In a column for Saudi Gazette — here picked up by Asharq Alawsat — Samar Fatany writes that Arabs and Arab governments don’t understand free speech. She then proceeds to show that her understanding of free speech is also limited. I think she may have been writing for Saudi Arabia’s media too long to realize her error.
She is utterly correct that free speech is a fundamental human right. She is also correct that there are some limitations that can be put on speech and expression. Slander and libel are not protected. Fraud is not protected. Violations of copyright are not protected.
But “protection of public order… or morals” is not legitimate because these concepts are just a loose basket of words that can be interpreted by any government (or any hothead) to mean whatever they choose, whenever they choose, and against anyone they choose. That they may not apply in any given circumstance makes them less of a right than a grant of tolerance. But what is permitted today under this philosophical regime may well be prohibited tomorrow. All it takes is a change in government or a change in social views.
Arab Spring should serve as a clear example of how yesterday’s approved speech is today’s criminal action. Just ask the journalists who have been jailed, attacked, or murdered. Ms Fatany needs to think a bit harder on this issue.
Arab world’s misunderstanding on free speech
Freedom of speech might be a controversial subject in the Arab world, however, universally it is recognized as the political right of every citizen to express his or her opinions and ideas. The right to freedom of expression is recognized as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and recognized in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 19 stipulates that, “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference”, and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression. This right includes, freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”
Unfortunately, the universal concept of the freedom of expression is not appreciated or understood in many parts of the world and in the Arab world in particular. Many governments do not conform to its principles and view it with suspicion. They continue to suppress the right of free speech through censorship, restrictive media laws, and the harassment of journalists, bloggers and activists who voice their opinions against human rights violations or major concerns that need to be addressed. Meanwhile, a majority of the public also fails to understand that the universal right of the freedom of speech is not absolute and that it is subject to limitations. The exercise of these rights carries “special duties and responsibilities”, and may “therefore be subject to certain restrictions” such as “respect of the rights or reputation of others” or “the protection of national security or of public order, or of public health or morals”.
In his column for Asharq Alawsat, Hussein Shabokshi says that ‘Islamic politics’ is a misnomer. There’s little ‘Islamic’ about it, at least at manifest in countries roiled by Arab Spring. Instead of following the political course followed by the Prophet Mohammed, the leaders who have ascended to power through elections are simply replicating the power politics of the regimes they had overthrown.
Opponents are not welcomed into the body politic. Instead, they are cursed, accused of treason, publicly excoriated, demeaned, and jailed. Instead of taking part in the dynamics of politics, they’re being forced underground. Worse, those in power are showing themselves incapable of governing. By silencing other voices, they are losing possible solutions to problems they are themselves unable to solve.
These new leaders rode into power waving the flag of Islam and promising to fix the social ills that preceded them. Perhaps, Shabokshi suggest, they might actually try behaving in an Islamic manner now that they hold the reins.
Political Islam in Name Only
Several politicians and analysts are trying to look closely and accurately into the state of confusion, tension, and failure that has characterized the experience of the ruling political groups and parties in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, ever since the outbreak of the Arab Spring revolutions. Perhaps the most important and dangerous trait that all these political groups share is their “exclusionary” nature. They have failed to accommodate different segments of society and represent them all, particularly at a highly sensitive time following on from the violent and impassioned uprisings. These groups were once part of the opposition category themselves; practicing their activities in secret under the severe oppression of the previous regimes. As a result, once in power they took on a retaliatory form, further intensifying the state of fragmentation and fuelling mistrust within society.
Islam’s discourse on politics in general is somewhat shallow. While we can find dozens of volumes and books on purity, worship, and other issues, there are very few books on “political fiqh”, and a clear lack of scholarly consensus. This means that we must use much discretion when talking about political Islam; no one alone can claim a full understanding, and no one should be able to impose this understanding upon others.
The “political Islam” groups that have come to power in the Arab Spring states have not followed in the footsteps of the Prophet Mohammed himself—peace be upon him—when he conquered Mecca. After the conquest, and while the prophet’s opponents were dreading his reaction, Mohammed announced a “day of mercy” and uttered his famous saying “Even he who enters the house of Abu Sufyan will be safe “, in reference to his prominent opponent at the time. The prophet added “Go your way, for you are free “, without punishing or taking revenge against anyone. This principle was later applied by two of the most renowned politicians of the twentieth century: Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi and the peerless South African Nelson Mandela. They both offered a full pardon to their former opponents and enemies, and even incorporated them into their new regimes to become part of the solution, rather than the problem. This is the difference between wisdom and political maturity on the one hand, and political adolescence on the other.
Saudi Gazette runs a piece from Asharq Alawsat that argues the same point. What’s changed in the practical politics? The only thing that seem to have been changed is the rhetoric.
