Extremism Before And After 9/11
05 July 2016
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Most of what is written and said about ''extremist Islamists'' today is very
different from what was written about them in the recent past. Most western
commentators and the majority of Arab intellectuals used to classify extremist
groups like Al-Qaeda as movements that were deprived of political rights in
their countries and therefore resorted to violence.
The two main countries accused of cracking down on Osama bin Laden and his
group are Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The violence that figures in the media
justified as a reaction to authorities' violence included a series of bombings
in Egypt and threats and operations that targeted Saudi Arabia. Al-Qaeda was,
and still is, an evil organisation, and Bin Laden was a terrorist years before
the events of September 11 but no one wanted to believe this at the time.
Some people think that Al-Qaeda was born with the well-known terrorist
operation 9/11, and that it did not exist before. In reality, it was the image
of Al-Qaeda that changed in the media. The organisation has always been the
same. Most analysis articles that were written in the western press before
9/11, in the US and the UK specifically, insisted that the extremist
organisation and its leader were the product of oppression. The US State
Department previously asked the Egyptian government to stop prosecuting and
persecuting members of Islamic groups who raised the banner of jihad.
I used to work for the Majalla magazine and later at Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper
in London in the nineties. I was in contact with a number of media
professionals and journalists there, and I participated in various think tank
activities. Many of those interested in the affairs of the Middle East were
convinced that Osama bin Laden's demands were political; participation and
freedom of expression, and that Al-Qaeda was merely a political opposition
group that was against the Saudi government.
The same was said about his companion Ayman Al-Zawahiri who has a longer
history of terrorism. They considered him an opponent of President Mubarak's
government and not a leader of a group with a terrorist ideology. Many did not
understand the nature of the organisation and its destructive ideas, and this
applies to Western governments that deemed the extremist organisation as a
political opposition movement only and were not aware of the seriousness of
its fascist ideology.
Al-Qaeda activity had been taking place and was known of since 1993, however
this organisation and its leader enjoyed some sympathy in the western media
despite its blatant violent rhetoric and the military operations that it
carried out, particularly in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The group's terrorist
activities in Egypt were carried out under the names of different groups that
shared the same ideology.
The danger of these groups reached central Cairo. Al-Qaeda was pursued by the
security services at the time, outside of Egypt, when its links to its
leadership which had been living in Sudan was discovered, particularly its
association with Bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri who fled Egypt to Sudan
because they were wanted for terrorist activities.
Due to these armed terrorist attacks in Egypt, the Saudi government revoked
Bin Laden's nationality in the mid-nineties. As a result of their
confrontation of Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, the Egyptian and Saudi governments
became the western media's favourite target in terms of defending the concepts
of democracy and freedom of expression. I do not remember anyone adopting a
contrary opinion to this at the time.
They continued to justify Al-Qaeda's activities that were committed in the
name of Islam until the day when Al-Qaeda carried out the 9/11 terrorist
operation in America. It was not the first crime, but it was a decisive moment
that revealed to everyone that Al-Qaeda is not a political opposition group,
but rather a dangerous global terrorist organisation.
Some people want to re-analyse the September 11 attacks, and blame the
original victims like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. For anyone who wants to fully
understand what happened, analysing the September 11 attacks and reading the
report on it, including the 28 pages that are said to have been classified
because they contain confidential information about Saudi individuals, is not
enough. Rather, they should read Al-Qaeda's entire history.
The world's opinion changed after those events and almost everyone agreed that
the terrorist organisation and its ideology must be fought. However, prior to
9/11, those who fought the organisation and its members were subjected to
In my opinion, the world cannot confront and defeat Al-Qaeda and ISIS without
understanding their ideologies and the circumstances in which they were
Al Rashed is the general manager of Al -Arabiya television. He is also the
former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al- Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly
magazine, Al Majalla. He is also a senior Columnist in the daily newspapers of
Al Madina and Al Bilad. He is a US post-graduate degree in mass
communications. He has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is
currently based in Dubai.