The rapid expansion of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) in Iraq, and the fact that many of its fighters are Saudis, have sparked growing fears in Saudi Arabia that the extremist organization might spread to the kingdom. Among the reflections of this fear were the Saudi responses to an official IS release about Faisal bin Shaman Al-'Anzi, a 25-year-old Saudi medical doctor who joined the organization and who on July 11, 2014 perpetrated a car-bomb suicide attack at a Peshmerga checkpoint in Kirkuk in northern Iraq, killing and injuring some 30 people. Until the release of this news, Al-'Anzi's family had denied reports that he was a fighter and claimed that he had been killed while working at an IS clinic. Responding to the photo below, which shows him brandishing a large knife, his brother explained that he sometimes carried a weapon for personal protection while traveling through combat zones.
Al-'Anzi brandishing an ISIS butcher knife (image: Alwatanvoice.com, July 22, 2014)
Al-'Anzi's story sparked outrage in the Saudi press. Columnists asked how a doctor, who is supposed to save lives and treat people regardless of religion, race or gender, could abandon his calling and become a suicide bomber in the ranks of an organization like ISIS, whose values are diametrically opposed to those of his profession. They also stressed that the roots of the phenomenon are to be found within the institutions of Saudi society itself, from the education system and the family to the civil service and the military. The columnists urged Saudis in particular and Muslims in general to wake up and start monitoring this phenomenon, and some suggested reexamining the entire ideological and moral foundations of the Saudi state.
The following are excerpts from some of the articles:
Liberal Columnist Halima Muzaffar: What Caused A Doctor To Shed His Humanity And Become A Criminal?
In an article in the Saudi government daily Al-Watan, liberal Saudi columnist Halima Muzaffar called to reform Saudi Arabia's educational and social institutions in light of Al-'Anzi's story. She wrote: "[Al-'Anzi] left his job and his homeland and decided to join ISIS, [since] he believed in jihad through terrorism. This begs the question why a doctor like him, or an engineer or a teacher, would fall into such criminal thinking and accept [the idea] of killing innocent people on the claim that they are infidels?! How can people like him be brainwashed despite the education they received, which was supposed to increase their awareness and enable them to distinguish right from wrong?! Can there be a greater error than accepting the notion of killing an innocent person who has done you no harm just because he belongs to a different religion or religious sect?! What caused this doctor to shed his humanity and become a criminal?!
"Identifying the rotten roots that facilitate [the phenomenon of] joining [ISIS] requires more extensive research. The phenomenon doubtlessly indicates that our education [system] is unable to improve [the students'] awareness, which means that we must reassess [the issue of] increasing the level of their awareness. However, the responsibility for this does not lie solely with the education [system], but with all the social institutions that are party to shaping [people's] awareness. Therefore, we must rebuild the ideological-moral system in all the institutions, on the religious, educational, medical and media levels. Are we serious about achieving [this goal], or not?!"
'Al-Sharq Al-Awsat' Columnist: Faisal Is "Doctor Death"
In the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, columnist Mishari Al-Zaidi compared Al-'Anzi to other doctors in history who had betrayed their profession and carried out heinous acts. He called on Saudi public institutions to put a stop to this "epidemic" of youths joining ISIS, and on Muslims everywhere to act to end it, writing: "'Doctor Death' is the nickname for a doctor who abandons his practice in order to kill and fight in a civil war and in fanatical terror [wars]. The latest to earn this moniker is Saudi doctor Faisal [Al-'Anzi], who left his clinic and the care of his patients in order to join the ISIS murderers in Iraq. His latest photo, as published on Alarabiya.net, shows him leering while brandishing the famous ISIS knife.
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"There have been many 'Doctor Deaths' in ancient and modern history. But the most famous in the 20th century was the German Nazi doctor Aribert Heim, who died in Cairo in 1992 after years of hiding and fleeing from the international manhunt [for him]... They say that in Cairo he used the name Tareq, and that he earned the name [Doctor] Death for his experiments on prisoners in Nazi concentration camps -- experiments the mere description of which could shock a stone... He carried out his experiments without anesthesia, injected petrol into the hearts of patients, and [did] many other things.
"Faisal is not the only doctor who left his work tending to wounds and turned to opening wounds and unsheathing knives. [He was preceded by] the Serbian doctor and poet Radovan Karadzic -- a war criminal who led the barbaric Serbian militias against Bosnia's Muslims, who betrayed medicine and poetry, became a war criminal, and evaded prosecution until his arrest in 2008. And [today] there is the most famous Doctor Death and Terror, the surgeon [and Al-Qaeda leader] Ayman Al-Zawahiri... Is there a better-known symbol of destruction, devastation, killing, bombing, spreading hatred and strife, and destroying the stability and security of Muslim communities?! This, of course, was before he was surpassed by Ibrahim 'Awwad, aka Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi -- the caliph of ISIS -- [also] a doctor, though not a medical doctor.
"This [culture of hatred] is a devastation that damages the soul, a malady that kills off the conscience and emotions -- and no one, big or small, educated or ignorant, who submits to this culture of hatred and deluded conventions can break free of it. [This] discourse chews up [everyone who crosses] its path -- whether doctor, poet, engineer, veterinarian, accountant, or officer. All these are the professions of the most well-known leaders of Al-Qaeda and of today's violent fundamentalist groups.
"In my opinion, it is crucial for governments and public service institutions such as hospitals and universities, and specifically military elements, to open their eyes and wake up in order to notice any sign, even the most minute, of any civil servant's [attraction to the ideas of] ISIS -- which could become a cup of poison that will end up causing bitterness and death. This epidemic means that [we must declare] a state of emergency -- from the home through the office to the street.
"Ultimately, Faisal [Al-'Anzi] is a victim of this discourse, and at the same time he is a means by which it operates. [He is both] oppressor and oppressed. [This will keep happening] until all these Muslim communities solve the worst problem of this war-filled and hate-[filled] century [i.e. the propagation of the culture of hatred]."
'Al-Jazirah' Columnist: How Does A Doctor Become A Suicide Bomber?
Nasser Al-Sarami, a columnist for the official Saudi daily Al-Jazirah, criticized the Muslim extremism that instills in youth the notion that supremacy will be restored to the Islamic ummah by blowing up people and by hatred: "There are two interesting aspects here: The first has to do with the quality of training received by the licensed Saudi medical practitioners, and the second is [this individual's] choice [to join] an organization of this nature, and how someone meant to be a doctor becomes a suicide bomber, a human bomb who ends his own life and those of others. What tremendous danger this extreme path holds -- and once it enters the mind, it completely destroys any possible moral and scientific environment, with its emotional stress mixed with dreams of a renewed Islamic Caliphate in its old format, that has always aroused the emotions of many and always will.
"The main problem, which always recurs, is the demand to restore [Islam's] historic supremacy and the nourishing of the dream of restoring victory and glory to the [Muslim] ummah by blowing up people and by spreading the bloody ideology of hatred."