A Ray of Light

As I surf the internet searching for inspiration for my blog, I run into an avalanche of lies, falsehoods, distortions, incitement, wild accusations and hate speech. Some examples cited at the Lantos Archives of MEMRI.org:

Suddenly I saw a headline: “Clerics Have Corrupted The Mind Of The Youth With Violent And Bloodthirsty Ideology”

I reminded myself that the Saudis have been the main source of resources for establishing madrasas (Islamic religious schools) throughout the Arab world. And here was an article by columnist ‘Abd Al-‘Aziz Al-Samari published in Al-Jazirah, a Saudi daily newspaper that seemed to attack the school system for teaching extremist views! Surely this was not a good thing.

As I read past the headline, it became clear that the author actually had much bigger fish to fry. ‘Abd Al-‘Aziz Al-Samari’s main interest was in pointing out that over the last several decades, Saudi society (and Arab society in general) had developed a culture that discouraged individuals from thinking for themselves, and from forming opinions on topics beyond their immediate area of expertise. He points out the subtle discouragement of a question he is often asked when he writes about such topics: ‘Brother, why don’t you write about things you know, and not about things that are in other people’s domain of expertise?’ About this he says: “By this question, they mean… to deny the other’s right to think [for himself] and to debate any public matter, in any domain. [But the fact is that] anyone has the right to write and voice his opinion about any public issue, and anyone has the right to voice the opposite opinion, without constraints, as long as he refrains from harming those he is opposing.”

This is why this article is such a ray of light. ‘Abd Al-‘Aziz Al-Samari, a respected Saudi columnist, is openly challenging not just a few subjects that are taught in schools, but the entire culture of an Arab world that encourages people to refrain from challenging statements of violence supposedly based on the Qur’an. He writes:

“…Some of the responsibility [for this situation] lies with the Education Ministry. Its officials must develop the curricula, curb the extremist and exclusionist tone that exist in [our current] curricula and which opposes the humanist approach, and usher in a new era in which pupils will learn to respect other cultures. In addition, I charge certain clerics who until recently preached extremism to apologize to society for the extremism they championed in the last decades. [For years] they corrupted the minds of our youth with violent and bloodthirsty ideology. Then they left the circles of extremism and gained honor and glory, without being held accountable for what they had done to our religious thinking. In addition, it is important to publicize [cases of] incarcerated extremists who have renounced [their extremist views], so that society as a whole will know about this [phenomenon] and lend it a cultural dimension, as happened in Egypt, where [this phenomenon] yielded books and dialogues that greatly affected the [extent of] extremism in Egyptian society.”

As if additional proof of what hateful speech and teaching can lead to is needed, yesterday on a London street in the light of day, two men with kitchen knives hacked to death a British soldier, later declaring to passers-by “By Allah, we swear by the almighty Allah and we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone.”

I have asked myself many times “Who are the people who are indoctrinating young men with these violent ideas? Why are they never taken to task? Why are the masses of Muslims who do not agree with these violent interpretations of the Qu’ran not speaking up to disown such acts?” Because of one courageous Saudi journalist who is willing to challenge an entire culture, we now know a small piece of the answer.

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