The LA Times this morning has an interesting piece about the outrage among Saudi Muslims that the recent bombings killed … Muslims.
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia “” Abdelaziz Raikhan was fuming Saturday, standing alongside his pickup and surveying the abandoned shops and blasted apartment buildings of downtown, a zone still littered with twisted cars and chunks of rubble from the suicide bombing of a police headquarters.
“They’re mentally ill, this crowd,” he said of the Islamic militants who killed at least five people and wounded 148 on Wednesday. Raikhan, 30, works as a maintenance man for the Saudi security forces; luckily, he was on the other side of town when his office was blown up.
“There’s not one American in this entire area,” he said, sweeping an arm to take in a neighborhood eerily still, its streets laced with police tape. “Not one! What kind of jihad is this?”
Throughout the Saudi mainstream, the call has risen: This insurgency is not a jihad, because a jihad, or sacred struggle, does not kill fellow Muslims, let alone Saudis. Wednesday’s attack, plainly meant to kill Saudi police and civilians milling through the tightly wound streets of downtown at rush hour, has infuriated Saudis.
This ascetic, oil-rich kingdom is stuck between the religious ideal of jihad, still widely embraced, and the bloody, nerve-wracked reality of a nation targeted by militants. Saudis curse the U.S. troops in Fallouja, Iraq, and praise Hamas suicide bombings in Israel even as they pass through metal detectors and steer their cars through the checkpoints that choke Riyadh’s traffic to a standstill.
Many people here who have praised and supported jihad around the world are shocked to find themselves on the receiving end of a violence fueled by religious extremism.
“This is not against invading armies like Afghanistan or Iraq. This is against a legitimate system, against civilians and traffic officers,” said Khaled Batarfi, an analyst at Saudi Arabia’s Arab News and a childhood friend of Osama bin Laden. “We don’t see this as jihad. We have the ability to differentiate between what’s jihad and what’s not.”
Popular culture here is rife with the lore of holy warriors, and the last two decades have been punctuated by holy war: There was the fight against the Russians in Afghanistan. There was Chechnya, and now Iraq. Thousands of eager Saudi men streamed out of their homeland to fight in those distant battles. All of those causes, and especially the Palestinian intifada, are seen by many Saudis as righteous and, more important, tied to Islamic duty.
The Riyadh attack, they say, doesn’t fit the bill, and many people bristle at the comparison. Jihad is waged against an invading army or an occupying force, they point out. It does not apply to Muslim-on-Muslim terrorism, they say.