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article imageOp-Ed: New Saudi legislation classifies atheists as terrorists

By Ken Hanly     Oct 13, 2014 in Politics
Riyad - Human Rights Watch reports that the kingdom of Saudi Arabia has introduced new legislation to deal with terrorism that includes as terrorists not just members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Islamic State but atheists.
What all these groups have in common is that they oppose the Saudi view of the world. The new legislation cracks down on virtually all forms of dissent against the regime whether violent or not and any protests that could "harm public order."
One of the main focuses of the new legislation are jihadists returning from Syria who are now trained terrorists, with some ready to take on the monarchy. Decree 44 makes it an offence to participate in hostilities outside Saudi Arabia with penalties from three to 20 years if found guilty.
Terrorism is defined in the new laws as "calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based." No doubt the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic State would think that it was the Saudis rather than they who were calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion. It would seem that even holding a version of Islam that is not in line with that of the Saudi kingdom makes one a terrorist. The doctrine would seem to be that anyone of any other religious belief which rejects the Saudi version of Islam is a terrorist. One might expect that the US and other western countries would be up in arms and condemning these new laws but there seems be little interest let alone outrage at these new laws by a king who keeps several of his own daughters in virtual imprisonment. Critics have pointed out the the law does not distinguish between religious expression that conflicts with the the Saudi view of Islam and violent extremism.
Joe Stork, of Human Rights Watch said: "Saudi authorities have never tolerated criticism of their policies, but these recent laws and regulations turn almost any critical expression or independent association into crimes of terrorism.These regulations dash any hope that King Abdullah intends to open a space for peaceful dissent or independent groups."
Human Rights Watch had been waging a campaign to release several prominent human rights activists in Saudi Arabia. Waleed Abu al-Khair and Mikhi al-Shamman have recently lost appeals against three month sentences for al-Khair and five years for al-Shamman, for simply criticizing Saudi authorities. The group said that the new provisions are already being used to convict peaceful activists and dissidents. From Yemen, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) mocked the new laws and said that they would not deter their attacks on the Saudi regime. They say the new laws show that they are in the pay of the United States and did not explain the logic behind that statement! An AQAP official insisted in an audio tape posted on line:'Their employers are the White House.' He added that Riyadh appeared to consider the U.S. authorities as 'gods.'
They are pitching in with a few planes to join the US attack on the Islamic State in Iraq. I wonder who is footing the bill? The Saudi Interior Ministry estimates that about 1,200 Saudis have gone to Syria to fight with jihadists against the Assad regime.
Ironically the "godfather" of modern Gulf atheism, Abdullah al-Qesemi, born in 1907, was brought up in Saudi Arabia and was himself a Salafist approved by the Saudi regime before he became an atheist. He was born into a strict conservative family but after his education in Cairo where he defended Salafists teaching and was expelled from university, he began to reject religion altogether. Attempts to assassinate him in Cairo and Beirut both failed. His most famous quote is: “The occupation of our brains by gods is the worst form of occupation.”
Even some prominent scholars in the Gulf area have spoken out against religion. In 2004 an article by the Kuwaiti scholar Ahmed al-Baghdadi came out swinging when the Ministry of Education decided to replace music classes by more classes on religion:“I am not afraid of religion, or bearded or turbaned people, and I see that music and developing an artistic sense is more important than memorizing the Quran or religious classes. [The classes] that are already there are more than enough. I do not wish to waste my money on teaching religion. … I do not want my son to learn from ignoramuses who teach him to disrespect women and non-Muslims." That outburst would no doubt result in at least twenty years in Saudi Arabia. The article did lead to an uproar in Kuwait and Baghdadi said he intended to seek asylum in the west.
In spite of the dangers of being an atheist in Saudi Arabia a WIN-Gallup International Poll in 2012 found that 5 percent of Saudis polled said they were atheists. This figure is comparable to the US. An article in the Guardian explains how this is possible. Many Gulf atheists keep their atheism under wraps as a personal belief. Only a very few are open atheists who try to promote their point of view and defend their right to non-belief. As long as the authorities do not observe any outward threat to their own view of Islam this personal atheism will be tolerated.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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