Saudi Gazette carries a story about the history of the city of Jeddah. Interesting and worth reading.
Jeddah, the birth of a city
Roberta Fedele |Saudi Gazette
The history of Jeddah is closely tied to the history of the pilgrimage and to its strategic position on regional and international trade routes connecting the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, according to a professor at the University of Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne.
Eric Vallet, an associate professor at the university, analyzed the most relevant moments that characterized the history of the city in the first 10 centuries of the Muslim era. The researcher shared the results of his studies during an exclusive lecture at the French Consulate General.
He said: “No other port is linked to the history of Islam as the port of Jeddah.
New technology impacts existing jobs. This was the complaint of the Luddites who resented the introduction of new machinery that deprecated jobs in the making of fabrics. It’s also the complaint of traditional matchmakers in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Gazette reports that social media and websites are popping up in the Kingdom that do away with the need for matchmakers. Online interactions allow people — at a physical remove — to meet and assess each other. By not having to be in physical proximity, couples avoid social and religious issues.
Of course, like any other online interaction carries the possibility of fraud. This is what the matchmakers are seizing on in the hope of retaining their continued existence. I fear, though, like the buggy whip makers of the late 19th C., their days are numbered.
RIYADH — Traditional matchmakers in the Kingdom face tough competition from blossoming marriage services on online social networks.
More than 200 Twitter sites and dozens of other forums on the Internet offer services for Saudi men and women seeking spouses, angering matchmakers like Um Sami who sees it as “organized prostitution.”
“Social networks undermine our work and everything they offer is virtual: they use nicknames and they are not reliable,” said Um Sami, an elderly woman and well-established matchmaker from Jeddah.
For her, many of these websites are “fraudulent.”
An interesting essay by Badria al-Bishr on Al Arabiya’s website. In it, she looks at the role of international media in reporting on social issues in Saudi Arabia and how those efforts are perceived.
Taking the recent case of a 90-year-old Saudi man’s marriage to a 15-year-old girl, as her primary cause, she notes that Saudi learned about the issue and were upset by it before international media took it up. But it wasn’t until the international media focused on it that it became a big scandal. Until then, it was just a little scandal that Saudis might bitch about, but had little possibility (or so they thought) of doing anything about it. CNN did not create the scandal, but it did magnify its visibility.
Al-Bishr thinks that it’s entirely appropriate for Saudis to use that visibility to leverage the issue, to use it to gain momentum in their own efforts to change the way things work. There are always those who will try to find ways to stop change. They play dirty when they play the “religion card”, asserting that to do something that is not explicitly addressed in the Quran is akin to heresy. Saudi society needs to understand the tactic and not fall prey to it.
Maybe it’s ‘CNN’ who exposed us!
It irritates some people to see foreign media tackling Saudi social issues. They believe that foreign media only aims to humiliate us, as it falls within the western conspiracy against Arabs and Muslims.
This is what I personally heard when the American CNN channel talked about a 90-year-old Saudi man’s marriage to a 15-year-old girl, despite the fact that such incidents are recurrent in our society and that local media always writes about it. Opinion writers criticize it, the Human Rights Commission is against it, and most of the Shura Council call to enact a method that would ban it, but the ongoing debate refuses to put an end to it.
As soon as it is circulated in Foreign Media, it becomes a scandal, and we start to search for the reasons that prompted them to publish such a story; does it aim to distort our image in the West? Does an accomplice help them with their plot?
In order to keep the ‘proper’ separation between men and women in the workplace, lest all sorts of sexy hell break loose, Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice helpfully suggests — i.e., makes a rule — the building of walls between men’s and women’s workstations. A writer for the Arabic daily Okaz asks however the proper height of the wall was determined, and what’s to be done if a woman is taller than the rather short 160cm suggested?
Inane as the rule is, its error is that it’s looking to the wrong kind of wall. The wall that needs to be built is one inside the heads of Saudi men, a mental wall that says, “That woman over there, though unrelated to me, is still off limits to my prurient interests.” Admittedly, this will require a lot more walls to be built, but economies can be found by teaching the method of such wall-building in elementary school and in the home. What’s better is that a) it costs nothing to build it and b) it works for all sizes of women and men.
What if a female employee is taller than the wall?
Hamoud Abu Talib | Okaz newspaper
Why is the segregation wall that hides women working in lingerie shops required to be 160 cm (roughly 5.2 feet) high? This was the first question that came to mind after I read about this bizarre separation wall rule.
On what basis was this figure determined? I would like to see the scientific study according to which we have come to know the average height of peeping toms!
