When the culprits behind the 1995 bombings in Riyadh and the 1996 bombings in Khobar were revealed to be Saudis and after it became known that most of the attackers responsible for 2001’s horrific tragedy of 9/11 were also predominantly Saudi, many Saudis were deeply shocked and the question began to circulate amongst them: has all this violence and destructive thought existed amongst us, breathing our same air while we were oblivious to it?
I remember writing an article after the 1995 Riyadh bombings in which I expressed surprise at the fact that such an act was committed by Saudis whom I never imagined would assassinate themselves by assassinating their nation and society. After all, the biggest loser is ultimately the citizen himself who would lose his existence if the homeland was destroyed and the society collapsed – regardless of the opposition and the objections. We may have differences over one thing or another, however all differences must remain within the framework of national unity and societal solidarity – or else there would be utter devastation. Then, God forbid, all will be lost.
In fact, we should have known¬¬ at that time that what happened was bound to happen in one way or another, but it could have been avoided had there been a sharp eye to observe the fluctuations in the kingdom and in the Middle East. In the 1960s, as a result of the Arab cold war, Saudi opened its doors to ‘Islamists’ from Egypt and the Levant specifically, who following a highly elaborate strategy began to infiltrate the educational institution in particular, promoting a religious discourse that denounced the individual, state and society as ignorant disbelievers.
It is true that the Saudi state has been built on a religious discourse that constitutes the basis of its legitimacy; however in political terms this discourse (the Sunni in general and the Salafist in particular) completely separates between the function of the ruler (the political institution) and that of the cleric (the religious institution). This means that the religious institution is part of the state rather than fully dominating over it, as in the case of the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) discourse in particular.
Such was the situation during the years of the late King Abdulaziz’s reign (God have mercy on his soul) up until 1979 when the Iranian Revolution broke out, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and Juhaiman [al-Utaiba] seized the holy mosque of Mecca. It was then that the signs of an admixture of the MB’s religious discourse, particularly that of [Sayyid] Qutb, began to emerge and mix with the traditional Salafism. With this new religious political discourse, traditional Salafism began to transform, bringing about a new Salafist discourse that was only very remotely related to the old discourse.
This ‘Salafist’ discourse, with all its tangents and divisions, began to preach concepts that were different from those in the old discourse and started to reinterpret old concepts in a manner that served and justified the ends of those preaching this new discourse. The old Salafist separation between the respective functions of the ruler and the cleric was annulled, the line disappearing so that ‘the Guardianship of the Jurist’ became a common concept in this discourse. The aforementioned concept emerged with the success of Khomeini and the 1979 Iranian Revolution and was equally both Sunni and Shia in accordance with the interpretation of the new religious discourse so that jurists and clerics became ‘guardians’, as one Saudi cleric once wrote against the jurisprudential authority.
With the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which coincided with an Islamic ideology revolution in Iran and an armed seizure of the holy mosque in Mecca – set against two poles that did not cease from using all the available cards, even religion, to attain their own ends – the Islamic discourse began its rapid spread under the appealing name ‘Islamic awakening’. This discourse was consolidated by the victory of the Afghan resistance and the departure of the Soviets from the Afghan territories. Suddenly the whole world began to bestow holy attributes on the Afghans who were dubbed ‘freedom fighters’ in the US and as ‘Mujahideen’ who conjured up the early conquests of the Prophet; they were those blessed with ‘miraculous’ abilities, according to Abdullah Azzam’s book ‘Signs of Ar-Rahman in the Jihad of the Afghan’.
The new political Islamist discourse became the ‘savior’ in a world lost in deviance and an executer of justice in a world that yearns for justice. And yet how can one change the world in accordance with Karl Marx’s saying: “the philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it”. After all, the essence of totalitarian ideologies is the same regardless of their manifestations, and Islamism – which is not Islam – is ultimately an aspect of Leninism. Still, there remains a problem: even some political authorities in various countries began to place bets on the discourse, most likely for fear of challenging what is sacred and by seeking to become affiliated with it – an act of one-upmanship that does not serve their interests in the end no matter how hard they try. The US was burnt by the fire of the ‘freedom fighters’ in the same way that Saudi Arabia was stung by those who it had previously let through its gates.
After 9/11, the truth and political goals of this discourse became manifest, spreading chaos and destruction with the intention of assuming authority in the end. The problem remains to be an absence in decisiveness because despite all that has happened and is still happening, confrontation with those who follow this ideology has been hesitant and even timid at times. The security confrontation is outstanding, which was proven by the abortion of operational plans in Saudi, especially the last plan which would have endangered the whole region had it succeeded.
But security confrontation alone is not enough; killing the maggots does not mean the death of their larvae which have spread throughout society. The main problem here is that those who denounce terrorism and the underlying thought behind terrorism do not go as far as the roots, and thus describe it lightly whereas in fact, these are gangs of criminals that are no different from other gangs. Those who seek and destroy society with arms are not less criminal than those who destroy society by spreading drugs.
During one of his visits, it is recounted that Khosrau came across an old farmer who was planting an olive tree. Amazed, Khosrau asked him why he was planting it when he was too old to survive to reap the fruit off the tree he had planted. “They planted for us to eat and we plant for them to eat,” the old farmer said.
Today, we are reaping the fruits that they planted, the question is: what are we planting today for our children to reap? That is the question that should guide the decision-makers who lead the people; perhaps they could learn a lesson from it.