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Just Two Thousand Dollars? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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A tender smile, a pat on the shoulder and 2000 dollars; this was the reward that Afghan president Hamid Karzai bestowed upon the Afghan child who was caught during his fundamentalist suicide mission to kill, after his life went back to normal. The “ceremony” took place on July 16, 2007 in Kabul with the boy “Rafiqullah” and his father in attendance. The boy, or should I say adolescent, received his education in one of Pakistan’s many madrassas [religious seminaries], which is probably similar to the infamous Red Mosque of Pakistan. There, the children’s heads are filled with religious intolerance to the point where the children are willing to kill themselves. Rafiqullah was no exception. His target was chosen by those who filled his head with hatred. This time, the target was Arsala Jamal, the governor of the Khost province in Afghanistan.

Afghan authorities arrested the boy, who was wearing a suicide vest, in Khost province, last May. All it took was a little bit of time and money to transform a boy from having ambitions of suicide and killing to aspiring for a life and a future.

As much as I hope and pray that Rafiqullah maintains this new outlook on life and never again falls prey to the influence of preachers of hatred, this nonetheless begs the question: how many young men can we win back? And what exactly is the price we have to pay? And how many other Rafiqullahs are out there who have not been pardoned and rewarded by Karzai, or other men in power in the Islamic world for that matter?

Personally, I believe that the cut is too deep and the looming torrent cannot be stopped by Karzai’s elegant cloak. I also believe that religious incitement is far more complex than to be linked to a political or military circumstance here or there. What I mean is that it is neither useful nor rewarding to make comments such as “Rafiqullah was recruited because of Karzai’s loyalty to foreigners,” even though this point can be argued. In truth, for every young man living in such a situation, there will always be a silent call in their hearts to raise the banner of Islam and live an Islamic way of life that the apostate politicians have polluted. It must purify the societies that have descended into a depraved situation and fly the flag of morality even if this flag obscures the sunlight and the colours of the sky.

As crime reaches an all new high, the misuse of religion in politics becomes more and more hideous. When the only tools you have are humans that are yet to reach the age of reason and maturity, and who cannot consciously make their own decisions, i.e. children, then this is the misuse of religion in politics. And this is exactly what Al Qaeda has done in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and many other countries.

The Taliban in Afghanistan used this tool as well, and it reached the pinnacle of hideousness when a 12-year-old child was handed a knife and instructed to kill so-and-so for being a non-believer and a spy for Pakistan. The child grasped the knife and tore the pleading man to pieces, amidst fervent applause and cries of “God is great!” This incident, which took place last April, suggests that to these men, nothing is unlawful in their pursuit of fundamentalism, implementing Shariah, and perhaps declaring Jihad on the infidels along the way. And whosoever comes between them and this cause of theirs is no longer a Muslim but is rather an apostate among Muslims. So why is this being repeated time and again? It is because some journalists, thinkers and writers are at times blinded by their opposition to America and the West whereby everything becomes understandable and justified to them in the process of fighting our one and only enemy: the West.

If you were to counter this argument by stating that these movements that you praise leave behind much damage wherever they pass, they will most probably raise an eyebrow for a minute and say “It doesn’t matter! America! Israel! Imperialism! What you see in the media about these groups is nothing but exaggeration propagated by America for the naïve and impressionable among us to believe! Who says Al Qaeda is responsible for this or that?” And the weak arguments continue…

Before, the semi-enthusiasts of fundamentalist terrorism denied Bin Laden’s existence in the first place. If they had attested to his existence, then they would deny his role. If they attest to his role, then they would play down his involvement as much as they possibly can. All this so as to ensure that their original idea is still relevant, that their real enemy is one and the same: the West. This is, by all means, intentional blindness, which is something that we have managed to vigilantly sustain to the extent that we have become surrounded by bigotry from every direction simply by dogmatically insisting on our groundless theories.

