Monday, November 26, 2012

Saudi-Financed International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue

CDHR’s Comment: At the opening of the Saudi-financed King Abdullah International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue in Vienna, Austria, Dr. Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, the Saudi head of the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques, is reported to have said that the Center “…would promote human values, tolerance and peaceful coexistence among people of different religious faiths and cultures.” His misleading speech was amplified by the Saudi Foreign Minister, Saud Al-Faisal, who said that, “the sectarian differences are to be elements for understanding and not elements for collision.”

The question that must be asked of Dr. Al-Sudais and Saud Al-Faisal is how they can go around the world promoting religious tolerance while at home they discriminate against their Muslim minorities and consider them heretics. 

Saudi Arabia is the only country where non-Muslims cannot practice their religious rituals openly and if caught doing so privately, they can be punished and deported. “Peaceful coexistence” means live and let live regardless of cultures, compulsory dress codes, gender, ethnicity and above all beliefs. 

Why have Dr. Al-Sudais and Saud Al-Faisal not condemned the endemic discrimination against Saudi religious minorities, oppression of women in the name of god, and complete intolerance of non-Muslims? Saudi officials and their apologists cannot fool the world anymore, thanks to modern technology and many courageous Saudi men and women who openly denounce their country’s religious extremism and discrimination against people because of their religious orientations and gender.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Movie from Hasan Mahmud: "Divine Stone"

Posted as received: Muslims are looking at themselves, their religion, and its impact on their societies.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Intensifying and Expanding Moral Religious Doctrine into the Heart of Central Asia

CDHR’s Commentary: In collaboration with the incredibly weak and corrupt Afghani government, the Saudi monarchy has recently announced that it will invest $100 million in building one of the largest Islamic Centers in the world atop a mountain overlooking the Afghan’s impoverished capital, Kabul.   The Center will be managed by the Saudi religious establishment and the Afghani Ministry for Hajj and Religious Affairs. The proposed King Abdullah’s Center will accommodate 15,000 worshipers at a time and provide an education for 5,000 religious students. The Center will be named after King Abdullah, which is not surprising since there are already three massive Islamic centers and mosques named after Saudi monarchs: King Fahd’s Centers in Culver City, California and London, England, and King Faisal’s Mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan, which is considered Pakistan’s national mosque.

Afghanistan is the poorest country in  Central Asia, coming in nearly at the bottom of the human development index, with abysmal literacy and education rates, an almost complete lack of women's rights, low life expectancy, and wrenching high mortality rates for children, with nearly a fifth of all Afghan children dying before the age of five. The 100 million dollars the Saudis will invest in the Kabul Islamic Center could be better used for programs to improve literacy, infrastructure, or healthcare for the impoverished Afghan people; instead the Saudi King has decided to spend a huge sum of money to propagate Wahhabism in a country where most of the citizens are already religious zealots.

Outside interference by foreign powers has long plagued Afghanistan, but nothing can top the Saudi “Wahhabization” of the country; the establishment of King Abdullah’s Center in Kabul is yet another example of this. The Saudi government hopes to socialize and indoctrinate a new generation of religious students for political aims, just as they have in the past by means of the infamous Saudi funded madrassas in Pakistan’s tribal areas, which continue to be the primary source of recruitment for the Sunni Taliban extremist groups operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates were the only countries in the world to give diplomatic recognition to the extreme Taliban regime during its draconian rule over Afghanistan.

The construction of such a monumental religious institution in Afghanistan's capital is a maneuver by the Saudi rulers to ensure that their doctrinal hegemony remains not only over Afghanistan, following the withdrawal of the majority of foreign forces in 2014, but over all of the Sunni Muslims in Central and South East Asia, especially in the oil and other resource-rich former Soviet colonies.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

State-Imposed Social Taboos Result in Tragedies

CDHR’s Commentary: Due to the Saudi government’s harsh and unnatural policy against all forms of public musical and theatrical entertainment, Saudis resort to dangerous and illegal activities such as the outlawed nomadic tradition of live ammunitions to celebrate their “victories” or happy occasions. As shown in this article, such celebratory gunfire led to the deaths of more than twenty people due to the bullets damaging electric wires during recent wedding festivities.  Live public music and dancing are prohibited because they are considered un-Islamic, and therefore must be banned.

Joyous activities are considered diversionary behaviors that interfere with people’s focus on prayers, God, and the goodwill of the rulers in Saudi Arabia. In other words, happy indulgences are considered evil or “the West’s decadent inventions,” designed to corrupt Saudi moral values and destroy Muslim cultures. The Saudi government and the Wahhabi religious establishment fear a population that is not always somber and concentrating on their devotion to Islam, as interpreted by the religious extremists and sanctioned by the Saudi rulers. They consider entertainment debauched, they strictly ban movie theaters and severely censor television shows, and they prohibit women from participating in sports, publically and privately.

Many Saudis spend their holiday breaks and annual vacations in Gulf countries in order to experience entertainment denied to them in their own country. The majority of movie theater goers in neighboring Bahrain during weekends and holiday periods are Saudis citizens. It is estimated that one million Saudis crossed the border to celebrate their most important religious holiday, Eid Adha, in Dubai to get away from their country’s stifling taboos and indulge in social activities not allowed in Saudi Arabia. Others resort to secret or banned activities such as playing in underground bands, knowing that they could be arrested and punished by the system’s omnipresent spying agents, specifically the state’s religious police, who enforce their interpretation of religious laws on all citizens and expatriates regardless of religious beliefs and orientations.

