A popular stance against extremists
Governments have major duties to fulfil, their core task being to provide protection
It is not a coincidence that in some Western countries, whose constitutions clearly stipulate protecting freedom of expression and partisanship, Nazism is exceptionally banned in belief and in practice, and those who violate this law are punished. This is not hypocrisy or a retreat from respecting freedoms.
Nazism is banned because it is an extremist, fascist, nationalist ideology that represents a direct threat to the nation. Its bloody history is modern, and its fire still burns under the ashes. Extremist ideas are present everywhere, but since Nazi extremism is very dangerous, liberal countries that believe most in freedoms have decided not to tolerate it.
In the Middle East, our version of nationalist fascism is religious extremism religious, which is just as dangerous and destructive. Most people who belong to extremist religious movements are misled and naïve, truly believing that extremism elevates the status of religion above all other religions and complements their duties as believers.
Governments have major duties to fulfil, their core task being to provide protection from the evils of extremist groups that operate across bordersAbdulrahman al-Rashed
Nazis believe in elevating the white race above all others. Nazism caused the destruction of Europe, with 60 million people killed. After this disaster, the majority took it upon itself not to allow this extremist ideology to dominate in their societies. One can be religious, patriotic and nationalistic without being committed to eliminating others.
We fear that we are at the beginning of the road to destruction in our region by allowing extremists to impose their agendas on society, intimidate wise clerics, attract opportunists, exploit history to seek vengeance against others, and be selective regarding religion and choosing whatever suits their interests. We are aware of the seriousness of the situation that extremists are dragging us into.
Take the lessons we learnt from Al-Qaeda not long ago. In the 1990s and during the first decade of this century, we learnt the lesson of not allowing Al-Qaeda and similar groups to spread their ideas, recruit youths and attempt to dominate using sectarian slogans.
Confronting these groups is everyone’s responsibility. Governments have major duties to fulfil, their core task being to provide protection from the evils of extremist groups that operate across borders.
What is happening in Syria and Iraq represents achievements of both Sunni and Shiite extremists. The current collective murder and displacement we have not witnessed anything like in our history, and the massive destruction is beyond anyone’s imagination.
We are also aware of governments’ political exploitations to achieve their aims via these groups. Fighting and rejecting these groups is thus the collective responsibility of both governments and individuals.
Extremists have succeeded at confusing people’s perceptions of what is just and unjust, and of who is friend or foe. They are also trying to divide people by categorizing them by sect, ethnicity, good and evil, to the extent of strengthening the idea of alternative identities to love of one’s country, which is supposed to come before one’s tribe and sect, and where everyone should have the same rights and duties.
Amid this poisonous atmosphere, the patriotic state has become the most threatened, not groups and minorities as some think. Destroying the civil ladder and dividing societies harms the backbone of the state, its structure. However, persecuted groups always survive no matter how besieged, pursued and displaced they are. States have collapsed, but these groups have survived throughout the centuries.
Dangerous extremism is expanding, and it requires serious restraints. It is not acceptable for a university teacher, mosque preacher or ministry employee to incite against certain social categories, as the government is responsible for such acts because they employ these people.
Protecting the state
The government itself refuses to be betrayed and punishes whoever violates its laws. Those extremists, whether they know it or not, are destroying the structure from its base. They are more dangerous to society than foreign enemies, who fail when people are united and succeed when there are domestic disputes and divisions.
What necessitates a law that criminalizes racism and sectarianism is the collective stance of clerics, intellectuals and social leaders who voiced support for unity and considered last week’s suicide bombing at a Shiite mosque in the Saudi town of Al-Qadeeh as an attack against all of them. Dozens of writers, thinkers, and people with a clear conscience wrote in condemnation of the attack.
This was the biggest solidarity campaign Saudi Arabia has ever known. The king’s statement against extremism has encouraged them to voice their condemnation. These strong manifestations have disproved extremists’ claims about their popularity and influence, and confirmed that the state can lead a project to eliminate extremism before it rots society’s strongest pillar: its youth.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May 28, 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.