In an article in the Saudi daily Al-Jazirah, columnist 'Abd Al-'Aziz Al-Samari criticized Arab society in general and Saudi society in particular, saying that they reject diversity of opinion and see anyone who voices dissenting views as an enemy. He added that some Saudi clerics preach extremism and have corrupted the minds of the youth with violent and bloodthirsty ideology. He called upon the Saudi authorities to purge the school curricula of extremist content, and to replace the current education methods, based on rigid indoctrination, with a comprehensive cultural program to foster pluralism and respect for the other.
The following are excerpts:
'Abd Al-'Aziz Al-Samari (image: alwatan.com.sa)
"...[Our] politics and [our] religious, cultural and social debates indicate that the Arabs respect only their own views, and regard the other as an enemy to be repelled at any cost. This is true for all the steams [in the Arab world], and is clearest in the countries where the Arab [Spring] revolutions have occurred. [In these countries], everybody sang the song of freedom. However, [they did not really mean] the kind of freedom advocated by humanist thought through the ages, but rather freedom that is limited to those in power.
"Sometimes I wonder at the language used by people who wish to reject one's opinion. They [try to] surprise one with a question that is frequently heard in our society: 'Brother, why don't you write about things you know, and not about things that are in other people's domain of expertise?' By this question, they mean... to deny the other's right to think [for himself] and to debate any public matter, in any domain. [But the fact is that] anyone has the right to write and voice his opinion about any public issue, and anyone has the right to voice the opposite opinion, without constraints, as long as he refrains from harming those he is opposing.
"I believe that the societies north of [here] have a greater tradition of debate and pluralism than [the societies] of the Arabian Peninsula. The reason for this is that the golden age of Arab and Muslim [history] bypassed the peoples of the Arabian Peninsula, for geographical reasons and because of the monolithic character of our religious thinking. That said, the societies north of here [also] suffer from relative extremism that restricts democracy, pluralism and tolerance towards the other. What is [currently] happening in Egypt and Tunisia is living proof of the Arabs' rejection of tolerance and their desire to control people's thinking. [But] I believe that, in Saudi society, the resistance to diversity of opinion… is even more severe, and this is one of the greatest dangers to the future of the homeland. My not-so-limited experience in writing and voicing my opinion teaches me that Saudi society is still rigid in its thinking and unreceptive of diversity – which reflects a deep-seated tradition of exclusion and extremism.
"We are facing a grave danger that could lead to disaster. The danger of indoctrination in schools and of [biased] reporting in the media can only be overcome by means of a cultural program on a colossal scale. We have no choice but to rethink the method of educating [the youth] by indoctrinating them with dogmatic notions. One consequence [of this method] is religious terrorism, which is a radical expression of [the outlook that] excludes the other and can reach the point of killing and murder. It is a mistake to think that the culture of exclusion and extremism comes from abroad. This in itself is [an attempt] to evade our responsibility towards our society. We have no choice but to realize that the minds of the Saudis are saturated with a deep objection to diversity of opinion, so much so that some do not hesitate to threaten anyone who disagrees with them.
"The belief in the right to voice a dissenting opinion is a value with important implications that we must understand. As enlightened clerics, thinkers and philosophers have pointed out, it means that one has the right to shape one's identity and to express one's uniqueness, and the majority must respect the opinion of the minority rather than impose its views on the minority by force. We must emphasize the noble ideas we learned from our forefathers, [namely] that Arab [culture] is not racist but is [a culture] that expresses itself through the Arabic language, the Muslim religion and humanist thought... In their golden age, the Muslims respected a wide range of diverse opinions. It was one of the hallmarks of their glorious [culture] before it was hijacked by the extremists in the years of its decline.
"...Some of the responsibility [for this situation] lies with the Education Ministry. Its officials must develop the curricula, curb the extremist and exclusionist tone that exist in [our current] curricula and which opposes the humanist approach, and usher in a new era in which pupils will learn to respect other cultures. In addition, I charge certain clerics who until recently preached extremism to apologize to society for the extremism they championed in the last decades. [For years] they corrupted the minds of our youth with violent and bloodthirsty ideology. Then they left the circles of extremism and gained honor and glory, without being held accountable for what they had done to our religious thinking. In addition, it is important to publicize [cases of] incarcerated extremists who have renounced [their extremist views], so that society as a whole will know about this [phenomenon] and lend it a cultural dimension, as happened in Egypt, where [this phenomenon] yielded books and dialogues that greatly affected the [extent of] extremism in Egyptian society.
 Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), February 18, 2013. Probably a reference to the Egyptian jihad organization Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya, which, in 1997, formally declared a halt to all its armed operations within and outside Egypt and a stop to incitement to commit attacks. A few years later, its leaders also published a number of books and articles renouncing their ideology of violence. See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 309, The Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya Cessation of Violence: An Ideological Reversal, December 22, 2006.
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