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The Internet vs. Hamza Kashgari

How an online lynch mob left a Saudi writer facing a death sentence


 

From the green-clad tide of pro-democracy demonstrators who took to the streets of Tehran in 2009 to the ongoing demonstrations in Egypt, we’ve been led to believe that social media can be a force for good. Young people inciting others to action against repressive regimes through Twitter; witnesses putting videos on YouTube decrying state-sponsored violence; Facebook groups inviting protesters to gather at a square to chant for freedom. Yet in the case of Hamza Kashgari, a 23-year-old newspaper columnist from Saudi Arabia, the Internet has emerged as the source of repression.

Saudi Arabian authorities have charged Kashgari with blasphemy, apostasy and atheism for a series of tweets about the Islamic prophet Muhammad he posted on Feb. 4. On the prophet’s birthday, Kashgari wrote: “I love many things about you and hate others, and there are many things about you I don’t understand” /  “On your birthday, I shall not bow to you” / “I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more.” (Translations from the WashingtonPost and the Christian Science Monitor.) Minutes after the posts went live, hundreds of angry tweeters were using a hashtag translated as “Hamza Kashgari the dog” urging authorities to punish him. (A hashtag is the “#” symbol used to identify topics on Twitter; dogs are considered unclean animals by many Muslims, so calling someone a “dog” is particularly offensive.)

Kashgari deleted his messages and apologized that same day, but by then he had offended many people. The Internet lynch mob extended to Facebook, where a group called “The Saudi people want the execution of Hamza Kashgari” reportedly gathered over 20,000 fans in just two days. Sheikh Nasir al-Omar, an Islamic activist who posts a daily video lesson on YouTube, wept dramatically as he called for Kashgari’s execution for blasphemy in his Feb. 5 appearance: “I plead to the King and Prince, God bless them, that these people are taken to the Islamic courts for punishment,” he says. (Watch the subtitled video here.)

Having seemingly learned from Egyptian and Iranian states to keep an eye on social media, Saudi authorities took note of the online outrage against Kashgari and raced to capitalize on it. The columnist was apprehended in Malaysia, where he had stopped on his way to New Zealand to escape, and sent back to his native Saudi Arabia. Kashgari is now in jail. According to Waleed Abu Alkhair, a human rights lawyer who has been tweeting about the case, he is being kept in solitary confinement and has been denied access to a lawyer. Earlier this week, Kashgari was denied a trial before the Information Ministry, meaning he will have to appear before a religious court instead. Apostasy, one of the charges laid against him, is punishable by death.

Ironically, Kashgari’s best hope for survival may be with a support campaign that has gone viral on the Internet. His case has become the latest cause célèbre online, with thousands of people calling for his release on different social media outlets. The Facebook page called “Save Hamza Kashgari” counts 8,000 followers. Major human rights organizations have taken up the case, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Friends of the columnist have created the page freehamza.com, where over 22,000 people have signed a petition calling for his release; at least two other pro-Kashgari petitions are also circulating the Web. Several famous human rights activists with large Twitter followings, including Cuba’s Yoani Sánchez (over 200,000 followers) and Arabic journalist Dima Khatib (over 87,000 followers) are mobilizing support for Kashgari.

His case has already crossed over into the political arena. On Feb. 20, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, Grand Mufti of Egypt and a respected Islamic jurist, told an English-language newspaper he disagrees with Kashgari’s treatment. “[In Egypt,] we don’t kill our sons, we talk to them,” he said. Hussein Ibish, one of the most respected secular Arab scholars and a Senior Research Fellow at the Washington-based American Task Force on Palestine, wrote on Feb. 21 he believes Kashgari won’t be executed thanks to the mounting public pressure on Saudi authorities. However, Kashgari could still face years in prison—by all means a disproportionate punishment for his actions.

The online mob that prompted Kashgari’s downfall calls into question the notion that social media is an inherently positive force. In this disturbing case, it was the righteous and the blood-hungry who mobilized first. Dr. Anatoliy Gruzd, Director of the Social Media Lab at Dalhousie University, says that, “as a tool, social media can be used for good or for evil.” However, Gruzd says the evidence shows social media is “more likely to be used as a source for good, because it tends to democratize societies.”

It could be weeks, or months, before Kashgari’s case is settled. But in the meantime, his case has sent a chill among social media users in countries where repressive governments are learning how to use the tools for their own, twisted benefit.


