Our steadfast pursuit of a freer Saudi Arabia

Waleed Abu Alkhair in the Washington Post:

ScreenHunter_07 Apr. 26 22.31Hamza Kashgari visited me several times before he wrote the ill-fated tweets that led to his arrest in February and then to solitary confinement in a Riyadh prison. We discussed social, political and philosophical issues, including some that are taboo in Saudi Arabia. I warned him that his thoughts, if expressed publicly, would lead religious hard-liners to call for his blood.

I find it outrageous that in the 21st century one person could threaten another with death merely for embracing ideas other than religion, God and the prophet Muhammad. But that is exactly what happened at a weekly salon that focuses on political, religious and human rights issues. I named the salon “samood,” a richly textured Arabic word meaning “resistance” or “steadfastness.”

Every week, I am host to several dozen people at my home, most of them politically engaged Saudi youth. I started the salon after government and religious authorities clamped down on gatherings of liberal youth in cafes and bookstores in the wake of Hamza’s arrest, severely constricting the space for free expression in this city. The oppressive trend has accelerated as religious hard-liners have mounted a vicious campaign to cleanse society of what they deem “unbelief” and “deviant thought”: in reality, any ideology different from their own.

More here. [Waleed Abu Alkhair, in photo above, is a human rights activist in Saudi Arabia.]