Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The darkest ages in the Middle East

Just in case you thought the worst elements of the Middle Ages (beatings, deadly religious orthodoxy, and thought control), were over, fear not -- Saudi Arabia is making sure that the past is the present:

A court sentenced a teacher to 40 months in prison and 750 lashes for 'mocking religion' after he discussed the Bible and praised Jews, a Saudi newspaper reported yesterday. Al-Madina newspaper said secondary-school teacher Mohammad Al-Harbi, who will be flogged in public, was taken to court by his colleagues and students. He was charged with promoting a 'dubious ideology, mocking religion, saying the Jews were right, discussing the Gospel and preventing students from leaving class to wash for prayer,' the newspaper said. Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, strictly upholds the austere Wahhabi school of Islam and bases its constitution on the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Public practice of any other religion is banned. A US State Department report criticised Saudi Arabia last week, saying religious freedoms 'are denied to all but those who adhere to the state-sanctioned version of Sunni Islam.' The newspaper said Al-Harbi will appeal the verdict. A similar case was cited in the State Department's International Religious Freedom Report for 2004. 'During the period covered by this report, a schoolteacher was tried for apostasy, and eventually convicted in March of blasphemy; the person was given a prison sentence of three years and 300 lashes. The trial received substantial press coverage,' the report said. A 2003 report by the US Commission on Religious Freedom, the world's only government-sanctioned entity to investigate and report religious-freedom violations, named Saudi Arabia as the world's biggest violator of religious liberties. The commission took the country to task for 'offensive and discriminatory language' disparaging Jews, Christians and non-Wahhabi Muslims found in government-sponsored school textbooks, in Friday sermons preached in prominent mosques, and in state-controlled Saudi newspapers. For example, in 2003, King Abdullah (who was then Crown Prince) reacted to the killing of six Westerners by terrorists in Yemen by saying he thought Zionism was behind them. In Saudi Arabia, the public practice of any religion other than Islam is illegal; only Muslims can be Saudi citizens; one of the Saudi king's titles is 'custodian of the two holy mosques'; proselytising for any religion other than Sunni Islam is barred; and Makkah, Islam's holy city, is forbidden to all non-Muslims.
The Dark Ages, despite their truly bad patches (Ferdinand and Isabella purging their Kingdom of Jews and Muslims, the deadly anti-Jewish riots that periodically swept most nations, the witch burnings, etc), were actually an age that had a steady trajectory of enlightenment (how else the Renaissance?). The Dark Ages also had the excuse of limited information: they could only guess at things beyond their geographic boundaries, and the mysteries of the microscopic world (plague bacillius? what's that?) left them more open than, I hope, we would be to finding scapegoats to explain the unexplainable. Saudi Arabia has no such excuse. It runs a shocking police state using the most modern weapons and modern information available to keep its people mired in ignorance. I'll ask, as I always ask: if they're religion is so great, why can they control it only through fear and violence, rather than through their citizens' freely embracing revealed truth? Either they actually know that they're religion might not sell too well in the open marketplace, or they have sufficient doubts they're afraid to put it to the test. Better, instead, to rule through violent dictatorship within the kingdom, and finagle more strength by selling their dark version of their religion to the ignorant outside the kingdom.