Monday, September 17, 2012

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. 

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