You are either with us, or against us

Jamal Khashoggi
Jamal Khashoggi
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Saudis should adopt this phrase while currently facing a major existential crisis. The problem with the slogan is that it became associated with U.S. President George W Bush, who used it after the Sept. 11 attacks, though he was not the first to say it. In his historical address before Congress, Bush aimed to gain public support to retaliate against Osama bin Laden, political Islam, or even Islam itself. I think Bush did not really know the difference between them. “Either you’re with us, or you’re with the terrorists,” he said.

The world found it difficult to accept his ultimatum. Consequently, French-American relations became strained, and developments proved France right. Bush made catastrophic mistakes, and can be held responsible for many disasters, from the global economic crisis that began in his country, to the current situation in the Middle East after leaving Iraq in the hands of Iran and bolstering Al-Qaeda, which led to the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

However, his mistakes do not negate the logic behind the slogan “you are either with us or against us.” Such logic is essential in times of confrontation, and there is a major confrontation between sectarian Iran and free peoples. This struggle is not between Saudi Arabia and Iran, nor between Sunnis and Shiites. Some allies stand by Saudi Arabia against Tehran but not against the “Iranian project,” because they do not yet see it as such.

Our neighboring friends say they do not want a sectarian conflict. It is too late; we have all been pushed against our will into this conflict by Iran

Jamal Khashoggi

The conflict is not over borders, oil or gas. Had it been the case, we would have resorted to maps and brought in an army of lawyers and arbitration experts. It is not a conflict for power. After all, what do Saudi influence in Yemen or Iranian influence in Syria mean?

There is no power worth dying for in politics, but Iranians are ready to die and kill in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Had they received the green light, Yemen would have been their fourth battlefield, though the Houthis represent them there in the most hideous way. Why then are Iranians killing our people and getting killed in our world? Because they have an expansionist project, and the time has come to convince our allies of this.

The attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran cannot be fixed by a mere apology or by cutting diplomatic ties. It was the last straw for an eroding relation, and it revealed the extent of Saudi anger toward Iran’s aggression. Riyadh should use the expression “you are either with us or against us” to identify where various parties stand. Each country has its own calculations, interests and internal affairs, but in major battles one cannot sit on the fence.

Riyadh does not mind countries having standard friendly relations with Iran, but will never allow it to have a foothold in Arab countries, and will strongly reject any government loyal to Tehran. I am certain that all Arab and Muslim countries agree with this stance, and so should support Riyadh, which is fighting today for the sake of the entire region. After all, a Syria dominated by Iran is equally harmful to Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Iranian sectarianism

Our neighboring friends say they do not want a sectarian conflict. It is too late; we have all been pushed against our will into this conflict by Iran, which might not be speaking in a sectarian way but is acting as such. Look at a map and examine where and with whom Iran is fighting.

In Syria, it has been fighting against the people from the first day of the revolution, opposing freedom and supporting dictatorship. In Yemen, it decided to finance and train the Houthis only, not any other party. In Lebanon and Iraq, Iran only lines up with parties, movements and militias that share its sectarian beliefs.

Freedom, democracy, and all values and rights are dashed for the sake of the Iranian project. Tehran is willing to accept ethnic cleansing in the Syrian town of Zabadani, the siege of 40,000 human beings until they die of starvation in Madaya, and the bombing of a hospital in Taiz, whose inhabitants are also starving. Iranian politics is driven solely by sectarianism.

It is in Iran’s interest to have good relations with its neighbors, but Tehran’s thinking is fundamentalist, not patriotic. Like all fundamentalism, it is narrow-minded and capable only of seeing things in black and white. Therefore, today’s confrontation is not between Sunnis and Shiites, but between Shiite fundamentalism and Sunni fundamentalism represented by ISIS.

In Saudi Arabia we are suffering from both, and they were equally stricken by the Saudi judicial sword on Jan. 2, when 47 prisoners convicted of terrorism were executed. We are not standing in the face of Iran because we are fundamentalists, but due to its aggressive expansionism. We hope for the return of a nationalist Iran that could even become the kingdom’s partner.

We are witnessing the same conditions as Europe in 1939. When Hitler invaded Poland, Europe - which wanted to stay free - ran out of patience. Those who decided to wage war would have preferred otherwise, but they did not want to become victims of Hitler’s growing, fascist appetite.

Not all European countries agreed with the British and French decision to confront him, but eventually the whole world lined up, joining either the ranks of freedom or of fascism. Today, the Muslim world faces a similar choice.

This article was first published in al-Hayat on Jan. 9, 2016.

Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels. Twitter: @JKhashoggi

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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