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The War on Extremism, 5 Years On

When governments fight extremists, they often choose the easiest and most convenient way to address the terrorism threat: by bowing down their heads and accepting the demands of terrorists. The results are always harmful. The extremists end up taking control of society and imposing their agenda on the silent majority, thereby weakening the state and destroying the economy. The more difficult, yet ultimately more beneficial way, of dealing with extremists is to nip terrorism in the bud by dealing with extremism using an iron fist. This is exactly what Saudi Arabia has done. Under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the kingdom has battled extremism at its roots – by targeting and eradicating extremist thought and ideology, even before it materializes into actions. Over the course of the past five years, the kingdom succeeded in completely changing its religious discourse, cracking down on hate speech that was masked underneath religious ideology. When he launched this initiative several years ago, the Saudi crown prince vowed to “destroy” any extremist organization operating within the kingdom. Now, five years later, the extremist rhetoric in Saudi Arabia has disappeared almost completely. If we want an explanation about why violent ideological groups have chosen to target Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman personally, then the answer is clear: they feel threatened. In short, the crown prince is a brave leader. He didn’t back down or waver in the wake of tremendous pressure. He wants to push Saudi Arabia into a new era of development and modernization, and is willing to pay a personal price to do so. He is the true definition of a great statesman who transforms his society. What is revolutionary about the crown prince’s zero-tolerance policy toward extremism is that he vowed to criminalize extremist ideology before it evolves into actual crimes. The crown prince’s policy seeks to prosecute terrorists before they have weapons in their hands. This approach is different from the historical approach with which domestic terrorism has been fought. Indeed, it eliminates the threat before it becomes a real danger. – Mamdouh al-Muhaini (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)