Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Our abandoned children: Mother of Sami

TWO letters from abandoned foreign mothers with Saudi children, broke my heart this week. One mother is stuck with her son between her home country in South America and his birthplace in the United States, and the other is a divorcee, living with her autistic children here, among us. All they ask for is basic support for their children. I haven’t heard from their exes and the agencies they called on for justice, and I hope to hear soon. In the meantime, the least we can do is investigate their claims.

Here is a summary of their letters, starting with the one from Riyadh:

“I have been doing some thinking regarding Faisal who was the only person who responded to your articles with an offer to help, but not to me! Could it be that he is not a genuine person? This might sound like I am paranoid, but I can assure you that much stranger things have happened to us over the years in our quest for support.

“One example, when my children were younger (they are now teenagers), I requested a meeting with Dr. Ali Al-Namlah, Minister of Labor and Social Affairs at the time. DURING THE MEETING HE DID SAY THAT HE WAS UNDER THE IMPRESSION THAT MY EX-HUSBAND WAS CLAIMING MONEY FOR THE CHILDREN. Excuse the capital letters!

“As soon as I returned home I received a telephone call from his secretary, who I had seen at the meeting. In a nice way, he explained that he was a friend of my ex-husband, and then he asked me to translate some English idioms for him. There were about eight idioms, and every single idiom held a veiled threat to me. The other stuff that I could reveal about what has happened to us is horrible!

“Strange that an innocent woman alone with two children could be treated in such a way, when I am really a very respectable woman and a devoted mother who has no life of my own and has done nothing except demand a divorce from a Saudi and remain in the Kingdom because that is where my two autistic children were desperate to remain.”

The second email came from Central America: “My name is Maria, a Guatemalan student in the US, and the mother of Sami, the son of a Saudi student, from a prominent family. I met Suleiman in Minneapolis, Minnesota at the University of Minnesota. The relationship was great until I got pregnant in 2011. At the beginning, he asked me to have an abortion but I refused and left home. We are Muslims and this is prohibited in Islam. Besides, I do want my baby.

“A week later he asked me back, because he couldn’t live without me. Four months later he returned to Saudi Arabia, for Eid, but never returned home, except in December 2011, while I was in Texas with my aunt trying to survive. While he was studying at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island, he kept contacting me, especially when the Saudi Cultural Mission called him regarding the issue of his son. When he denied that the child was his son, they just took his side.

“Suddenly, he decided to register Sami under his name and signed the acknowledgement of Paternity by the Attorney General of Texas. But in June 2012 he left for Saudi Arabia and decided to cut me off. I contacted his father through the Jordanian imam of our mosque. He showed sympathy but later told me the case was taken up by a lawyer in the Saudi Embassy because his son assured him that I am a blackmailer.

“Sure enough, I have been mailing the family, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for over a year to get financial help for their son but they have just ignored me. Is that blackmailing in your culture? Right now I am stuck with my son in my home country, Guatemala, because Suleiman does not want to sign a travel permission for Sami. When I asked why, he rudely replied ‘You lost your freedom when you allowed me to sign Sami’s papers, and I will never do anything to please you!’ He probably thought that I am less trouble away from the States.

“I reported all that to his father, and that I am willing to undergo a DNA test to prove he is Sami’s biological father, but his dad refused to even listen. I don’t believe Suleiman or his family have the right to treat us like beggars and make my son’s life a mess just because Suleiman doesn’t want to take responsibility. I strongly believe that they cannot hide and deny Sami forever, and even if they do so, they will have to give an account to Allah on the Day of Judgment. So if someone is willing to help with my case I would appreciate it. All I want now is my son’s custody, not financial support.”

Heartless, mindless Russia: Always wrong and late!

THE Russians have finally decided to acknowledge the facts on the ground, and have made it clear that they realize that the Syrian opposition is gaining the upper hand and may topple the government soon. 

On December 13, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said Russia is making plans for the possible evacuation of thousands of its nationals from Syria. He said a victory by the rebels would come at the cost of tens of thousands of lives.??Hello, Moscow! Welcome to the world. Now that Russia has finally realized that it is all over for their dictator in Damascus, what are they going to do about it? The Russians seem to always be late. They seem to always be on the wrong side of the people, righteousness and history.

In the last 30 years, they have supported the Marxist and Socialist regimes in Afghanistan, Cuba, Eastern Europe, Southern and Central America, South-East Asia, Ethiopia, Somalia, Southern Yemen, Sudan, Egypt, Iraq, Libya and now in Syria. All these regimes lost their battle against their own people.

When the representatives of the people came to power, they remembered who stood with their oppressors. Russia lost political and economic influence in the world as a result. Today, Russia has lost all its military bases outside the motherland. Their last naval base, in Tartus, Syria, is on its way out.

The problem is: Russians never learn. They keep hanging on to the wrong allies to the last drop. They also have never been good friends and wise consultants. Instead of counseling against the use of force, they have actually supported it. They have encouraged and often assisted in the oppression of public protest and democratic voices.

It is never too late to do the right thing. Without expecting much in return, Russia must recognize that it has lost in Syria and acknowledge that it bet on the wrong horse. The first thing it should do is courageously announce that it was wrong. Then it must apologize and make it up to the Syrian people. 

A lot needs to be done, but at the top of the list is the need to withdraw its political cover, stop its military support and try to convince the Bashar Al-Assad regime to give up its useless and deadly fight. It could provide him and his family, as well as a selective number of officials and commanders, a way out. 

Russia should work with concerned regional and international powers to find a smooth, peaceful and workable regime transition that provides security for all and protects minorities, especially the Alawites, from majority revenge. The more united and coherent the approach toward the crisis, the better the chance to work out a rosier end to the tragedy and a brighter dawn of the future. 

Russia should change its nationalistic political mindset. We are no longer living in the age of the Cold War that justified heartless and ethic-less policies. In the satellite TV and social media age, the public is well-informed and involved in world affairs.

Ordinary people, often more than elites, are making and breaking, doing and undoing governments and strategies.  It is about time that message reaches the high-walled Kremlin. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Egypt deserves a brand new system

“MAY all your days be interesting!” a Chinese proverb says. It is meant as a curse!

It seems our region has been living in interesting days since an unemployed Tunisian college graduate set himself on fire after his fruit stand was confiscated and no one seemed to care. Even worse, like all the nobodies in our world, he was slapped in the face and pushed around by a policewoman.

Without knowing it, he opened a Pandora’s box in the Arab world and beyond. The Arab Spring is generating many interesting stories that never seem to end as expected.

