Friday, November 27, 2015

Leading Figures in the Art World Support Palestinian Artist Sentenced to Death for Apostasy

In the wake of the Islamist terrorist attacks against civilians in Paris on November 13, various Muslim clerics and scholars have condemned that violence as “un-Islamic.”

Yet more important than condemning acts of terrorism committed by Muslims is they condemn the aspects of Islamic culture which produce terrorists. No single component of that culture is more deserving of condemnation than its unenlightened views on freedom of religion, freedom of conscience and tolerance for so-called heresy.

This Islamic backwardness comes into focus this week because a Saudi court sentenced an artist, Ashraf Fayadh, to death on November 17 “after he allegedly made blasphemous comments.”

“The General Court of Abha, a court in the south of Saudi Arabia, says that Fayadh made comments about God, the Prophet Muhammad, and the Saudi state during a group discussion in a cafĂ©, according to trial documents reviewed by non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“Global artists have condemned a Saudi court’s decision to sentence Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh to death.

“Artists and poets across the the U.K., North America and Africa—including British poet Carol Ann Duffy, Syrian poet Adonis and Saudi artist Ahmed Mater—have denounced the ruling by a court in Saudi Arabia on November 17 to sentence Fayadh to death, after he allegedly renounced the Islamic faith.”

The last sentence is key: The court wants him dead because he allegedly renounced the Islamic faith. Yet no Muslim clerics or scholars have spoken up to denounce this barbarity. Their silence is deafening.

It has been roughly 400 years since Christians gave up this sort of unenlightened practice. As far as I know, no Jew has ever been sentenced to death by a Jewish court for apostasy. Yet in Saudi Arabia and virtually every Muslim society, the idea that an individual has the right to make up his own mind regarding what he believes and what he does not is presently unthinkable.

If Muslim clerics and scholars would stand up and speak out and wholeheartedly endorse the notion that Muslim-born individuals have the absolute human right to choose their faith or to choose to have no faith at all, the culture within the Muslim world would change dramatically. It would create for the first time ever tolerance among the Arabs and other majority Islamic societies. 

That enlightenment would itself put out all the fires which are creating thousands if not millions of Muslim terrorists. Terror groups are all in their own way motivated by intolerance and religious hatred. But if Muslim clerics taught them to love thy neighbor, even if he has a different religion or even if he has renounced Islam, groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS would disappear overnight.

“Members of Saudi Arabia’s religious police—the Committee on the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice—originally arrested Fayadh on August 6, 2013, following a complaint made by a citizen. The court subsequently sentenced the artist in May last year to four years in prison and submitted him to 800 lashes.

“The court retried Fayadh earlier this month, after his appeal was dismissed by a new panel of judges in May 2014. The poet continues to deny making the remarks and says that another man attending the group, in fact, said it.

“Since the court handed the death sentence to the Palestinian artist, leading individuals from the world’s art scene have spoken out in condemnation against the charges.”

A second interesting aspect of this story is the notion that Ashraf Fayadh, the condemned artist, is a Palestinian. He was not born in Palestine or Israel. He was not raised there. He has not, as far as I can tell, ever lived there. His parents, or perhaps his grandparents, moved to Saudi Arabia before he was born. And so Mr. Fayadh was born in Saudi and raised in Saudi, but is not allowed to be a citizen of Saudi Arabia. 

This same story would be true if Fayadh had been born and raised in Kuwait, Jordan, the UAE, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq or any other Arab country. These are all places which claim their undying affinity for the Palestinian people. Yet none of them ever allows Palestinians—second, third or even fourth generation Palestinians—born in those countries to be citizens. They are permanently banished to second class status. And that makes plain the lie that they love the Palestinians. If they did, they would allow them first-class status as full citizens of their countries. Instead, they hold them down and often force them to live in refugee camps for 40, 50 and 60 years—with no end in sight. 

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