Anti-Politics

The Arab world reacts with revulsion to the terrorist bombing in Riyadh.


Saturday’s bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 17 people, mostly Arabs, some of them children, and wounded more than 100, has sent a powerful shock through the Arab world.

The attack, in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan, looks like the work of Al Qaeda, no surprise given the group’s longstanding hostility toward the Saudi Arabian monarchy. If so, it may turn out to be a major strategic blunder for the group.

Saudi Arabia’s Interior Minister, Prince Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, pledged to continue his family’s war on terror and catch those responsible, who, he seemed sure, were Al Qaeda terrorists. “We will get the perpetrators … who claim to be Muslim…This will be the job of all the sons of this homeland, chiefly security forces, until we can rest assured that our country is free of devils and wicked people,” Aziz said.

Arab commentators unanimously condemned the attack. The outrage expressed in Ukaz out of Saudi Arabia, was typical of Monday’s papers.

“What happened in the residential compound… can only be described as aggression against religion, ethics and humanity… Under which law or legislation are the innocent killed? Under what pretext are innocent children and women assassinated, as they sit in their homes and have not committed any crime?”

The attack appears to have been intended as a massive show of force to the Saudi government, which has lately been cracking down on domestic militant groups. As Robert Fisk points out in the Independent those opposed the House of Saud want to make the country ungovernable. The Sydney Morning Herald wasn’t surprised that political dissent to the Saudi monarchy turned violent.

“The ruling House of Saud is rich, autocratic and corrupt – and a key US ally. Bin Laden split with the ruling elite 12 years ago over its decision to allow US bases on Saudi soil, and infidel soldiers to tread on the Prophet’s land. Of the 19 September 11 bombers, 15 were Saudi nationals.

Inseparable from the rise of Islamic fundamentalism are simmering political grievances. With no legal channels for political dissent, much anti-government sentiment in Saudi Arabia has found its voice in mosques, albeit cloaked in anti-Western rhetoric. The US President, George Bush, was right when he announced last week that the House of Saud must usher in democratic reforms to defuse these dangerous domestic tensions and the horror of terrorism they feed. This is not easy.”

The Daily Star of Lebanon editorializes that those responsible for the Riyadh bombing have no legitimate political agenda. While they muse that some guerilla tactics are acceptable, Saturday’s event does not fall into the “approved” category.

“There is a time and a place for guerrilla warfare, but only in the face of grave injustice and when all other options have been exhausted. The Palestinian struggle against Israel is a perfect example: The Jewish state has ignored repeated U.N. Security Council admonitions to quit the Occupied Territories, and the right to armed resistance is enshrined in the U.N. Charter. The same applies to the fighters who eventually drove the Israeli military out of southern Lebanon. Targeting civilians is always wrong, but at least when these movements have done it, it has been as a method of punishing the enemy for injuries of greater magnitude.

And yet despite the high profile of the atrocity, no one knows what they want or even who they are. These groups have no platform to sell, no list of complaints that can be discussed by rational people: The only conclusion to be drawn is that they kill for the sake of killing, which makes them monsters, not Muslims. Worst of all, by seeking to pass off mass murder as a valid political currency, they help some very unpleasant regimes continue to remain unaccountable.”

While the editors of the Daily Star remind us that civilians deaths are always “wrong,” they seem to excuse such deaths as are politically useful, the morality of which is not quite as clear cut as they’d like to think.

The Arab world, a region all too familiar with the tragedy of civilian deaths, appears truly puzzled by the targeting of a middle class Arab neighborhood. Sure, it was near a compound full of westerners, but ultimately Arabs, not westerners, were most affected. In his somewhat incomprehensible editorial in Dar al Hayat, Abdulwahab Badrakhan expressed his confusion over the attacks.

“What did the terrorists gain from killing members of one Lebanese and one Egyptian family, disregarding whether they were a target or not? They started to target safe people in their homes. In the name of what do they kill? There is no longer a religion or beliefs or concepts to be present for justification. This is pure crime, with no politics or demands or objectives looking for the security of the nation and its aim for a good life. Thus, it only expresses desperation and failure. This escape forward keeps on seeming of a high price concerning the human lives and the financial and moral losses.”