When I first heard of a shooting at a naval base in Pensacola, Florida, over a week ago, I was shocked. Shocked at yet another instance of humanity reaching for the gun to resolve their issues. That shock quickly turned into dismay when I learnt that the shooter was a Saudi Air Force recruit under training in the United States.
The Saudi, Mohamed Al Shamrani, apparently had purchased a handgun legally from one of the many licensed gun vendors and then, armed with several magazines, he proceeded to fire off his gun in classrooms at the naval base — killing three people in the process before being gunned down.
Almost immediately the news was flashed around the world. And to bolster my feeling of dread, so was the alacrity of attacks on Saudi Arabia, the country of origin of the shooter. King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia called the US President Donald Trump immediately upon learning of the shooting and expressed his sincere condolences to all those affected by the shooting. He also told Trump he had directed Saudi security services to fully cooperate with US officials in their investigation into the attack.
Al Shamrani, the shooter, was a nut case and, while carrying the passport, did not represent the people of Saudi Arabia. Whatever set him off was not conditioned by the state nor promoted by the will of the Saudi people.
Donald Trump responded in tweets made public: “King Salman of Saudi Arabia just called to express his sincere condolences and give his sympathies to the families and friends of the warriors who were killed and wounded in the attack that took place in Pensacola, Florida … 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.”
That should have been enough, but no! The Western media immediately ploughed into Saudi Arabia with a whole list of dredged-up charges, from 9/11 to Khashoggi, from the war in Yemen to the arrest of suspected anarchists. The attacks were scathing and the onslaught was further compounded by several US lawmakers, diatribe against the Kingdom. Some demanded an immediate review of the age-old relationship between the US and the Saudis. Others questioned the president’s overreach and motives for seemingly protecting the Saudis. It seems everyone had his stick up, and the Saudis were on the receiving end.
Often discovered too late
Some in the media went so far as to state that this could have been a terrorist plot along the lines of the September 11 attacks. Others blamed the system of education in the country as having raised a generation of West-hating youth. The clamour for Saudi heads had reached such a high crescendo that the Pentagon immediately decided to halt all outside training for Saudi military students in the United States, a move that affected up to more than 800 Saudi students and recruits. A statement said that the suspension was “part of a broader Defence Department review of all international training on US military bases after Friday’s massacre. All 852 Saudi military students will be immediately confined to classroom training, while all operational training in the air, land, and sea will pause.”
The charges and reactions were so senseless, yet so biting as they injured the feelings of millions of Saudis who have been maligned so many times in the past for faults that are beyond them. Al Shamrani, the shooter, was a nut case and, while carrying the passport, did not represent the people of Saudi Arabia. Whatever set him off was not conditioned by the state nor promoted by the will of the Saudi people. There are many Al Shamranis all over the world in different forms and under different nationalities, and unfortunately, they are often discovered too late.
Rarely are those foreign shooters given extensive media attention. It is only when a Saudi is involved that the Western press seems to get their dander up and that is a disappointment to peace-loving Saudis who once again face the unwarranted charges of being sponsors of the world’s evils. King Salman was correct when he stated to president Trump that the Saudis were shocked and dismayed. He was also right in pointing out that Saudi people have great affection for the American people.
To understand that, one must remember that millions of Saudis have spent their youth in the United States on educational scholarships and returned with fond memories of their host nation, a nation that not only provided them with higher education but also helped pattern their way to modernity.
As a Saudi, I will categorically state that the actions of Al Shamrani are contrary to what Saudi Arabia is all about. May God have mercy on the souls of his victims.
— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena