September 11, 2008 Special Dispatch No. 2049

Saudi Liberals: Following 9/11... The Voice of Islamism Disintegrated into Fragments... And the Voice of Liberalism is Gaining the Upper Hand

September 11, 2008
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 2049

With the approach of the seventh anniversary of 9/11, Saudi liberal journalists have noted the changes in their country that resulted from these events, and the changes that came in its aftermath – particularly, that Saudi society is currently undergoing a shift away from fundamentalism and towards liberalism.

Following are excerpts from two articles reflecting this viewpoint:

"The Muslims Have Seen With Their Own Eyes That Bloodshed Leads To Nothing But Destruction, Devastation, Isolation, And Persecution"

In an article posted on the liberal website Elaph,[1] Saudi liberal Salah Al-Rashed argued that the 9/11 attacks precipitated a genuine social revolution in Saudi Arabia. He wrote: "Actions carried out by bin Laden – explosions and the murder of civilians, whether in the West or among his compatriots – have brought the Muslims to their senses and awoken them from their slumbers...

"The Muslims have seen with their own eyes that bloodshed leads to nothing but destruction, devastation, isolation, and persecution. [They have also been subject to] suspicious, distrustful, and searching glances cast at anyone who is Muslim anywhere in the world. [The Muslims] have now realized that the solution lies in pursuing the culture of peace and eschewing bloody wars and conflicts.

"Both the cognitive revolution that is underway in the region and the pursuit of peace, liberalism, and dialogue that we currently are observing can be attributed to the actions of [Osama] bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. Culturally, we needed [some] bitter experience, [e.g.] in the form of bin Laden's terrorist [activities], in order to shake off the past, the culture of graves, and the practice of resuscitating the past, in order to start living in the present and [addressing] its needs."

"The Rift Created By Bin Laden Between the Islamists and the Saudi Government Has Given the Liberal Current the Opportunity to Establish Itself... Before Bin Laden, the Voice of Fundamentalism Dominated"

"Bin Laden [was proof] to the people who live in the past, with its symbols, ideas and victories, that the solution lies in severing ties with the culture of death and forming new ties with life – ties conducive to progress based on economic development and modern achievements. Anyone who observed, say, the cultural effervescence in Saudi Arabia in the wake of the September 11 attacks and subsequent terrorist acts both inside and outside Saudi Arabia can clearly see that the voice of Islamism in the country has begun to wane and that the voice of liberalism is gaining the upper hand. [Liberal] leaders have moved from defense to attack, from subservience and chicanery to open and courageous tactics of directly confronting the voice of Islamic extremism.

"The war on terror and the culture of terrorism has afforded the Saudi liberal camp an opportunity to participate in it and to join the government, which once treated it like its bitterest enemy. The alliance between the liberals and the establishment Saudis is stronger now than in the past. The rift created by bin Laden between the Islamists and the Saudi government has given the liberal current the opportunity to establish itself, and to impress [upon the public] that its voice is a reality that can no longer be ignored in Saudi Arabia. Before bin Laden, the voice of fundamentalism dominated. Not just politicians but all circles within society sought to ally themselves to and propitiate it.

"Today, after bin Laden, the voice of Islamism has disintegrated into fragments, which are pulling in different and [often] opposite directions. The brilliance of many of [its] stars has diminished, and some of them have, in a blatantly opportunistic [move], moved closer to the liberal camp,. The Islamists have shifted from attack mode to defense mode. This change has significantly weakened them. The sun of their glory has begun to set – except for those who grabbed onto the [lifebelt] of liberalism. The weakness of the Islamist current in Saudi Arabia will also bear on the might of its counterparts outside this country..."

45 Minutes that Changed the World – And Saudi Arabia

In an article in the Saudi daily Al-Watan, Saudi liberal 'Ali Sa'd Al-Mussa, a journalist and lecturer at King Khaled University in Abha, argued that 9/11 marked the watershed between the era of Islamist-led Saudi public discourse and the modern era, characterized by active and varied public discourse.[2] He wrote:

"The 45 minutes between 8:45 AM and 9:30 AM on September 11, 2001 were unlike any other 45 minutes in the modern history of humankind. These minutes made it impossible for the world to revert to its former state...

"...As in all societies, here in Saudi Arabia, the September 11 [attacks] engendered a new and tumultuous discourse on all issues heretofore considered taboo – as happens in all societies that relegate to the underground such issues as the media, freedom of expression, human rights, the status of women, corruption in the public sphere, educational curricula and methodology, and the rights of minorities and sects...

"In my society, the September 11 [attacks] stirred up a storm of discussion, aimed initially at making various groups aware [of the fact] that society is a pluralistic [entity, with a variety] of opinions and schools of philosophical and religious thought, and that insistence on painting everything the same color and imposing a single ideology is against human nature... For the first time, both genders were [represented] in equal numbers in the country's forums – [a change] for our society, which was predominantly patriarchic.

"The September 11 attacks left a mark on the cultural life of the nation. [Indeed,] I would not be exaggerating in saying that anyone reading our media after that global event would not [even] suspect that it was the same media it was before. Today, we are breathing fresh cultural air, after carrying oxygen tanks on our backs...

"The September 11 attacks opened up the issue of education and curricula [to public discussion], following an extensive national debate...

"Most of the discussion has so far amounted to nothing more than words. Nevertheless, we have discovered that a very high price must be paid for a lack of openness on these issues. We have discovered that the greatest obstacle [to progress] is resisting change and development.

"After the September 11 [attacks], my society realized that the most important thing is that everything be subject to discussion and debate."

[1], August 12, 2008.

[2] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), August 17, 2008.

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