Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Terrorism: A Cultural Phenomenon | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

An Al Qaeda cell was recently arrested in Saudi Arabia, prior to this a huge number of suspects were detained last year; all in all 500 Al Qaeda members were arrested in one big swoop [in June 2008]. Since early last year a total of 700 people have been arrested on charges of belonging to the Al Qaeda organization. They planned to wreak havoc across the globe by targeting the international economy by way of attacking Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities and assassinating [Saudi] security and civilian figures. This came at a time when we believed that the Al Qaeda organization in Saudi Arabia was almost finished, leaving only remnants behind. Then the news [of these arrests] reached us and we had no choice but to look at the issue again.

Three conclusions can be drawn from these reports, some which are positive, but the majority of which have are negative.

The first conclusion is that the fight against terrorism continues, and that the security efforts to pursue terrorism and the terrorists – especially in Saudi Arabia – are largely successful. This can be seen in the large number of Al Qaeda members who have been detained, and the uncovering of the terrorist cell before it was able to carry out any terrorist activities. This is an effort that deserves praise, for were it not for the vigilance of the Saudi security forces in this area, and their efficiency in tracking down these terrorists, the situation could be much different.

The second conclusion is that the Al Qaeda organization remains active and strong; evidence of this [conclusion] can be seen in the continued existence of the group despite all efforts [to wipe it out]. The recent lack of operations is nothing more than the organization lying in wait and recalculating, a change in tactics and strategy, in the way that a chameleon blends into its environment and lies in wait for its prey. The low profile that Al Qaeda was keeping with regards to its strength and activities [in Saudi Arabia] was broken up by the Saudi security authorities [arrest of its members] and this raises the following questions; why has Al Qaeda remained attractive to a large number of our youth? Why does this organization gain so many followers despite all efforts to combat it at various levels?

Answers to questions like this vary according to circumstances such as time and place, and there is no single factor that can explain the endurance of Al Qaeda and its ideology despite all efforts to contain it. Perhaps time and place are not the only circumstances that can explain Al Qaeda’s survival. To a large extent the answer to the above questions lies in the nature of the efforts made to combat Al Qaeda, which at times addresses the results [of terrorism] – something that is necessary- without directly engaging the root of the problem. Ultimately Al Qaeda’s strength does not lie in the organization itself so much as in the environment that facilitates Al Qaeda’s recruitment of supporters and followers. And so despite all the security efforts to combat Al Qaeda and its active and sleeper cells, these efforts – which deserve to be praised- have ultimately not succeeded in rooting out Al Qaeda. This can be seen in the continued existence of the organization in Saudi Arabia, as well as in the Al Qaeda cell that was preparing to carry out operations [on Saudi soil]. This despite all the efforts of the security services and the Munasaha [rehabilitation] program, despite [Saudi Arabia] opening the door to amnesty [for reformed extremists], and the government describing them as misguided rather than criminals. And so despite all of these opportunities the news continued to be reported that Al Qaeda have a strong presence [in Saudi Arabia] and that their [terrorist] activities are ongoing.

Why is this the case?

The third and most important conclusion is that the persistence of Al Qaeda is a result of the persistence of the circumstances that Al Qaeda is working against, this provides the organization a suitable environment for existence and vitality. The spread of an epidemic is not due to the strength of the virus itself, but due to the existence of an environment that provides the virus with the opportunity to grow and develop. The fight against the epidemic is therefore the fight against the virus itself, and so unless the virus itself is combated the epidemic will continue. The same can be said about Al Qaeda. In Saudi Arabia, for example, the security agencies performed their full role with regards to the detection, investigation and arrest [of terrorists] but this is not everything. Weeds return once they have been plucked out so long as their roots remain intact. The roots in this case, and in any real society, are the places of socialization, from homes to the mosque, from social clubs to the media and others. These help to shape an individual’s personality from childhood, and help them move in one direction or another or at the least give the individual the potential of moving in one direction or the other. These institutions sow the first seeds that give rise to the core of thought and behavior; this supports the popular [Arab] proverb “One goes back to their roots.”

The security success in the fight against terrorism and the forces of destruction has not been accompanied by successes in the fight against the ideology behind this destructive behavior. What other explanation is there for the hundreds of Al Qaeda recruits, a figure which represents only the tip of the iceberg, not to mention the silent followers and sympathizers. There is a defect – there can be no doubt about that – and this is in the damage that has been caused by the educational institutes [in Saudi Arabia] since we diverted from the correct path, socially and culturally, and we took up the labyrinthine ideology of the Sahwa [Islamic re-awakening] in the late 1970s [following the Mecca siege]. Educational institutes, without exception, began to reflect this ideology. This is an ideology that is in essence a culture of blood and death that calls for the eliminating of the unbelievers – i.e. anyone who does not fully agree with this ideology – both within Saudi Arabia and abroad. All educational institutions then formed along this basis, in the light of the ideological struggle against the Iranian revolution that was attempting to export a different concept of Islam, as well as the political struggle against a superpower that was attempting to occupy Afghanistan in order to access the waters of the Gulf. These factors resulted in the state turning a blind eye to what was going on inside these educational institutes, and even in some cases encouraging what was gong on there for political purposes, and so today we are reaping what we sowed.

Perhaps circumstance rules supreme, and the game of politics has its own rules, and some things are necessary. There is no shame in making a mistake – life in essence is trial and error – but it is shameful to deny making the mistake [in the first place] and to continue to make the same mistake over and over again. As for nations, it is wrong to continue implementing a policy that may have been effective once, but is a disaster once circumstances have changed. In the end, the wise man is one that not only listens to others, but who also listens to his own experience and history. Only the obstinate will deny that there have been efforts to release these educational institutes from their [ideological] captivity, but these efforts have only dealt with the visible tip of the iceberg. This is where the problem lies, schools and educational curriculums continue to disseminate extremist ideology in spite of the efforts to reduce its impact, and has resulted in the elimination of the effective education of any cadres by involving Islam in the fields of chemistry and medicine, resulting in the classification of humanity [into believer and unbeliever] and the promotion of hatred and a culture of death. Some mosques continue to give sermons calling for death, destruction and killing, but now we are in need of new sermons that call for tolerance and inter-faith dialogue, because we are all the children of Adam. We are in need of sermons that address the glories of life and humanity. At this point someone will ask; are we supposed to leave behind our culture and religion?

Of course not, for those that are in control of the world today have not forgotten their culture and religion, indeed they are well aware of their own religion, and how the world works. We are Muslims, there is no doubt about that, but we are not by necessity Islamists, and there is a difference between Islam and Islamism. Before the Sahwa we were a society of Muslims, giving God his right, and not forgetting our lot in the world. But after the Sahwa and the kidnapping of our educational institutes we became a society of Islamists forgetting our lot in the world. There is no getting out of this situation except by going back to the world that we neglected and returning to our Islam and our humanity. Without uprooting the intellectual and cultural roots behind extremism and violence, we will continue to be plagued by these [ideological] weeds, pulling them out but leaving the roots to remain and sprout once more. Until the situation changes, Al Qaeda and its supporters will continue to exist and appear in this same way.