November 13, 2002 Special Dispatch No. 439

Liberal Journalist Fired from Al-Hayat

November 13, 2002
North Africa, Tunisia | Special Dispatch No. 439

Tunisian journalist Lafif Lakhdhar was recently fired from the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat, for his liberal views. The paper is owned by Saudi Prince, Khaled bin Sultan. Lakhdar used to write a weekly article for Al-Hayat's Sunday Madarat section for liberal journalists[1]. Lakhdhar is a leading figure in the drive for modernization and secularization in the Arab world, and his positions had long irritated the paper's Saudi management, as he had previously been suspended for two months. Following his statements on the Qatari Al-Jazeera television show on October 17, 2002, he was immediately fired by the Saudi ownership of Al-Hayat. The following are excerpts from Lakhdar's appearance on Al-Jazeera: [2]

"Western Culture an Internal Demand"
"[African] countries had no elite at all until France came and created one. It was the Francophone elite that demanded those countries' independence. The prime minister of Algeria's first temporary government, Farhat Abbas, knew not a word of Arabic; all his speeches were in French. Bourgiba knew Arabic and French… and the members of his party and the National Movement knew French and Arabic, but there were special circumstances in Tunisia. In Africa, the elite emerged with French colonialism… When the West entered the Islamic world, it encountered resistance to its culture; now, the situation is different. It is the Arab and Muslim youth who seek the [Western] culture. Western culture has come to be an internal demand."

"In Iran, the young people struggle with the Revolutionary Guard because the Revolutionary Guard takes away their satellite dishes to prevent them from watching Western channels, primarily American. This means both that there is on one hand, fear of external cultures, of Western cultures, and on the other a call for closing [the society], which is a call for death. This call is not new; it also resounded in the days of Al-Hanabilah, because our culture was founded on translations. Were it not for the Christians, who translated the ancient Greek, Indian, and Assyrian literature, there would have been no civilization or monotheism… Greek philosophy was a pagan philosophy, yet the Muslims took it…"

"We are Barbarians"
"Turkey is today in its best situation. When Ataturk declared secularism in 1924 and abolished the caliphate, Turkey was only 4% literate; today, 95% of Turks are literate. Turkey will become a truly civilized and truly democratic country by joining the European Union (EU). Nevertheless, we have not left barbarity behind us. We are barbarians. Saddam Hussein declares that he won [the elections] by 100% - that is, no one died that day, no one had the flu that day [and was unable to vote]. This is a scandal. You must shake off this dirt…"

"Today's repression of minorities in Turkey is the remnants of the Ottoman period; it is not an invention of secularism. Spain was a fascist country and became a democracy by belonging to the EU. Greece was a fascist country and became a democratic country by belonging to the EU. It was the EU that made Turkey recognize the Kurdish language and forced it to abolish capital punishment…"

"Belonging to the EU takes us away from our barbaric aspect. In our heritage we have everything: amputation of hands, stoning, a caliph who can be removed from his position only by death, [a rule] that anyone who drinks a glass of beer gets 40 or 80 lashes, and so on. I say we must preserve our heritage, but develop the enlightened aspect of it, the aspect that helps us adapt ourselves to the needs of our generation. For example, leaving the woman at home, resisting freedom for women, opposing women's equality to men, viewing the testimony of two women as worth the testimony of one man, inequality of inheritance - we must relinquish all these things, because they are no longer appropriate for our generation."

"I Want the Muslim Woman to be Like the European, American, and Russian Women"
At this point, the host Sami Hadad accused Lakhdhar of wanting women to go out naked into the street, or in bikinis. In response, Lakhdhar said: "Women in the world do not go out into the street naked. I want the Muslim woman to be like the Chinese woman, the Indian woman, the Senegalese, the European, American and Russian women. Why do we act with racism against ourselves and claim that this is appropriate for them but not for us? I was recently in Egypt and students told me that I promote secularism, and that secularism is very good for Europe, but not for us. I told them that this is self-racism…"

"Stoning does not exist in the Koran. The Muslim clerics took it from the Torah. [Capital] punishment for a heretic who renounced the religion of Islam is not found in the Koran… Why do we not recognize the Berber language? We must recognize all languages, Kurdish and Berber. We must recognize the rights of the minorities…"

"This discussion [in the talk show] is conducted in a Francophonic way. Each of us has an opinion, but no one cursed or hit the other. If we had held the discussion in Arab-Islamic way, blood would have flowed [in the studio]…"

"I demand that the U.N. Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International intervene to protect the women who are stoned in Iran or the oppressed everywhere. Sunni Muslims in Iran cannot build a mosque. This is outrageous. They are now demanding that the. U.N. build them a mosque in Tehran, because they cannot pray on Fridays, while the Muslims in France have mosques and can hold their religious ceremonies…"

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