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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 19 August 2018

ISIL attack will not divide the Gulf peoples

The militant group’s stategy may have worked in Iraq, but it will not work in the Gulf
Saudi men gather around debris following a blast inside a mosque, in the mainly Shia Saudi Gulf coastal town of Qatif (AFP PHOTO / STR)
Saudi men gather around debris following a blast inside a mosque, in the mainly Shia Saudi Gulf coastal town of Qatif (AFP PHOTO / STR)

Once again, the barbarians of ISIL show how brutal they are. Once again, they demonstrate how far away from Islam they are, regardless of what their propaganda claims. And once again, an attack by ISIL shows us – in the Gulf and in the wider Middle East – why we must remain eternally vigilant.

The suicide bomb attack on a Shia mosque in eastern Saudi Arabia on Friday is reprehensible and inexcusable, and was condemned by many, including the UAE. This attack is particularly heinous because its purpose was to sow divisions between Saudi Arabians, seeking to divide Sunni Muslims from Shia Muslims.

This is precisely the technique that ISIL – and Al Qaeda before them – carried out in Iraq. By setting one group of Muslims against another, ISIL hope to persuade Sunnis that they are “on their side”, defending them against Iranian or Shia influence. It is a strategy that worked well in Iraq, where the government itself followed a sectarian policy agenda. But in Saudi Arabia it will fail.

In a statement condemning the attack, Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, urged the international community to “confront such cowardly acts”. He is right, because the battle against ISIL is not a battle for the Gulf, or the Middle East alone. It is a battle that reaches across borders.

Defeating ISIL is not merely a military battle – that is essential, of course, and as the group’s gains this past week in Palmyra in Syria and Ramadi in Iraq demonstrate, it is still a formidable fighting force and one that the international community must target more fiercely.

But attacking ISIL also means attacking the intellectual swamp in which it has festered and grown, and that means particularly this notion of takfirism, the idea that Muslims can be declared apostates and killed. ISIL believe in this ahistorical idea and use it to justify the killing of Muslims, such as Shia in Iraqi and now in Saudi Arabia.

It cannot be allowed to take root in mainstream Muslim society. Dividing one Muslim community from the other is the antithesis of the great synthesis of cultures that the Arabs achieved. And especially today, in the modern Gulf: our region has spent too many decades united to be divided now.

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