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Saudi Arabia declares atheists and political activists “terrorists”
April 2, 2014 9:55 AM   Subscribe

The Sunni Islamic monarchy/theocracy's restrictive laws on political expression have become even stricter this year. This is in response to potentially dangerous dissidents returning to Saudi Arabia from the Syrian civil war. But the categories of offenses are so broad as to define virtually any non-Muslim as a terrorist, and to ban all independent political expression.
Commenting on article 6 of the regulation, one activist told Human Rights Watch on March 12: “Just talking to you now is considered terrorism – I could be prosecuted as a terrorist for this conversation.”
Abdullah al-Hamid and Mohammed al-Qahtani are two of several activists who are currently imprisoned merely for criticizing the Saudi government. Human Rights Watch reports on this year's new rules:
The interior ministry regulations include other sweeping provisions that authorities can use to criminalize virtually any expression or association critical of the government and its understanding of Islam. These “terrorism” provisions include the following:
Article 1: “Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”
Article 2: “Anyone who throws away their loyalty to the country’s rulers, or who swears allegiance to any party, organization, current [of thought], group, or individual inside or outside [the kingdom].”
Article 4: “Anyone who aids [“terrorist”] organizations, groups, currents [of thought], associations, or parties, or demonstrates affiliation with them, or sympathy with them, or promotes them, or holds meetings under their umbrella, either inside or outside the kingdom; this includes participation in audio, written, or visual media; social media in its audio, written, or visual forms; internet websites; or circulating their contents in any form, or using slogans of these groups and currents [of thought], or any symbols which point to support or sympathy with them.”
Article 6: “Contact or correspondence with any groups, currents [of thought], or individuals hostile to the kingdom.”
Article 8: “Seeking to shake the social fabric or national cohesion, or calling, participating, promoting, or inciting sit-ins, protests, meetings, or group statements in any form, or anyone who harms the unity or stability of the kingdom by any means.”
Article 9: “Attending conferences, seminars, or meetings inside or outside [the kingdom] targeting the security of society, or sowing discord in society.”
Article 11: “Inciting or making countries, committees, or international organizations antagonistic to the kingdom.”
(Odd that it jumps from 9 to 11).

Despite the fact that the new laws could include their activities, some women in the kingdom agitating for basic rights are still engaging in simple acts of defiance by driving automobiles and going out in public without a male babysitter. The culture may be beginning to change.
posted by Sleeper (48 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Religion is one of the most amazing means of control ever conceived.
posted by four panels at 10:01 AM on April 2 [12 favorites]


15 of the 19 9-11 terrorists were Saudi nationals.

Let's be fair, flying planes into buildings and killing thousands is pretty terrifying compared to holding a particular religious or political viewpoint, even one so horrifying as gender equality.
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:04 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]


Well, in their defense, if your entire premise for being in charge (and everything, including insane amounts of money, that goes with it) was tied up in x, you might find yourself tempted to outlaw anything that tended to demonstrate that x is invalid.

It's pretty straightforward self preservation, but no less doomed for all that.
posted by Mooski at 10:07 AM on April 2


Atheism and political activism are the natural enemies of a totalitarian theocracy.

One wonders what took them so long.
posted by rhizome at 10:07 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


If you haven't seen it, the video of the woman driving includes a moment of serious awwwww
posted by crayz at 10:09 AM on April 2 [3 favorites]


Atheism and political activism are the natural enemies of a totalitarian theocracy.

I think you'll find schism is far far more of a natural enemy, and exceedingly dangerous.

Atheism has not proven terribly dangerous to anyone. As belief systems go, it tends to be weak.
posted by Bovine Love at 10:12 AM on April 2 [4 favorites]


The US counts Saudi Arabia as an ally.
posted by rocketman at 10:13 AM on April 2 [8 favorites]


Theism is is like any other human institution it in of itself is not good nor bad but how people use, or practice it can be horrible or uplifting.

Atheism is certainly anathema to a theocracy, but not necessarily anathema to totalitarianism (there certainly have been atheistic totalitarianism states) just as political activism is anathema to totalitarianism but not necessarily to theism.
posted by edgeways at 10:19 AM on April 2 [3 favorites]


The Sunni Islamic monarchy/theocracy

They'd be more precisely described as adherents to Wahhabism, which is a more radical and ultraorthodox form of Sunniism.
posted by hangashore at 10:20 AM on April 2 [5 favorites]


Article 2: “Anyone who throws away their loyalty to the country’s rulers, or who swears allegiance to any party, organization, current [of thought], group, or individual inside or outside [the kingdom].”