Here is a good one. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, was upgraded and downgraded -overnight! For some, he was no longer the “Leader,” praised by the superpowers of the world, as well as the Arab street, for saving the day in Gaza.

He had just brokered a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians, but went on to issue a presidential decree giving himself dictatorial powers.

For others, he was elevated in status for hitting back at a thoroughly corrupt judiciary with a constitutional decree.

All it took was a short TV announcement to take Egypt back to the Mubarak days of violent protests and street fights between supporters and opponents, civilians and troops.

Could Morsi be the same president who seemed like a complete contrast to his predecessor only days earlier? Could he be the same leader whose strong and proactive stand on the Gaza war put Egypt back in the Arab leadership seat? Is he the same person who deserved to be called affectionately “Al-Rais” or “Boss” by most Egyptians, as they did the populist Jamal Abdul Nasser and to a lesser extent, Anwar El Sadat? Can such an honor be instantly withdrawn or confirmed over one decree? How controversial that decision must be!

Interesting questions for interesting events, in a very interesting saga. It is hard to find good answers, but one may at least try.

It is all about mood, I reckon. The Arab street would never agree to be ignored by the board, especially on decisions affecting its governing system. The people have just taken their seats at the decision-making table and are in no mood to leave the executive room - ever!

“Today is the day to make or break our future. It is now we design our fate,” seems to be the thinking of the day.

That explains the strong reaction to every decree that may affect the constitution.  Whether in Yemen, Jordan, Kuwait, or now in Egypt, the public, elite and street react like fireworks in their agreement or disagreement with such changes.

My guess is that Egyptians know exactly what they are doing.  So do Arab observers. Those supporting “Al-Rais” believe that the die-hard “folool” of the corrupt Mubarak system were plotting a counter attack that would override Morsi’s presidential powers and bring back the military and old regime.

The least the Constitutional Court aims for is the disruption of Morsi’s work and the protection of the old structure. They already did so by dissolving the elected parliament and have threaten to do the same to the Consultative Council and Constitution Committee, while absolving Mubarak and company of any and all wrongdoings.

Morsi’s preemptive strike may be an evil necessity that can only be understood and justified in its own context and within the full picture.  

I hope and pray it works and that Morsi does deliver on his promise that in three months time he will return to the new parliament all the temporary powers he has taken. In the meanwhile, corrupt officials and “folool” should be purged from the military, security, judiciary and government. New Egypt deserves a brand new system.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Help for our abandoned children: Official neglect, individual initiative!

NONGOVERNMENTAL organizations are supposed to fill the gap left by state agencies and serve the unserved and underserved. These institutions normally are formed as a result of individual and group initiatives. 

Awasser and the human rights commissions in Saudi Arabia are supposed to have been formed for this reason.

Unfortunately, they have shown no interest or concern for the many tragedies of the neglected Saudi families which I have written about in my last four articles. I have not received any comments from them nor have they responded to the criticism of callers and visitors to their websites.

“I was just thinking very hard about Awasser and their failure to reply not only to me, but to so many others who are in need of help,” a woman in desperate need of assistance wrote to me.  She is a Western mother of two neglected Saudi children, living in Riyadh, and has been trying to connect with Awasser and other similar organizations for some time and is now furious with frustration.

“I have only had time to use my computer these last few days because I am on holiday from work. I have been really unwell for the last eight days and am only just recovering a little today.  Being ill feeds my fear about how we will manage in the future. I usually have to work for more than 12 hours a day,” she wrote.

“I used to go back and read some previous articles promoting Awasser.  I discovered that the organization was started in 2001. Now, if after 11 years they still do not have a functioning website in English, then there is something very, very wrong,” she added.

“With the millions they must have had in government support and individual donations, it seems very lacking in forethought and organizational skills not to make an English website accessible.  This doesn’t fit their claim that they are scouring the entire world for half-Saudi children abandoned by Saudi fathers to offer them housing, education, medical care and social and sentimental support,” she concluded.

Now, here is good news for a change! As big and powerful organizations fail to respond and cooperate, including the GCC Secretariat General, Shoura Council, National Dialogue Center and concerned departments in the ministries of social affairs, foreign affairs and justice, here is a hero offering his help free of charge.

“I have been following your articles recently with much interest,” Faisal Abdullah Abdulrahman Abulhassan wrote. “Although my story is not tragic, I have met many other half-Saudis with sad stories and I have always dreamed of finding a way to help them bridge and connect to Saudi culture. My parents (American mother and Saudi father) were legally married and lived in the Kingdom, but separated when I was young and I was raised in the USA my whole life.”

Faisal and his sister are luckier than most children in similar situations; their parents and families are idealists.

“I was always in contact with my family in Saudi Arabia, and visited them many times as a child. My grandparents, father, aunts, uncles and cousins visit me and my sister in the States,” he wrote.

“I was blessed to be raised completely in America, while knowing my Saudi identity and Saudi family. Thanks to Allah I have been blessed with a mother who maintained our Arab and Muslim identity and did not remarry in order to raise us properly; and a father who also did not remarry and focused his life on working in Saudi Arabia to support his ex-wife and Saudi children; and a Saudi family who cared and loved us. I have spent my life working with many Saudi agencies (embassies and ministries) that deal with citizens affairs abroad, and, unfortunately, you are correct, they often offer information only in Arabic.”

Faisal is offering his experience to help families and children who need help in communicating with government agencies.

“I would love to be able to assist the women and children who were not as lucky as I was to re-connect with their Saudi families, or at least their Arab and Islamic roots and government services. I had some work experience in Saudi consulates before I went back to school (I am now studying for my Masters) and I would like to use this knowledge of Saudi systems to help these lost families re-connect.

“If you have any idea how I could connect with them to do this, please let me know. It was always a dream of mine to set up a society later in life to help these families, but your articles have given the issue much attention and have made me decide what better time than the present.”

Bless your Saudi-American heart, Faisal. I hope more individuals and groups will join us in our endeavor to find some organized solutions for our abandoned families and children. Send us your thoughts and stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Our secret marriages: A Qatari story

“I hope my daughters will marry Qatari or Arab Gulf (GCC) nationals, so maybe they can help their brothers when I die of my sickness,” an Italian-American woman who was married to a Qatari citizen wrote with regard to my last three articles about the secret marriages of Saudis to foreigners.

Charlotte met her ex-husband when he was studying in the United States. 

They fell in love and got married when she became a Muslim. After her second child, he returned home to announce his marriage.

His prominent, rich family, of Iranian origin, got him to marry a cousin in three weeks time and refused to acknowledge Charlotte and her children or let him support them and prevented him from returning to the US. 

