Who is spewing the racist venom?


Al-Watan newspaper

SENIOR students in university are required to form groups of three or four in order to work on their graduation project, which takes up two full semesters. As they are given ample time to work on the project, which is very important for their bachelor's program, students will choose their group members carefully.

As usual, some of them approached me asking whether I would like to supervise them. I was quite happy seeing the diversity of students in each group. In almost every group, you can see students from different regions of the Kingdom, having diverse origins and different dialects. It was nice to see the whole country in the faces of those few young women who worked hard, dreaming about the future.

Contrary to this harmonious relationship between my students, I have noticed racism is growing among citizens of this great nation with some them hurling the most abusive at each other on social media. It started between people of different Arab countries, then turned into sectarian attacks between the Sunnis and the Shiites. It has now reached the most dangerous levels with different sections of the Saudi people spewing out the venom of hatred against each other.

Today racism in Saudi society has become so vicious that we question the patriotism of some citizens and demand the authorities revoke their citizenship by treating them as traitors and mercenaries. There are people who consider citizens living in a particular region as intruders who according to them sneaked into the Kingdom after the discovery of oil and the affluence came with it.

They ignore the history of migration to the land of the Holy Mosques, which is as old as Islam itself. People from many countries came to what is now Saudi Arabia much before its unification under King Abdul Aziz, who did not differentiate between people. Instead he picked the best and most brilliant among them as his aides and advisers.

His sons ruled the country following in the footsteps of their great father and adopted the same positive approach to realize his dream of building a secure, stable and progressive nation. Our ancestors were the epitome of unity. Perhaps, some of them had fought against the army of King Abdul Aziz army on the sides of the rulers of their regions at the time. However, they co-existed and cooperated with the Saudi leadership after the country's unification, and some of them had fortified their relationship through marriage. So isn't surprising to see racist feelings emerging among a people who enjoyed the fruits of nearly 100 years of national unity?

Apart from my students, I have seen my neighbors coming together and supporting each other in a wonderful show of unity and solidarity. People who spoke different dialects used to gather in my mother's house and share a variety of dishes popular in different regions of the Kingdom. We enjoyed listening to their tales and gossip. In every house there used to be happiness and problems. Every one of them who shared this beautiful place had the same concerns and dreams.

Which snake had spit the racist venom through social media networks to poison this harmonious society? We can see people trying to deepen the divide between citizens, destabilize society and undermine the country's security. Ironically, all of them do this in the name of patriotism.

The racist statements we read on Twitter do not reflect the harmony, love and affection among citizens on the ground. Most of these abusive tweets come from unknown accounts that want to tear up the fabric of Saudi society. I suspect that these hate campaigns are directed from abroad by states or institutions that do not wish anything good for us and are waiting for an opportunity to attack our country. If we cannot stop it, if it is directed from abroad, we have to take other measures to limit its impact and defeat the malicious designs of our enemies.

On the one hand, there is a need to raise public awareness by warning people against the consequences of racism, uncovering their mistakes and correcting the wrong historical perspectives. We have to emphasize that there is no difference between the citizens of this country, irrespective of whether they were granted citizenship today or inherited it from their forebears, generations ago.

We should know that the Kingdom was built on the ruins of several emirates and sheikhdoms, each with its own history and civilization, and all fused into one Saudi entity, and their respective ancestors have contributed to that fusion. Some of them were co-founders of the Kingdom while others exerted great efforts in building the country. It is our duty to preserve those gains as an expression of gratitude toward those great men who established this great country under the leadership of King Abdul Aziz.

I am happy that a number of prominent Saudi writers and columnists such as Ghassan Badkook, Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed and Mohammed Al-Biladi have raised this important issue time and again through newspapers and other media organs. We also need deterrent laws, similar to those that have been used very effectively against provocative propaganda. People who use abusive and racist language must be held accountable and punished.

Such measures have been taken by many countries to preserve national security. In America, the use of word "Negro" is a punishable offense while in Britain the derogatory term "Paki" shall not be used to describe a citizen of Asian origin.

Prince Harry, the son of the British heir to the throne, faced a barrage of criticism a few years ago when he teased a colleague in the army calling him Paki. He was also attacked when he wore a Nazi outfit at a private party. This shows there is no room for joke when it comes to sensitive issues that might cause division and conflicts in society.

The Ministry of the Interior has started publishing on its website the penalties for incitement and defamation through social media networks and I wish it had mentioned the punishment for racist remarks to prevent its escalation.

Before concluding this article I would also like to point out that we cannot reinforce the principle of equality among citizens when some judges in the country order the separation of married couples when they fail when vetted for tribal compatibility.