 

The Internet vs. Hamza Kashgari

  1. Slowly but surely, the subjugated Saudi people and the international community is discovering the true nature of the absolute autocratic and theocratic Saudi ruling dynasties.
    This discussant has been arguing, for 3 decades, that Islam has become an effective tool of oppression, discrimination, segregation, deprivation, misappropriation, subjugation, corruption, humiliation and intimidation.
    The questions that must be asked are: Why only Muslims become enraged and violent, collectively, when their faith and prophets are criticized or insulted?
    Who is more dangerous to society and humanity, the man who tweeted a dream he had with the prophet or the ruling dynasties and thousands of their followers who is demanding his head for expressing his personal opinion? What harm did he do to Saudi society? Islam is a concept, no one can harm a concept.
    Hamza case should be of a great concern to Muslims and non-Muslims, especially at a time when the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), headquartered in Saudi Arabia, is trying to force the international community to adopt and implement the anti blasphemy and apostate UN Resolution 16/18. You know, the same charges mounted against Hamza.
    But there is more. Hamza case is designed to do the following:
    Hunting down and bringing a 23-year-old innocent man back to face Saudi justice is only a small instance of the Saudi far-reaching objective.
    The repercussions of Hamza’s misfortune are dangerously multifaceted. The Saudi regime wants to reassure its already subjugated citizenry that although they may run, they will have no place to hide, especially in Muslim countries.
    The regime also wants to convince Muslims, worldwide, that the Saudi rulers are the only true defenders of Islam, especially at a time when Muslim parties are ascending to power in countries like Egypt and Tunisia. The Saudi autocracies fear that these parties will overshadow them because they are elected by and accountable to the masses whose revolutions put them in power.
    In addition, the Saudi autocracies want to remind the beneficiaries of their largess and nepotism, especially the 56 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), headquartered in Saudi Arabia, that far-reaching financial and religious measures will be applied if Saudi demands are not readily heeded as in the example of Malaysia.
    However, the real target of Saudi religious and economic intimidation and blackmail are Western democracies, their institutionalized religious freedoms, and freedom of all forms of expression. This is what the OIC’s sponsored United Nations (UN) Resolution 16/18 is designed to accomplish. It must be rejected by “anyone who cares about freedom of expression and religion.”
    Even the apologetic Washington Post could not ignore the hypocritical and double Saudi talks. Read below:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-kings-hypocrisy/2012/02/13/gIQA71wxBR_story.html
    The Saudi king’s hypocrisy
    By Editorial Board, Published: February 13
    IT’S HARD to top the bloody hypocrisy of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, but Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah is making a run at it. On Friday, the king delivered an angry speech denouncing the United Nations Security Council’s failure to act on Syria, where Saudi Arabia is supporting an Arab League plan for a “democratic transition” that would end the Assad regime. “The world is ruled by brains, by justice, by morals and by fairness,” he piously declared.
    That same day, the Saudi ruler’s security forces were firing on protesters near the eastern town of Qatif, inflicting a fatality for the second consecutive day. Meanwhile, the regime’s diplomats were arranging for the swift deportation from Malaysia of a fugitive Saudi journalist, who fled the country after tweets he authored about the prophet Muhammad led to demands for his arrest and execution.
    According to Saudi reports, King Abdullah was among those requesting the prosecution of Hamza Kashgari, a 23-year-old columnist for a newspaper in Jeddah. Mr. Kashgari, a supporter of the cause of liberal change that triggered the Arab Spring, sent out tweets on Muhammad’s birthday addressing him as an equal and saying, “I love many things about you and hate others.” For good measure, he objected to the status of Saudi women, saying they won’t go to hell “because it’s impossible to go there twice.”
    Though he later apologized, Mr. Kashgari faces trial and a possible death sentence. His persecution has been facilitated by another champion of double-talk, the government of Malaysia, which claims to respect the rule of law but bundled Mr. Kashgari onto a private Saudi jet Sunday in spite of a court order prohibiting his deportation.Saudi Arabia is doing its best to bring about the end of Mr. Assad, whose Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, is a minority in a country with a plurality of Sunni Muslims. It argues that the Security Council must act not because of Mr. Assad’s sect but because of his brutality. Yet at home, this Sunni regime doesn’t hesitate to open fire on protesters from its own minority Shiite population — or to threaten a liberal columnist with execution.
    The Obama administration, which has loudly and repeatedly called for Mr. Assad’s departure, has had much less to say about King Abdullah’s repression. In December, it approved a $30 billion arms sale to his regime. Now it chastises Russia for supplying arms to Syria. Of course the violence in Syria is far greater than that of Saudia Arabia — more than 7,000 people have been killed, and rebels are being attacked with tanks and artillery.
    But brains, justice, morals and fairness are in short supply not only in Mr. Assad’s Damascus but in the royal palaces of Riyadh as well.

    • God says,  “Vengence is mine”. The (true)  Follwers of the true God know that, and leave vengence and retribution to him.  The god of Islam is an impotent god, indeed he is no god at all.  His followers know that, so they must take vengence into their own hands. To leave it to their god will show to all that he is impotent.

  2. Just a slight correction: The one petition that you mentioned in the article is to be found under http://www.free-hamza.com (including a hyphen).

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