Saudi writer and researcher, Mohammad al-Mahmoud, has no regrets about the controversy his writings have caused over the years even though they eventually cost him his job. According to him, between 2004 and 2007, the threshold of freedom was fairly high but then declined. Mahmoud became known for his weekly columns in the Riyadh newspaper published over the years. They earned him support as well as criticism.
In this exclusive interview with Al Arabiya.net, Mohammad al-Mahmoud talks on a range of related subjects:
Q: In your career you have written 663 articles. Can we say that you were able to discuss all contemporary issues that kept you up at night?
A: Of course not. It is true that I have dealt with most of my concerns on multiple occasions. However, some of them were addressed at a detailed level in terms of familiarizing readers with its various components. I dealt with other issues on a specific frame taking into consideration the level of freedom I had. I postponed the remaining details for another time. There are some issues that I addressed at a generic theoretical level, without mentioning an actual or historical model because of the restraints on publications that still idealize contemporary and not past icons. There are topics that I touched gingerly by using the principle of “the intelligent only” sign. Certainly this “sign” can only be internalized by the public through radical changes and a showcase of all its stages, milestones with evidence that can shock many.
Q: You have written extensively about extremism and terrorism, exploitation and civilization. Do you think your message has reached the target audience?
A: I think it did but within the limits of the freedom available, not the way I wished. Regarding my criticism of extremism and terrorism, which springs from religious dogma, I intended from the beginning to write in a widely distributed local newspaper so that my message could reach those who were affected the most by Salafi movement. I have noticed in recent years that many of those who were angry with me at first started more or less believing in what I preached 10 years ago.
Q: You stated that the fanatics have a “Pharaonic vision”. Can you explain why did you use this term? And what have endorsing such thesis cost you?
A: The Pharaonic vision is echoed in the Pharaoh’s claim, which is that he alone owns the absolute truth. In a way he is the preacher of all truths. Fundamentalists claim that they alone have the absolute right and that their opinion is always legitimate. They seek by all possible means to suppress all violators. These are the methods of the Pharaonic vision.
As for my loss, I haven’t lost anything that I may regret. I still think that we need to bring something of an intellectual awareness to this kind of thinking, and frankly, we must confront it with its truth. We must admit that they do have the right to occupy a place but not the whole space.
Q: How would you explain that many people were unaffected, including yourself?
A: For example, dozens of cars exceed speeding limit but disasters happen only once in a while. However, without a catalyst, that is high speed, calamity wouldn’t have happened.
Here is an example, if a brilliant preacher asked people to donate what they have in order to help the poor, and he had 1,000 listeners, we will find that he does not expect everyone to respond the same way. Some will spend all what they have and their number may not exceed five or ten. Others will devote a quarter of what they have, some will donate one month’s salary, and there are those who wouldn’t give anything. This is because people, for several subjective and objective reasons, differ in their response to positive reinforcement.
Similarly, a hostile preacher who calls for violence have only a miniscule minority following his commands. The fact that many people did not respond to his claim does not mean the lack of effect of his speech. It is important, in all of this, to remember that the absence of an instigator or a preacher or a curriculum or a book can greatly reduce the likelihood of violence.
Q: Do you feel influenced by Western culture and its achievements? What is your assessment of it?
A: Of course I was deeply affected by it. Otherwise I wouldn’t be who I am today. I share the world’s evaluation of the Western culture. It is the living culture that makes our world today as we know it. It is reshaping the planet, leading the whole humanity to a wider humanitarian spaces, and even manufacturing in unthinkable ways. If we really want to objectively know its value, let us imagine the world four centuries ago. Every great development was thanks to the Western civilization. Without it, we would still be living in all kinds of misery, ignorance, poverty and disease and fighting persecution.SHOW MORE