Fareed Zakaria Quote Adel Al Toraifi, Newsweek
August 17, 2005 Leave a comment
May 26, 2003, U.S. Edition
Now, Saudis See the Enemy
For decades, supporting Islamic extremism has been cost-free for the Saudis-government and people alike. Not anymore
By Fareed Zakaria
Last week’s attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco show two contradictory things about Al Qaeda. It remains strong enough to launch serious operations. Yet since September 11, 2001, it has not been able to hit a single military, governmental or symbolic target anywhere in the world. Over the past two years in Indonesia, Tunisia, Kenya, Saudi Arabia and Morocco, Al Qaeda has gone after soft targets. And while it’s relatively easy to blow up hotels, nightclubs and residential buildings, indiscriminate violence against locals ensures that Al Qaeda loses appeal in country after country. That means governments gain support to act.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Saudi Arabia. For decades now, supporting Islamic extremism has been cost-free for the Saudis—government and people alike. They could appease militants, appear pious and buy themselves peace, all with little consequence. But now that Al Qaeda has for the first time killed Saudi civilians, the terrorist group might—just might—have destroyed the true basis of its support. Fundamentalist terror is finally going to be fought in the Arabian heartland, the only place where it can be rooted out.
Al Qaeda Strikes
Read Saudi Arabia’s newspapers these days. “The time of pretending that radicalism does not exist in Saudi Arabia is long past,” writes Raid Qusti, a columnist for the Saudi English-language daily Arab News. “How can we expect others to believe that a majority of us are a peace-loving people who denounce extremism and terrorism when some preachers continue to call for the destruction of Jews and Christians, blaming them for all the misery in the Islamic world?” The columnist Adel Zaid Al-Tarifi writes in Al-Watan: “What many of the official sheiks and columnists—who do not awaken until a catastrophe occurs—say about the phenomenon does not deal with the real causes and roots of the ideology of Jihad… Jihad groups find ideological cover in the religious message spread by the mosques and schools.”
An editorial in the Arab News titled “The Enemy Within” read: “Crushing them [the terrorists] will not be enough. The environment that produced such terrorism has to change. The suicide bombers have been encouraged by the venom of anti-Westernism that has seeped through the Middle East’s veins, and the Kingdom is no less affected. Those who gloat over September 11, those who happily support suicide bombings in Israel and Russia, those who consider non-Muslims less human than Muslims and therefore somehow disposable, all bear part of the responsibility for the Riyadh bombs.”
The Saudi government will surely take security measures and act more aggressively on intelligence tips. But it needs to take much larger steps—cleansing its mosques and media organizations of militant mullahs, sidelining the Religious Affairs Department, reforming its educational system and shutting down the private funds that flow to Wahhabi organizations abroad, spreading militancy and extremism. “The other road map Washington must provide is to the Saudis, detailing what they need to do,” says Ahmed Bishara, a leading Kuwaiti commentator.
The Saudi government is saying the right things so far. Its spokesman Adel al-Jubeir said to me, “You can expect to see dramatic change in Saudi Arabia, both security measures and political reforms, to ensure that such ideologies do not flourish.” His boss, Crown Prince Abdullah, seems to be a genuine reformer. The kingdom will soon announce a commission to formally re-examine the concept of jihad in Islam. But Abdullah will have to consolidate his power to drive real change.
On a bad day, the Saudi political system looks like medieval Europe, with its king, dukes, earls and viscounts all milling about the court in a gentle, ceaseless power struggle. The current situation would make for a nice Shakespearean drama. King Fahd, 80, is barely alive. His existence, however, keeps Abdullah from completing the succession. The two most powerful ministries—Defense and Interior—are run by Abdullah’s rival brothers. The king’s favorite son is flirting with Wahhabi extremists to gain allies. Europe moved from its medieval politics to absolute monarchy in the 16th century. Sometimes it seems that Saudi Arabia hasn’t gotten there yet.
Vice President Dick Cheney’s reaction to the bombings in Saudi Arabia has been to point out that Al Qaeda cannot be negotiated with. “The only sure way to security… is to go eliminate the terrorists.” Of course this is true. But the larger battle that must be waged here is a battle against the political and ideological conditions that make such groups thrive. After all, the United States has waged war against Al Qaeda for two years, destroyed its home base, rolled up dozens of its cells and shut down hundreds of bank accounts around the world. Yet it could not—and probably cannot—stop such attacks on civilians. There are simply too many soft targets in the world. We’ve been tough on terror. It’s time to get tough on the causes of terror.