Terrorism is everyone’s problem
The Saudi government knows that it cannot combat terrorism alone
A week ago, Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz told ambassadors that their governments need to take the threat of terrorism very seriously, otherwise their countries would be targeted next. The king’s warning comes after two important messages mainly targeted at Saudis. On Aug. 1, he sent a clear message denouncing terrorism, in what was taken by many as a warning to Saudis who encourage or join terrorist organizations.
Another statement came in a meeting he had with senior Saudi religious scholars. He accused them of being idle in performing their duties, and passive in promoting tolerance and combating radicalism. This is probably the first time in Saudi history that a monarch publicly criticizes religious scholars. Saudi society is conservative, and religious scholars are considered by many as the guardians of its conservative collective conscience.
The Saudi government knows that it cannot combat terrorism alone. It has been insisting on the need for collective action against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and its ilkAbdullah Hamidaddin
In the past, when monarchs wanted to publicly convey a message to scholars, it would usually be a reminder of their duty, and include praise for their efforts. They had never been publicly accused of being inept. His statement sent shockwaves through Saudi society and the religious establishment.
The Saudi government knows that it cannot combat terrorism alone. It has been insisting on the need for collective action against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and its ilk. Three weeks ago, Riyadh contributed $100 million to the U.N. Counter-Terrorism Centre. The message was clear: unless the world works together, terrorism will not be eradicated.
However, Western governments are still reluctant to intervene, and preferred to believe that ISIS has local ambitions and is a local problem. This has been changing since the tragic execution of American journalist James Foley, and the threat of ISIS is steadily becoming an international concern. The king is taking this as an opportunity, asking not only for a collective response to terrorism, but a comprehensive, multi-level, global approach.
Today there is much talk about military action against ISIS, as if that is the main and only solution. That is not enough. ISIS is part of a larger, very complex problem. Muslims have engaged in a discourse of victimization for over a century, which makes radicalism appealing even to the non-terrorist. Terrorists are able to thrive in failed states such as Iraq, Syria and Somalia. Their source of funds depends on access to international markets.
ISIS controls some oilfields, but if that oil cannot find its way to international markets, it is of no use. ISIS fighters come through stable countries such as Turkey. Their message is disseminated through social media. These are but some issues that can only be solved if countries work together.
Saudis against terrorism
The good news is that King Abdullah is not the only one calling for a global coalition against terrorism. On the same day he spoke to ambassadors to the kingdom, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wrote an op-ed calling for the same thing. Also, in Saudi Arabia there are signs of a coalition being formed between the government and citizens.
In the past, many Saudis preferred to stay on the sidelines in the war between their government and terrorists. In a clan-based society, family loyalties superseded loyalty to the country. People were not willing to give up members of their clans. However, last week citizens living in rural areas informed the government of recruiting activities among them. This is a breakthrough, and if continues, it could change the tide against home-grown terrorism.
It would help if foreign media picked up such stories. The world mostly hears about the negative aspects of terrorism, or about the successes of security forces against it. The world also needs to hear how the average citizen is risking his wellbeing to combat it.
Abdullah Hamidaddin is a writer and commentator on religion, Middle Eastern societies and politics with a focus on Saudi Arabia and Yemen. He is currently a PhD candidate in King’s College London. He can be followed on Twitter: @amiq1
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