The competent Abdul Rahman al Rashed defended an episode of the series ‘Tash Ma Tash’ [Saudi satirical comedy series that airs in Ramadan] entitled ‘Tash Ma Tash and the Liberals’ upon the consideration that “equal criticism does justice to the subjects”. He was especially right when he said that liberalism is theoretical and that theorizing is required, and also that liberalism is fought with words not swords and that it is based on persuasion not oppression.
The truth is that the series ‘Tash Ma Tash ’often stirs up a much-needed activity within Saudi society and it enjoys an elevated level of freedom.
Of course, criticizing liberalism is acceptable, in fact, even required, like the criticism of many things in Saudi, and the credit goes to actors Nasser al Qasabi and Abdullah al Sadhan for their efforts.
However, among the problems with the episode entitled ‘Liberals, but…’ is that it does not criticize liberalism or liberals, but rather focuses on a particular behavior and this is the crux of the matter.
The episode adopted a recurrent discourse that tried to ascribe some behavioral patterns to those who advocate rationalism, even if the rhetoric was not liberal. I have often discussed with friends in Saudi Arabia the idea that there is confusion between behavior and ideology in liberalism.
In Saudi, some reduce liberalism to a mode of conduct and appearance disregarding the ideology and there is a huge difference between the two. Shaving off a moustache and declaring sharp views makes one liberal! That simple!
The problem with the episode is that it has employed that simplification and reductionism, in addition to mixing between liberalism, Marxism and Baathism, which is a defect that is incorrect, even in humor.
We were eagerly awaiting the episode that would shine a spotlight on those who proclaim liberalism but end up contradicting its most basic right, namely freedom. If the episode had highlighted those who call for women’s rights whilst simultaneously forbidding their wives and daughters from working then it would have been more effective. Some of those who do allow their wives and daughters to work take their earnings and even do more than that.
If the episode had focused on those who call for press freedom at a time when they are hypocritical with officials, or those who attack “backward” or “liberal” press simply because it did not publish their articles or interview them, then it would have revealed the narrow-mindedness of these self-professed liberalists who have no respect for the right to difference.
Had it exposed those who manipulate public sentiments, as opposed to their actions in their private lives and what they write and what they say in the media then it would have been more meaningful and more useful. Criticizing liberalism under the pretext that their liberalism is in accordance with the Quran and Sunnah is lame, or those who claim to be liberalists and sympathize with Saddam Hussein or make justifications for Osama Bin Laden. But perhaps the latter two examples would have been more useful of course within a comedy context.
Although the episode exposes various local issues, if it had brought to our attention the notion of citizenship through which people are divided according to restrictive categories that do not transcend the concept of tribalism then the episode would have gone a long way in exposing those who claim liberalism whilst contradicting its most basic tenant: respecting freedoms in accordance with the concept that people are free when they do not violate the freedoms of others, or flout God’s laws, as some would present it. This, of course, is not discussion about a lack of religiosity.
If the episode had covered the aforementioned points then it would have been more interesting and beneficial, instead of liberalism being reduced to retired Marxist and Baathist figures… and bottles of alcohol!
Then, laughing along with the episodes would be fun and stimulating and would help us digest our evening meal!