Evil will not win: US-Saudi relationship in times of terror
Reaction to the heinous act of a Saudi national training with the United States military, which claimed the lives of three individuals at a naval base in Florida on Friday, has understandably been one of shock and disbelief.
It has been said, perhaps correctly, that the shooting was an act of terrorism. In any event, as already stated by the leadership and people of Saudi Arabia, it is evident that the feelings harbored by the shooter in no way reflected those felt by the overwhelming majority of Saudis towards the US.
President Donald Trump conveyed via Twitter the condolences of King Salman of Saudi Arabia to the American people, noting that “the King said that the Saudi people are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter, and that this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people who love the American people.”
This mutual feeling of love and understanding between the two peoples is obvious as the two countries mourn together the tragic loss of life resulting from yet another suspected act of violent extremism.
The US and Saudi Arabia’s historic relationship has been unique in creating a bond between the peoples through cultural, security and economic exchanges, which in turn has taken the relationship to an altogether new level today.
Cooperation in these as well as various other sectors has brought the two societies closer, resulting in greater understanding, stability and prosperity.
The exchanges have continued to intensify under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and in accordance with the objectives of the Vision 2030 plan to modernize the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
It is important for both the US and Saudi Arabia to maintain the momentum of security cooperation aimed at foiling and stopping terrorist plots and countering the ideology of Al-Qaeda and like-minded organizations.
One area that has seen important initiatives being taken is counterterrorism and violent extremism, resulting in cooperation that has advanced the national security interests of both the US and Saudi Arabia.
The two countries rely on each other for intelligence sharing and other activities aimed at preventing potential terrorists from organizing and executing plots that threaten civilian lives and infrastructure.
While these efforts have been successful in preventing radicalization and terrorist acts, the ideology that fuels extremism unfortunately continues to exist both in the real and virtual worlds. This poses a challenge to authorities that seek to deny ideological inspiration and support for violent extremism.
The initial assessment of US intelligence and counterterrorism officials is that the Florida incident was a case of self-radicalization although the shooter did not appear to have any ties to transnational terrorist groups.
It must be acknowledged, however, that the ideology thought to have inspired the attack is one that has a painful place in the heart of every American and, indeed, every civilized nation — the ideology being that of Al-Qaeda.
The shooter is reported to have drawn inspiration from Osama bin Laden, the founder of Al-Qaeda who was killed by US Navy SEALS in 2011 for his role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of 2,977 people in the US.
This stark fact has not been forgotten either by the American people or the people of Saudi Arabia.
Both countries share a heavy burden for that dark day and for an ideology that fills humanity with revulsion. Today the Saudi people are trusted partners of Americans in the fight to eliminate Al-Qaeda as well as its ideology.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman seeks to promote a moderate form of Islam that regards as abhorrent the ideologically motivated acts of those who distort and insult the values of Islam by perpetrating violence of the kind that occurred in Pensacola on Friday.
As stated by Dr. Mohammad Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League, “such a horrific crime has no place among Muslims and cannot be justified under any legitimate interpretation of Islam. … The American People are worthy only of respect and appreciation, and the perpetrator is not representative of any religion or nationality, only his own sick beliefs.”
His statement reflects the depth of the US-Saudi relationship, two countries for whom respect and appreciation are most important values in their shared pursuit of peace, stability and prosperity.
At this moment, it is important for both the US and Saudi Arabia to maintain the momentum of security cooperation aimed at foiling and stopping terrorist plots and countering the ideology of Al-Qaeda and like-minded organizations.
Equally, it is vital to continue the cultural, economic and social exchanges that perhaps contribute just as much as security cooperation does, to the mutually beneficial process of eradication of extremism.
• Reem Daffa is vice president and executive director of the Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC). Twitter: @ReemDaffa