He surrendered. He accepted!

“It is sad that it is so easy for men to abandon their children and wives.

You would have to cut me in a million pieces, and put those pieces in the four corners of the Universe to take me away from my children. And even then, I would find my way back to them,” Charlotte said.

“I don’t know how some people can do this. How do they pray, fast and go to Haj, when they have neglected the most sacred bond in humanity? And the sad thing is that I still love him, and cry over him anytime I hear his name. 

This is one of the hardest letters I have ever written. I want to say in your column, please, that this abandonment destroys lives, and breaks hearts for generations to come.”

Charlotte never gave up on her husband. She loved him. She needed him.

“I had to beg the American government for food stamps and rent. It was so shameful for me. I wanted to die. And I am glad my father, who became a Muslim at the end of his life, was dead so he did not have to witness that.

“My family made fun of me, and told me to divorce him, but I loved him. It hurt, but I accepted that he took a second wife, if he would only treat me as an equal.

“She was living like a queen, and talked to me a few times, laughing and telling me that he was her husband and would not be coming back to America, and what did I want? Did I want her to cut him in half?

“He was telling me to be mature and not be upset that she had more than me. 

I shut up because I loved this man more than my life. And I kept with my religion, and left my family to move to a city with all Muslims. I wanted my children to grow up Muslim. And every day I cried myself to sleep, not knowing what happened to my life.”

Charlotte finally divorced her Qatari husband, remarried a Lebanese, and had two more children, but he was abusive to her and her Qatari kids. She divorced him and decided to fight for them.

“I had written to presidents Reagan, Bush senior, Clinton, Bush junior and to Qatari officials, but no one would help me to get him to pay for his children, and he had stopped taking my calls after I divorced him, in 1996,” she said.

Finally, she wrote to the Qatari Emir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, in October 2000, and he was her hero! His office told her that the father of her children had died in 1996, but she could bring them to get their Qatari passports, and live in Qatar.

She went, received some compensation, became Sunni Muslim, and is working now to support her children’s education. Her late husband’s Shiite family never liked her. They hated her more after she changed her and her children’s sect. Her main worry now is that she will die of her illness and leave her children behind facing an unfriendly family.

Still, Charlotte acknowledges that some Gulf citizens are being targeted by opportunistic foreign girls.

“God bless all those children that have been abandoned, but also in fairness, I have seen women who pretend to like Islam or become Muslim only to get a rich Saudi or Qatari to marry them. Or they don’t want to live in the Gulf, but they want the man’s money. That’s why many families do not accept foreign women,” she said.

We started this issue with Saudi stories, but it seems Gulf citizens are involved, as well. Since we are moving toward some sort of Gulf union we should discuss the issue on a larger scope.

We should also learn from each other’s experience. The Qatari government’s handling of Charlotte’s tragedy is honorable. However, we need rules and regulations to manage the entire matter in cooperation with concerned governments.

We should also have an extensive awareness program for our students and travelers. The GCC should lead the way!

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

US elections: Should we care?

WHEN Senator Barack Obama was running for president four years ago, the Arabs were hoping he would be another Dwight D. Eisenhower, the one and only American president who stood up to Israel, forcing it - along with Britain and France - to withdraw its forces from Egypt in 1956. Millions were praying for Obama to win and on the day he was elected, I saw tears in many people’s eyes. It felt like a great leader winning the presidency of the United States of Arabia.

The night before the election, I was the guest of a special election television program on the Lebanese Broadcast Corporation (LBC). Many people interviewed for the show in the Arab streets expressed optimism that a president with African and Muslim roots would be more sympathetic to their “just causes.” I had to disappoint them.

Unlike most Arab countries, Americans are ruled by a system not by a person, a government or a dictator, I explained. Even if we assume the best of Obama, he cannot change the course of his country’s foreign policies the way he wants, at the speed he needs and to the extent he aims for. Besides, a US president would be serving US not Arab and Muslim interests. After all, he is their leader not ours, I explained.

Still, I gave him my vote. During eight years of George W. Bush, America went so wrong and wild in its foreign adventures that any man who was wiser would be much better for them and for the rest of us. What we needed was a president who puts US interests first, not that of Israel, the party or special interests groups. He should be serving US political and economic interests, not ideological and philosophical ones.

In 2008, the Republican Party proved that they were bad news for their own country. Their candidate, Senator John McCain, and his running mate Governor Sarah Palin, expressed similar arrogant attitudes toward the world and defended the same irresponsible fiscal policies as Bush.

Senator Barack Obama, on the other hand, showed a more cooperative, appreciative, understanding and libertarian attitude. He was more like diplomatic, eloquent and peace-oriented Bill Clinton, who did his best to solve hot global issues, including Bosnia, Kosovo and Palestinian-Israeli conflicts with mixed results.

Obama’s grasp of economic matters gave us hope that he would be the better president to face and solve the world’s worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. He promised radical change and we were desperate for that.

Four years later, I was almost right. The Nobel Peace Award winner, President Obama, has not brought peace to our region - and none is expected soon.

American heavy boots are still kicking over the same areas his predecessor invaded, less so in Iraq and more so in Afghanistan and Yemen.

Guantanamo prison is still open for torture and its remaining prisoners are not being released or sent to US civilian courts, three years after that was supposed to happen.

Things are getting better on the economic front, but not enough to save the world from the tsunami the American banking system unleashed on us.

America did support good causes, such as the Arab Spring, and helped in removing dictators like Libya’s Gaddafi, Tunisia’s Ben Ali, Egypt’s Mubarak and Yemen’s Saleh. It resisted Israel’s urge to bomb Iran and cause an explosion in the region.

On the other hand, America has so far failed to stop Assad’s killing machine and has provided limited support to the Syrian Free Army. Israel’s interests are still higher on the US list than its own.

So why should we care, again, who will sit in the Oval Office for the next four years? I won’t say the devil you know is better than the one you don’t, because Obama is not that devilish, if he would ever be able to have it his own way.

Understandably, his foreign and financial policies hit a Republican wall in Congress many times with no hope of change if he wins today’s election. 

Still, in comparison, he is a much better choice for us than Benjamin Netanyahu’s buddy, Mitt Romney.

For the world, the latter is just too ideological, naive and unexperienced and he sounds and feels much like the last cowboy in the White House, George W. Bush. Romney has shown an arrogant and militaristic attitude that could spell trouble for the rest of us.

