By Syed Zubair Ahmad
In December 2002, I was in Damascus. One day one of my Syrian friends said, "Let's go and pray Asr in a nearby mosque. The objective of praying there was to see the Imam. See him carefully but do not try to talk to him”. He warned me. ‘I will tell you the reason later on’. So in the mosque both before and after the salat I tried to sneak a peek at the Imam. His face was calm and glowing. Outside the mosque, the story, which the Syrian friend narrated to me, was enough to chill the bone even of a cold-blooded person. He said that the incident is 11 years old but it concluded three years back in the tragic and painful death of an innocent child. Eleven years ago a 12-year old child of the Imam disappeared. The Imam went to the police department but they were not supportive. Then he went to the intelligence department where an officer warned him in strict words, "Go back and never ask anything about your child. Also never discuss it with anyone nor try to find him or else you would get in a big problem." After eight years of this incident and exactly on the day the boy completed 20 years of age, someone from secret services arrived and said to the Imam to go to a specified place and take his child. The Imam was ecstatic. He ran to give the good news to his wife and informed her that their son had completed 20 years of age and was coming home after eight years. So reception must be grand. A fabulous feast will be given. He went to market and bought a sheep, slaughtered it and went to the place where he was instructed to go. At the office, he inquired about his son. An officer took him inside and pointed towards a body, which was covered by cloth. When the Imam uncovered the face, he could hardly recognize the face of his son. When secret agents picked him up he was 12 years of age and 50 kg in weight but that day when his father was loading him into the car he was almost half of the weight. The child could not bear the atrocities meted out to him and had left for the heavenly abode. When the Imam reached his household, the festive mood was turned instantly into mourning. His wife asked, "You had gone to bring our son, why are you carrying this body?" The child was hardly recognizable. Marks on his body were telling the whole story. People believe that a couple of sentences of Imam had caused the death of his son.
A few more incidents are enough to show that how freedom of speech and expression is curtailed in Arab countries in general and Saudi Arabia in particular.
One of my friends was working in King Abdul Aziz Defense Academy. One day he said that a few days ago he got into trouble. He sarcastically commented while talking to the captain, "Baba (King Fahd) is only talking about treating the wounded o Palestinians while Palestinians need armaments the most to defend themselves from Israel’s atrocities." The captain was furious, "By God, you will not be able to see the sun, you are talking against the Baba (king Fahad)". Sensing the seriousness, his friends came to the rescue and intervened saying that he (my friend) is comedian and must be kidding, forgive him, please. Only then the captain calmed down.
One day one of my Indian friends was talking to a Saudi friend. They were talking of freedom and democracy in the country. The Indian friend argued that there was no democracy and no personal independence there. Hearing this, Abdullah Al-Harthi, the Saudi friend, cautioned him, "You talk about democracy; if a spy overhears, he will pull you away by leg."
Whenever I talked to my Saudi friends regarding monarchy or freedom of expression, everyone sympathized with me and cautioned me saying, "Zubair, don't talk like this here or else you would get into trouble."
A Saudi friend told me that if I inform mukhabiraat (secret agencies) about you, you will be behind bars and I will receive cash awards.
One day when I was talking on such sensitive issues, a Saudi friend Saad recorded my voice in his mobile phone and said "If I give it to mukhabiraat, you will get into trouble, next time be careful, don't discuss such things here."
Forget about me even father and son doesn’t discuss such issues with each other in Saudi Arabia fearing of being spied.
These references are just to indicate how scared Saudis are. Talking about freedom of expression, even thinking about such matters is a sin in the Saudi society. The society in which healthy criticism is not tolerated, how can it be an 'Islamic' society?
Here it is better to clarify that by freedom of speech and expression I do not mean the concept of freedom that is prevalent in Europe and America, where it is hard to distinguish between human being and animals. Sometimes animals score over humans in humanistic considerations. Where in the name of freedom, women had been made sexual slaves, they are treated like tissue papers .Under the pretext of women's liberalization they are being used, misused or better said abused by men on the daily basis. Forget about Prophet Muhammad even Jesus and Mary (May peace of ALLAH be up on them) are not spared. While Prophet Muhammad is painted like a terrorist, Mary is depicted like a prostitute and Jesus is presented as homosexual. By “freedom of expression” here I mean to say that there must be that kind of freedom of expression where every citizen of the country feel free to ask any thing that comes in their mind regarding the state and its ruler’s way of ruling the country. The irony is that the Arab rulers and their families are the sole owners, proprietors and share holders of the whole national resources of their respective countries and nobody has the right to question with them.
Today, in 21st century the people came to know or demand ‘the right to information’ which Islam granted 1450 years back.Dont we remember the question asked by a commoner when Omar (the second Caliph) was delivering a sermon regarding his lengthy shirt?
One day Omar was addressing the people. While addressing, he paused for a moment and asked, "If I deviate from the right path, what will you people do?" After a few moments a youngster stood and answered, I will straighten you with our sword!" Hearing this, the Caliph thanked to Allah and said, "Praise be to Allah, in my nation there are people who dare straighten me with sword if I deviate from the right path."
And history bears witness that when such freedoms were usurped, rulers of bad character were imposed who asserted their authorities and committed heinous crimes and crossed all limits of barbarity and savagery. Today's Muslim rulers are their own example in oppressive, suppressive and repressive acts. They are the beasts for the flocks. They were supposed to be shepherds but they are hunting the sheeps (the Muslim masses) themselves and inviting monsters to join the feast. They were assigned the responsibilities of protecting their people but they are killing them and above all inviting the lion (American) and fox (British) to slaughter their own people. They are paid-servants of their western masters. They realize their powers and authority over their own hapless people but before enemies they become lambs. (From " Zionist Conspiracies in the citadel of Islam).
[Syed Zubair Ahmad is a Writer & Journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org]