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February 15-22, 2008 Clip No. 1700

Liberal Saudi Author Turki Al-Hamad: I Am Pessimistic about the Possibility of a Real Change

Following are excerpts from an interview with Saudi author Turki Al-Hamad, which aired on Al-Arabiya TV on February 15 and 22, 2008:

Turki Al-Hamad: The taboos in Saudi Arabia are different from the taboos in Lebanon, and from the taboos in Egypt, and so on, even though I believe that in all these countries, they tend to view the taboo itself as fundamental. This was not the case in the past. I believe that we've reached the point where everything is ruled by prohibitions. Everything is prohibited unless it is proven to be permitted. This is the problem of Arab society and culture. Instead of making progress, we are regressing – and if only we were regressing in a reasonable manner. Unfortunately, we are regressing in a superstitious and unreasonable manner.

Interviewer: So in your opinion, this nation is living in myths and superstitions, rather than living reality, as it should.

Turki Al-Hamad: Absolutely. Today's world is ruled by logic. It operates according to a certain logic, which views the future according to certain criteria and considerations. We, on the other hand, have forsaken this future for the sake of myth. We live in the world of the supernatural, not in the real world, which we have completely neglected.

[...]

In the past, our society was more open, more accepting of other opinions and different behavior. But the so-called "religious awakening" – and I regard it as a religious "slumber," not as an awakening – especially with regard to the Iranian revolution, and the Juhaiman movement, [which took over] the Al-Haram Mosque in Mecca in 1979... Everything has turned upside-down. The dead have taken control over the living. Juhaiman, for example, had very backward ideas. He was killed, and his movement was eliminated, but ultimately, his ideas were implemented. The ideology of Juhaiman, and the Salafi ideology in general, has spread throughout the Arab world – and it is not what can be called the enlightened Salafi ideology, which was evident in the early 20th century among some Islamic thinkers.

[...]

The question is why this ideology has spread. I believe this is a kind of psychological mechanism. With all the defeats and disappointments of the Arab world... If you examine the history of the Arabs in the 20th century, you will see one defeat after another, one disappointment after another. The future has become uncertain and dark, rather than enlightened.

[...]

I blame the political regime. I blame the Arab intellectual. I blame the prevalent culture. It is a mixture of many things. Let me give you an example. The prevalent culture is backward, yet the political regime uses this culture to glorify itself, without realizing that it is destroying the future. That's one reason. Another example is when intellectuals turn everything into ideology, riding a wave of populism and flirting with the peoples, instead of enlightening them. They flirt with the peoples and follow them, rather than leading them. I place the blame to some extent on these intellectuals. The prevalent culture is stagnant. It does not recognize the "other," and does not want to recognize that it is one of many cultures in the world. It considers itself to be the "number one" culture – the world itself. Therefore, as said by a poet from the age of pre-Islamic ignorance – and I believe that we are still living in that age – "We are a people of worthy of world leadership – or the grave." We cannot live in the middle ground between these two extremes, and that is the problem.

[...]

From the early 20th century to this day, we constantly hear people say: We should adopt the good things [from the West] and ignore the bad. You cannot do such a thing. When you consider the products of modern civilization – the car, the computer, and so on – these are all products of a certain philosophy, a certain way of thinking. If you adopt the product, but ignore the producer – you have a problem. You cannot do such a thing. [For us,] the product is new, but the thought is not. We move forward with our eyes looking backward.

[...]

After this period of my life, I am very pessimistic about the possibility of making real changes in our culture and society. I hope I am wrong. In any case, this does not mean we should not try. Future generations will ask what we did about this. At least we tried, at least we made our voice heard. Time will tell whether we were successful in achieving any result. But I am not optimistic, and as time goes by, I am becoming more pessimistic about this.

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