May 31, 2003 Special Dispatch No. 514

Saudi Media Trends: In the Wake of the Riyadh Bombings (2)

May 31, 2003
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 514

Several days after the suicide bombings in Riyadh, a number of trends emerged in the Saudi media. The most prominent of these is the debate between conservatives and liberals regarding the role played by the Saudi education system and sermons delivered in Saudi mosques in the emergence of Saudi terrorism. In contrast to its reactions to other terrorist attacks throughout the world, the Saudi press did not publish conspiracy theories regarding the Riyadh attack. Although some journalists wrote that the roots of the problem lie outside the borders of Saudi Arabia, and that terrorism was "imported" into the country from Afghanistan – none placed blame on Jews, the Israeli Mossad, or the CIA, as was the case following September 11 and subsequent Al-Qa'ida attacks. The following are excerpts from various Saudi newspapers regarding the Riyadh attack.

School Curricula and Mosque Sermons

The Saudi religious establishment hastened to emphasize that the attacks bore no connection whatsoever to "true" Islam, and that the school curricula was not to blame.

In a sermon delivered Friday, May 16, 2003 at Mecca's Al-Haram Mosque, Sheikh Salleh bin Hamid declared: "…It is neither objective nor fair to claim that the curricula and preaching are the cause of some groups' deviation. The curricula and preaching have been implemented since the establishment of this blessed state, and they have educated… all the scientists, intellectuals, doctors, engineers, and historians… Why, then, has only one group been influenced by the curricula?!…" [1]

Similar positions were expressed by Sheikh 'Ali Abd Al-Rahman Al-Hudhaifi at the Al-Nabawi mosque in Al-Madina. [2]

Abed Khuzindar, a columnist for the Saudi daily 'Okaz, wrote: "As expected, a group of conservative, Zionist-supporting members of the American congress, headed by John McCain, hastened to accuse Saudi Arabia of [bearing] responsibility for the acts of terror that took place in Riyadh, and for funding religious schools and encouraging terrorism… This is stupidity based on false accusations. Is it conceivable that any government would carry out terrorism against itself and its people? The truth is that these terrorists – and bin Laden who stands behind them – although Saudis - did not graduate from Saudi Arabia's schools and universities as terrorists; they came from abroad, primarily from Afghanistan, from the schools established by American intelligence." [3]

'The Ideology of Terror Was Not Injected Into Saudi Culture From Without'

The claims of the religious establishment and its supporters that appeared in the press were met with fierce objections by many Saudi columnists, primarily in the Al-Watan daily. They stated unequivocally that the root of the problem was in Saudi society, and demanded that it be dealt with.

Columnist Abd Al-Qadr Tash wrote: "We must object to the interpretation by a few among us that the phenomenon of violence and terror is entirely imported from outside our Saudi society. These [few] claim that the ideology that feeds this phenomenon was injected into our midst, and is foreign to our culture. Although there is some measure of truth in this claim, it explains only part of the phenomenon. Therefore, accepting it unreservedly is a type of escapism, blame-shifting, and self-exoneration. We have become accustomed to handling many of the negative phenomena in our Saudi society in this way."

"The time has come for us to admit the bitter truth – the phenomenon of violence and terror has a domestic dimension… in our social culture, and primarily in its religious part. This culture suffers from many flaws that prepare the ground for growth of the ideology of violence and clashing with the other, instead of acting with tolerance. This flawed culture pushes our young people towards the same suspect streams [i.e. Al-Qa'ida and other Islamist movements] that brainwash them and ultimately produce terrorists from among them…"

"The Satans of the streams of violence and terror rely on the same flawed culture that young people draw from many sources, beginning with the educational institutions, through Fatwas… the pulpits of the mosques and the cassettes, and ending with television programs and what appears on the completely uncensored Internet forums. Unlike young people in the past, the young people of today no longer receive religious law from a single reliable source."

"Whoever examines the religious culture absorbed by our young people from these multiple sources finds that most use a method of 'precepts of extremism' that fills hearts with hatred for life and minds with dark ideas that make them narrow of horizon, loathing of life and the other, and unwilling to conduct dialogue…"

"The phenomenon of terrorism that wears the robe of religion will not be handled efficiently if [such handling] is limited to security measures alone. Security handling can behead terror but it cannot pull up the roots planted in the depth of the ideology that feeds it. Therefore, we must reexamine the way in which we cope with this phenomenon. We must focus more on the roots, analyzing them, and offering solutions that will ensure that they are uprooted and that their springs are dried up."

