How to Feed Extremism?

barrakAbdul-Rahman al-Barrak is a cleric who can be described as “extreme” but that I guess would be a nice way to put it. Earlier this week he released a fatwa against two columnists in Al Riyadh newspaper saying they should be tried for apostasy for their “heretical articles” and put to death if they don’t repent. Abullah bin Bejad and Yousef Abal-Khail, the two writers, are understandably terrified. Bin Bejad asked the government to protect him, and Abal-Khail said if this was allowed to pass, “it will be chaos.”

This incident is disturbing and sickening, but it is nothing new for extremists in this country to try to intimidate and terrorize those who have different views of religion, society or any other matter in life. They have done it in the past with intellectuals like Turky Al Hamad and others, and luckily no one got killed, at least till now.

However, what is more worrying to me is the fact that the likes of Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak and Nasser al-Omar are still able to get away with fatawa like this one. Al-Barrak in his most recent fatwa said the government should hold the newspapers and publishers to account, when in fact he is the one whom the government should hold to account for his calls to hate and violence.

Moreover, I believe that the official religious establishment, as the highest religious authority in the country, should take a clear position on this issue, and if they are not willing to do that because, as I may expect, some of them might agree with the fatwa, those who belong to the establishment and disagree with the fatwa should denounce and reject it.

I can imagine that neither the government nor the official religious establishment would speak out on this issue, but if they fail to address this properly then they should stop whining about extremism and how terrorists are simply a “misguided group.” It is this kind of dangerous messages that feed extremism and donate fuel to terrorists to continue their lethal destructive acts. Keeping silent and later blaming “external influences” for what happens here will be a hard sell, and hey, I got some news for you, we are not stupid. No more.

The Siege of Mecca

Although the uprising of Juhayman Al Otaibi in Mecca in 1979 played a crucial role in shaping politics and culture in modern Saudi Arabia, few details are available to the public about the sorry events that took place in the dawn of the current hijra century. I was born in 1984 and the first time I heard the name of Juhayman was only a few years ago following 9/11 and the terrorist attacks in the Kingdom. That’s why when I visited the US in September I made sure to purchase a copy of The Siege of Mecca, a book that tries to investigate the uprising in Islam’s holies site. The author is Yaroslav Torfimov, a staff foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal.

Once I started reading the book I was hooked and I could not put it down. The kind of fine details Torfimov provides were thrilling and sometimes even shocking to me. I was expecting this book to be a dry recount of the events based on some declassified documents the author obtained from the American archives but I’m glad I was wrong. The background of Juhayman, the way he led the uprising, and how the government dealt with the assault in addition to the historical context of the events made this book a very interesting and action-packed read.

Since many people who were involved in the uprising are still among us, some of them even serving in the very same positions, the book should give you a better understanding of the forces and ideas that influence the current situation in the country and the ongoing power struggle between them. Also of note is the secrecy that remains one of the most visible aspects of Saudi politics to this day.

The book goes into detail regarding concurrent events such as the attacks on US embassies in Muslim countries. These details may be more interesting to the American audience than readers like me, but these are not any less important because they help to explain the reasoning behind the US foreign policy in the region for years to come. The author also dedicated a chapter to the uprising in Qatif and how the government pulled out some forces from Mecca to crack down on the revolutionaries there.

One the most striking findings for me was the role of the official religious establishment. Believe it or not, most of the rebels were actually arrested a few months before the attack but the government released them based on instructions from the religious establishment. You would think that such thing would make the government lose its faith in the clerics, but surprisingly the horrific events led to a deal that empowered the religious establishment, making way to the rise of extremism and later the birth of Al Qaeda.

Due to the sensitivity of the subject here, I don’t think the book will see the daylight in Saudi Arabia, but I guess you can order it from Amazon or buy it when you go abroad. Highly recommended: 5/5.

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