A Kuwaiti actor’s grandson passed away whilst the former was shooting a series. The actor stopped shooting and his Saudi colleague went to offer him his condolences in Kuwait in a “hosseiniyeh” (a Shiite mosque) built in 1905, as the deceased hails from the Shiite sect. A picture of the Saudi actor was published on Twitter along with a long hashtagged comment slandering him and accusing him of treason. He was accused of far worse as one of the critics said “a sectarian regime kills Qusayr’s children, how can you offer condolences to the sons of this sect whom the killers hail from?”
The situation has become as such; we support he who belongs to our group even if he is unfair. We don’t sympathize with the other and his pain if injustice falls upon himBadria al-Bishr
One can say that people with such a demagogic approach don’t represent a big percentage of the public. But they are not small in their numbers either. They have exposed a malicious racist spirit that places its pains above all others’ pain. They are moved by the desire of blind vengeance. They know no mercy, tolerance or justice. They consider that the ones responsible for all these pains are everyone who belongs to the sect of the tyrant. This is how crimes were attributed to people who have nothing to do with the fighting in the Syria. They were only attributed to them because they happen to belong to the same sect. They have thus given up on our unity and national and Gulf security, dividing society into categories of those who are our within our group, even if they reside overseas, and of those who are not of our group even if they share land and interests with us.
A disturbing conversation
At first, I thought they were bats of darkness on Twitter. I thought they were masked people who enjoy insulting, criticizing and accusing others of infidelity on Twitter because they know no one can pursue them or hold them accountable. But I later realized that the situation is far more dangerous and expanded than that. A university scholar who teaches in a prominent university in our country wrote “we must remind our children that the infidel Shiite and Alawites are the ones who [committed crimes] against our people in Qusayr. I will spit in the face of whoever preaches to me about tolerance.” A Saudi reminded him of humanitarian, cultural, national and religious references that unite people and described the former’s stance as reactionary and primitive. The university teacher responded saying: “Welcome to reactionism and primitiveness that will purge our country of your impurity.”
I hope no one attempts to mix this prejudice with the issue of Iran and political groups that sabotage our country and other Gulf areas under the pretext of sectarianism. I am talking here about a patriotic belonging that doesn’t differentiate among people upon sectarian bases. I am referring to a patriotic belonging that unites people on the basis of Islam as a religion. During the era of King Abdullah bin Abdelaziz this is what pushed him, during an Islamic conference, to recognize eight Muslim sects. The agenda of political reforms during his era also made sure to include this sectarian diversity within the council of senior religious scholars and within foreign diplomatic representation as well as within the membership of the Shura Council. So where does this sectarian aspect that distinguished itself and became extreme, dividing people into groups instead of categorizing them as part of society, come from? The situation has become as such; we support he who belongs to our group even if he is unfair. We don’t sympathize with the other and his pain if injustice falls upon him and we doubt him even when he’s innocent. As for he who opposes us and who belongs to our group but has not become a fanatic, he is a traitor or an infidel like the others, or a westernized secular.
Our national identity is a multiple one. Yet it’s united. It’s expanded but narrow. Belonging to land and the state where you’re living and your sons’ future lies comes ahead of everything. This does not prevent us from aiding our brothers whom we are united with regarding humanity, religion and nationalism. But the latter support must not be carried out to the extent of giving up our national belonging. We have not heard of such aid unless when describing national treason. Unfortunately, it’s happening today under the pretext of “Islamic support.”
This article was first published in al-Hayat on June 12, 2013.
Dr. Badria al-Bishr is a multi-award-winning Saudi columnist and novelist. A PhD graduate from the American University of Beirut, and an alumnus of the U.S. State Department International Visitor program. Her columns put emphasis on women and social issues in Saudi Arabia. She currently lectures at King Saud University's Department of Social Studies.