Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

What happened at the Riyadh Book Fair is not acceptable | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Anybody who believes that what happened at the Riyadh Book Fair, with regards to the Saudi Arabian Information Minister, as well as some visitors and media figures being attacked, is acceptable could not be more wrong. In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth, for what happened was nothing more than an assault on the state and its authority.

For the organization in question, or the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, was present at the Riyadh Book Fair in an official capacity without this causing any problems or disturbing the book fair’s atmosphere. Therefore the action of these young men, attempting to disrupt an event which takes place every year in the Saudi Arabian capital, served as nothing more than an assault on the organization in question, as well as the state and its institutions. Some people have continually tried to turn this event into an occasion for them to flex their muscles and advertise their presence however in reality this is pitiful, and this attempt to disrupt the Riyadh Book Fair lacks any objective and does not benefit anybody. The evidence of this can be seen in the fact that the Riyadh Book Fair takes place every year with great success, attracting all segments of Saudi society, with Saudi citizens travelling from all across the country to attend the event, whether they are men or women, conservatives or liberals.

Therefore, it is not acceptable to portray what happened as being acceptable, or a result of youthful enthusiasm, rather this must be viewed in a far more serious manner. What happened was an organized effort by youth who aimed to impose their view on the entire state and society. This is not acceptable; the issue is not one of these youths being against [certain] writers, for what is prohibited on the internet far outweighs even the largest book fair, whilst this is also not about these youths being against knowledge and information. Therefore what happened was an infringement against the authority of the state which itself is committed to Islamic Sharia law. The irony is that there are people who believe that Saudi Arabia is too excessive with regards to its adherence to the application of Islamic Sharia law, whilst others say that Saudi Arabia is excessively pursuing a policy of openness [to the outside world]. Of course, the reality is that it is not one or the other, but rather that it is the duty of the state, indeed any state, to protect its security and stability according to the facts on the ground and its own responsibilities, not according to the aspirations and ambitions [of some youth] and shiny slogans, whether these are religious or modern [slogans], because the situation must be governed by the reality on the ground.

It would have been more logical and civilized if those who objected to this book fair expressed their views in a more natural way, whether by writing about this in the media – as is their right – or by complaining to Saudi officials and putting forward their justification [for their views], or even writing a book expressing their fears and proposals and presenting this at the Book Fair, thereby fighting fire with fire, or let us say books with books. Therefore adopting any position in this manner, whether positive or negative, serves no purpose, because – in the first place – these youth have no right to object to the book fair in the manner that they did, or try to seize people’s liberties, or decide for the state what it should or should not do. This is not their role, and it is not acceptable for them or indeed anybody else to try this, especially as these youth are a minority, and in fact they were even a minority in comparison to the Riyadh Book Fair visitors. Most importantly of all, these youths visiting the Riyadh Book Fair, and acting in the manner that they did is something that cannot be tolerated in any way, shape or form; objection is one thing, but transgressing the limits [of acceptable behavior] is something else.