The tragic deaths and injuries during the recent Abqaiq wedding celebration in, eastern Saudi Arabia, as well as many other unreported incidents, could have been avoided had normal entertainment such as a musical band been allowed to entertain the families and invited guests, instead of forcing the celebrators to fire their guns in the air to show their joyous passion during weddings and other occasions and in the process, cause the deaths of innocent people.

Recruiting Female Religious Police: Progress or Regression?

CDHR’s Commentary: The head of the notorious Saudi religious police (Mutaween, or domesticators), Mr. Abdul Latif Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, a descendant of the founder of Wahhabism, Abdul Wahhab, feels a need to recruit female religious police to join his agency. It is assumed that he wants to recruit women because they will be more empathetic than the stick-touting bearded men who comb all public places to make sure that women are covered, shops are closed five times a day, and people are herded to mosques to pray whether they like it or not. Another assumption is that by hiring women, religious police will be in accordance with King Abdullah’s measured reform initiative. While there might be some merits to these assumptions, the system’s agenda is always different from its stated pronouncements. 

One has to understand that the religious police have only one assignment, to spy on and terrorize people. The ruthlessness of the religious police intensified after King Faisal ascended to the Saudi throne in 1964 after he collaborated with the Ulama, the religious clerics, to overthrow his brother, King Saud, in a palace coup. In addition to enforcing the dress code, forcing people to pray five times a day, and making sure that women are invisible (covered in black), the religious police concentrate on surveillance of pro-reform and social justice activists whom they can easily accuse of religious failings or other social stigmas.

Recruitment of female religious police will not be based on kindness, open-mindedness, empathy, or better education than their male counterparts. Having female religious police spying on and controlling women’s activities and movements will make it more acceptable to the Saudi male population and make the system look more sensitive to local norms and as an equal opportunity employer. It is unlikely that female women religious police will be any gentler or kinder than men because they will be appointed from ultraconservative families and religious extremist backgrounds. Female religious police are more likely have internalized and accepted their status as inferior and subservient to men.

The idea of recruiting female religious police is to expand the system’s surveillance and hunt women who are known for their advocacy of change in society.  Additionally, having women harassing women will create another layer of division among the already severely divided and segregated society along religious, tribal, gender and regional lines.  

What the ruling elites fail to understand or acknowledge is that the Saudi people, like their counterparts in the region and the world, are becoming more aware of their regime’s duplicitous maneuvers and of their usurped rights. What the people want and deserve is emancipation from the yoke of religious, social, and political totalitarianism as opposed to handouts and the use of religion as a tool to control, silence and exploit the population.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Respecting Religions or Silencing Free Expression

Respecting Religions or Silencing Free Expression

CDHR's Commentary:
Speaking from his palatial royal palace in Mecca, the Saudi King Abdullah called on the United Nations to draft legislation that would make it illegal for any individual, group or country to insult “divine religions and prophets”. King Abdullah also stated that it “is obligatory upon each Muslim to defend our religion and all the prophets”. The timing of King Abdullah's call on the United Nations to limit individual freedom of expression under the pretext of blasphemy legislation coincided with the celebration of Eid Al-Adha, one of Islam's holiest occasions.

King Abdullah was addressing some three million Muslims who were in Mecca to perform the Hajj (pilgrimage) rituals, which every able Muslim must perform once in his/her lifetime. On the face of it, creating legislation to protect religious sensitivities seems harmless until one considers the full ramifications of the Saudi King's call to ban criticism of religions, specifically Islam. The intent of King’s global blasphemy initiatives is to criminalize any criticism of religion, even in democratic societies where freedom of expression is guaranteed and protected as an inalienable and natural right of every citizen. Blasphemy legislation will only serve to constrict universal human rights and enable tyrants silence their critics at home and abroad.

In Saudi Arabia, criticism of Islam, the Saudi ruling family and religious clerics are prohibited, and non-compliance with prohibition can result in severe punishment as exemplified by the case of Mr. Hamza Kashgari, a 23 year old columnist and an outspoken supporter of the Arab Spring and for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia long before his arrest by the Saudi authorities for tweeting an imaginary conversation between himself and the Prophet Muhammad. Currently Hamza Kashgari languishes in a Saudi prison and faces the prospect of the death penalty, the punishment for blasphemy in Saudi Arabia.

The plight of Hamza Kashgari, and that of many like him, shows the danger of the blasphemy legislation that King Abdullah and the 57 members of the Saudi-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation are advocating. In any democratic country, Kashgari's remarks or any similar remarks by others on Twitter or in public would have gone largely unnoticed. In the United States of America and other true democracies, inflammatory and vitriolic speeches are protected under the rule of law, as enshrined in the U.S. First Amendment.

If the United Nations adopts a blasphemy legislation, freedom of expression would be prohibited and dictatorial regimes like the Saudi monarchy will continue to have free hand in accusing individuals of blasphemous acts under the pretext of defending religion; when in fact their objective is to silence critics by incarcerating and in some cases executing them. This extremely dangerous proposal for blasphemy legislation must be rejected by Muslims who are struggling for emancipation from the yoke of tyranny and by the wider international community, especially Western democracies who are the real target of the blasphemous law the Saudis and other Muslim regimes are promoting.

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