Thursday, March 23, 2006

A courageous stance

In today's issue of Asharq al-Awsat, an interesting admission by a leading Saudi sheikh:

قال الشيخ السعودي الدكتور صالح السدلان، عضو هيئة التدريس بجامعة الإمام محمد بن سعود الاسلامية بالرياض والمفتي الشهير، في حوار مع «الشرق الاوسط» إنه يجب الاعتراف بأنه يوجد في السعودية تعصب فكري، يجب أن يُعالج

The sheikh actually went even further, and conceded that the discourse of some islamic scholars shows a certain degree of duplicity:

وأوضح الشيخ السدلان في حواره أن ازدواجية الخطاب الديني من قبل بعض رموز الصحوة الاسلامية، موجودة، وأن بعضهم يقدم خطابا مختلفا ومزدوجا؛ واحد لوسائل الاعلام يراعي فيها الظروف، وآخر يبثه هؤلاء الرموز في مواقعهم الإنترنتية ومجالسهم الخاصة قائم على التشدد والتعصب

While I find such comments to be a step in the right direction, the problem remains that those who dare to speak openly about extremism in our midst do so in a sporadic, haphazard way. Reasonable voices should join forces and be better organized so as to stand up to intimidation by the more virulent elements who are ready to use whatever means it takes to silence their opponents.


Anonymous said...

Interesting. Someone (I think Religious Policeman) recently linked to an editorial in criticizing the actions of fundamentalists at the book fair. It seems that these incidents may have caused enough embarassement in high places to prompt concerted reaction.

Great blog, by the way!


Karim said...

Hi Michael,

Welcome to this blog. I have read about the incidents at the Riyadh book fair, and I think these incidents, as you pointed out, may indeed have played some role in triggering this kind of public reaction. It is very revealing though that saudi clerics will only talk about "tolerance" and "dialogue" when an embarassing incident takes place within the kingdom. After 9/11, saudi "scholars" were very passive, and it wasn't until al-Qaeda started to strike inside saudi arabia that they started issuing fatwas condemning "terrorism" and the killing of innocents. I might be wrong, but sometimes, it seems to me that this kind of appeasing statements is made for PR purposes only, and that as soon as the coverage by the international media decreases, everyone goes back to their good old habits. In any case, if the wahabis ever agree to a dialogue with other islamic schools, they would be at a loss on how to conduct it, for their very worldview is based on a claim to holding the exclusive truth and on total exclusion of the "other".

Anonymous said...


You're right, and here in the US one has ample oppontinity to witness international PR skills of at least Saudi royals. I'm hopeful that some of the recent statements, carried only in Arabic, may in fact be indicative of efforts by the ruling family and moderates among the religious establishement (moderates by Saudi standards, of course) to roll back the influence of the more extremist clergy. In the past the royal family had little motivation to endanger their historic alliance with religious conservatives, but it looks like now they may be finding it more dangerous to continue giving them free reign than to attempt limited confrontation (more on the Sheikh and the committee he heads here). Specific attacks or incidents of embarassement could serve not only as peaks of increased motivation for action but also as peaks of increased public support. It's mildly amusing that such far-reaching statements would in this instance be prompted by a bit of ruckus at a book fair, but, then again, among ways of inspiring change I'll take a book fair over a terrorist attack any day. :-)


Anonymous said...

P.S. Although I think this could also end up being little more than suppression of anti-government elements.