In Saudi Arabia, it’s only 1433.
Hamza Kashgari, a young blogger and poet who until recently worked for the Saudi newspaper al-Bilad, could be executed shortly, if a doddering sheikh and thousands of Facebook members, not to mention the King who personally issued a warrant against him, have their way.
His crime, in that mediaeval kingdom? Alleged blasphemy, for Tweeting the following on February 4, the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday (Mawlid):
On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you’ve always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you.
On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more.
On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more.
A fourth Tweet has also been reported, one that I particularly liked:
No Saudi women will go to hell, because it’s impossible to go there twice.
Kashgari managed to flee to Malaysia, but Interpol obligingly sent a so-called “red notice” to the Malaysian authorities, and he was apprehended and sent back.
Not wanting to enter the roiling waters of Islamic religious debate, I am nevertheless bemused by the notion that imagining an encounter with Mohammed as one human being to another could be considered insulting in a religion that strives so assiduously to avoid ascribing divinity to the Messenger.
No matter. As Kashgari himself noted, he is a “scapegoat for a larger conflict.” That larger conflict, of course, is the clash of values that is inevitable when mediaeval rigidity collides head-on with post-Enlightenment humanism, facilitated in this case by Twitter. Kashgari is rather clearly in the latter camp:
Kashgari noted with sadness that many young Saudis are leaving their country in hopes of escaping the government’s repressive policies. “It’s not logical that, if someone disagrees with the Saudi government, that he should be forced to leave the country. Many of those who have been arrested are fighting for simple rights that everyone should have — freedom of thought, expression, speech and religion.”
Kashgari will live or die depending upon where the fault-lines presently lie in the power structure governing this land of whipping, amputations and beheading. The heir apparent is Crown Prince Naif, a brutal, feudal reactionary who has acquired the strong support of President Obama.
I congratulate King Abdullah and the Saudi people on the selection of Prince Naif as crown prince. We in the United States know and respect him for his strong commitment to combating terrorism and supporting regional peace and security. The United States looks forward to continuing our close partnership with Crown Prince Naif in his new capacity as we strengthen the deep and longstanding friendship between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Even when Realpolitik is taken into account, that was laying it on a bit thick. Could he not have been more…restrained? In any case, when such gigantic geopolitical forces are prowling about, small furry mammals had best keep out of sight. Kashgari refused to: and he’ll likely pay a steep and bloody price for it.