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September 1, 2007 No.
1701

Saudi Columnist: Saudi Arabia Must Be Culturally Open, or It Will Turn into a Taliban State

In an article in the Saudi daily Al-Watan, Saudi columnist Sa'ud Al-Balawi criticized attempts by Saudi religious streams to sabotage the country's annual cultural events, thereby transforming Saudi Arabia into a Taliban society, isolated from the rest of the world.

The following are excerpts:

"Extremist Tendencies Are Becoming Increasingly Widespread in our Our Midst"

"...Last Tuesday, Al-Watan reported that eight extremists had threatened to disrupt vocal concerts organized as part of the annual Jeddah festival, after trying to persuade the public not to enter the concert hall. Having failed, [the extremists] began to shout, threatening to stop the festivities by any possible means...[1]

"Extremist tendencies are becoming increasingly widespread in our midst. This kind of attitude reminds us of past incidents such as [the disturbances] at the international book fair[2] and at Al-Yamama College... [3]

"If not for the recently implemented security measures, such scenes would be recurring during many [more] cultural events and in different areas. But what do these people actually want? Do they doubt the extent of religious [commitment] in [Saudi] society? Or maybe they want the kind of religious [zeal] that would turn the Saudi society into a Taliban one – i.e. following the Taliban model of Islam, which completely discounts the individual by controlling his freedom of choice within the already limited range of choices available in that eastern Islamic country [Afghanistan].

"No one is forcing them to go to a vocal concert, see a movie, or attend a cultural lecture. Why do they want to compel others to act according to their [extremist] convictions? This is a controlling mentality, stemming from rigid views that do not tolerate either objections or challenge. [Worse still, such people] believe that they have the right to murder in the name of their ideas. It is this kind of extremism that has led to [the emergence of] terrorism, which has brought grief to both our people and our motherland."

"At the Same Time, a Large Sector of the Saudi Population Hopes That Our Social and Cultural Isolation... Will End"

"At the same time, a large sector of the Saudi population hopes that our social and cultural isolation from the rest of the world will end, in particular since we are trying to transform some of our cities into major tourist centers. Tourism, however, is not yet well developed in our country yet, and it will take great effort and numerous decisions to create the foundation for its establishment and to promote it.

"It is therefore unacceptable that every time we endeavor to restore society to its natural state by gradually opening up [to the world], we find ourselves in confrontation with a group of citizens who have set themselves up as guardians not only of society but also of regulations and decisions that the state takes concerning its citizens. [Saudi citizens] need the domestic tourism that the annual festivals generate...

"If one examines the state of tourism in our country, one will discover how [many] Saudi citizens travel abroad as tourists... Yet when we try to attract Saudis and foreigners to spend a holiday in Saudi Arabia, some among us protest, attempting to impose their opinions in the name of religion. I am positive, however, that none of us would agree to tourism à la Taliban..."[4]


Endnotes:

[1] For the Al-Watan item, see http://www.alwatan.com.sa/news/newsdetail.asp?issueno=2496&id=16082.

[2] An international book fair which takes place annually in Saudi Arabia. Lately, some have demanded the removal of certain books from display.

[3] Extremist youth rioted during the November 2006 culture week at Al-Yamama College in Riyadh, following a play which presented pornographic images of women and loud music.

[4]Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), August 3, 2007.