The chairman of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Hai’a) and the minister of labor agreed to place segregation barriers in the Kingdom’s lingerie shops during a recent meeting. On one hand, I am happy that the Hai’a and the ministry have agreed that women can work even if it means they have to be surrounded by these 160-cm separation walls. On the other hand, however, I cannot help but express astonishment at the agreement for which there is no justification whatsoever.
I came across an interesting blog post that reports on the issue of Saudi Identity. It provides a quick gloss of Saudi history in its telling of the problems involved in forging a national Saudi identity. Worth reading.
The Fifth Border, Securing a National Identity in Saudi Arabia
Institut d’études politiques de Paris
This paper was prepared for “Political Sociology of the Contemporary Arab State,” taught by Professor Stéphane LACROIX of the Paris School of International Affairs
SECURITY & IDENTITY IN SAUDI ARABIA
By: Faisal Abdullah Abulhassan
The name “Saudi Arabia” accurately describes the nation’s reigning dynasty and geographic location, but falls short of properly create a correct image of the Saudi people. This is due to the lack of a national identity in the Kingdom amongst its homogeneous population. A union of vastly different regions and peoples, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has thus far come to naught in securing its fifth border – the identity of its citizens. In a world where conflict is no longer limited to the land, sea and sky the formulation of an enduring “Saudi” national identity is essential to the stability, continuity and unity of the Saudi State. By reviewing the historical composition and diverse populations that make up the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, this essay seeks to highlight the bonds that have held the various peoples that are Saudis together. It also seeks to analyse the bonds that have failed. While the Kingdom’s four natural borders in the north, south, east and west are thoroughly protected militarily; it is increasingly vulnerable to internal conflict over who exactly is “Saudi,” as well as to the creation of fifth columns. Therefore, this essay argues it is the Royal Family institutionalised that holds the key to creating, strengthening, and stabilising a national identity for the Saudi people.
I’ll call your attention to a new paper by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS). In it, he looks at Arab Spring (and Arab-Spring-like movements) across the Islamic world and suggests how the US government might best approach them. Among his suggestions are triage — determining which countries are more important than others — cooperation with regional states — which often carry less baggage than US or Western intervention might — and a reappraisal of the various countries’ civil-military complexes — “military” isn’t necessarily a dirty word.
Above all, he cautions against over-engagement.
Definitely worth reading in full… it’s a short piece.
We are only beginning to adjust to the reality that we face following at least a decade of constant upheavals in the Islamic world; it is clear that it will take at least that long to end in some form of stability given the underlying mix of failed secular regimes, weak economies and poor income distribution, demographic pressures, religious struggles within Islam, social change, and internal tensions specific to given countries. This means that the United States and its allies must seek to influence a series of conflicts and political struggles that will extend from Morocco to the Philippines which will reshape the entire Islamic world and will require years of consistent effort to have any chance of success.
A Decade or More of Struggles for Change and Stability
It will be a struggle to help nations deal with the broad range of forces that are currently causing so much instability in the Arab world, to modernize and evolve where they can, and to help the new political factions that take power move forward quickly and with as little violence as possible. The end result will not be a war on terrorism, although it will involve many extremists and terrorist elements; it will be dealing with a clash within Islam rather than a clash between civilizations.
HT: Saudi-US Relations Information Service (SUSRIS)
Is there an essential conflict between Islam and Science? Some people certainly believe so. But then, there are also some Christians who have a hard time dealing with particular branches of Science, the Theory of Evolution among them.
Economist magazine takes a look at a new burgeoning of science and research taking place in the Islamic world. It finds that over the past decade, published research from universities in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Iran, and other states has increased significantly. State funding for research indicates that the governments — if not all the people — are realizing that if they are to flourish, or even survive, in the future, they must consider Science an important part of life. Worth reading in its entirety.
The road to renewal
After centuries of stagnation science is making a comeback in the Islamic world
THE sleep has been long and deep. In 2005 Harvard University produced more scientific papers than 17 Arabic-speaking countries combined. The world’s 1.6 billion Muslims have produced only two Nobel laureates in chemistry and physics. Both moved to the West: the only living one, the chemist Ahmed Hassan Zewail, is at the California Institute of Technology. By contrast Jews, outnumbered 100 to one by Muslims, have won 79. The 57 countries in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference spend a puny 0.81% of GDP on research and development, about a third of the world average. America, which has the world’s biggest science budget, spends 2.9%; Israel lavishes 4.4%.
Many blame Islam’s supposed innate hostility to science. Some universities seem keener on prayer than study. Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, for example, has three mosques on campus, with a fourth planned, but no bookshop. Rote learning rather than critical thinking is the hallmark of higher education in many countries. The Saudi government supports books for Islamic schools such as “The Unchallengeable Miracles of the Qur’an: The Facts That Can’t Be Denied By Science” suggesting an inherent conflict between belief and reason.
