The Things They Do in the Name of Religion
I still cannot believe what happened to my e-mail account on Tuesday, March 16. An individual took it upon himself to spy on and violate the privacy of another. It is terrible to see someone rise up to defend his religion by whatever means, obsessively bent on righting what his warped judgment tells him is wrong.
Convinced that he is on the right path, he kills innocent people, he steals and defames. And all the time he is anticipating heaven, even though Heaven is innocent of such acts.
How can a person’s mind reach a point where he lets the most basic principle of religion, which forbids aggression in all its forms, simply fall by the wayside, and then continue to insist that God is on his side?
The story began early on that Tuesday morning, when I went to check my e-mail only to find that my password was rejected. I was surprised by an SMS on my mobile that read: “Don’t bother trying! We’ve taken your mail.” I remained calm in order to work out what to do.
First I had to reconcile myself to the fact that eight years’ worth of my e-mail was gone — but I would try to get it back. On that basis I quickly wrote to Microsoft informing them of my desire to recover my e-mail through them. Things are not that easy. Whoever reads the request will suspect that my aim was to steal that e-mail, rather than recovering it from thieves. But I am hopeful that after this article is published Microsoft will believe me; the loss of my address book has meant I have lost touch with certain people. Who will compensate me for this loss?
Then someone called to say that he was bringing together the Greater Middle East Initiative and my articles (I have no idea what one has to do with the other), and that since both are bad they must be fought — meaning these people had declared war against me.
Considering himself part of the “Ahl Al-Hizba,” he had decided to confront the enemies of religion. He therefore hacked my e-mail, looked through my letters and was threatening to post them on the Internet to be read by all unless I agreed to his terms.
The demands were the usual nonsense: Immediately remove the photograph that accompanies the article, cease writing altogether — for how can I write about matters of religion when it is not a subject I have studied? As though in-depth study of religion could only happen in Saudi universities.
Since I know that the messages in his possession contain nothing more than the confidential matters of any normal person, I explained to him that these were empty threats. But what saddened me was that a man like that was spouting verses from the Holy Qur’an but had forgotten the words: “...And spy not on each other nor speak ill of each other behind your back...” (Surah 59, Verse 12)
Nor was he a particularly knowledgeable individual, this scholar of religion, confusing Abu Bakra, of whom I wrote in an article, and the Caliph Abu Bakr, of whom I didn’t.
In the face of such a mind, I stood confounded. Could he not instead have occupied his time and effort with something more worthwhile?
Preventing disagreements from turning into conflict is a skill. It is a sure sign of intellectual bankruptcy when the debate becomes personal. Does everyone reading an article they don’t agree with need to resort to ideological terrorism? That they peg their contemptible behavior to religion makes it worse — how much of human foolishness must religion bear? We now have to pay the price for living in a world where immoderate thought is the norm. Anyone who is “religious” is in fact an extremist, and if you are not, you are a deviant. Is it my fault that someone didn’t understand my article?
Eloquence in my view is not about addressing everybody at a level they can comprehend, because that too often would sacrifice complexity. If an ignorant person is unable to understand what is meant by an article, should he take it out on the writer? And if he does understand it, well, let him argue it out with the sharp weapon that is his mind. But resorting to subterfuge and sabotage does not strike me as the characteristic of a superior mind.
I want to raise awareness of the polluted minds that exist out there, in the full knowledge that what happened to me is a mere shadow of the things others have to put up with on a regular basis. What would save the situation for me is if the backlash turns out to be stronger than the act itself and this time the criminal doesn’t get away with his crime.
So apart from this article I have also sent a complaint to the Ministry of Interior. My new e-mail address will be published with each article I write, and I will never be happier than on the day I receive your letters.
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(Suraya Al-Shehry is a Saudi writer. She is based in Riyadh.)