The creation of nightmares in Saudi Arabia

The creation of nightmares is an old tactic used by fascist movements to terrify the public from a supposedly imminent danger.

Jamal Khashoggi

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As if Iran and its nightmares were not enough, us Saudis insist on creating our own nightmares that divide us.

A decade ago, I published an article entitled “Empowered by the creation of nightmares.” At the time, we were starting to free ourselves from the radicalism that had infiltrated our community - a radicalism we had ignored until the Sept. 11 attacks.

We started to gradually uphold a spirit of openness under the late King Abdullah, who was then crown prince. His statements were always enlightening, especially for intellectuals. “We’re a part of the world and can’t be disconnected from it,” he said. Those who rejected this openness tried to create nightmares by saying it would Westernize us and corrupt our women.

The creation of nightmares is an old tactic used by fascist movements to terrify the public from a supposedly imminent danger. This is how they attract frightened supporters. The creation of nightmares started in the 1980s as an attack on modernism by the Sahwa religious movement, a faction of Saudi Salafism.

The creation of nightmares is an old tactic used by fascist movements to terrify the public from a supposedly imminent danger. This is how they attract frightened supporters.

Jamal Khashoggi

This was shortly followed by accusing opponents of Westernization, liberalism and secularism. Since the creation of nightmares requires someone to blame, these movements might target a novelist, poet or minister, misinterpreting their statements.

In the abovementioned article, I recalled how Osama bin Laden painted a gloomy picture of the kingdom’s future at the start of the war to liberate Kuwait, saying the Americans were plotting to change the regime, abolish sharia law and Westernize Saudi Arabia.

According to him, they would not leave the country before appointing a secular prime minister. Such a tactic was aimed at rallying supporters for the protection of the country from a nightmare he created.

Accused become accusers

Creating nightmares can fracture society by creating enmity between the government and its citizens. Conspiracies and misinterpretations follow. I was targeted many times by the Sahwa movement. Today I again criticize the creators of nightmares, who are now liberals who were accused by the previous creators of nightmares of being a threat to the country.

They even portray some movements, such us the Muslim Brotherhood or ‎ Salafist Sururiyah more dangerous than the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They also portray the Salafist Sururiyah movement as an imminent danger - one of them even called for its “extermination.”

How many concentration camps would we need to establish? Who can identify Brotherhood and Sururiyah members for extermination? No one, since according to the new creators of nightmares they are secret organizations. The aim is to spread suspicion, accusations and mistrust.

It would be useless to reconcile the nightmares produced by ideological tribes that cannot abolish one another. The solution is to spread pluralism, freedom of opinion, and the right of people to disagree as long as it does not harm public order.

This is what the Saudi Council of Ministers called for during a Ramadan session in 2008 attended by the late King Abdullah. I kept in mind its statement due to its importance: “The kingdom is always seeking to consolidate the core values of Islam such as justice, equality, solidarity, tolerance, the right to decent life and responsible freedom, and the right to be different as permitted by sharia law without harming oneself or others.”

The liberal movement must stop creating nightmares, for which Saudi Arabia has started to pay a price. Our opinions will never be uniform, our understanding of religion will differ, we will follow various paths in life, and our personalities and social behavior will continue to diverge. Some might see this as a problem, but there is strength in diversity if we decide to make space for tolerance, which is one of the foundations of Islam.

This article was first published in al-Hayat on Jan. 16, 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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