Fighting incitement is the state’s responsibility
Last week’s horrible explosion in the village of Al-Qadeeh in eastern Saudi Arabia sparked controversy
Collective awareness about incitement is present among the general public. Those who realize the threats of the rhetoric of hatred and incitement, and who are repelled by it, are aware that it is a tool that divides society and triggers disputes. However, being aware of the wrong in such rhetoric is not enough to prevent deterioration.
Last week’s horrible explosion in the village of Al-Qadeeh in eastern Saudi Arabia, which killed over 20 worshippers and injured more than 100, sparked controversy regarding whose responsibility it is to address incitement. It also raised questions about how threatening incitement actually is.
Saudi youths who join terrorist groups inside Saudi Arabia and in Syria, Iraq and Yemen are the product of religious extremist propaganda and activity. We are talking about thousands, not a few dozenAbdulrahman al-Rashed
The planners of the attack on the mosque are the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but those involved in the crime are Saudis. Why did they do it? They committed the crime due to extremist calls and activities that have not ended despite all attempts.
Saudi youths who join terrorist groups inside Saudi Arabia and in Syria, Iraq and Yemen are the product of religious extremist propaganda and activity. We are talking about thousands, not a few dozen. Some parties’ justifications that extremism is an international issue, and that thousands more from other countries are involved, are not acceptable.
Then and now
We hope the explosion in Al-Qadeeh, and previously in Al-Dalwa, and the murdering of security personnel in Riyadh, are not the start of a new planned campaign of violence that takes the kingdom back to the terrorism it confronted 10 years ago.
Back then, the government and some cultural institutions launched a massive awareness campaign against extremists, and those preaching extremism were pursued and jailed. As Al-Qaeda was defeated, some thought danger receded, and we got occupied with other issues. However, considering the presence of huge organizations such as ISIS, these explosions may be the tip of the iceberg.
Today’s scene is different from yesterday’s, as challenges now are greater in number and danger. What is new is that the region is full of wars that are mostly being won by extremists, such as in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya. Besides that, the general means of addressing people have become outside the authority of public and private institutions.
Social networking websites have emerged since that last war on terrorism. Now that there are millions of users on Twitter, Facebook and other websites, the state cannot shut down all platforms of incitement and of supporting terrorism, from mosques to media outlets.
ISIS today directly communicates with people. It directly communicates its ideas, speeches, footage and activities, and all that is happening before the government’s eyes.
The government’s responsibility here increases if it wants to protect its society from divisions and violence. The moral responsibility to fight extremism and confront the rhetoric of incitement is not the individual’s but the state’s. This also applies to racism in the sports community due to the widespread means of communication and the increasing number of media outlets.
The state’s failure to categorize racism, sectarianism and similar acts as crimes punishable by law will make practicing such acts a hobby that no one addresses. We live in a state of huge regional and global war whose headline is terrorism, and it is all based on extremist intellect.
The state, on the basis of its current concept, is responsible for guaranteeing civil peace. This does not only require raising the level of protection, but also fighting the source of danger, which in this case is intellectual. Incitement and nothing else is why a suicide bomber joined an extremist group, and why he carried out the attack against the mosque in Al-Qadeeh.
Threats will increase as long as incitement goes on, and as long as takfiri groups are present. This includes the phenomenon of populist advocates of extremism, who due to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are competing over who practices slander and direct incitement.
They believe that additional extremism and hostility will bring more angry and scared people to their ranks.
When the state lays down laws that criminalize incitement, it protects society and its presence as well.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May 25, 2015.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former 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.