It would seem that they've declared everyone who's attended public school in the USA a terrorist. I guess it's good that they don't have an extrordinary rendition program, or drones.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:24 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]


Saudi Arabia is named after a guy. A guy who talked with F.D.R.

What's sketch about this isn't so much the horrible regulations themselves. It's the feeling that they were written in fear.

Solar power has recently reached cost parity in several European countries, you know. The Saudis have something like 9,000 princes to feed, to say nothing of the 15 million or so under-thirties for whom the state stipends aren't quite cutting it anymore. Too many young men coming back from the war....
posted by Diablevert at 10:28 AM on April 2 [5 favorites]


It would seem that they've declared everyone who's attended public school in the USA a terrorist. I guess it's good that they don't have an extrordinary rendition program, or drones.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:24 AM on April 2


"Saudi Arabia, refused armed unmanned aerial vehicles by Washington, reportedly has turned to South Africa's state-owned Denel Dynamics defense company to help Riyadh develop its own armed UAV program."
posted by Sleeper at 10:29 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]



The US counts Saudi Arabia as an ally.

It was interesting to me to hear a Tunisian friend, currently living in NYC, and who is very well traveled, say that contrary to the 'standard' American view, Iran is leaps and bounds ahead of Saudi Arabia in terms of freedom and culture.
posted by Riton at 10:30 AM on April 2 [18 favorites]


Can't find anything about this in the arabic language press. Does anyone have the Arabic text of the Saudi law that they are referencing?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:30 AM on April 2


"Atheism has not proven terribly dangerous to anyone. As belief systems go, it tends to be weak."
Not that its really relevant to the current conversation but historically the opposite of this has been the norm for states that are actually atheist and not simply secular.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:30 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]


The US counts Saudi Arabia as an ally.

Yeah, and crack-heads consider their dealers to be allies too.
The US relationship with Saudi Arabia runs exactly as deep as their oil well.
The moment the oil dries up - both parties will happily cut the other loose.
posted by Flood at 10:32 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]


Articles 3, 5, 7 and 10 seem to be missing in their entireties. What's being hidden here, and by whom?

That said, I guarantee that there are people in the United States who, after replacing "kingdom" with "republic" and "Islamic" with "Christian," would wholeheartedly agree with every single one of these rules and leap at the opportunity to make them the undisputed law of the land.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:39 AM on April 2 [12 favorites]


Statement from the International Humanist and Ethical Union
All Humanist organizations and all legitimate human rights groups worldwide will recognize these regulations as the apotheosis of oppression cemented into law.
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:43 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


So fundamentalist Islam is intolerant. Who knew?
posted by Thing at 10:44 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


The US counts Saudi Arabia as an ally.

Yeah, and crack-heads consider their dealers to be allies too.
The US relationship with Saudi Arabia runs exactly as deep as their oil well.


Just think of King Abdullah as the CEO of Saudi Inc., holding corp of ARAMCO.

We love CEOs, especially strong CEOs. When a shareholder revolt deposed the old CEO of Persiacorp, we boycotted them for years, and attempt hostile takeovers from time to time.

Qatar Inc. is a good model for the direction Americacorp needs to innovate.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:46 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


Blasdelb: "Not that its really relevant to the current conversation but historically the opposite of this has been the norm for states that are actually atheist and not simply secular."

Well, the difference between State Atheism and a secular state is that the former actively supresses religion and while the other does not. The latter does not allow religion to influence legislation, etc.

Historically, religion and atheism have both been used to justify oppression. Attempting to eliminate either won't solve that problem. Leaders do not need to raise the spectre of religious or areligious boogeymen to fearmonger effectively.
posted by zarq at 10:48 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


One idea current in the US during the Cold War was the distinction between authoritarianism (which could be good, or at least the least-worst choice) and totalitarianism (which was an absolute evil), as popularised by one of Nixon's staff. This rationalised the distinction between Our Sons Of Bitches like Pinochet or Saddam Hussein, under whose jackboot one still nominally had the freedom of conscience and religion and one's private thoughts, and Communist dictatorships which laid claim to every aspect of one's inner and outer life. Thus

By that definition, there is no way that this declaration by our own allies is not totalitarianism with a capital T.
posted by acb at 10:51 AM on April 2


Step 1: Saudi Arabia United States declares atheists muslims and political activists “terrorists”

Step 2: Saudi Arabia declares atheists and political activists “terrorists”

Step 3: Get all middle ages up in this piece.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:54 AM on April 2


Solar power has recently reached cost parity in several European countries, you know. The Saudis have something like 9,000 princes to feed, to say nothing of the 15 million or so under-thirties for whom the state stipends aren't quite cutting it anymore. Too many young men coming back from the war....

