Saudi Arabia has never been considered a bastion of human rights, but the West aren’t inclined to call them on their abuses, given that the country has been a long-standing Arab ally of the US (and they’re few and far between…) and their oil pricing policy has generally about providing stability to Western economies.
Well, today the NZ Herald reports that “Saudi Arabia has introduced a series of new laws which define atheists as terrorists, according a report from Human Rights Watch”.
Saudi Arabia is apparently worried about the growing numbers of Saudis travelling to fight in Syria. These people may then apparently return to Saudi Arabia, minds ablaze with the idea of overthrowing the monarchy, and with the military training to make it so. The Herald reports:
To that end, King Abdullah issued Royal Decree 44, which criminalises “participating in hostilities outside the kingdom” with prison sentences of between three and 20 years, Human Rights Watch said.
Yet last month further regulations were issued by the Saudi interior ministry, identifying a broad list of groups which the government considers to be terrorist organisations – including the Muslim Brotherhood.
Article one of the new provisions defines terrorism as “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based”. [emphasis added]
So there you go. I am now apparently a terrorist, given my predilection for espousing evolutionary theory and questioning the absurdities of today’s established religions and their doctrines. Remind me not to travel to Saudi Arabia…
There is, however, something very odd about this law (well, odder than the fact that a country would pass such a law to begin with). 97% of the Saudi Arabian population are Muslim (and taking the foreign workers out of the equation, apparently the population is basically 100% Islamic). And as far as I am aware (bearing in mind that I don’t profess to being an expert on Saudi Arabian internal politics), the opposition to the Saudi Arabian monarchy largely derives from extreme pro-Islamic groups who see the country’s ruling elite’s ties with the US as being a betrayal of Islam.
Further, the Syrian rebellion against Bashar al-Assad is now essentially being run by a collection of fundamentalist Islamists (which is why there’s no incentive for the US to end the Syrian conflict – whichever side eventually triumphs, it’s not good news for America).
So, how is imprisoning atheists and those who attack Islam going to help the Saudi Arabian monarchy? The people who are travelling to Syria are Muslim. And they’re returning to Saudi Arabia as Muslims. They fanatically support Islam. What they don’t support is a monarchy which links itself to the US, but denies those links to its people.
The justification given for these new laws is therefore a strange smokescreen. The monarchy wants the ability to arrest anyone who challenges it, and they want to appear pro-Islam while they do it. I would imagine that anyone challenging the monarchy will be subject to an almost strict liability test – criticism of the monarchy is deemed inherently anti-Islamic, thus by criticising the monarchy you are deemed to have broken the law and must be jailed.
Meanwhile, I shall thumb through my copies of Darwin’s masterwork, Stephen Jay Gould’s Structure of Evolutionary Theory and Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth and The God Delusion, and continue my terrorist contemplations.