ALI ASSERI, the current Saudi envoy to Lebanon, spent more than eight years as ambassador in Pakistan where he witnessed terrorist violence spreading to the region and the rest of the world. This new book which follows a previous publication — “Post September 11: The Efforts to Combat the Negative Fallout,” highlights the author’s staunch commitment to fighting terrorism.
“Combating Terrorism: Saudi Arabia’s Role in the War on Terror,” is not only an overview of the definition and root causes of terrorism but it also explains why the Saudi counter-terrorism strategy has been successful and how it has also been used in other Muslim countries.
The author shows us why the definition of terrorism lacks international consensus. The exasperating failure to define terrorism blocks the possibility of referring terrorist acts to an international court of justice: “The main dispute over the definition of terrorism remains on identifying the culprits which in almost all the existing definitions of terrorism offered by governments, academics, and international organizations are presumed to be non-state actors. Since states have a monopoly over the use of force under international law; they will always be reluctant to include the word ‘state’ in the section of terrorism definition identifying various perpetrators of terrorism.”
We are reminded that terrorism existed 2000 years ago and that until the end of the 19th century, religion was terrorism’s main justification. Overshadowed for a few decades by anarchist, counter-revolutionary and anti-colonial movements, religion-based terrorism made a comeback in the post-Cold era. Samuel Huntington’s iconic book on the ‘clash of civilizations’ underlined the importance of religion as a root cause for global conflicts. However, in the wake of the tragic events of 9/11 in the United States, Huntington provided a welcome rebuttal of his controversial thesis. He acknowledged that terrorism undertaken in the name of Islam was essentially rooted in political reasons, especially the unresolved Palestinian conflict.
“In contemporary world history, most of the regional conflicts have seen Muslim communities being victimized by non-Muslim states. The Serbian atrocities against the Muslims of Bosnia and Kosovo, the cases of the Chechen and the Kashmiri Muslims, and above all, the Israeli state terror against Palestinians, who happen to be mostly Muslims, are major examples in this regard,” writes Asseri.
The author acknowledges that the causes for terrorism are “diverse and complicated.” One cannot explain terrorism by linking it solely to the economic situation. There are multiple reasons for anti-government activities: emotional and sentimental reasons related to religious beliefs as well as ethnic and political factors.
The most interesting part of the book deals with the Saudi strategy against terrorism. The author draws on his extensive political experience. Ali Asseri was a member of the investigative team looking into the assassination of Saudi diplomats by terrorists in various parts of the world. He relevantly points out that the Saudi fight against terrorism predates 9/11. In 1979, a group of extremists occupied the Holy Mosque in Makkah; moreover in 1995 and 1996, two terrorist acts occurred in Riyadh and Al-Khobar.
One of the first countries to freeze the assets of Osama Bin Laden in 1994, the Kingdom was also the first member-state of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to sign the Treaty on Combating International Terrorism in July 2000. Islam forbids terrorist activities, consequently, the Saudi discourse on the subject follows Islamic teachings. King Abdullah, in particular, is deeply committed to spreading the truth about Islam. At an OIC summit in 2003, in Malaysia, he told the audience “Islam is innocent of violence, hatred, and terrorism. It is a religion of kindness, mercy and tolerance. We should not allow a minority of deviant terrorists to tarnish its image. The bullets that kill women and children, terrorize those secure in their safety and destroy innocent communities, do not come from rifles, but from deviant thoughts and misguided interpretations of our great religion and its noble message.”
The Kingdom’s comprehensive strategy to fight terrorism follows “a three-pronged core strategy to combat terrorism, including Prevention, Cure and Care. Besides helping former detainees and their families financially and morally, Saudi Arabia has initiated a reform program in prisons which provides social and economic incentives, such as employment and houses for prisoners who are willing to cooperate. More than 1,000 prisoners have been released. This de-radicalization process has been particularly effective and has contributed to the overall success of the Saudi counter-terrorism strategy. It has even attracted the interest of other countries that are customizing it to suit their domestic requirements. Indonesia is following the Kingdom’s approach by creating a network of former militants working to persuade hard-liners to change their beliefs. The Egyptian government is also heavily involved in a Saudi based de-radicalization program that has proved to be successful since no major attack has occurred since the tragic November 1997 massacre of sixty-two tourists in Luxor. The program allows prisoners to see each other and enter into discussions with clerics from Al-Azhar, one of the leading institutions for Islamic jurisprudence in the Muslim world. According to Asseri, the biggest success concerns Dr. Fadl, former leader of the Egyptian Al-Jihad Organization and a former compatriot of Al-Qaeda ideologue, Ayman Al-Zawahiri. Dr. Fadl has renounced his radical religious beliefs and is currently serving a life sentence in Egypt.
The author also gives a comprehensive presentation of Saudi Arabia’s regional and international efforts in the fight against terrorism. He underlines the importance of the interfaith dialogue initiated by King Abdullah in March 2008. The Interfaith Dialogue was subsequently organized by the Muslim World Conference under the patronage of King Abdullah in Makkah on 4-6 June 2008. This conference “is another pioneering initiative for bringing various religions of the world together with the intention of forging unity and harmony among them,” says Asseri.
This book is not just another one about terrorism. It stems from a sincere and genuine effort to fight terrorism and make the world a safer place to live. It also highlights the wisdom of the Saudi strategy against terrorism. It is “in fighting obscurantism that we might find our salvation, and in caring for humanity and helping them solve their problems that one could look for the means to combat terrorism, “ writes Asseri in the excellent preface “Terrorism is a phenomenon that cannot be bombed out of the face of the world. It is a battle of winning over the hearts and minds of the people.”
Posted January 20, 2010, Arab New