Yep. Peak oil (the Saudis are cooking the books like crazy, but their output has been flat or declining for some time now) would be doing this even without the increasing viability of renewable energy. The Saudis are trying to keep up with solar, but even if they do have a whole lot of desert that would be great for paving with solar panels, sunlight is a lot more evenly distributed than oil. Saudi Arabia is never going to be the Saudi Arabia of solar energy.

And so over the long term, the ruling class's method for holding onto most of the country's wealth and power - basically bribing people until they don't complain in significant numbers anymore - is not sustainable. Too bad, really, because it's a lot more palatable than most of the alternatives, such as the solutions the U.S. ruling class is choosing for the same problem.
posted by Naberius at 10:54 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


The US counts Saudi Arabia as an ally.
posted by rocketman


As usual, Aaron Sorkin said it better than I ever could.
posted by workerant at 11:01 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


While this is an absolutely terrible, though unsurprising, formal validation of the Saudi's views, let's not forget that, in some ways, the US isn't any better;

Atheists still rank dead last as someone who would be voted for president, even after Muslims, for whom we still have an almost absurd amount of mistrust.

Everyone seems to forget that atheists are still the most persecuted minority in this regard, though it's not nearly as obvious, because under most circumstances, it's an easy enough belief for someone to hide, except under the microscopic scrutiny that is presidential vetting by the media and opposing party.

Weirdly, I also think that it's hard to be openly bigoted towards atheists (beyond systemic examples like this) because we are difficult to other in the sense that there isn't a slur that can easily be used against us that we won't gladly embrace and say "Yup."

My favorites are "heretic" and "godless" which both sum me up pretty well.
posted by quin at 11:03 AM on April 2 [6 favorites]


For those interested, here's a local press source which seems to have the full text of the March regulation (I can't read Arabic, found this by googling around).
posted by gubo at 11:07 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


Solar power

Fracking also seems to be cutting into SA's bottom line.

It really is a shame - SA has/had one of the greatest wealth of natural resources ever, but being tied to a religiously-and-intellectually conservative mindset seems to have severely hampered on their ability to capitalize on their (finite) resources and grow beyond being just an energy exporter. Not predicted to end well.
posted by rosswald at 11:09 AM on April 2


And so over the long term, the ruling class's method for holding onto most of the country's wealth and power - basically bribing people until they don't complain in significant numbers anymore - is not sustainable. Too bad, really, because it's a lot more palatable than most of the alternatives

Yeah, it's a bit frustrating that it seems like all people are taking from this is an opportunity to get up on their high horse about religion or U.S. foreign policy. This seems like a symptom of growing instability in Saudi society, and like the ruling family is afraid they won't be able to control it. Considering that they've been trying to export their firebrands to other country's warzones for decades now, the likely parties to come out on top in a civil war would not be anybody who'd get a seal of approval from HRW, i'd wager. Not good. It's the Shah all over again: double down and keep supporting the corrupt and oppressive status quo and make yourself even more reviled, possibly gaining another five years or ten before all hell breaks loose, or back off and get your hell in two years instead, possibly maybe a 9,999,910-degree one, instead of 9,999,9999. Wonder if there's anyone out there with a good reaction piece on this...
posted by Diablevert at 11:09 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]


quin: "Weirdly, I also think that it's hard to be openly bigoted towards atheists (beyond systemic examples like this) because we are difficult to other in the sense that there isn't a slur that can easily be used against us that we won't gladly embrace and say "Yup.""

But the opinion of the minority person (even an invisible minority) isn't required for a slur to be effective. To the people who use the term, "godless" is an accurate disparagement -- one for them to hate, mistrust and fear -- whether you agree with it or not.
posted by zarq at 11:15 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]


So fundamentalist Islam is intolerant. Who knew?

If only it had a scrap of the compassion that fundamentalist Christianity had...
posted by munchingzombie at 11:19 AM on April 2 [3 favorites]


I should have known --- Juan Cole has been all over this. Here's a good backgrounder for anybody interested, more available at his blog.
posted by Diablevert at 11:27 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]


Guys, Saudi Arabia doesn't have laws and doesn't have courts as we understand them. It's a dictatorship. Rules on paper don't mean anything. The dictators could already do anything to anyone that they wanted to do.

Iran is leaps and bounds ahead of Saudi Arabia in terms of freedom and culture.

