I 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.
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.
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).
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…
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.
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!
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.
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.”
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?
That one speaks for itself.
Check out Monday’s now monthly recap for dare I say crazier religious freedom news from around the world.