Asharq Alawsat reports that the government of Kuwait is looking into the possibility that the Saudi responsible for the suicide attack on a Shi’ite mosque may have ties with an Al-Qaeda affiliate, “Peninsula Lions.” The government believed it had crippled the group back in 2005, but documents found in the house from which the recent attack was staged show some relationship to the group. On the other hand, ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack. It is, however, conceivable that the group has migrated toward ISIS, away from Al-Qaeda.
Kuwait City, Asharq Al-Awsat—Kuwait is investigating whether the perpetrator of last week’s deadly attack on a Shi’ite mosque had links to the “Peninsula Lions,” an Al-Qaeda-linked group that staged a series of attacks in the oil-rich country in 2005.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, a Kuwaiti security source said there were reports that jailed Peninsula Lions members shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) upon receiving the news of Friday’s deadly attack on the Imam Al-Sadiq Mosque in the neighborhood of Sawabir in Kuwait City.
The incident has prompted the authorities to investigate whether the perpetrator of the attack had any links to the Peninsula Lions group whose members have been killed, imprisoned or fled Kuwait.
Kuwait dismantled the group in 2005 and jailed 37 of its members on charge of belonging to Al-Qaeda.
Nine members were killed during clashes with Kuwaiti police in early 2005 and six were given death sentences.
Kuwait has identified the suicide bomber as Fahd Suleiman Abdul Mohsen Al-Qaba’a, a 23-year-old Saudi citizen who crossed into the neighboring country on the same day he carried out the attack.
H.A. Hellyer, writing at Al Arabiya TV, notes that there’s something wrong with the (partial) condemnations of sectarianism popping up in the regional media. Whether is obliviousness, disengenuity, or out-and-out machinations, what is condemned is only that which comes from the other guy. “Our guy” gets a pass, if not actual support.
The short-sightedness (to put it at its most gentle) is appalling. There seems to be utterly no conception of the possibility that today’s majority might not remain so tomorrow. And when that happens, all the methods, tricks, interpretations, and the like that are used to justify violence in the name of today’s majorities will be used to justify similar actions against them when they’re in the minority. Even the most cursory reading of history should inform one that things do not stay the same forever.
It’s Ramadan. Against the backdrop of Muslims observing the obligatory performance of the fast, sheikhs and religious authorities will remind the faithful of the saying of the Prophet: “There has come to you Ramadan, a blessed month which God has enjoined you to fast, during which the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed, and the rebellious devils are chained up.” Sages in the past would comment – and warn believers that if there were sins they persisted in the month, they had to take them seriously. For in this month, the whispers and murmurs, beckoning souls to wretchedness – well, that’s all on them. Because the devils, as the adage goes, are locked up.
One would hope, then, that in this month, there would be an absence of truly horrendous actions – if from no one else, than from Muslims themselves, particularly those that claim to raise high the banner of Islam. Alas, the last few days show that while some human beings don’t require the murmurs and whispers of baser beings at all – they can do rather evil things all on their own.
… Is the principle really ‘sectarianism is bad’ – or is the principle ‘sectarianism is bad… until it is my side doing it?’
Is there anyone who will take seriously within the region that be it Sunni on Shiite sectarianism; or Shiite on Sunni sectarianism; or Sunni on Sunni sectarianism; or Muslim on Christian sectarianism; that these are all just bad ideas? That differences of views can, and should, be expressed – but that the incitement that finds itself in words will, far too often, be eventually conveyed in acts of violence and terrible consequences? Or have too few not reached the point of realizing that rotten discourse does not have rotten consequences?
Are there leaders in these communities who know they must rise, in order to be clear once and for all, not simply in rhetoric but in action, to avert further catastrophe by declaring – if you will seek to promote hate and incitement, you will not be tolerated? Are there leaders who will pursue that path, not as a way to crackdown on legitimate dissent and varying opinions that do not win favor with the palace – but as a way to ensure and develop the health of their communities and societies?