Well yeah obviously. There's not much more I could say about this without sounding needlessly jerktastic but everyone knows this.
posted by 1adam12 at 11:29 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


I guarantee that there are people in the United States who

Yeah, my first thought on this was that equating "anything that isn't my exact belief system" with "atheism" reminds me a lot of growing up in a conservative Catholic school. There were literally students who, when they found out I wasn't Catholic, immediately asked, "So you're an atheist?!"
posted by Sara C. at 11:57 AM on April 2


There were literally students who, when they found out I wasn't Catholic, immediately asked, "So you're an atheist?!"

The Evangelical version of that is "So you're a devil worshiper?"
posted by Foosnark at 12:10 PM on April 2


ennui.bz's link to the Jacobin article: A Petrodollar and a Dream

and Diablevert's link to the Juan Cole post A New Arab Cold War

provide an interesting explanation of what's going on here, especially if you read one and then the other.

Basically, Saudi Arabia really, really, really doesn't like any kind of populist movement in the Middle East, especially if it's run by Shiites. (None of the Gulf States do, with the possible exception of Qatar.) These new laws are an attempt to harden their political system so it can resist the spread of populist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:50 PM on April 2 [3 favorites]


For Saudis, there are more significant categories than atheists or liberal activists, neither of which have much of a profile. Here's a Saudi commentator's analysis of the basic weirdness-for Saudis-of suddenly announcing that Jihadis are 'terrorists.' Keep in mind that until last month, jihadis were lionized heroes.
posted by jackbrown at 2:00 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


If I visited Saudi Arabia with a visible tattoo of a cross on me would I be imprisoned?
posted by gucci mane at 3:18 PM on April 2


Gucci mane: here's a report about a football player who was arrested because he had visible tattoos, including a representation of Jesus. I believe that the Saudis would find facial representations more problematic than geometric symbols, but (a) the tattoos themselves are a problem; and (b) religious symbols themselves are a problem. What I'm saying is, I certainly would not advise you to enter Saudi Arabia with a visible tattoo of a cross.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:45 PM on April 2


Supposedly George Bush Senior said this "I don't know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God."
posted by PHINC at 8:24 PM on April 2


ARAMCO called me up about a job the other week, that was one call I didn't return. This is a country that's not destined to wendell.
posted by arcticseal at 8:39 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


Saudi Arabia's War against the Muslim Brotherhood
posted by homunculus at 12:06 AM on April 3


ennui.bz's link to the Jacobin article: A Petrodollar and a Dream
Three Gulf states — Saudi Arabia, Oman, and most notably, Bahrain — experienced their own large-scale protests, which were met with violent state repression and quiet assurances from Western governments of continued support for the status quo.

The Bahrain – Ukraine Duality

The military intervention that the world forgot: Saudi and Emirati forces continue to police Bahrain
posted by homunculus at 12:14 AM on April 3 [1 favorite]


There were literally students who, when they found out I wasn't Catholic, immediately asked, "So you're an atheist?!"

The Evangelical version of that is "So you're a devil worshiper?"


My ex-wife was raised Catholic in the deep Bible belt and she used to talk about how when she was a kid, eventually her friends would figure out that she was Catholic and get all excited and try to save her because surely she was going to hell if she didn't accept Jesus.
posted by Naberius at 6:27 AM on April 3


Everyone seems to forget that atheists are still the most persecuted minority in this regard

wake me up when the fbi is infiltrating atheism activist groups
posted by p3on at 1:24 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


wake me up when the fbi is infiltrating atheism activist groups

Concern for human rights and dignity, such as that embodied by the International Humanist and Ethical Union in the statement I linked to above, can attend to both government violations of rights and to cultural prejudices that demean dignity.
posted by audi alteram partem at 2:41 PM on April 3


Everyone seems to forget that atheists are still the most persecuted minority in this regard, though it's not nearly as obvious, because under most circumstances, it's an easy enough belief for someone to hide, except under the microscopic scrutiny that is presidential vetting by the media and opposing party.

I'm an atheist in the US and I wouldn't say we are persecuted so much as we are just not favored in any way.

Which I perversely find kind of comforting.
posted by srboisvert at 3:05 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't say we are persecuted

Yes. "Persecuted" is definitely the wrong word, but surveys like the one quin links to show popular attitudes are more negative than simply not being favored too. The situation is complex not only in the US but worldwide, as spelled out by projects like IHEU's Freedom of Thought report and the Center for Inquiry's project on Religious Liberty and the Civil Rights of the Non-Religious headed by Michael De Dora (who has done a lot of good work not only looking at the status of the non-religious but also collaborating with organizations looking out for various religious minorities worldwide).
posted by audi alteram partem at 3:19 PM on April 3


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