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Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman promises Saudi Arabia's 'return to moderate Islam'
Saudi Arabia has long been known for its hardline Islam and its covert support for jehadi terrorists including the infamous Al Qaeda which was once headed by the late Osama bin Laden.

It was an anachronism in a globalised order, with a rigidly conservative society where women were not allowed to drive cars and adulterers were stoned to death. But now, the winds of change are sweeping over this desert kingdom where time seemed to have stood still. Under the current crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia seems to be getting ready to open up and shed some of its inhibitions.

Soon after announcing the launch of an independent $500 billion megacity along the Red Sea coastline, Prince Salman made his intentions clear regarding Saudi Arabia's future orientation. At an economic forum in Riyadh he told international investors that 'we want to live a normal life. A life in which our religion translates to tolerance, to our traditions of kindness'. He spoke about his kingdom's youthful demographic – with 70 per cent of the population aged under 30 years – and how they do not want to 'deal with destructive ideas' for the next 30 years their lives. He also promised to end extremism 'very soon'.

This is news of the most welcome kind in a world which has seen much bloodshed due to Islamic terrorism in recent years. It is no secret that Saudi Arabia has been funding jehadis ever since the Soviets invaded and occupied Afghanistan. Adam Weinstein, Policy Associate, National Iranian American Council and Veteran of Afghanistan writes that Saudi Arabia and not Iran is the 'biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world today' and also the 'source of most radical Islamic extremism'. And the most important importer of the Saudi brand of extremism, he claims, is Pakistan.

But after Trump became the US President, something changed. With Trump's penchant for delivering ultimatums and his blunt utterances, the Saudis and the Arab world in general, must have realised that it was not going to be business as usual, with promises being made and routinely broken. Qatar's recent diplomatic crisis was a harbinger of things to come. (In June 2017, many countries including Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut off diplomatic relations ostensibly because of Qatar's support for terrorism and its close relations with Iran).

Perhaps it is his youth, or maybe it is his realisation that terrorism is a zero sum game, a game that is rapidly careening out of control, that is responsible for Prince Salman's revolutionary decision. There seems to be a new urgency in his words as he speaks of destroying 'destructive ideas' 'today and at once' and of 'returning to what we were before – a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions, traditions and people around the globe'. Whatever be the cause, his words herald a new dawn of hope and peace for the world.

Religion was never meant to divide the world but to sustain it. So those who use it to spread hate and discord and to kill and destroy – whether they are Muslims, Hindus, Christians or Buddhists - are not men of god but henchmen of the devil.

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