"I am very pessimistic about the possibility of making real changes in our culture and society."
Yesterday was the final day of Saudi Arabia's largest literary event, the Riyadh Book Fair. Certain radical Wahhabi clerics have chosen to commemorate the event in sadly typical fashion, by issuing a fatwa calling for a boycott of several participating publishers. The MEMRI Blog explains their reasoning:
The companies were selling books by Arab thinkers and poets known for their liberal views, such as Nasser Hamad Abu Zayed, Adonis, and Nizar Qabbani.
The clerics stated that these books were more dangerous than drugs, and that they corrupt the religion.
Not to be outdone, one of Saudi Arabia's most senior clerics has come out with a new fatwa of his own. Reuters has the details:
Saudi Arabia's most revered cleric said in a rare fatwa this week that two writers should be tried for apostasy for their "heretical articles" and put to death if they do not repent.
Sheikh Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak was responding to recent articles in al-Riyadh newspaper that questioned the Sunni Muslim view in Saudi Arabia that adherents of other faiths should be considered unbelievers.
"Anyone who claims this has refuted Islam and should be tried in order to take it back. If not, he should be killed as an apostate from the religion of Islam," said the fatwa, or religious opinion, dated March 14 and published on Barrak's Web site.
"It is disgraceful that articles containing this kind of apostasy should be published in some papers of Saudi Arabia, the land of the two holy shrines," he said, referring to Muslim holy places in Mecca and Medina.
(Emphasis added-DD; link via Hot Air)
It is little wonder that the climate for free expression in Saudi Arabia is so disastrous when the sign of a "moderate" cleric is that he merely calls for an objectionable book to be boycotted as opposed to wanting the author murdered.
On March 12, MEMRI posted some excerpts from a television interview with reformist Saudi intellectual Turki Al-Hamad. Less than two years ago, Osama bin Laden condemned Al-Hamad as a "freethinker" and openly called for his murder. In his interview, Al-Hamad shed further light on how Wahhabism has eroded free expression in Saudi Arabia and indeed the region:
"The taboos in Saudi Arabia are different from the taboos in Lebanon, and from the taboos in Egypt, and so on, even though I believe that in all these countries, they tend to view the taboo itself as fundamental. This was not the case in the past. I believe that we've reached the point where everything is ruled by prohibitions. Everything is prohibited unless it is proven to be permitted. This is the problem of Arab society and culture. Instead of making progress, we are regressing - and if only we were regressing in a reasonable manner. Unfortunately, we are regressing in a superstitious and unreasonable manner."
"In the past, our society was more open, more accepting of other opinions and different behavior. But the so-called 'religious awakening' - and I regard it as a religious 'slumber,' not as an awakening - especially with regard to the Iranian revolution, and the Juhaiman movement, [which took over] the Al-Haram Mosque in Mecca in 1979... Everything has turned upside down. The dead have taken control over the living. Juhaiman, for example, had very backward ideas. He was killed, and his movement was eliminated, but ultimately, his ideas were implemented. The ideology of Juhaiman, and the Salafi ideology in general, has spread throughout the Arab world - and it is not what can be called the enlightened Salafi ideology, which was evident in the early 20th century among some Islamic thinkers." [...]
It comes as no surprise that Al-Hamad is pessimistic about the long-term prospects for his society:
"After this period of my life, I am very pessimistic about the possibility of making real changes in our culture and society. I hope I am wrong. In any case, this does not mean we should not try. Future generations will ask what we did about this. At least we tried, at least we made our voice heard. Time will tell whether we were successful in achieving any result. But I am not optimistic, and as time goes by, I am becoming more pessimistic about this."
There have been some recent signs of change in Saudi Arabia. However, as long as Wahhabi clerics are permitted to practice censorship via condemnation and death threat, real reform is unlikely to occur and the ideology of hate that spawned Al Qaeda will continue to regenerate.