At last, an Islamic voice of reason speaks out

A Saudi writer expresses rare and powerful views criticizing his own country and the culture of extremism. We need more. Photo: AP

CHARLOTTEMay 21, 2013 – Writing for Al-Jazirah, Saudi columnist ‘Abd Al-‘Axix Al-Samani recently criticized Arab society in general and Saudi society in particular, with a bold perspective rarely expressed by Islamic academics.

Al-Samani’s honesty sends a powerful, and much needed, message to a Muslim world that is largely in denial about its role in a global community. Says Al-Samani, Saudis and the Arab world frequently reject diversity of opinion and see anyone who voices dissenting views as an enemy.

He continues by adding that Saudi clerics preach extremism and have corrupted youthful minds with violent ideologies. As a solution, Al-Samani called upon Saudi authorities to purge the school curricula of its extremist content, and replace it with a comprehensive cultural program that fosters pluralism and respect for others.

Following are excerpts from Al-Samani’s column with inserts included where necessary to clarify language omissions due to translation. Bold emphasis has been personally added in the fifth paragraph.

“[Our] politics and [our] religious, cultural and social debates indicate that the Arabs respect only their own views, and regard the other as an enemy to be repelled at any cost. This is clearest in the countries where the Arab [Spring] revolutions have occurred. [In these countries], everybody sang the song of freedom. However, [they did not really mean] the kind of freedom advocated by humanist thought through the ages, but rather freedom that is limited to those in power.

“Sometimes I wonder at the language used by people who wish to reject one’s opinion. They surprise (us) with a question that is frequently heard in our society: ‘Brother, why don’t you write about things you know, and not about things that are in other people’s domain of expertise?’ By this question, they mean…to deny the other’s right to think [for himself] and to debate any public matter, in any domain.

“I believe that the societies north of [here] have a greater tradition of debate and pluralism than [the societies] of the Arabian Peninsula. The reason for this is that the golden age of Arab and Muslim [history] bypassed the peoples of the Arabian Peninsula, for geographical reasons and because of the monolithic character of our religious thinking. That said, the societies north of here [also] suffer from relative extremism that restricts democracy, pluralism and tolerance towards the other.

“What is happening in Egypt and Tunisia is living proof of the Arabs’ rejection of tolerance and their desire to control people’s thinking. I believe that, in Saudi society, the resistance to diversity of opinion…is even more severe, and this is one of the greatest dangers to the future of the homeland. My not-so-limited experience in writing and voicing my opinion teaches me that Saudi society is still rigid in its thinking and unreceptive of diversity – which reflects a deep-seated tradition of exclusion and extremism.

“We are facing a grave danger that could lead to disaster. The danger of indoctrination in schools and of [biased] reporting in the media can only be overcome by means of a cultural program on a colossal scale. We have no choice but to rethink the method of educating [youth] by indoctrinating them with dogmatic notions. One consequence [of this method] is religious terrorism, which is a radical expression of [the outlook that] excludes the other and can reach the point of killing and murder. It is a mistake to think that the culture of exclusion and extremism comes from abroad. This in itself is [an attempt] to evade our responsibility towards our society.

“We have no choice but to realize that the minds of the Saudis are saturated with a deep objection to diversity of opinion, so much so that some do not hesitate to threaten anyone who disagrees with them.

“The belief in the right to voice a dissenting opinion is a value with important implications that we must understand. In their golden age, the Muslims respected a wide range of diverse opinions. It was one of the hallmarks of their glorious [culture] before it was hijacked by the extremists in the years of its decline.

“…Some of the responsibility [for this situation] lies with the Education Ministry. Its officials must develop the curricula, curb the extremist and exclusionist tone(s) that exist in (our) 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.

“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.” 

We can only hope for more responsible and courageous thinkers such as ‘Abd Al-‘Axix Al-Samani to come forward. Only then can a true dialogue begin and genuine solutions be established.    

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Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in CharlotteNCTaylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com) which offers tours and travel information for people who share his wanderlust spirit.  

Inquiries for groups can be made at Peabod@magellantravelclub.com Taylored Media has produced marketing videos for British Rail, Rail Europe, Switzerland Tourism, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council, the Finnish Tourist Board, the Swiss Travel System and Japan Railways Group among others.

As author of The Century Club book, Peabod is now attempting to travel to 100 countries or more during his lifetime. To date he has visited 71 countries. Suggest someplace new for Bob to visit; if you want to know where he has been, check his list on Facebook. Bob plans to write a sequel to his book when he reaches his goal of 100 countries. He also played professional baseball for four years and was a sportscaster for 14 years at WBTV, the CBS affiliate in Charlotte.

 

 

 


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Bob Taylor

Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com) and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.

 

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