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memri
April 8, 2005 No.
889

Progressive Kuwaiti Intellectual Ahmad Al-Baghdadi Requests Political Asylum in the West

On March 21, 2005, progressive author and lecturer Ahmad Al-Baghdadi, who teaches political science at the University of Kuwait, published a request for political asylum in the West in the Kuwaiti liberal daily Al-Siyasa. This move was in response to being sentenced by a Kuwaiti court to three years on probation on 2,000 dinars [$6800] bail, with violation punishable by a one-year prison sentence, on charges of contempt for Islam.

In a June 5, 2004 article, Al-Baghdadi responded to reports that the Kuwaiti Education Ministry was demanding that private schools increase Islamic education classes and allocate time for rote Koran learning. As a result, private schools would have to reorganize their curricula, and one ministry official suggested removing music classes to make way for the additional religious studies.

Following the publication of this article, Al-Baghdadi was sued by three Islamists who accused him of contempt for Islam. In January 2005, he was acquitted by a lower court that ruled that he had merely expressed his personal opinion. However, on March 19, an appeals court overturned this decision and ruled that Al-Baghdadi had exceeded the bounds of expressing an opinion and legitimate criticism by making statements suggesting a connection between the study of Islam and rote Koran learning, and intellectual backwardness and terrorism. [1]

After publishing his request for political asylum, Al-Baghdadi wrote another article, on March 26, declaring his withdrawal from writing in Kuwait. [See MEMRI's Reform Project for more on Al-Baghdadi [2] ]

The following are excerpts from all three articles:

"Music and Developing Artistic Taste Are More Important than Rote Koran Learning and Religious Studies"

In his June 5 article, Al-Baghdadi wrote: "I am a parent of a child who attends an English school. I sought to enroll him in this school and to bear the heavy expenses in order to protect my son from the backwardness of the [Kuwaiti] Education Ministry curricula.

"But it is clear that the Education Ministry is determined to systematically destroy private education, having failed at public education. I am not one of those who fear religion, or who grow beards or wear religious turbans, and in my opinion music and developing artistic taste are more important than rote learning of the Koran and religious studies. The religious studies that already exist are definitely sufficient. I do not want to waste my money on any [additional] religious studies…

"I don't want my son to be taught by ignoramuses not to respect women and non-Muslims. I don't want those in charge of determining the non-educational curricula – who are backwards both cognitively and intellectually – to fill my son's head with traditions about demons.

"I want my son to study foreign languages – which are better for him than the dead Arabic language – and to study music so he can develop artistic taste, and to study other real sciences that will help him in life – such as chemistry, physics, history, and the social sciences…

"In all honesty, I do not want my son learning the Koran by rote. I do not want him to be an imam, or to recite prayers in the tents of the dead. I do not want his future to be the path of intellectual or actual terrorism.

"I want a son who seeks peace and who loves all people regardless of color, race, or religion. I want him to build society, not destroy it. In brief, I want to have a son of whom I can be proud because of his knowledge and reasoning, not because of his intellectual backwardness…" [3]

There is No Solution to This Serious Problem of Lawful Tyranny Besides Requesting Political Asylum

In his March 21 request for political asylum in the West, Al-Baghdadi wrote: "You express your opinion on the teaching of religious curriculum, and it gets you a prison sentence, a ban on writing, and an obligation to pay bail to stop the punishment. To this I was sentenced this week…

"There is no solution to this serious problem of lawful tyranny besides requesting political asylum in one of the Western countries – not only to defend [my] freedom but also to defend [my] life. What is the point of remaining in a country whose laws do not protect your honor, where you cannot protect your life, and which harms your family and children and distracts you from the continuation of your work?

"The author 'Abd Al-Latif Al-Du'eij was right to emigrate from Kuwait, settle in the U.S. and begin writing from abroad. By doing so, he secured his honor and the honor of his family, protected his freedom of speech, and protected himself from the humiliation of imprisonment…

"After this sentence, I have no option but to make a public request via the Internet for political asylum in a Western country. This is not out of hatred for my country, but rather out of hatred for its tyrannical laws, which do not hesitate to imprison anyone who expresses his opinion [even] if it has nothing to do with religion. I know very well that Islam does not require Muslims to learn the Koran by heart, as Allah said in the Koran: 'Recite as much of the Koran as is easy for you' [4]

"I don’t know how to request political asylum, and I’ve never looked into it – because I was convinced that my honor was secure in my own country, and that my life was protected. But now the situation has changed, and it is clear that all my enemies – so numerous in this country – aim to imprison me at any price. So I would be grateful to anyone who knows how to submit such an application, for providing me with the necessary information by fax (965-4721840) or by email, to [email protected].