Many universities are timid about courses that touch even tangentially on politics or look at religion from a non-devotional standpoint. Pervez Hoodbhoy, a renowned Pakistani nuclear scientist, introduced a course on science and world affairs, including Islam’s relationship with science, at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, one of the country’s most progressive universities. Students were keen, but Mr Hoodbhoy’s contract was not renewed when it ran out in December; for no proper reason, he says. (The university insists that the decision had nothing to do with the course content.)
But look more closely and two things are clear. A Muslim scientific awakening is under way. And the roots of scientific backwardness lie not with religious leaders, but with secular rulers, who are as stingy with cash as they are lavish with controls over independent thought.
Samar Al-Miqren, writing for the Arabic daily Al-Jazirah, says she doesn’t see the big deal about Saudi women working as cleaners. They’ve been doing it a long time. Now, she asks that they be formally given a chance to expand their work into hotels, airports, and the like. In the process, they’d be helping to shed thousands of foreign workers from the Saudi economy.
The move would be necessarily more expensive, of course. They would need separate facilities as well as additional security. But because there are women willing to take the jobs, they should receive government support for filling them. Working even in menial labor is better than the alternatives of begging, or worse.
Saudi women cleaners: What is the harm?
Al-Watan newspaper recently published a report under the headline “Saudi women break the disgrace barrier and work as cleaners”. I found it to be a well-balanced report that made an interesting read. However, many people who read it wrongly thought this is the first time Saudi women are taking up this honorable job.
Throughout elementary school and up until high school, I still remember how the majority of cleaners were Saudi women and they used to perform their duties diligently. So, there is really nothing new in the report except that Saudi women can now branch out and work as cleaners in tourist resorts, hotels and other places.
I think it is imperative that we expand work opportunities for uneducated women who are in need of jobs because, after all, hard work is much better than begging at traffic lights or hawking goods on streets where women can be subjected to all kinds of harassment.
I earnestly hope that people who oppose women’s employment will openly come out and object to women begging and selling goods on the streets.
Qantara.de, a German effort to bridge the gap between the West and the Islamic world, runs an interview with Ziauddin Sardar, the British-Pakistani publisher of “Critical Muslim” a quarterly magazine that seeks to raise for debate issues the Muslims find uncomfortable to discuss. The magazine is a printed one; online, it offers only teasers of the articles with an invitation to subscribe for the full text.
The magazine seems an interesting one. Its merit may be discerned by the fact that various issues have been banned in countries worried about how extremists would react to the subjects raised.
”Muslims yearn for real debate”
Interview with Muslim Scholar Ziauddin Sardar
Ziauddin Sardar is a leading British-Pakistani Muslim scholar and critic. In this interview with Susannah Tarbush, he talks about the magazine “Critical Muslim” he founded and which he sees as an “intellectual, cultural, philosophical and creative backup” for the revolutions of the Middle East
In January a year ago, a refreshingly different kind of Muslim publication, the quarterly Critical Muslim (CM), was launched in Britain. Published by London-based C Hurst & Co, CM takes the form of an attractively-produced paperback book of over 250 pages. Its stated mission is to be a quarterly of “ideas and issues showcasing ground-breaking thinking on Islam and what it means to be a Muslim in a rapidly changing, increasingly interconnected world”.
CM’s founder and editor is leading Muslim scholar, critic and public intellectual Ziauddin Sardar. Born in Pakistan in 1951, Sardar grew up in London where he still lives. He is a prolific and much-read writer: since the late 1970s he has written some 45 books as well as numerous articles and essays. Sardar’s CM co-editor is the prominent British-Syrian novelist, critic and blogger Robin Yassin-Kassab.
Qantara.de is itself worth visiting. It, too, raises issues that are of deep concern to those who care about relations between the Islamic world and the West. Luckily, its content is all online.
Writing for Saudi Gazette/Okaz, Adnan Al-Shabrawi offers an explanation of flogging as a punishment handed down by courts in Saudi Arabia. He argues that it is a just punishment that is applied according to strict regulation and is fully authorized by Islam.
Flogging: A just form of punishment
Adnan Al-Shabrawi | Okaz/Saudi Gazette
JEDDAH – As per the Saudi legal system which is based on Shariah law, acceptable punishments given by local courts to convicts include flogging sentences.
Lashes are commonly combined with imprisonment and are inflicted over a set period in a public place. There are also rare cases in which women convicts are sentenced to flogging. When this happens, the international media unleashes a malicious campaign against the Kingdom.
Detractors lambast this as a cruel form of punishment that involves physical and psychological torture.
Okaz/Saudi Gazette examined the real nature of this punishment and what rules and regulations are observed while carrying out flogging .