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Terrorism and the ‘Freedom of Speech’ Argument

Terrorism and the ‘Freedom of Speech’ Argument

Sunday, 8 April, 2018 - 11:30
Salman Al-Dossary
Salman Al-Dossary is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

“We’ve asked that Osama bin Laden, should get arrested. He was outside Saudi Arabia. He should have been arrested. And The Independent answered us in ’93 that Osama bin Laden was a freedom fighter practicing free speech,” Crown Prince Mohammad told the Times magazine.

This phrase, described by the Saudi crown prince in his interview with the US-based magazine is enough to clear up any misguided ideas still resonating in Western circles on how to deal with extremism. Especially the dull repetition and an illogical connection made between al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his Saudi nationality.

“You can go back to this article in The Independent in ’93, Osama bin Laden! That was before 9/11, 10 years before 9/11. We were saying that he was a dangerous guy. He was a terrorist. That he had to be arrested immediately. We had terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia. We had terrorist attacks in Egypt in the ’90s but we were accused of repressing freedom of speech until 9/11 happened,” Times cited the Crown Prince as saying.

In contrast, no one asked this question: What if Western countries were convinced with the Saudi position on bin Laden from the start?

What if bin Laden was actually arrested as Riyadh demanded a decade before the catastrophic events of September 11?! It goes without saying that the worst 21st-century terror attacks, such as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York and the bombing of US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998 could have possibly been avoided.

Who could have ever pictured that those suspected by Saudi Arabia but defended by the West as "freedom fighters" would become the dagger which stabbed the West in the back!

Was this the first time that Riyadh warns of the danger of terrorism before it happens and spreads? Of course not, it also did so at the beginning of the Syrian war.

The West overlooked Syria’s tragedy and the failure to resolve the ongoing crisis, which led to the proliferation of terrorist groups and their growth.

Tragedy reoccurred as the West turned a blind eye to these warnings once again. The world is surprised that a very small group, such as ISIS, would grow to become a mass “terrorist monger” not only in Egypt, Libya and Morocco, but also reaching the US and several European capitals.

Once again, the Kingdom warns against an anomaly and the West considers that this is nothing more than an exaggeration or the “stifling of freedom of expression!”

Unfortunately, the cycle of disregard hasn’t come to an end; once more the conflict in Yemen between the legitimate government and Houthi coup militias is being misinterpreted.

The support of the Saudi-led Arab coalition coming to the aid of the internationally-recognized government is also being misunderstood, and accusations are mounting against the kingdom for the dire situation in Yemen.

No one denies the presence of a humanitarian disaster in Yemen, but the West continues to overlook the main reason behind all the turmoil, the Houthi-led coup.

Most critics have completely forgotten what the outlook for Yemen would have been, had the Saudi-led Arab Coalition not answered the call for support by the internationally recognized government.

“What if the coalition and the Security Council didn’t answer the call of the Yemeni president and the Yemeni legitimate government? You would see Yemen divided between two terrorist groups: the Houthis, the new Hezbollah in the north, and Al Qaeda in the south, they are trying to take advantage of what’s happening there and they are trying to grow in 2015. So you will see Yemen split between those two terrorist groups,” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told the Times.

Matters would have aggravated to a point worse than what was taking place in Iraq in 2013 when ISIS dominated half of the country. The fight to drive ISIS out of Iraq took five years and was only made possible by the efforts of an international coalition led by the United States.

What would it take to expel Qaeda from Yemen alone without an alliance?! Crown Prince Mohammed predicts that it will take about 20 years, require a coalition of over 60 countries and inhibit up to 13% of world trade going through Bab-el-Mandeb Strait.

The global economy will be paralyzed by two terrorist organizations, Houthis and Qaeda.

The question of the day is should regional countries, which face the threat of terror head on, repeat the same mistake of inaction for the third time--only later proving their inability to anticipate and curb terrorism before the West?! Absolutely not. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, and the rest of the region will not make the same mistake again.

Everyone agrees on the universal principles of freedom of expression and human rights, but the basic dilemma is that Western societies themselves have not found consensus or fully implemented these rights. For example, of the 50 states in the United States, 31 have the death penalty, with the remaining states labeling it as “brutal punishment.”

It is certainly not a condition that all societies identically match each other, given the lack of an ideal society that can impose laws and customs. And above all, it is unreasonable for a state pushing back against extremists by detaining rabble-rousers and strife inciters to be labeled as a “repressive” state.

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