4391951824_40a6c8837bI was combing through tweets yesterday, assembling the new and improved monthly Religious Freedom Recap, when I noticed something I often notice compiling these things. Saudi Arabia is bat$#!+ insane. Crazy, I tell you! As Obama settles into this surefire political awkfest, let me count the ridiculous ways the kingdom rivaled other worst offenders on the religious freedom and freedom of expression front last month.

1) Fatwa against all-you-can-eat buffets 

Given the country’s soaring obesity rates, this one might not be such a bad idea. But still…

According to this report, one Saudi cleric recently decreed: “Whoever enters the buffet and eats for 10 or 50 riyals without deciding the quantity they will eat is violating Sharia [Islamic] law.” Lighten up. I can’t decide which Gulf fatwa is crazier, this one or the one a UAE imam recently issued forbidding one-way trips to Mars.

2) Saudi bans 50 “blasphemous” and “inappropriate” baby names…including Linda

Because apparently Linda Ronstadt was the devil incarnate? Most of the 50 banned names either “offend perceived religious sensibilities,” have royal connotations or are of non-Arabic or non-Islamic origins. My favorites from the list include Sandy, Elaine and Alice. So that’s why ABC Family’s Alice in Arabia was canned (that’s not really why).

3) Hijab as punishment for trendy haircuts

Al-Monitor reports that several girls were forced to wear hijabs because school administrators disapproved of their newly cropped locks. One who dyed her hair was forced to promise not to repeat “this tradition of infidels.” I suppose they were lucky not to get kicked out of school, as happened recently to an eight-year-old girl for failing to “understand that God has made her female and her dress and behavior need to follow suit with her God-ordained identity.” Oh wait, that was at a Christian school in Virginia

4) School textbooks compare Christians and Jews to animals

Did you know that God punishes Jews by turning them into pigs and monkeys? It’s true! I read it in a Saudi textbook! Most public school textbooks contain a degree of patriotic spin (Christopher Columbus, anyone?), but Saudi goes above and beyond the call of jingoism, filling its textbooks with religious intolerance and violent hatred. A 10th-grade textbook tells students that gay people should be burned, stoned to death or thrown from high places. I cringe to think what happens to gay Jews. The State Department completed a report on Saudi textbooks in 2012 to see if there’d been any improvements. We’re still waiting for the results to be made public.

5) New laws turn government criticism into criminal terrorism

Remember post-9/11 America when anyone who said anything un-Amurrican was labeled a terrorist? New laws and royal decrees in Saudi create a legal environment in which virtually all critical speech or suspect associations = TERRORISM! (Whoops. I’m writing this on a plane…don’t want to alarm my seatmates). These new regulations are too crazy not to quote:

Article 1: “Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.” = TERRORISM!

Article 2: “Anyone who throws away their loyalty to the country’s rulers, or who swears allegiance to any party, organization, current [of thought], group, or individual inside or outside [the kingdom].” = TERRORISM!

6) Saudis on Twitter get locked up, like all the time

Probably the most famous case of this censorial nonsense was that of Hamza Kashgari, who was accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in three short tweets. Kashgari was arrested and imprisoned without trial for nearly two years. According to Human Rights Watch, at least two new cases of Twitter arrest in Saudi hit the headlines this month. An eight-year jail sentence was upheld for a man who “incited” political demonstrations via Twitter [Arabic] and got sassy towards Saudi’s king and religious authorities. Another man was handed a 10-year sentence for retweeting inciting tweets against rulers and religious scholars.

7) Book fair bans and destroys “blasphemous” books

Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish is kindofabigdeal in the literary world. That didn’t stop Saudi’s Ministry of homogenous Culture and Propaganda Information from pulling his books from the Riyadh international book fair. Why? Because they allegedly contain “blasphemous passages.” And blasphemy is still punishable by death in Saudi. A separate group’s bookstand was destroyed for “violating the kingdom’s laws.” Which ones you ask? I can’t keep track.

This line about sums up the absurdity:

“Publishers were unwilling to speak on the record about the books’ ban from the fair, because ‘if you antagonise the authorities you will be banned from selling books in the country’, one told the Guardian.”

8) Saudi bans all non-Muslim houses of worship

Even North Korea has a few fake churches to make its constitutional provision on “religious freedom” look less ridiculous. Saudi is the only country to ban all non-Muslim houses of worship. Religious police regularly round up clandestine worshippers, Bible distributors and even the occasional Santa Claus, according to this article. Saudi’s national human rights commissioner told Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, that churches are forbidden because the entire country is a “sacred mosque.” Huh? In this op-ed, Shea asks Obama to call out Saudi’s King Abdullah on his country’s harassment of Christians. Let me extend that call to the harassment and oppression of, well, everyone.

Case in point?

#9) Women still can’t drive

That one speaks for itself.

Check out Monday’s now monthly recap for dare I say crazier religious freedom news from around the world.


  1. Saudi Theocracy is the natural result once you surrender your rights to a dictator in the sky.

    The Christians in America would like to see that sort of crackdown right here in the USA. And they may yet:

    State Legalized Murder of Doctors – South Dakota
    Mandatory Trans-vaginal probes – Virginia Legislature

    Blocking even married people from family planning service – Texas, Kansas, Alabama, Louisiana
    Obstruction of prescriptions – Illinois, Washington

    Discrimination as religious choice -Arizona (SB-1062)

    Anti-Gay laws – Texas

    Anti-women’s rights laws – Texas, Louisina, Virginia

    Biased Counseling laws – South Dakota
    Creationism to replace Science Education: 12 States

  2. Brian Pellot

    Brian Pellot

    Post author

    OK make that 10…new headline this morning —
    “Comic books called The 99 (for the 99 names of Allah) once touted by President Obama for their message of tolerance, are now the subject of a fatwa in Saudi Arabia, and deemed ‘evil work that needs to be shunned.'”

  3. Some Saudis lived in California in the 1970s and found Linda Ronstadt a temptress. I remember one of their Ambassadors made a fuss back then about her and that gorgeous voice being trouble. So perhaps you are not far off. And of course it means beautiful in Spanish.

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