Thursday 17 January 2013

Zero Tolerance towards Dissent: Saudi Author Turki al-Hamad arrested

Saudi author Turki al-Hamad
Another critical Saudi Muslim has fallen victim to the government's determination to stamp out any religious dissent through social media. Less than a year ago, the journalist Hamza Kashgari was extradicted by Malaysia and subsequently arrested for tweets that where considered insulting to the Prophet Muhammad  (see the post of 25 April 2012).  In December 2012, the celebrated author Turki al-Hamad was arrested on accusations of defaming Islam via twitter.

Al-Hamad established himself on Saudi Arabia's in itself not so exciting literary scene with a coming-of-age trilogy of novels called Phantoms of the Deserted Alley (Atyaf al-Aziqah al-Mahjurah in Arabic).  It was not so much the by Saudi standards perhaps raunchy treatment of sex in the first two installments, Al-Adama and Al-Shumaisi, but the religious questions he raised in the third volume Al-Karadib. Musing such as whether God and the Devil are not merely two sides of the same coin, earned him the condemnation of the religious establishment, which issued a total of four fatwas in 1999 and 2000.

His recent tweets were less philosophical and more straightforward in their criticism of Saudi Arabia's state-sanctioned religious doctrine and the way Islam iconizes the Prophet.
 Because I am a Muslim in the tradition of Mohammed, I reject Wahhabism.
 Just as our beloved Prophet once came to rectify the faith of Abraham, the time has now come in which we need someone to rectify the faith of Mohammed.
A political scientist with a PhD from the University of South Carolina, al-Hamad is not just a witer of literary fiction, but he has also authored studies on the challenges Arab culture faces in a globalizing world and about the politics and religion.

Prince Muhammad bin Nayif
An interesting question that remains to be answered is whether this latest condemnation is  unanimously shared by the top echelons? Al-Hamad was detained on the instructions of the Minister of Interior, Prince Muhammad bin Nayif, a rising star of the hardline represented by his late father and former heir-apparent (see my article for Open Democracy). However, in 1999, the then regent and current King, Abdullah, offered al-Hamad the protection of bodyguards after the issuance of the first fatwa. It seems that in the post-Arab Spring Middle East, the incumbent regimes are resolved to stamp out not just political dissent, but also any deviation from the authorized religious discourse.

A more detailed assessment of Turki al-Hamad's recent arrest can be read here.

For more books by Hamad al-Turki and the cultural world he operates in: