Journalist Flees Saudi After Tweet on Prophet
By: Badr al-Ibrahim
Published Wednesday, February 8, 2012
An apology by Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari over his controversial tweet about Prophet Mohammad failed to dampen a Salafi campaign against him prompting him to flee his home country.
The issue has turned from a spontaneous reaction into an organized campaign run by a group of disturbed Salafis, which has included death threats.
That’s how a series of attacks quickly escalated against Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari following his tweets on the Prophet Mohammad’s mawlid (birth), which was celebrated on Saturday. Kashgari fled in the wake of the campaign. There are conflicting reports about his current whereabouts. A new twitter account believed to be his claims he headed to Canada while other news reports say he is in Southeast Asia.
The Saudi writer, who wrote for al-Bilad newspaper, did not only receive a deluge of threats. His address and phone number were circulated so that his opponents would know how to find him.
Indeed, Kashgari’s tweets were offensive to the stature of the prophet, but he later admitted to this offense and apologized.
This did not stop a group of hardliners from accusing him of cursing the prophet outright, which he did not as. Kashgari clearly declared his admiration to many traits of the prophet, but wanted to “shake hands with him as an equal” rather than a subject.
Thus, the incitement campaign against Kashgari began online, where the feelings of those “defending the prophet” were expressed in ways that the prophet would not approve of.
A clerical group, Sheikhs of the Sahwa, joined in as Sheikh Nasser al-Omar openly wept in reaction to the incident, inciting the state against Kashgari. Thus, a royal decision was issued on Monday to arrest the writer.
It appears that Kashgari is being set up as the scapegoat, by the religious and political authorities.
Al-Omar’s tearful speech may explain some of what is happening. After wiping off his tears, he talked about the strife and instability in neighboring countries (meaning the Arab Spring), blessing the security and safety of the kingdom.
He then moved on to explain the existence of fanaticism in the country, which he attributed to the presence of Kashgari and people like him who “speak as they wish.”
Al-Omar and like-minded religious conservatives are in effect trying to strike a deal with the state along the following lines: “We supported you in countering unrest, strife, and the effects of the Arab Spring. We have previously resorted to violence against our jihadi sons, when they stood against you. We are not asking for much, we simple want to maintain the Islamic nature of our society.”
For guardians of the temple, this means suppressing freedom of expression and imposing their views on the social lives of Saudis in the name of “fighting sharia violations.”
They are more than ready to turn a blind eye to corruption, arbitrary detention, and other problems because they do not consider them “infractions against sharia.”
Kashgari’s case has become a tool that is being used to demonstrate this movement’s present strength for several reasons.
First, this group is concerned about the Arab Spring and its impact on the kingdom, which could limit the clergy’s power over society and incite the masses against the country’s authoritarian system.
The second reason has to do with conservatives losing their case against women working at lingerie stores.
They also fear the appointment of a new head of the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice and the possible limits that will be imposed on its work as a result.
Furthermore, they want to prove their strength in battle against their opponents. This would convey the message that this is their political time and that they are able to make a strong comeback and compensate for what they have lost.
Using this rhetoric, they want to embarrass the political authorities into granting them additional powers, especially since they openly speak about the possibility of the emergence of terrorists as a result of the actions of Kashgari and others like him.
But the problem resides in their inability to control everything.
Twitter, the medium that they used to condemn Kashgari, cannot be monopolized by any one party. The communications revolution has broken this unilateral mentality that they want to prevail.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
Below are the controversial tweets posted by Hamza Kashgari (@hmzmz) along with their English translations.
On your birthday, I will say that I loved the rebel in you, which always inspired me. But I didn’t like the aura of holiness, I will not bless you.
On your birthday, I see you in my face everywhere I turn. I will say that I loved some things in you, hated some things, and I did not understand many other things.
On your birthday, I will not bow to you. I won’t kiss your hands. I will shake hands with you as an equal, and smile at you like you smile at me, and talk to you only as a friend, nothing more.