web counter Media Lies: Perhaps there's hope for the Saudis

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

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Perhaps there's hope for the Saudis

According to MEMRI, the Saudis held their Second Forum for Dialogue, a national discussion, sponsored by the royal family, on issues of religious extremeism.
The Second Forum for National Dialogue, held in Saudi Arabia in late December 2003 under the patronage of Saudi Crown Prince Abdallah Ibn Abd Al-'Aziz, was attended by 60 intellectuals, researchers, clerics, and public figures, among them 10 women. The forum, which focused on religious extremism and moderation, ended with recommendations for: accelerating political reform and expanding popular political participation; renewing the religious discourse in compliance with modernity; establishing a culture of dialogue in Saudi society; allowing responsible freedom of expression; strengthening women's status in all areas; setting out a strategy to help keep Saudi youth away from religious extremism; and improving the Saudi school curricula so that they spread a spirit of tolerance and moderation. "
One of the papers submitted at the conference addressed the Saudi school system. Those familiar with Saudi culture will be aware that some of the schools in Saudi Arabia turn out the terrorists that attack Western culture, including the 9/11 criminals. These schools are also extremely xenophobic and anti-semitic.
The researchers stated that the curricula confuse non-Muslim religious customs with the social and civil activities of daily life and public affairs, and teach that all such customs and activities are unbelief. Even when modern ideas such as nationalism, communism, secularism, and capitalism arise in the curricula, it is argued that their only aim is to fight Islam and that they are a form of unbelief. Such attitudes, warn the researchers, prevent Muslim society from developing and from benefiting from the work and achievements of other cultures.
One might even say that they encourage the very attitude we see in terrorists, who consider everything but sharia Islam to be evil and will kill anyone who disagrees with them.
Thus, at the conclusion of their study, the researchers recommend balance and moderation in religious discourse. While remaining within the framework of Islam, and without calling for secularism, they recommend eliminating accusations of unbelief against other Muslims and instead emphasizing acknowledging their lives and property as worthy of protection. Similarly, they recommend increasing the pupils' understanding of human rights that already exists in Shari'a law; adopting a balanced religious view of non-Muslim cultures that will allow learning and benefiting from these other cultures; adopting a balanced religious view regarding behavior toward non-Muslims; and increasing pupils' awareness of their social and civic obligations and of the importance of their active integration into society.
While a critique of the Saudi school system could go much farther than these cautious scholars have, this is at least a start in the right direction.

However, they have a long way to go.
The researchers presented a number of examples permitting violence toward the "other." One schoolbook states: "The more time passes since the [beginning of] the Prophet's mission, the more religious deviation has proliferated. The prophetic customs have disappeared and many forbidden innovations have been created... The Companions of the Prophet Sahaba and their disciples Tabi'un determinedly faced these developments [armed] with knowledge. Nothing escaped them; rather, they repressed [these developments]. They clarified truth and removed doubt... No bid'a appears without Allah decreeing that someone will refute it and reveal its flaws, such that the Sunna [i.e. the way of the Prophet] will prevail... When Ghilan Al-Dimashqi declared [the institution of] a bid'a, the Tabi'un rose up against this bid'a... and when he persisted in his bid'a, he was killed by Hisham bin Abd Al-Malek... The same happened every time the gangs committing bid'a proliferated: The armies of the Sunna rose up against them..."

They stated: "Making these statements, which praise violent behavior toward the 'other,' is very dangerous to the psychology of the pupils... and may bring about the collapse of the [values of] the sanctity of life and soul in the internal consciousness of the youth, and they may become contemptuous of life and think that murder and bloodshed are legitimate - particularly when these means are presented to the pupils as pillars of observance and preservation of his faith."
With textbooks that teach violence to children and make them "contemptous of life", is it any wonder that they would fly planes into buildings in order to murder tens of thousands?

Even science doesn't escape the wrath of these zealots.
"The curricula present an extreme approach also with regard to modern scientific theories in the areas of economics, politics, and law." For example, the curricula state that "Belonging to atheistic streams such as communism, secularism, capitalism, and other streams of unbelief is apostasy. When anyone who belongs to these streams claims to be a Muslim, it is the greatest of hypocrisies, since the hypocrites are considered to be [only] outwardly part of Islam while they in fact belong to the infidels."
As if these aspects aren't outrageous enough, the scholars reveal that the curricula teaches hatred against "other" cultures.
One of the most dangerous aspects of religious escalation, explained the researchers, is the stage of incitement against others with whom a society maintains good relations and relations based on trust - and such incitement is present in the Saudi curricula. When the curricula discuss traveling to non-Muslim countries for study, commerce, medical treatment, or to spread Islam, they set out conditions for staying there: "It is permitted to stay [in a non-Muslim country] provided... the stay includes hidden hostility toward and hatred of the infidels."
It's encouraging that the Saudis are openly discussing their problems, but one can only imagine the internal discord that will develop if and when they decide to implement reforms.

As an observer, I can only pray that they are successful.