Caught in crossfire

THE Sunday attack on two BBC journalists, which killed one and seriously injured another, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia underscores the grave challenges faced by the media in the region. The unprecedented assault highlights the difficult nature of media’s role in a conflict zone and how it imminently gets caught in the crossfire.

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Published: Tue 8 Jun 2004, 10:06 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:29 AM

We saw that happening in Afghanistan and now in Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Ironically, the BBC men were targeted when they were working on a documentary focusing on the delicate security situation in the kingdom. The attack, coming as it does close on the heels of Al Khobar outrage, puts the spotlight back on Saudi Arabia and how it is negotiating the most difficult phase in its recent history. The kingdom has been constantly in the news in the past year, unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons. As its traditional ally, the United States, goes about its so-called war on terror, it is Saudi Arabia that has been bearing the brunt of that mission. Alarmingly, more and more Saudis, frustrated over the US policies in Muslim world, are falling victim to the allures of extremism.

Saudi Arabia, being home to Islam and its holiest places of worship, enjoys a unique and pivotal position in the Arab-Muslim world. Also, the kingdom is the world’s largest oil producer and its instability would play havoc with energy supplies and the economy around the globe. The extremist threat to the country, therefore, is a source of concern to the world in general and Muslims in particular. The most disturbing aspect of the situation is that the threat of extremism seems to be growing by the day. The Saudi crackdown seems to have done little to check the growing ranks of extremists in the country. Even the Saudis acknowledge there is a method in this madness. Westerners have almost always been the targets of these attacks. Evidently, there is a growing determination among the extremists to drive the Westerners out of the country. Militants seem to have stepped up their activities in a bid to destabilise the world’s biggest oil producing country. Of course, there is no point in reasoning with the radical but still it is a point to ponder: If the Westerners are driven out of the country, what happens to the Saudi economy so hopelessly dependent on its oil industry? The departure of foreigners, read Westerners, will cripple oil production and thus devastate Saudi economy. Oil exports form a whopping $63 billion out of $67 billion Saudi exports. The Saudis need to examine the options before them a little more dispassionately. Of course, a knee-jerk reaction leading to greater curbs on civilian movement and liberties would be tempting. However, we all know the problem lies elsewhere. A bit of opening up and change of course should go a long way in addressing it.

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