Three terrorist attacks have hit Saudi Arabia in the last few days. The first saw a Saudi man stab a security official at the French consulate in Jeddah, followed by an attack on a non-Muslim cemetery during a Remembrance Day commemoration attended by several European diplomats in Jeddah  on November 11. Then on November 12 the Saudi Embassy in the Hague came under an armed attack. The attempted assault took place in the morning, and resulted in several bullets being found lodged in the building.

Macron’s Recent Statements on Islam are Being Blamed for the Violence

All these attacks come following controversial statements made by French President Emmanuel Macron stating that Islam is a religion in a crisis and defending the display of satirical cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed as allowable under freedom of expression.

Macron’s remarks triggered protests in Muslim countries around the world. Some Muslims have also decided to boycott famous French beauty and fashion products such as Lancome, Garnier, and Channel. 

The incidents in Saudi Arabia are a particular headache for the wealthy kingdom which is set to host a virtual G-20 summit later this month.

ISIS Claims Responsibility for Jeddah Attack

The Islamic State claimed to be behind the attack on the Nov. 11 Remembrance Day ceremony, saying that the explosion was a protest against Macron’s statements related to the cartoon.

The terror attacks in Saudi Arabia can be seen from several perspectives given the planned withdrawal of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan paved the way ISIS to make a comeback, Yusran, an international relations expert at Indonesia’s Budi Luhur University, told InsideOver.

“ISIS admittedto  being behind the attack, showing that the group is not finished yet in the Middle East. The sleeping cell is waking up again,” Yusran said. 

Despite slamming the attack on religious symbols, Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman has also condemned extremism, vowing to combat extremists with “iron fists.”

Saudi Arabia and Wahabbism

Saudi Arabia is often associated with its ultra-conservative brand of Wahhabist Sunni Islam. The kingdom – home to Islam’s holiest sites of Mecca and Medina – has been known for years for financing terrorist-related groups.

Map locates attack in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia

A document from the US Treasury revealed that Riyadh has financed terrorist groups through a charity organization. In 2003, a senior US treasury official called Saudi Arabia an epicenter for the terrorist group Al Qaeda.

The Need for Dialog is Increasing

The call for dialogue to bridge the misunderstanding between Muslim nations and France regarding the definition of freedom of expression has mounted since last month’s beheading of a French school teacher who used the cartoon of Muhammad that was published in the satirical outlet Charlie Hebdo as part of his lesson.

Tunisia and Qatar proposed a Western-Islamic conference to minimize misunderstanding and tackle obstacles following the terror attacks, AFP reported.

The conference aims to end the stigma that Islam is a religion of terror and will be focused on emphasizing that such an attack has nothing to do with Islam. No further details about the proposed conference have been provided.

The cartoon of Muhammad and satirical depictions of other religious figures are fairly accepted in secular countries with laws that separate church and state such as France. 

However, Muslim nations see it as completely unacceptable blasphemy, raising questions about whether France needs to redefine its liberal values as stated in the Constitution.

Beware of Fake News

The anti-France sentiment is prone to the widespread of misleading or false news on social media platforms. One of the most widely-shared fake news items is an article about the alleged retirement of French soccer star Paul Pogba from France’s national team due to Macron’s statement on Islamist terrorism. The news was untrue. 

The Manchester United midfielder filed a lawsuit against the UK-based Sun for using his name in the fake news. The former Juventus star – who led France to clinch its second World Cup title in 2018 by scoring a crucially-important goal – condemned all forms of violence but also made it clear he is tired of irresponsible media outlets that print inaccurate information in order to cause a stir and get clicks. 

As the need for dialog continues it is important to avoid even further provocation by approaching social media posts and reports with a skeptical eye.