Why are they fighting the world, from Syria to Burma?

In Saudi Arabia there has been a campaign targeting violent extremist groups for at least 10 years now

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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In Saudi Arabia, and some other regional countries, there has been an intellectual, political and security campaign targeting violent extremist groups for at least 10 years now. Despite efforts, these groups are increasing in number. Al-Qaeda, as a concept, an organization, a set of activities and a set of individuals, has proven that it is a contagious disease in many areas of the region. Explaining how we reached the point at which we find ourselves will take a long time, and analyses will vary as some will espouse a socio-political analysis describing it as a situation of rebellion and some will contend that it is a normal result of the region’s tragedies. Some think it is the product of the local extremist intellect that feeds off the events occurring around it.

What is certain is that we are confronting an expanding phenomenon. The al-Qaeda which brought down New York’s twin towers in 2001 only consisted of a few hundred members living in one country, Afghanistan. But today, it is an army of tens of thousands of fighters. It grew geographically from one country to around 10 countries where they fight on a daily basis. Therefore, theories that linked the emergence of al-Qaeda to foreign intervention and religious persecution were proven wrong. Al-Qaeda is spreading and security measures are not the cure. The cure lies in education and culture.

When the Saudi government decided to take a new measure and criminalize involvement in the region’s wars, it finalized an important part of the cultural controversy. Are the actions of a criminal regime, like Bashar al-Assad’s in Syria, a justification for angry Saudi youths to board a plane and join the fight in support of the persecuted?

Convincing individuals

Extremist groups managed to convince many that this is the individual’s duty and not the state’s. They appealed to the sentiment of the youth and transformed them into battalions ready to fight in any way they are told to do so. They thus hijacked their minds. Syria does not need them as it is full of hundreds of thousands of Syrian youths who are fighting and who don’t need foreigners competing with them.

This problem must be solved by addressing the root causes and not the symptoms

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

They don’t want Saudis, or Libyans, or Kuwaitis, or Chechens or Muslim Europeans. They want support from afar. In only one year, these volunteers succeeded in sabotaging the revolution, distorting its cause and ruining the Syrian social fabric. They were serving Assad’s regime and the Iranian regime instead of fighting against them. Some realized the damage done but failed to admit it and instead turned against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the extremist group operating in Syria, and started to fight it. This came after they had rallied around ISIS, praising their heroic acts. The perpetrators realized that ISIS had a negative connotation and they failed at defending it so they are now embellishing the image of other organizations similar to the ISIS.

Obsessed with bloodshed

As for those obsessed with bloodshed, we can draw a clear picture of their political rhetoric throughout history. They began by supporting Afghanistan’s Taliban in the 1990s. Their support synchronized with calls to fight Serbs in the Balkans. Then they called for fighting the Americans in the Gulf and for expelling them from the Arabian Peninsula. Afterwards, they called on youths to fight the occupier in Iraq. Then there were calls to fight in Somalia. Now that the “American crusaders” have left Iraq, there are calls to fight the country’s Shiites. They are seeking to spread the idea of fighting Buddhists in Burma, fighting Houthis in Yemen, adopting jihad in central Africa and supporting what is happening in Libya as a war against the seculars.

Therefore, they don’t have a cause. It’s an ill state of mind being exploited by parties that mastered the manipulation of these groups for decades. I know there are some who doubt the theory of the presence of an Iranian role. However, there is a lot of information that proves the Iranians’ involvement via Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian groups. Their fingerprints are everywhere where chaos has reigned. I am not saying the Iranians are directly recruiting Saudis, Libyans and Egyptians but they are turning angry, enthusiastic youths into a tool to serve a political agenda. They previously did it in Lebanon, the Gulf, Yemen and Sudan, and they are repeating it today. Fighting the world using our children has become out of control. This problem must be solved by addressing the root causes and not the symptoms.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Feb. 5, 2014.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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