in the stock market that the Book Fair. This shows that people care more about their daily lives than the sustenance of ideologically driven politicians and journalists.
So long as we want the language of dialogue to prevail, and that no one is undermined at the expense of others, while we move together to strengthen the Kingdom’s unity, it is good that these issues are brought to the surface, instead of opinions being formed underground, or on internet forums, in order for us to examine how serious we are in moving forward.
I believe the Book Fair was a resounding success because it put us in front of ourselves. Instead of “Us and the other”, it highlighted that we need to examine our own selves! The officials used to repeat that the true fight was against extremism, in all its guises, not only in security matters but also intellectually. The Riyadh International Book Fair has demonstrated that the intellectual confrontation has began, not to distance one group at the expense of another, but to reinforce the right to hold different opinions and forbid the use of weapons, takfir (denouncing one as an infidel) and undermining.