This yearís Riyadh Book Fair was eventful ó
mostly unwelcome events, though.
Somehow, the fundamentalists found in it an
opportunity to flex their muscles and prove a point. They wanted everyone
to know that no matter how far we progress on the road of women and
minority rights, speech and press freedoms, democracy and all, they are
still in a strong position of influence. But they went too far, this time.
According to press reports, members and volunteers of
the Commission for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue were in
force everywhere. In the family days, where single men are not allowed,
they were the exception. Carrying sticks and wielding religious authority,
they went around telling women to cover their faces, wear ďabayasĒ
(black cloak) over their heads in one piece, rather than two ó head
scarf and body cover. In some instances, they told salesmen in bookstands
not to smile or joke when talking to women. A man holding the hand of his
half-blind wife was told not to show affection in public.
When people tried to argue, in peaceful way, (there
was no alternative anyway!), they were harshly told to just follow orders.
Women were telling them that in Islam there are different schools of
thoughts. Only one says women should cover their faces. Salesmen were
trying to explain that they are supposed to be nice to customers. A
husband argued that he was holding the hand of his wife, not a girl
friend. Besides, he explained, with her eye troubles, she could easily
lose her way in the crowded place. Nothing worked with these people. They
felt they were there to perform a strict divine duty, not to convince
people or convey messages.
During the same event, a number of Saudi
intellectuals were harassed, verbally, and almost physically. The
fundamentalists came early on, occupied most of the hall, and went on the
offensive as soon as the lecture started.
In the main lecture hall, two ministers and a number
of intellectuals were attacked for their known liberal views. Then an
aggressive group surrounded them threateningly. They had to be rescued by
security. In the womenís section, another intellectual was threatened
and verbally abused. One female writer was taken home in tears.
These people didnít come to listen, learn and
discuss. They came to teach lessons and make statements. They were not
prepared to take other views into consideration, or allow for the
possibility of misunderstanding, miscommunication or even errors on their
side. They were dealing with people from positions of authority and
influence ó university professors, schoolteachers and mosque imams.
This canít be good, especially in such a gathering.
In this time and place, when the whole country is moving toward modernity,
globalization, democracy and reforms, we still have people going around
with sticks and unquestionable authority to enforce their narrow view of
the world. They only represent a minority of the Muslim world but behave
as though there is no Islam but theirs.
As a result we get people doing what they are told
regardless of what they believe: Women wearing what they must at home and
something entirely different abroad, youth following the strict rules when
watched, and breaking all when alone; and a whole society in a state of
schizophrenia. We donít have cinemas but our satellite dishes can bring
us the worldís best and worst. We canít mix in public, but many go
from one party to another. Single men cannot enter malls, but they find
ways to meet with girls behind closed doors. Banned books and intellectual
materials can always be had via the Net and from neighboring countries,
such as UAE,
This is why most visitors to book fairs in Arab
countries come from
. We hunt books that should have been available at home, without having to
travel around to get them.
We canít go on like this. You canít drive down
two crossed road at the same time. Either you decide to open your windows
to the winds or to live in a closed underground cave. You are part of this
world or you are not. Since you donít have an option anyway, better be
serious and sincere about it.
Islam is about freedom and choice. You become Muslim
with your own free will. Then you choose to understand the message
according to any interpretation of the multiple madhabs and their
different schools of thought. To reduce the entire faith to the narrow
interpretations of a single school is simply un-Islamic.
The experience of Riyadh Book Fair should alarm us.
These people crossed the most revered Islamic lines and they deserve to be
punished. We should make sure that no one else dared to cross them again.
like all moderate Muslims,
still has a romantic view of Islam and blames these brutalities on the
"misunderstanding" of a small group. Little he knows that this
is the real Islam as was intended by Muhammad. These good people can have
their freedom and lives back only if they defeat Islam completely.