Kashgari tweet exposes Saudi intolerance

by Kenneth Leonard

Courtesy of Twitter
Courtesy of Twitter

America has utterly failed to relate to the Middle East in a sensible way. Western culture doesn’t understand Middle Eastern and Islamic culture, and I daresay we aren’t really trying to. Furthermore, we are not addressing the biggest problems in that part of the world. We have been engaging in war against terrorists on a colossal, global scale for the last decade, but terrorism is a symptom, and not the real problem.

Hamza Kashgari, a 23-year-old Saudi journalist, posted a series of messages on Twitter last month, stating his opinion about the Prophet Muhammad. Some of the messages were positive and others were negative. He spoke to the Prophet as one would to a friend, and said, “I love many things about you and hate others, and there are many things about you I don’t understand.” Kashgari also protested the way Saudi women are treated, saying they don’t need to worry about going to hell “because it’s impossible to go there twice.”

These words were posted on Feb. 4., which is the Prophet’s birthday. Later that day, Kashgari posted the following apology: “I deleted my previous tweets because after I consulted with a few brothers, I realized that they may have been offensive to the Prophet (pbuh) and I don’t want anyone to misunderstand.” This apology was too late.

The people of Saudi Arabia responded to this message with thousands of Internet users demanding Kashgari be arrested, tried and executed for blasphemy. Currently, the Facebook page calling for Kashgari’s execution has more than 25,000 members.

On Feb. 5, Islamist sheikh Nasir al-Omar begged the Saudi king to execute Kashgari. He also calls for Muslims to forgo “intellectual debates” with atheists, calling for people to meet non-believers with the “sword.”

The next day, Kashgari attempted to leave Saudi Arabia for New Zealand via Kuala Lumpur and was arrested and detained. The day after, the Saudi Arabian Permanent Fatwa Committee officially declared Kashgari an apostate and a heretic. This conviction means the death penalty in Saudi courts, folks. Since then, Kashgari’s writings have been outlawed in Saudi Arabia and he has been detained.

Does this not outrage us? Does religious freedom matter to Americans? Does it matter on a global scale, or merely within our borders? We live in a world where ignorant, dogmatic, religiously led governments will murder a man because of his tweets. This is as offensive and disgusting as any act of terrorism. The very reason why terrorism is so offensive to rational people is because it violates basic, fundamental human rights. Human beings have a right to live without fear of harm from other human beings. In America, rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are considered to be so obvious, they are described in our founding documents as “self-evident.” Reasonable people may not stand idly by and watch innocent people be brutally oppressed by regimes like the Saudi monarchy.

What does this have to do with Western culture understanding Middle Eastern culture? Like I said earlier, we see symptoms of a problem, but the core issue at the heart of all of the tension and violence in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and others is not that complicated.

Citizens of these regions live in a state of cultural, educational and social isolation that has a crippling effect on the spread of progressive ideas. There is nowhere in the world that more perfectly exemplifies the ideology of conservativism than the Middle East.

The solution to the problem is twofold. First, the rest of the world has to shake its complacent attitude toward this region. We must exercise compassion when relating to our brothers and sisters in places like Saudi Arabia. Second, the education of all people is paramount to the spread of freedom. Our international policies should be built around these two ideas.

As of right now, it’s hard to tell what guides America’s international policy. While we oppose terrorist groups and despots in regions like Syria and Iran, the Obama administration recently moved forward on a nearly $30 billion arms sale to the Royal Saudi Air Force in Saudi Arabia. Is the U.S. in the freedom business, or the supplying-arms-to-dictators business?

It isn’t too late to get involved in the fight to save Kashgari’s life. There are numerous online groups struggling against the Saudi government to save him, but it is truly a race against time. Look for ways to get involved. Freedoms of speech and religion are being trampled on, and in order for these types of abuse to continue, all it will take is for good people to do nothing.

—Kenneth Leonard is an English junior.