In his column for Asharq Alawsat, Mshari Al-Zaydi comments on Egyptian moves to burn the books written by those Islamists now deemed as extremist, including those by Hassan Al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, and Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. The problem is that the ideas are already out there and you can’t destroy every exemplar of their writings. Further, by banning something, you only make it more attractive to many, particularly in a region that is more than happy to seize upon any sort of conspiracy theory to find justification.
While the past cannot be undone, the governments who are now aware of the dangers contained in these books, can and should stop promoting them. That they did in the past is clearly a mistake. But short of finding some sort of eraser that can undo history, they’ll have to deal with the monsters they created and do the best they can to close the monster factories that thrive in their mosques, schools, and government offices.
Burning the Books of Hassan Al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb
There have been insistent demands for the renewal of religious discourse in several Muslim countries, including Egypt, which is known as “the Mother of the World” and home to the Al-Azhar university, its highest religious authority.
Ever since the toppling of Egypt’s former Muslim Brotherhood-led government, which led to a surge in terrorist attacks and pro-Brotherhood propaganda campaigns, there has been much talk about the need for religious reform, whether inside or outside Egypt. The discourse the Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) employ to recruit people is based on specific religious texts and Islamic Shari’a concepts that lost touch with reality a long time ago.
Although easier said than done, asking Al-Azhar clerics to reform and revolutionize the Islamist discourse, as Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi recently did, is not enough. The problem of religious discourse is too divergent and therefore solving it should involve several factors, most importantly addressing issues such as collective psyche and upbringing. The solution lies in revisiting the religious concepts and ideas people were brought up upon. Similar attempts have been done by many of the great Muslim scholars in Iraq, Egypt, and Andalusia.
It is understood that in such uncertain circumstances it is difficult to find the right point of departure for bringing about religious change and reform. Last week, Egypt’s Ministry of Religious Endowments ordered mosques to remove from their shelves books that encourage extremism, particularly those authored by Brotherhood leaders. According to the Egyptian daily newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, Minister of Religious Endowments Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa has ordered the burning of all the books written by clerics who incite violence, such as Hassan Al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, and Yusuf Al-Qaradawi.
Saudi Arabia is making its position on Gay Rights clear: There are none.
Arab News reports that the country’s Ministry of Interior says that in the conflict between gay rights and religion, religion wins. It’s not just delivering a message to Saudis, but vociferously made its point in a session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
JEDDAH: There would be no rights granted to gay people in the Kingdom, the Interior Ministry said on Wednesday.
In a post on its Twitter account, the ministry stated that it supports human rights principles proposed by international bodies as long as they are in line with Islamic law. It also slammed those questioning the Kingdom’s rights record.
It said that freedom of expression does not mean demeaning the beliefs of Muslims; and condemned those who continue to ridicule the Prophet, peace be upon him.
The ministry said it rejected terrorism and urged united international action to tackle all forms of extremism because these ideas violate the teachings of the world’s religions.
Writing at Al Arabiya TV, Joyce Kalam argues that the growth of ISIS has meant the death of the map drawn up by the Sykes-Picot Agreement concluded in 1916. That agreement drew lines on the map of the Middle East that might have made sense for certain European powers — France, the UK, Russia — but made little sense to the people on the ground.
Syria and Iraq, main beneficiaries/victims of the Agreement, have now abandoned their joint border. Intent on the survival of their regimes, they have been forced to pull in toward their centers, Baghdad and Damascus, leaving a vacuum that is now being filled by the disaffected. New borders are going to result, though not any time soon.
When Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi , the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) flaunted a year ago from the Great Mosque in Mosul the birth of his new “Caliphate,” it was both a statement of the organization’s brutal ambition and the unraveling of the Sykes-Picot map in both Iraq and Syria.
One year later, ISIS as a non-state actor and a terrorist organization is the loudest but not the only symptom of the de facto crumbling of the central nation state structures in Baghdad and Damascus. Understanding its threat and prospects cannot occur absent of this context of rising militias and autonomous groups in what was once “the beating heart of Arab nationalism.”
