For decades in Saudi Arabia, the voice of a few extremists was higher than the voice of the moderates, who were many. They spread hatred and accused those who fought hatred, whether officials, writers, intellectuals or even ordinary citizens, of infidelity. They controlled education and planted a poisonous mixture of Muslim Brotherhood and Sururist ideas in the students’ minds for the purpose of producing close-minded people who detest modern life.
The phenomenon of their rise began in 1979. They gradually managed to impose their influence on social and cultural life and sought to make radical changes in the nature of the simple society that had faith in an innate manner. To achieve this, laws and practices which conflict and oppose the society’s habits were imposed. Women were hence restrained and arts, even those related to heritage and traditions, were prohibited. The idea of the homeland was marginalized in favor of the bigger nation and anything related to the homeland was prohibited, such as chanting the royal salute and celebrating the national day. Celebrations and theatres’ and cinemas’ work came to an end and so did other means of entertainment. The names of enlightened intellectuals such as Ghazi Al Gosaibi were smeared and takfirist names such as Sayyid Qutb were praised.
Incitement and mobilization reached religious and media podiums until we saw large groups of young people selling their minds and turning into a herd who take orders from intolerant preachers who can get them to sacrifice themselves with just one word. Back then, we saw Saudis booby-trap their cars and wear explosive belts to kill other Saudis thus carrying out the schemes of al-Qaeda and ISIS to destroy the state by shedding blood and spreading chaos.
The extremists’ issues turned into crises that almost tore the society’s fabric by engaging in debates over essential topics such as women’s driving of cars, arts, women’s rights and others. Extremists silenced rational people and used takfirist fatwas and the strategies of assassinating the personality. They did not only become the street’s stars but they also became among the most influential figures on Twitter which became their strongest platform and the arena where they gather. Their influence went beyond Saudi Arabia as they offered themselves to other countries. We saw one of them deliver a speech in Cairo during the days of the so-called Arab Spring and he publicly warned that Judgment Day is near.
Who would have believed that this situation will end and become from the past during a short period of time as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman assumed his tasks? It’s a very difficult task to get rid of this legacy of extremism during a short period of time, and it’s difficult to believe this if we hadn’t seen it with our own eyes. No one would have imagined these brave and huge steps in supporting tolerance and moderation, such as allowing women to drive and stopping extremist figures.
Fanatics, hate preachers and those who called for chaos disappeared from the scene and the society got rid of this strong installing of extremist ideas which pour into the ears and silence the breath. A frequent fallacy stipulated that extremists have the right to express their opinions and this is of course not true because their ideas are poisonous and they promote a culture of hate and intolerance, hence the destruction and division of society. Therefore, prohibiting them is the right choice. Even in developed countries which have ancient traditions in freedoms are not tolerant with figures who openly spread ideas of hatred as remaining silent will lead to the explosion of society from within. With countries whose age is younger, the issue is more urgent and more important.
Riyadh’s war on intolerance was not propagandist but practical ... A frequent fallacy stipulated that extremists have the right to express their opinions and this is of course not trueMamdouh AlMuhaini
War on intolerance
In the Arab and Islamic world, we’ve previously heard many promises about combating extremism but politicians used that for marketing and for launching a public relations campaign against the West, and they did not implement these promises. These promises presented them as the civilized modernists but the reality was different. Exceptional leaders mean what they say, and they do not back down because it’s in the interest of their country and future generations not to. The Saudi crown prince himself announced this war on the culture of intolerance when he said his famous statement: “We will destroy extremist ideas now and immediately.” This is what happened on the ground and according to a practical plan. History taught us that countries where the ideas of intolerance spread become underdeveloped and disintegrated and that countries which adopt religious tolerance and moderation prosper and advance.
Riyadh’s war on intolerance was not propagandist but practical, and it was not local but regional and international. It’s interesting to now see Saudi Arabia, whose image was distorted by extremist preachers who spread hatred, exporting scholars whose first aim is spreading religious tolerance, such as what Secretary General of the Muslim World League Dr. Mohammed al-Issa, who is traveling the world and holding conferences and meeting with leaders from all religions and sects, is doing. Christian leaders are also visiting Riyadh and meeting with the Saudi leadership. The aim is to enhance the idea of co-existence and present a moderate image about Islam. Saudi Arabia’s great religious status gives it this great influence in the Islamic surrounding which for decades suffered from the continuous rise of the wave of extremism that produced terrorism.
With the alliance with countries that support moderate thought, such as the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, it is possible that tolerant rhetoric will reign over extremist rhetoric, which was behind the largest of crises that harmed the region through terrorism and the disintegration of countries.
This is a main reason for the continuous campaign against Riyadh – a campaign that’s led by Qataris, Iranians and political Islam groups that rely on the extremist rhetoric, its organizations, media and men to achieve its political aspirations and goals.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Mamdouh AlMuhaini is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya News Channel’s digital platforms. He can be followed on Twitter @malmhuain