In addition, the first term of any US president is half wasted as he explores and learns his way around and is half spent in preparing for the next election. That is why unpopular and risky decisions and projects most likely take place in a US president’s second term. Therefore, I hope Obama wins this race, and gets four more years to leave a lasting, honorable legacy. 

And to Arabs and Muslims, I would say: Pray for a better, more united and stronger Ummah that doesn’t need to pray for foreign presidents to save its own neck and solve its self-made problems.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Our lost families abroad: A call for action!

IN the last couple of weeks I have been contacted by readers from the Kingdom and all over the world. From what I have heard and read, it seems that my last two articles, about Saudi travelers’ secret marriages and the neglected children of Saudis who travel abroad have hit hot buttons. 
What I have found is that some marriages of Saudis to foreigners, secret and announced, here and abroad, are the source of much suffering. 
I have no way of verifying the accuracy of the stories I have been told, so I direct the mothers and children to the concerned governmental and non-governmental human rights and social services agencies. 

A mother of Saudi children asked me for advice and I suggested that she contact “Awasser,” a society sponsored by the Ministry of Social Affairs which attempts to find and support Saudi families and children abroad (http://www.awasser.org.sa). I also directed her to the Commission of Human Rightshttp://hrc.gov.sa and the National Society for Human Rights  http://nshr.org.sa.  

The lady was not impressed. She complained that she had already tried her best to contact them, but to no avail. I hope it was just bad luck, and that she and others will be luckier in future attempts. 

I visited the “Awasser” website and found the English section unfinished and unhelpful. Even the “About” and “Message from the Chairman” were empty! The Arabic version, on the other hand, was informative. The promises are great. I hope and pray the delivery is as good. 

The human rights commissions’ websites are in Arabic only. What about the needs of foreigners who do not speak Arabic? There must be sections in the languages of major foreign communities such as Indonesian, Urdu, Swahili and Filipino. These websites could at least start with English!

I asked the distressed mom to tell me her story and here it is in summary: “I am a Western woman who chose to remain in Saudi Arabia after divorcing my problematic husband for the sake of my children, a boy and a girl.  I have lived here for 25 years devoting my life to the welfare of my autistic children who needed to remain here as this was the place they knew all their lives. 

“I have had no life other than the joy of being with my children who are now teenagers.  My sadness continues as my son is not functioning well and has numerous health problems. I spend every minute trying to make ends meet.

“Thank Allah that I have been given the strength to bear all of this entirely alone. But I am beginning to wonder how long my strength will remain as I am unwell and time is against me. I pride myself on being a woman of substance and utmost integrity knowing that will see me through until my age takes the upper hand.”

Like hers, there are many heartbreaking stories. Some involved Saudis who married abroad in semi-legal marriages. The wife, in such marriages, has no proof, as the only copy of the marriage contract is kept by the husband and is not registered officially.  

Usually, it is agreed that the couple will not have children. The marriage is kept low-profile and secret from the husband’s family in the Kingdom. 

Other than paying dowry and living expenses, and the irregular visits, there is not much commitment. 

After the death of a Saudi man, who was senile in the final years of his life, his children learnt that he had an Egyptian wife and children. The elder son went looking for them. He found that they had been evicted from their apartment for not paying the rent.

The neighbors told him how sorry their life had been. He went looking in every possible direction, following every lead, but could not find them. It seems that when his father fell ill with Alzheimer’s, he could not send them their allowance or tell his Saudi family about their existence. Worse yet, he had not given the Egyptian mother his contact address in Saudi Arabia.

I was told of similar or worse stories occurring in many places. They all have certain things in common: the irresponsibility of individuals, the absence of regulations and the lack of concern of institutions, including academia and the media. 

I call on the National Dialogue Center to take on the issue and to discuss it at its next annual conference. Participants should include the concerned departments in the ministries of foreign affairs, interior, justice, social affairs and higher education. The Shoura Council and media should follow up on this subject and call for action. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Our abandoned kids abroad: A father’s story

“You are siding with women! Like they are all angels, and we are all monsters. The truth is in between. Justice is in the balance.” A reader of my last column “Our secret marriages abroad: Broken hearts, neglected kids” (Oct. 16) complains and tells me his story.

During his studies in the US, he fell in love with a Columbian girl. She was all he wished for in a woman. Smart, pretty, cute and exciting.

They talked about marriage, but he never made any promises. “We would dream about eternal union, review challenges, and play with the idea, but our reality, as lovers, was not based on the condition of marriage,” he explained, showing me messages exchanged between the two confirming this understanding.

According to an email sent to him during a school vacation, the woman was thinking about converting to Islam and studying Arabic. In another, she asked questions about Saudi traditions and hijab, in case they decided to marry and live in Saudi Arabia. In a third she was wondering what her family and church would say if they knew about her relations with an Arab-Muslim boyfriend.

It was clear from what I read that they agreed not to have children during their relationship. “I was to return home and check if marriage was at all possible. She remained Catholic and liberal. This was a no-go with my family. I wouldn’t mind the first, but being liberal in a conservative society would never be accepted,” he said.

“Six months before my graduation, she invited me to a romantic dinner in a seaside restaurant. Then after dessert, she suddenly announced: ‘Love! I am pregnant!’ Now that was an earthquake! I could hardly breathe. Suddenly, I was going to be a father! She made it much more difficult to marry. Even if I were to get my family’s and government’s approval, how could I explain the child?

“I almost failed my exams. I did manage to take care of her during the pregnancy, though. On my return to the Kingdom, I left her with all I had in my savings, plus the car and apartment. I only promised her to try to persuade my family. So, when I reported my failure, she shouldn’t have been so surprised and angry.

“She calls me a heartless father and lover. But we had an agreement, and she broke it. In law this is called “entrapment”. In the last couple of years, she has tried everything: complained to the Saudi Arabian embassy, told my friends, wrote to my family and now has put the story on the net.

Of course, she didn’t mention our agreement or her breaking it. The blame is all on me! Tell me where I went wrong, and what I can do?”

I told him that Muslims should not be involved in such relationships. If he intends to marry, he should get all the required permission first. Marriage is a holy institution which is not to be taken lightly. Yes, the woman appears to have entrapped him and broken her promise, but it could have been an accident or a desperate act of love.

“Now,” I told him, “you are faced with the consequences of your mistake: a poor child who needs his father and a woman who would do anything to have her beloved back. The right thing to do is to go back and solve the issue.

If you cannot marry her, at least you must acknowledge your child, and agree on custody, support and access arrangements. One thing you cannot do is to attempt to escape and ignore the issue.”