"Congratulations to the Religious Movement and the Tyrannical State on Their Victory"

"There is no escape from acknowledging that the religious movement has won its battle against me. Congratulations to them, and to this tyrannical state, on the victory. I will stop writing on religious subjects until Allah carries out his word…

"Finally, it is important to note that the country that accepts my request for asylum will not have to pay a penny, since I can live from my pension and from my income from writing in the newspapers…" [5]

"My Sentence is Like Russian Roulette"

About a week after Al-Baghdadi published his request for political asylum, he announced that he had decided to stop writing in Kuwait. In his farewell article, published March 26 in Al-Siyasa, he wrote: "My recent sentencing is like the deadly game of Russian roulette… [Punishment] might be lurking in any line, any word, of any [future] article... I pull the trigger, and I don't know whether the bullet (the law) will send me to my death (prison) every time I grab my pen. Since I am not one of those accustomed to gambling with my life – for I believe in the constitution, which has given me freedom of expression – I will undoubtedly be the loser in this deadly game with the law...

"That is why, when I noticed the look of fear in the eyes of my loved ones on that accursed morning when my sentence was issued and when I studied its details, I declared my defeat in an article the following day…

"I have no weapon other than my pen, which the law has shattered, so I am left with no alternative but to surrender...

"These are the final words. They will stop as of tomorrow, and will not be resumed even if the appeals court rules in my favor...

"At issue is not a sentence here and another there, but a morbid atmosphere full of the bacteria and viruses of hatred and tyranny. This is the end of my writing in Kuwait, [Kuwait,] in which I once believed. I never anticipated being sentenced like this.

"Progressive Writers Should Beware"

"I hope that the progressive writers will beware – because no one knows who will be next. Writing in the shadow of fear is impossible, as is living in the shadow of fear... I will write again if one day I am not in Kuwait..." [6]

Endnotes:

[1] It should be noted that on October, 1999, a penal court condemned Baghdadi to a one-month prison sentence for belittling the Prophet Muhammad in an interview to the press. The ruler of Kuwait, Sheikh Jabir Al-Ahmad Al-Sabbah, pardoned him after he had served 13 days. Al-Hayat (London), March 21, 2005.

[2] For More of Al-Baghdadi's writings see:

MEMRI TV Clip No. 220 "Kuwaiti Liberal Ahmad Baghdadi: There's No Difference between Armed and Unarmed Religious Groups. http://memritv.org/clip/en/220.htm

Special Dispatch No. 823 "Kuwaiti Progressive Scholar: 'All the Good is in Secular Thought, All the Evil in Religious Thought,'" December 3, 2004, Kuwaiti Progressive Scholar: 'All the Good is in Secular Thought, All the Evil in Religious Thought';

Special Dispatch No. 302 "Terror in America (27) Kuwaiti Columnist on Arab Political Culture," November 20, 2001, Terror in America (27) Kuwaiti Columnist on Arab Political Culture;

Special Dispatch No. 733 "Progressive Kuwaiti Author On 'The Favor Western Orientalists Did Muslims,'" June 22, 2004, Progressive Kuwaiti Author On 'The Favor Western Orientalists Did Muslims';

Special Dispatch No. 843 "Kuwaiti Intellectual: The Muslim Brotherhood Organization Should Be Put On the U.S. Terrorist List," January 7, 2005, Kuwaiti Intellectual: The Muslim Brotherhood Organization Should Be Put On the U.S. Terrorist List

Special Dispatch No. 740 "Criticism of Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi's 'Islamist Democracy' Doctrine," July 7, 2004, Criticism of Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi's 'Islamist Democracy' Doctrine

Special Dispatch No. 817 "Arab Progressive Columnist: Arab Artists Deal with the Past and Not with the Present, Due to Fear of the Regimes," November 23, 2004, Arab Progressive Columnist: Arab Artists Deal with the Past and Not with the Present, Due to Fear of the Regimes.

[3] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), June 5, 2004.

[4] Koran 73:20

[5] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), March 21, 2005.

[6] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), March 26, 2005.