The remarks made by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a conference on economics in Riyadh have had a broad repercussion across the world. The following message by Salman was served up as breaking news by all the news wires:
"We are simply reverting to what we followed – a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions. Seventy percent of Saudis are younger than 30, honestly we won't waste 30 years of our life combating extremist thoughts, we will destroy them now and immediately."
Everyone predicted that there would be some changes in the country where reforms, such as the removal of the ban on women driving, have taken place recently. However, it was a surprise to see such rhetoric of radical change has been voiced by an official authority that will have a say in the future of the country.
Then, why do I say alas?
I would like to express the first reason directly. The rhetoric of moderate Islam makes Middle Eastern journalists like me, who have secular life practices, think about the U.S.
This is because many countries and neighbors in our region have been dragged into instability, terrorism, civil wars and occupation with this rhetoric over the past 30 years. All the administrations that have been made to turn to moderate Islam have first fallen to loggerheads with their people. Then, they have moved away from peace and civilization.
Now, there is no reason why we should think that a similar process, which is taking place in a country that is the "open base" of the U.S. in the Middle East, has been planned with a different motivation. You may be saying forget about past experiences. Regardless of whoever wants to, why would it be wrong for an administration, which is accused of financing terrorist organizations, to be moderate?
I would agree with you if it was the nature of the regime, and not a religion, that they want to moderate. This is the real reason why I am worried about this development anyway.
In fact, Islam, the dominant religion in Saudi Arabia today, is the most common belief system in this region. However, very few countries can surpass Saudi Arabia's rigid, aggressive, anti-democratic and isolated practice of Islam. That is why such a distinction must be made for us to become hopeful about the reformist young crown prince's messages and think that they will be different from past experiences.
What needs to be reformed for the normalization of Saudi Arabia is not the religion, the rules of which have remained the same for about 1,500 years, but the antidemocratic Saudi management. Have you ever seen anything about "moderate Judaism" while talking about Israel's problems? After all, Israel is criticized for similar reasons and its relation with the religion is no different from that of the Saudi administration and Islam.