Another story that broke my heart was that of a Filipino domestic worker who was shipped home in disgrace. She was pregnant with the child of the family’s oldest son. Yes, she seduced him, but the young man should also bear some of the responsibility for unethical behavior.

The young man fell into a depression knowing he had a baby in a faraway land. He left university and went to work as an airline steward in the hope that he would meet her in one of his travels and be able to reconnect with his child. The last I heard, he had not.

Temporary and secret marriages are leaving many women with broken hearts and neglected children. Without proper documentation, they cannot even prove that their marriage was legal. Too many children are left without fathers or even a family name. This is so unfair and sinful.

We must take this phenomenon seriously and discuss it at every level – religious, academic, governmental and non-governmental. The Shoura Council should take the initiative and lead the way.

Apart from all the Saudi men who travel overseas, this tragedy is being multiplied as more and more students are sent abroad. Now is the time to fix a problem which has been neglected for too long. We cannot afford to ignore it any longer. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Saudi prisoners abroad: Are they all victims?

 sympathize with the families of Saudi prisoners in Iraq and pray that Allah hastens their release. But what puzzles me is that if they are all innocent and had nothing to do with militant groups or illegal associations, why didn't they enter the house from one of its legitimate doors? Why didn't they go through the official points of entry at the border, stay at hotels, use taxis and public transport, and do what normal visitors, traders and tourists would do?

Besides, what kind of business or tourism is there for young men in a country that is going through a civil war, a country whose own people are emigrating and seeking refuge in neighboring countries like ours?

I could understand it if the visitor was of Iraqi origin or married to an Iraqi. But in some cases we have young men who cannot explain their business in Iraq, how they entered, their financial sources and the identity of their hosts. Some do not even have passports, let alone permission from their family or government to visit Iraq. In such cases, my questions leave me confused and reluctant to accept the claim that these young men were kidnapped and are victims of a sectarian war and hatred or political pressure and bargaining.

While I support the efforts to have them released by providing them with a good legal defense, allowing them to fulfill their prison term in their own country, seeking a pardon for them or an exchange of prisoners, I do not approve of crying foul and pretending that they were all innocent and were victims of evil conspiracies.

While we reject Egyptian media campaigns to turn the case of Ahmad Al-Jizawee from a criminal to a political issue, and we argue that advocates have declared him innocent before learning the outcome of the investigation or court hearings, it is not befitting that we commit the same sin when it comes to our prisoners in Iraq, Lebanon, America and elsewhere.

It is the duty of the state to defend its citizens by providing them with the best legal defense and assuring them a fair trial, and then following up after the verdict (if it was fair and in accordance with the laws of the host country) to seek a pardon or a transfer to complete their sentences in the Kingdom. And if this is not possible, our embassy should keep an eye on the treatment our citizens receive in prison and follow up their legal cases, including making appeals and requesting parole and early release for good conduct.

These are a citizens rights when involved in legal issues abroad, but emotional campaigns for the release of prisoners and the use of sectarian, religious and political appeals and arguments in terrorist and criminal cases are not acceptable when used against us and should not be used by us against others.

What can families and sympathizers do then? The only valid option is supporting diplomatic and legal solutions rather than engaging in offensive campaigns.

At the same time we urgently study the phenomenon and seek an effective resolution. Behind these enthusiastic youth stand religious extremists who have filled them with hate and anger and then have encouraged them to travel abroad to engage in wars worldwide. These extremists take advantage of every emotionally charged issue.

As they once ordered young people to fight in sectarian wars in Iraq and Lebanon, they are pushing them to go to Syria, today, and maybe tomorrow to Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, if we do not put an end to it.

Why do parents have to pay for this religious chaos, while the instigators call for jihad from the luxury and safety of TV studios in Dubai, Beirut and Europe, and from the pulpits of mosques, hotels, women?s clubs and the Internet, and while their children enjoy security and prosperity in their villas, schools and universities. Then, when the young men they have sent to foreign lands get caught, they call it a war against us and declare that it is a sectarian, racist and political issue! What a sham!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Our Secret Marriages ِAbroad: Broken hearts, Neglected Kids

I can’t forget Christina. During my graduate studies in the US, I had a Web page entitled “Saudi Arabia: The Land of Islam”. An American woman contacted me via the site and told me her story.

At an early age she was put in an orphanage. An American family adopted and raised her. She married a good husband and had two wonderful children. Her life was perfect until she learnt a certain fact about her life.

Her parents revealed that she was not their biological daughter. They did not know who her real parents were. Orphanage rules prohibit telling adopting families and biological parents about each other. 

Christina set out to find the truth and years later she finally found it.

A birth certificate in the orphanage archives told her that her father was a Saudi student from a prominent family, who could not face his parents to get their approval to marry a foreigner. His family already had plans for him.

Another search led to her father in Saudi Arabia, who was now an important figure. He refused to acknowledge her. Some members of her Saudi family were more accommodating. The Saudi Arabian embassy tried to help, but the father was adamant.

The third journey was spiritual. After extensive research about Islam, Christina became a Muslim. As a result, she had to divorce her Christian husband.

An understanding and kind-hearted man, he did not mind her and his children’s conversion to Islam, even though he regretted the separation. He has supported her truth-finding journeys to their final conclusions.

Christina kept her first name, even as she joined the local Islamic center and participated in its classes and activities. She, however, adopted her Saudi family name.

Years after I left the US, the Internet joined us again. Christina has achieved a lot in her life and has raised fine Muslim-American children. I am proud of her.

Like Christina’s, there are many heartbreaking stories. Loving souls were left behind, sometimes with children. Communication was cut and questions went unanswered.

Before Facebook and other social networking sites existed, it was much harder to discover the whereabouts of missing loved ones. 

I have tried through my limited network to help, but few cases end happily. 

Even when found, many Saudi men refuse to reconnect. They are already married with children and are afraid to rock the boat with shocking revelations and complicated commitments.

Such stories are not limited to Saudi students or only happen abroad. Many marriages and love stories take place all over the world and at home.

Saudi travelers to Egypt, Morocco, Indonesia, India, the Philippines and other popular destinations marry and befriend young local women, father children, and then leave without a trace.

Pregnant maids in the Kingdom are shipped back home without any legal rights or financial support. 

The Saudi government has made efforts to publicize abroad the fact that Saudi men are not able to marry foreign women unless they first receive government permission. However, there are many foreign women who are not aware of this regulation.

Embassies try to help desperate mothers and children, but even with legal documentation, if husbands and fathers do not cooperate, not much can be done.