A few years ago, and perhaps even today for some, when someone would write about the importance of criticizing the dominant religious culture, thereby driving away the swarms of terrorists and fanatics (with the danger of the latter being far more elusive than the former), a long tale would ensue thereafter. If someone would write about the flaws of the dominant social and religious ideologies, he/she is instantaneously branded an agent for America and Israel, or “Americanized”, or a young person “dazzled” by the West, or according to the latest trend in Saudi Arabia, “is a liberal”, even though liberalism is not an insult, in and of itself, unless the concept of freedom itself is also equal to depravity and sin.

The way in which the meaning of the word has been transformed to represent a swearword reminds me of an anecdote recounted by the Yemeni historian [Sayyid] Ahmad al Shami in his book ‘Riyah al Taghyeer fil Yemen’ [Winds of Change in Yemen]. It looks at the then Imam [King] of Yemen, Imam Ahmad Yahya Hamid al Din who was planning to take revenge from Ibn Wazir who was then a powerful political figure who rebelled. His opposition group was able to unite, however, under the banner of the constitution [called the Holy Charter]. Ever since, because of this incident, members of the Yemeni public began to use the word “constitutionalist” as an insult to one another.

Today, however, after years have passed and the flaws of religious rhetoric in our societies have grown ever more apparent, stubbornness is without success. The bold writing of reforms is no longer an issue that will “cause heads to roll” and equally no longer stigmatizes writers and “burns” their reputations. However, they may still be pelted with unknown stones here or there.

In the past, when someone would demand that the sources of religious bigotry be completely blocked, be they schools or Dawah commissions [groups that preach Islam] or even the content of religious pamphlets passed out to the masses free of charge, this was seen as an attack on Islam itself, and is discredited as a whole during Friday sermons and other speeches given by Islamic figures (and they are many) until the common man is bounded with this burnt image, and has only to smell the stench of fire.

Today, though, it is common to see those who openly discuss a problem particular to the Saudi Arabian youth in the press, what with the “generous” contributions that this youth have made to the world’s biggest debacles. From Nahr al Bared [the Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon] to more heated issues in Iraq, such matters are no longer forbidden to discuss. In fact, in one Saudi newspaper, both these issues were tackled at once, in two very critical articles.

This even extends to include the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, as it is no longer untouchable. Instead, it has become a subject of lively debate, as it is now perceived as nothing more than yet another government body and is therefore not above criticism.

All these changes show signs that Saudi society, despite the harsh criticism it receives, is a dynamic and changing society. Criticism has long been the secret to a lasting society. Ultimately, to open the windows of criticism and analysis is more efficient and less costly than to spend millions of riyals on Al Qaeda rehabilitation centres or building yet more detention facilities. Instead, candid discussions should take place and not only consolatory “pats on the back” or a few words of advice that are not unusual to the receiver.

Having said that, I have been informed by a reliable source that these Al Qaeda rehabilitation centres in Saudi Arabia have been significantly downgraded in public debates, especially one particular debate where two men [who attended these rehabilitation centres] became famous media personalities in the process. When in reality, these rehabilitation centres are far deeper and broader than they were portrayed by these men as these centres, according to my source, are ground-breaking. They boast numerous committees, as well as hundreds of psychiatrists and sociologists. Inside the centre there are various programs that even political experts take part in, from time to time. So, why then, is the image of these centres dwarfed in our media just because of one or two of its previous members?

In conclusion, we must stand in the forefront of the fight for moderation before it is too late and the disease infiltrates our society. It is best that we correct the general atmosphere than spend tremendous amounts of money after our young men have gone astray, even if one or two do obtain an official presidential pardon and ceremony, just like in the case of Rafiqullah.

In fact, I believe that the 2000 dollars that were given to Rafiqullah by the president would have been better spent on the village school in Waziristan in order that its students are taught to think, compare and criticize and open their eyes to the world. This would have been better, cheaper, and even nobler.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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