"In order to succeed at this… we must first of all admit to the flaw from which our religious message suffers. We must lance the wounds, even if it is a painful procedure, and purge our modern religious culture of the precepts of extremism so that our young people will not be led to the brink of the abyss of extremism. But this is not enough. At the same time, we must offer our young people a new religious message and consolidate for them an alternative religious culture… Coping with the culture of extremism and violence and replacing it with a tolerant culture cannot come about through hope alone, but also cannot come about by force. The only way to fight ideology is by means of another ideology…" [4]

Columnist Qinan Al-Ghamdi took a similar approach: "It is not enough to have a strategy of containing the extremist ideology that engenders terror in our country," he wrote. "It must be accompanied by comprehensive domestic reforms aimed at emphasizing our national unity. On Sunday, May 4, I read a statement in Okaz [made] by a senior source, according to which the leadership made 46 decisions in the area of reform that would soon be declared. I maintain that the time for 'soon' has long since arrived; if these decisions have already been made, they must be declared and their gradual implementation begun… Every week, at his weekly press conference, Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal is asked about reforms, and every time he says that reform is important and that it will come soon. These questions will continue to be asked until reforms are declared…"

"After being burned by the fire of terrorism time after time, it is incumbent upon us to fortify society against it. These fortifications cannot be done by means of good intentions or talk alone; they require scientific activity that can be implemented, and genuine and comprehensive reforms. The security solution to which we turn every time there is a problem or a disaster is insufficient and inefficient… because it deals with the fruits, and not with the roots…" [5]

Agricultural Terrorism

The editor of the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, responded to the issue with sarcasm. Al-Rashed, known as one of the leading liberals in the Saudi press, wrote, in an article titled "Upon Your Request," that when he finished writing his commentary on the bombings, the phone rang and one of his friends asked him to please refrain from blaming Saudi religious institutions for the attacks. "To please him, I tried, and though the task was arduous, I succeeded. With long and focused thought, I exposed the roots, the weapons, and the true perpetrators of Monday's tragedy."

"My most important discovery is that they have no connection whatsoever with fundamentalists. I can swear that they are agriculture students or Ministry of Agriculture personnel. The Ministry of Agriculture is to blame for what happened, because it is the one who dug wells for them, supplied water for them, and planted seeds for them. As it is said, 'He who sows, reaps'…"

"I also discovered that the Saudis who went to Kashmir, Afghanistan, and Chechnya arrived there by chance; they were tourists who had lost their way... Likewise, it isn't true that these Saudi tourists returned determined to carry out acts of evil… For the sake of the public interest, they decided to convey the technology and knowledge they had acquired in the mountains of Tora and the caves of Bora to apartment buildings [in Saudi Arabia]."

"It isn't true that the Saudi media and institutions prepared the ground and the mentality for them. What is said about our young people is not almost entirely lies, it is all lies. The charity organizations sent the money only for their tourism and entertainment and that of their Arab and Muslim friends, and not for funding terrorism abroad."

"Regarding their lives in Saudi Arabia, it is not true that they are worry-free. Life is very difficult. The situation has gotten so bad that their communiqués no longer need to be approved by the Information Ministry, unlike others, who want to publish communiqués on science, medicine, or even poetry, and who wait weeks, even months for approval…"

"Don't believe those who say that they show school pupils, including elementary [school pupils], pictures of Palestinian and Iraqi casualties, and incite them against the infidel Westerners. Similarly, it is not true that the schools for girls have become centers of guidance in political matters. The aim of the reenactment of the funerals by Islamist women educators is not to frighten the girls; they are drama lessons included in the curricula."

"Similarly, it is not true that the hospitals are full of communiqués prohibiting shaking hands with the infidels. Another lie is that Saudi television is full of religious programming. Our young people are busy with more important things. Hundreds of thousands of them are busy calling Muslims to join Islam in the land of Islam…"

"In conclusion, you must not connect what I said with any bombings heard in your city; it is only fireworks and American propaganda." [6]

[1] Saudi Television, May 16, 2003.

[2] Saudi Television, May 16, 2003.

[3] Okaz (Saudi Arabia), May 18, 2003. A similar opinion was expressed by columnist Khaled Hamad Al-Suleiman in Okaz(Saudi Arabia), May 18, 2003.

[4] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), May 18, 2003.

[5] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), May 18, 2003.

[6] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 17, 2003.

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