Althulatha Cultural Forum hosted on January 20, Mohammed Bin Ibrahim Al-Omar, a Saudi researcher and writer in a seminar entitled “Selections from a Former Radical Experience: Transformation from Moderation to Extremism”
At first, Issa Al-Eid, the moderator of the Forum defined extremism as holding extreme political or religious views, especially individuals who advocate illegal, violent or other extreme actions. Al-Eid said that “religious extremism is the most serious challenge facing Muslims at this period”.
The speaker, who is a researcher in Islamist movements, reviewed the history of strict organizations in Saudi Arabia during eighteens and nineties of the last century. He also talked about the growth of these groups after the Arab Spring in 2011.
Al-Omar illustrated the overlapping between politics and religion in radical ideologies. He said “extremists are political motivated people, kill and spread bloodshed in the name of religion. They exploit religion to achieve political interests and interpret holy verses according to their motives and use them to brain wash the unaware Muslims”. The lecturer pointed that Arab governments have a hand in supporting these trends at certain stages.
Al-Omar issued a book in 2012 titled “The Fifth Plane” in a reference to the flight which took him to Afghanistan. He talked in the book about what had prompted him to fight in Afghanistan, how he returned to moderation and the view of people toward him after his return? He said that many people blamed him for joining militant movement and consider him a traitor to the state.
Al-Omar explained how he joined radical organizations saying “after the Gulf war in 1990, I met radical figures who saw Kuwait invasion is a result of violating Islamic teachings; those people also believe that Saudi Arabia will face the same fate for the same reasons”. He added “I was influenced by these figures and with religious lectures which contained political orientations I used to listen to at that time as well”.
Al-Omar explained that militancy is mostly a result of misinterpretation of Islamic texts. He said “there are a group of Islamists who raise the banner of Islam and describe themselves as protectors of religion; those people seem to be religious in their appearance and acts, yet they fuel conflicts and seek to achieve their own interests”
On the other hand, he referred to the means which may contribute in motivating people to adopt militancy such as family, mosques and curriculum, in addition to some social activities which are hled by militant people who do not recognize nor nationalism neither moderation.
Al-Omar mentioned that his journey for Jihad started by attending summer camps which are usually supervised by radical people. These camps provide almost military training. From here, he turned from being a moderate person to a radical one. He was convinced to participate in military training under the pretext of protecting religion and defending his family from the authority and US forces at the time.
He also pointed to his intention to travel to Afghanistan through a long journey started by UAE passing by Bahrain, India, Pakistan to end in Afghanistan. Al-Omar said that “he met accidently one of his previous teachers in the first station and through dialogue and discussion; the teacher was able to persuade Al-Omar to change his mind and return to Riyadh”.
Attendance wondered through their interpositions about the causes of extremism and about who are the responsible for its spread in the society? They also discussed the role of the state in combating terrorism through encouraging discussion and accepting pluralism.
Mohammad Al-Omar called to replace counseling program with a more effective one because some of the responsible of such programs are characterized by militancy as well. He also stressed on the importance of following up individuals to see the effectiveness of such program.