This cannot be accepted. Our children, like the Olympic Filipino-Saudi swimmer, Jasmine Alkhaldi, and their mothers are the victims of such crimes of negligence. We should have laws and regulations in place to deal with such issues.

Funds should be set up to support the victims in case where fathers are dead or cannot be found. Children must have the rights to the full benefits of citizenship, in addition to due parental support and inheritance.

The Shoura Council should take the initiative and lead the way to a fair, compassionate and honorable resolution of this issue. Saudi Arabia, the Land of Islam and the Kingdom of Humanity, deserves no less!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Incitement in the name of Freedom, Violence in the name of Islam

When his messenger to the king of Fars was mistreated, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was very upset. Messengers cannot be mistreated, let alone killed. This is a holy law which has been respected by nations and tribes since the dawn of civilization.

Diplomats today are representatives and messengers of other nations. 

International law protects them to the extent that their embassies and consulates are to be treated as part of their own countries. They are guests of honor under the protection of the entire nation in which they reside, not just its government. Islam and all religions approve of this sanctuary. No messenger was ever mistreated in Muslim lands during the era of the Prophet (pbuh) and his Caliphates. There is no excuse whatsoever for abusing foreigners to make a point or to protest an action or a policy of their government. 

In 1979, soon after the Islamic revolution in Iran, hundreds of students invaded the US embassy in Tehran. They held US diplomats hostage for 444 days. The revolutionary government encouraged this action, and, until today, no one has been found guilty or has paid for this crime. Some of those who were involved are in power now and are proud of what they did. 

The anniversary of the storming of the embassy is celebrated every year, as if it was an achievement, not a savage crime.

Again and again, we have seen militants taking advantage of the lack of security during turmoil and revolutions to attack embassies and diplomats in the name of noble causes or religions. This is an insult to both, and to the civility of the nation. Those who called for, encouraged, helped or committed such horrendous acts are to be treated as enemies of Allah and the Ummah, and mercilessly hunted and executed.

As for the movie that caused all this anger and resulted in attacks on US and European diplomatic missions in Libya, Tunis, Egypt, Sudan and Yemen, there are legal ways of protesting its insults. It does not help humanity to tolerate hate speech in any form or with any excuse. Enough blood has been shed in the history of the world as a result of such intolerance. 

Incitement leads to hate, and hate leads to conflict and war. Religious wars in Europe and the Middle East have cost millions of lives and much destruction and pain. Laws prohibiting hate speech were made to prevent the repetition of such human catastrophes.

The world should unite today to issue universal, thorough and strict laws against disrespect for religious beliefs and symbols, ethnic minorities, and sexual orientation, and incitement against others. We, Muslims, should lead the way by criminalizing hate speech. Sectarian hatred and violence have reached new highs in our world. Incendiary projects, like this movie, have agitated a world that is already on edge. Christian-Muslim relations in Egypt have been under attack by extremists of both sides. That fire could reach Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, where sizable Christian minorities reside.

Extremists are searching hard for an opening, an excuse, a reason to go back to their audience and say: “See? Haven’t I told you so?” This time it was the turn of Coptic Egyptians in the US with the help of an Israeli and the approval of an anti-Islam fanatical cleric, Terry Jones.

They decided to produce a blasphemous movie about Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and since they live safely in the US, they care little about the fate of their fellow Copts in Egypt. This shows how ugly these bloodthirsty people can be.

I can only hope and pray that wisdom will prevail. Except for the opportunistic US presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the US has shown its leadership credentials by acting in a responsible way. It condemned those involved in producing the film and refrained from taking any action which was aimed at winning votes in the upcoming elections.

The governments in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Lebanon and the rest of the region did the same, and provided more security for US missions while finding and prosecuting the attackers. They should not hesitate to allow more US marines to be stationed in US embassies in their countries.

Public opinion leaders are calling for calm and Muslim clerics are issuing fatwas prohibiting barbaric attacks on peaceful diplomats. Muslim and Christian organizations are calling for laws prohibiting religious hate speech. Google withdrew the offending movie from some servers, and hopefully will do so from all. If this positive trend continues, it may end up to be a blessing in disguise.

Egypt: Back to strong leadership

ON October 6, 1981, I was vacationing with my family in Egypt. On my way to our rented apartment, the news hit the radio airwaves: Anwar Sadat, the president of war and peace, was shot during a military parade. The Qura’n was soon read on all state radios, which means he was dead.

I decided to feel people’s reaction so I asked the driver to take me to the nearby Alzamalek Club. No one was crying, for sure, and life went on, as usual. A group of young men were even making jokes about him. When I returned home, I found Um Said, the maid, preparing our lunch in the kitchen. I told her, dramatically, “‘Alraes’ (the president) is dead’”. Her reaction shocked me. Without hesitation she announced: A monster Pharaoh died, and a monster Pharaoh will take his place!

Mubarak certainly proved Um Said — the simple, uneducated lady — right. Why not? She has been mostly right about the country’s leaders within 7,000 years. The leaders were almost the nation’s owners, helped by the sweetest people on earth.

You can’t have an easier job than that of an Egyptian leader. Until Jan. 25, 2011, the Egyptians only means of protest, if not revolt, were sarcastic jokes. Their demands were always simple. An Egyptian summed these up to me in a typical joke: Foul (beans) for breakfast, Falfel for lunch, and an Um Kalthoum song for dinner!

Not anymore! The Egyptians that Dr. Mohamed Morsi have to deal with seem to come from another universe: vocal, angry and bossy. Food is not the only concern now. They want to be in the driver’s seat — or with him. They don’t just listen to Um Kalthoum, they came up with their own songs and discovered their own voices.

The French icon, the late president General Charles De Gaulle, once said: How can you run a country that produced 246 kinds of cheese? Egyptians today favored all kinds of political cheese, but one kind proved the most popular. They chose an Islamic leadership, like the Turks did before them, because they had tried alternatives for sixty years, and saw their resource-rich country fell to the bottom list of heavily indebted Third World countries. Political, administrative and financial corruption ruled. Islamic principles are supposed to be the anti-biotic for all these ills. They proved effective in Turkey, but failed in neighboring Sudan.

Dr. Morsi knows what is at stake. With his enemies, in and out of the country, up in arms, looking for the slightest mistake to attack, his challenges are daunting. While his foreign policies are popular, he still has long way to go at the home front.

His apparently successful visits to Saudi Arabia, Iran and China, his strong positions toward Syria and Israel and cooperative approach with Turkey, US and Europe, showed his political prowess, energy and wisdom long missed during Mubarak’s regime. Finally, Egypt is taking the driver’s seat in Arab and Muslim politics. Together with Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the Muslim ship seems in good and safe hands.