Nasser Al-Qassabi, who made a name for himself with the notorious TV satire program “Tash Ma Tash,” is back this Ramadan with a new, one-man show, “Selfie.” He’s not only drawing heat from Saudi imams, as reported below, but he’s put himself in the crosshairs of ISIS/Daesh and its supporters.
Writing at Arab News, Abdulateef Al-Mulhim says that if nothing else, he’s drawing Daesh-supporters out of the woodwork as they take to Twitter and other social media to lambast him… and threaten his life.
Nasser Al-Qassabi Exposing Daesh in his own way
During the holy month of Ramadan, the time for breaking the fast (Iftar) is not only considered a meal but it is the time when all members of a family sit together to enjoy these special moments.
Saudis have developed a new habit during the past two decades i.e. watching television together at Iftar time. This has become a prime time during which various television channels, mostly Arabic of course in this part of the world, compete to attract as many viewers as they could. The time of the last prayer of the day i.e. Isha starts two hours after the Maghrib prayer. These two hours are filled with tens of programs catering to the needs of different segments of society. One man who creates waves and makes millions smile needs a special mention. His program Tash Ma Tash is widely watched in the Arab world.
This show in Ramadan has become Saudi Arabia’s televised stand-up comedy show. The show had featured many actors but the two main characters were Nasser Al-Qassabi and Alsadhan. This year, a new show called Selfie, has been launched featuring only actor and comedian Nasser Al-Qassabi.
In another Arab News piece, Al-Qassabi is reported to be taking the threats on his life with a certain equanimity, putting his fate in the hands of God. He is also receiving words of support, from Saudis and others, for showing that those who preach religion can be and often must be distinguished from religion itself.
Khaled Almaeena, Editor-at-Large for Saudi Gazette, comments on how the Ministry of Islamic Affairs seems incapable of enforcing its own decrees on its own employees. He criticizes the way firebrand preachers (who do draw salaries from the government) ignore Ministry directives, large and small. If they cannot be called into line over little things like the banned use of loudspeakers to broadcast sermons, he asks, what chance is there to haul them up short when they’re preaching divisive sectarianism and misusing religion to attack those that annoy them?
A rant too far by an Imam
THE Minister of Islamic Affairs has issued directives for an investigation into the rantings of an Imam of a mosque in Asir, who condemned the Saudi actor Nasser Algassabi and accused him of heresy.
Algassabi, well known for his satire in previous shows like “Tash Ma Tash”, has been the object of vilification and scorn by many hard-liners before. But he is again the target of incoherent attacks for his irreverent double entendres on television.
However, this time Saeed Bin Farwa, the mosque Imam, has gone too far with his ravings, outgunning his own ilk in his accusations. Other preachers also appeared on social media some invoking God’s wrath on Algassabi.
These people apparently have acted for many reasons, known only to them. Personally I think it gets them attention and followers, and that’s why they are quick to shoot from their lip.
Ramadan, the holy month that calls for dawn-to-dusk fasting, has some exceptions. Pregnant women and the ill can postpone their fasts, for instance. But soldiers involved in fighting can also break their fasts if they think it necessary, Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti reminds. Arab News has the details:
JEDDAH: Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh has announced that soldiers fighting on the country’s borders can break their fast in the middle if they find fasting too difficult.
“You are fighting for God’s sake and in God’s name, and we are proud that you are bravely defending your country. If you have the ability to fast, then do so.
“But for those who cannot, there is a legal excuse to end your fast before time. May God grant you a great victory and support you,” he said, according to a report in a local publication on Thursday.
Al-Asheikh, who is also president of the Council of Senior Scholars, wished the soldiers well for the holy month.
Al Arabiya TV reports that the attitudes of Saudis about terrorism have changed over the past ten years. In the past, excuses would be sought to explain extremist acts; extenuating circumstances would be found to somehow make those acts reasonable. Now, the article (and accompanying video) say, there’s no tolerance for it. Even families are turning their young, extremist members to the authorities.
