Governments often take the easiest road when it comes to extremists; they yield to their demands and give in to their blackmailing, either out of fear, in an attempt to strengthen their legitimacy, or capitalize on them against internal or external enemies. In all cases, this road has only led to adversity as extremists take over societies, impose their agendas, weaken states, and batter economies.
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A more difficult path is what Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman talked about in his recent interview on Vision 2030. In his opinion, we cannot achieve growth and prosperity without eradicating extremist ideologies.
That is indeed a particularly difficult road for Saudi Arabia, which has been constantly targeted by terrorist and extremist attacks due to its religious and political position in the world, and its explicit adoption of moderate and rational religious discourse in the last five years. Today, we are witnessing the wide-reaching impact of this discourse on the entire Islamic world, which has also long suffered from hate speech amplified by weak, opportunist governments that failed to stand up to hate preachers.
When he first announced Vision 2030, the Saudi Crown Prince promised that “we will destroy them [extremists] now and immediately.” Since then, we have seen this promise materialize in real life. The Crown Prince’s statement was not mere political propaganda, or a PR campaign directed at the West. Five years later, the extremist rhetoric has significantly decreased, and its leadership has substantially weakened inside Saudi Arabia, and, consequently, outside of it.
If you ever wondered why violent ideological groups and their sympathizers are consistently attacking Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally, then the answer is now clearer than ever before. In short, it is because the Crown Prince is a brave leader who does not back down or waver in the face of tremendous pressure, and who wants to bring prosperity to his people. He is the perfect embodiment of a great statesman who makes major transformations in favor of his country.
In his interview, the Crown Prince stated that there is no place for extremists in the Kingdom and that whoever has an extremist mindset will be held accountable even if he is not a terrorist. This is an important decision because the war on extremists will ultimately eliminate terrorists.
Terrorists harbour and nurture extremist ideologies long before they act on them, and thus, criminalizing extremist ideologies that will eventually put weapons in the hands of terrorists is completely justified. This way of thinking and acting is different from the traditional methods used to combat terrorism; fighting the terrorists while turning a blind eye to extremists, who are actually the more dangerous of the two.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.
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