At home, Dr. Morsi is more popular and in control than ever. With his man-of-the-street approach, he is the most populist president of Egypt since the late Gamal Abdul Naser.

The army seems to be finally under his wings and the new government is in control. The young, energetic ministers are going around the country: restructuring, listening, counselling and solving problems. They followed their president’s lead. He has been meeting with opinion leaders and representatives of all sectors of society.

Those who have met him were impressed. Even his critics and doubters, like Adel Imam, the popular comedian who was sued for producing anti-Islamic movies, see him as an open-minded leader who calmed their fears and apprehensions about their future under an Islamic government. The president has assured them of his commitment to civic and secular principles.

Most important, in my opinion, is how Dr. Morsi deals with security and economy. Security is in good shape.

The new army and interior leadership have shown their teeth to keep terrorists and criminals on the run. In the economic front, stability has come. With better security, tourists are coming back, factories and businesses are humming again. The slide into desperation has stopped.

Development, however, needs time. Fixing ages of mismanagement and corruption, and restarting a stalled engine cannot happen overnight. Qatar has announced $18 billion in investments, Saudi Arabia’s package of $3.7 billion is on track, the World Bank agreed to provide $4.8 billion in loans, and the US is considering turning its billion-dollars debts into development projects.

Egypt today is stabilizing. It has a wise, calm and calming leadership, a government in control, security and business as usual. Its foreign policies are popular — at home, in the region and beyond. The future looks brighter.

Let’s hope and pray that soon the new Egypt will follow in the footsteps of Turkey, turn around its fortunes and take its rightful place at the top of the region’s leadership.

Hate speech and the Makkah Summit

Much of the negative comments leveled on the Islamic Summit in Makkah earlier this month was born before its convention. The cynics declared it “dead on arrival”.

We may excuse their expectations if we review the results of previous summits, like the one also held in Makkah in 2005. The summit, then, laid down the blueprint called the Ten-Year Program of Action which “envisages joint action of member states, promotion of tolerance and moderation, modernization, extensive reforms in all spheres of activities including science and technology, education, trade enhancement, and emphasizes good governance and promotion of human rights in the Muslim world, especially with regard to rights of children, women and elderly and the family values enshrined by Islam.” Little progress has been achieved since in all of the above issues. 

I beg to disagree, however, with those who thought the results have not justified the effort, this time. 

The fact that many leaders convened around the holiest Muslim place on earth, on the holiest night of the year, cannot but be good for the Muslim nation “Ummah”. With the prayers of 1,500 million Muslims, Allah may join our hands and hearts around His word and cause. 

The final statement puts its finger on the most important injuries of the Muslim body. 

The Syrian government’s legitimacy has been annulled by 56 Muslim nations. This opens the doors for support — directly and indirectly, overtly and covertly, military and civic — to the Syrian people and the Free Syrian Army. This also means that the whole Ummah is now taking the side of the Syrian people, loud and clear. 

The statement also focused attention and shed light on the genocide in Myanmar against the Muslim minority. Light is criminals’ worst enemy — the more we know the less space and free movement are available to them. Beside, more help is expected, with Islamic charities and institutions getting Myanmar’s permission to help and observe. 

The summit coincided with the 43rd anniversary of the arson attempt on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which triggered the convention of the first Islamic summit in Morocco in 1969, and the creation of the Organization of Islamic Conference (renamed Organization of Islamic Cooperation in 2005). 

The most important achievement, in my opinion, is the condemnation of hate speeches and religious and ethnic agitation, which led to infighting and disunity among Muslims and threats to non-Muslim minorities. The initiative of King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, to establish a center in Riyadh for inter-sectarian dialogue will help much in facilitating understanding among various Islamic schools of thought. It will confirm what has already been recognized: Muslim sects are eight, not just four. And Shiites are as Muslim as Sunnis. The conference also calls of the member states’ support for and emphasis on inter-religious, inter-cultural dialogue, initiated by King Abdullah in 2008 and adopted by the United Nations.

I was happy to see King Abdullah seating Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad next to him in the grand reception and the two of them standing side by side to greet arriving delegates. The image showed unity between the two Gulf powerhouses.

The majority in both countries may subscribe to two different sects, but they are both Muslims, worshipping the same God, following the same Prophet (pbuh), reading the same Qur’an, and praying towards the same “Qibla” — Makkah. What unite them in geography, culture and history — not to mention economic and development interests — are far more important and beneficial than what separate them.

Such cooperation and understanding could only benefit the Ummah and the region. Burning issues, like Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, need more good faith and better lines of communication among major regional players, including Egypt and Turkey.

Actions should follow the declaration of intents. All of those issues are important and urgent. Let’s hope that the establishment of the dialogue center would start before the Haj season, so that Muslim scholars could begin their first mission in such holy event and place which Allah meant for such cooperation and collaboration. And laws criminalizing hate speeches would follow. 

Supportive calls and statements from religious leaders in Makkah, Qatif, Najaf, Qum, Cairo, Ankara, Tunis and Beirut should be echoed by solid work on the ground. Intellectuals and opinion leaders must support governmental work with initiatives of their own. 

I am working now with a Mideastern group representing different faiths and ethnicities, Muslims and non-Muslims, to establish a think-tank in Beirut, advocating the spirit of peaceful coexistence, tolerance and dialogue. Join us. Pray for us.

Net Porno and Microsoft: Saving World Children!

Nine years ago, the Canadian police unit fighting child prostitution on the net was in despair. The task before them was Mission Impossible. Abusers and users all over the globe, were using servers and personal computers to distribute millions of porno pictures depicting 5-14 years old children in comprising positions. Many offer sales of videos involving adults and kids performing sex. Too often, children, themselves, were on offer. 

The problems facing the police uni include weak laws, unfocused law agencies, non-existent cooperation between them, and no way to control and co-ordinate efforts globally. 
In a moment of desperation, Paul Gillespie, the head of the unit, fired an email to Microsoft Chairman, Bill Gates, briefing him on the situation and asking for help. He never imagined the response. It was quick, strong and effective. Mr. Gates sent him an email the next day telling him that Microsoft will take care of the whole project, free of charge. The company's Canadian Manager called the same day to set up a meeting. His orders were simple: Whatever they need .. and more!

Nine years later, Mr Gillespie tells me, the project is global. Microsoft has connected participating police departments around the world with one network, one database. Investigators anywhere can tap into the system to find offenders, and co-ordinate with each other, and world police, the Interpool, to catch and perscute child abusers. 