Saudi views shifting on Islamic extremism
Shounaz Meky | Al Arabiya News
More voices are making themselves heard in Saudi Arabia, expressing their rejection of terrorism and violence by extremist groups in the name of Islam, Al Arabiya News Channel reported.
The report notes how Saudi perceptions of extremist groups has changed over the last 10 years.
Saudis rushed to denounce two recent suicide attacks against Shiite mosques in the kingdom that killed at least 25 people.
However, when there were terror attacks in 2003 and 2005, the report said Saudis were much more inclined to justify terrorism and sympathize with extremist groups than they are now.
Another piece on the same webpage points to social media as a facilitator of extremist thought. While the article extols government efforts to contain it, it also calls for coordinated international action, on the parts of government but also by social media companies, to rein it in.
And here, even though Al Arabiya glosses over it, the time-worn argument rises: “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” Having excused terrorism in the past because the supposed goals of the terrorist were acceptable, governments in the region are now faced with dealing with the terrorist methodology when the goals aren’t quite so in line with government policies. Not having a First Amendment as does the US, the Saudi government approach ignores the fact that differences in opinion are always going to exist. It’s not the opinions that matter most when it comes to terrorism, but the means through which people seek to call them into reality.
While there’s talk of permitting Saudi women to travel abroad without “guardians,” there are more basic hurdles that need to be met. Saudi women have to first get passports. That’s not always easy.
Saudi Gazette reports on a Saudi female activist pointing out the dysfunction that obtains when a Saudi woman must obtain permission from a court to even get a passport where her son doesn’t face the same barrier. She notes (as have many others) the way Saudi culture and law seem to keep women infantalized, never permitting them to become responsible for their own actions. This, she also points out, is in contrast to how other countries, even similar, neighboring countries treat their women.
Activist slams court letter rule for women’s passport
Saudi Gazette report
JEDDAH — A human rights activist has strongly criticized the complications put before Saudi women to obtain their own passports without the consent of their male guardians.
Suhaila Zain Al-Abdeen, member of the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), was responding to recent statements by the Director General of Passports (Jawazat) Maj. Gen. Solaiman Al-Yahya, who said Saudi women would be allowed to have their own passports issued for them if they show a letter from a court.
“Why does the issuance of a woman’s passports depend on a letter from the court?” Al-Abdeen told Ain Al-Yaum electronic newspaper, Saudi Gazette’s sister publication.
She said a letter from the court might take time to process even though the traveler might have a family emergency to tend to.
“Why is a young man under 20 not asked for the consent of his male guardian or to bring a letter from the court when he wants to obtain a passport while his own biological mother may need a letter from the court if she wishes to have a passport? “Is it a case of trusting the young man while we deny this right to the woman who gave birth to him?”
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is unhappy with the complaints of various governments and NGOs over the Saudi Supreme Court’s confirmation of the sentence given to dissident Raif Badawi. It sees it all as carping interference with internal Saudi affairs and points to the independence of the judiciary, Saudi Gazette reports.
People, organizations, and country governments are, however, free to make their opinions known. Much of the world’s opinion is that the sentence (not to mention the “crime”) is not in line with basic human rights and is excessive, even if you grant that some law was substantively broken.
Badawi case: Ministry slams outside meddling
Saudi Gazette report
JEDDAH – An official source in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday condemned statements issued by some countries and international organizations involving Saudi citizen Raif Badawi.
These statements are unilateral as no statement has been issued about him by the judiciary or any official authority in the state, the Saudi Press Agency quoted him as saying.
The source added that the judiciary in Saudi Arabia is independent and the Kingdom does not accept interference in its judiciary or its internal affairs by any party.
The criminal court sentenced Badawi to 1,000 lashes, 50 to be administered “very harshly,” in public, once a week for 20 weeks. In addition, he is to serve 10 years in prison and pay a fine of 1 million riyals.
Last year, Badawi was found guilty of insulting Islamic values, “promoting liberal thought” and “going beyond the realm of obedience” by suggesting the Kingdom should become more democratic.