Intelligent software store investigation results, emails addresses, chat histories, pictures and data of suspects and victims. It allows police officers to coordinate their efforts to find and exchange offenders' personal info, movements, tactics, and whereabouts. The case could be investigated at the same time in canada, UK, Australia and South Africa by universally trained officers following unified standards and working  on the same online file. 

To imagine the massive amount of stress on investigators, some facts and numbers may help. In the US alone, 24 million pictures and 78 000 videos of sex abuse of children of an average age of 5 years old were found. Each picture and video needed to be analysed and connected to similar ones, in order to identify the source, explains Paul Gillespie, now CEO of Kid Internet Safety Alliance. (KINSA.net is a Non Governmental Organization that trains police officers world-wide at FBI standards of investigation).

More investigation work is needed to reach the offender and prove his guilt. For example, it was found that millions of pictures came originally from the same server of a Houston collector/seller. He traded images around the globe, using a cophisticated network.  

Investigators look first for the abused children. To find the abusers, they analyse pic by pic, and look for marks, such as unique backgrounds, tattoos or watches. Since most cases involves a male in kids' lives, detectives look for relatives, neighbours and friends who carry these identifications.  

To their shock, they found that many of these children, boys and girls, were abused by their own father, for fun and/or for trade. Too often, children themselves were offered for rent, exchange or sale. 

To find the offenders is one thing, to take care of the vicitims is another. The problem is that laws and medical services are weak in most countries. After few months or years in prison, offenders are out looking for more fun. Children are poorly protected and taken care of. Many return voluntarily to the same trade. 

So far, it is believed, there are from 3 to 5 millions original picutres involving 100,000 to 150,000 children. However only 3000 kids were identified.

"After we find out who and where, we contact the police in offenders' country of residence or visiting.  We, then, go and arrest offenders, remove the abused from their custody, then treat and provide shelter and help for them. Some cases defy normal treatment. In poor countries, this could be quite a challenge. Even in rich countries like Canada, providing enough care and followup is not a priority for government agencies," says Mr. Gillespie. 

"The same can be said about offenders. While some may need psychological help, most have genetical problems. No government is ready to continue treatment of offenders and observe them after they leave jail. We have to check on them ourselves. only this time it is more difficult, because they get smarter and harder to catch!," he explains.

The fight continues, and Mr. Gillespie and company with the help and support of good guys-law agencies, companies and donors-are doing their best to achieve the possible in the impossible mission. They need our support and prayers. Only of we have more of Bill Gates among us, the world would be much better place. 

A call to the Islamic Summit: Criminalize hate speech!

Concerned and confused, she said: Since my return from US in my school vacation, my classmate at King Faisal University, Fatima, is acting cautiously every time we communicate. On my visit to Dammam, I met her with the rest of our group, but noticed she was not as talkative and excited as usual. Many of our group members were absent. I wasn’t impressed with their excuses, after all I told them weeks in advance I was coming. 

Finally, the party host told me, privately, things have changed in the last year or so. Some Sunni girls are not welcoming the Shia, and the latter felt it without being told, and decided to withdraw from all but the most important events. So now only Fatima is attending, but she is not her same self.  
I appreciated Fatima’s courage and insistence on fighting the sectarian divide and understood her cautious attitude. 

My visit to Bahrain was even more troubling. Feelings were not hidden, and no Shia were attending the reception my Sunni friend were holding on my honor.  I was warned against visiting Shia, and told they moved anyway from the neighbourhood. Sunni and Shia now live and work separately! I called and met with some of them in a restaurant. While they were happy to see me, there were some tension in the air.

Before I left to Kuwait, I heard the Amir warning against sectarian hate speech. He promised to punish those who blaspheme the Imams Alhasan and Alhusein, the sons of Imam Ali and his wife, Fatima Alzahra, the daughter of Prophet Mohammed, Peace Be Upon him.

Finally, I returned to Jeddah, were all my friends belong to the Sunni sect. But, alas, the discussion was focused on the same issues. I tried explaining that most ideas about the Shia were myths and propaganda by their haters. "You need to read their literature and talk to them, before making such damning judgement," I'd say. Few listen. Fewer agree! 
I felt like it was ages since I left home-not just sixteen months!

I told her: Unfortunately, that's exactly what happened. But the fire were under the Gulf sands much longer than your absence time. This region were under attack in many ways. The Israeli axis tried indirect control, and wasn't enough. They tried invasion and occupation and failed. But what they always succeed at, is what worked for them during the colonialism era-Divide and Rule. So here we are, quarrelling over issues dead 1400 years ago, while the neo-colonists enjoy the show, waiting for the right moment to take us by surprise. 

Before the Arab Summit in Baghdad, last march, I published a call to Arab leaders asking them to issue a law that criminalises hate speech. The world, after losing over 50 million of its inhapitants during WW2, decided to ban and punish hate merchants. Democratic USA and Europe, proud as they are of free speech laws, would not tolerate inciting people against each other on bases of color, faith, sex orientation or ethnicity. Shaira laws prohibit such incitements on principle. So we are more obliged to make it crystal clear to those dividers and hate speakers that now its against the law to do “fetnah”-driving Muslims against each others. 

Today, it is not an ideological debate on sectarian magazines and satellite TVs, religious schools and mosques. The issues have refilled people with so much anger, distrust and aversion that marriages are broken, family members are estranged from each other, neighbours are fighting among themselves, and whole tribes, villages and towns, who were peaceful and coherent, are now divided along religious lines. Voluntary or forcefully, districts are being cleansed from followers of opposite faiths. 

The resulting civil wars in India, Pakistan, Burma, Thailand, the Philippines, Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Syria, Egypt, Yemen and Lebanon are only recent examples of what to expect. Shall we wait until the rest of us go down that hellish road? 

I am calling on Muslim leaders convening today in the holiest place on Earth to put a stop to this madness and outrageous defiance of Allah’s laws. In the name of Prophet Mohammed umma, I call for a strict law that criminalise any act or speech that lead or call for hate of or discrimination against any persons or groups, wether it led or not to actual attack on such people. 

Mechanism and punishment should be clear and stipulated into widely announced laws.  Tolerant and wise heads of opinion leaders from different sects and faiths should act together to voice their concerns, explain away the misunderstanding and call for unity and peaceful coexistence. The inter-sect dialogue that started in Mecca four years ago, under the auspice of the Custodian of the two Holy mosques, King Abdullah, should continue between the religious leaders of the eight Muslim sects. 

Our future in your hands, our leaders, please make it secured and brighter with unity, love and peace.