Rod Liddle

The Saudi journalist who could be killed for a tweet

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Hamza Kashgari opted for the wrong stopover; hell, it happens. I don’t know what the flight options are for Riyadh to Wellington but if I’d been in ­Hamza’s shoes I’d have tried to ensure the plane didn’t touch down in Kuala Lumpur, of all places. A non-stop flight would have been much better — but then I suppose it would have been more expensive. I made the mistake, on a long-haul trip, of choosing an airline that stopped in Dubai, just to save a few quid on the fare. The Emiratis confiscated all my alcohol. The ramifications for Kashgari are more acute — he is likely to be ­murdered.

He fled Saudi Arabia because of a number of ‘tweets’ he had made concerning the prophet Mohammed, PBUH etc etc. I have a horrible feeling that the world will end with an injudicious tweet, seeing how people react to them. It is bad enough in this country — a moronic inferno of bitterness and spite, desperate to be transgressed and to gain vengeance for having been transgressed — so you can imagine what it’s like in Saudi Arabia, especially when it’s good ol’ Mohammed who has been supposedly ­transgressed.

The surprise — the first surprise, because the Kuala Lumpur decision was the second — is that Hamza Kashgari didn’t quite grasp what he was getting into when he posted his tweets. You know what they’re like, these people, these Wahhabis. But then Hamza is only 23 years old, a young journalist working at the Saudi newspaper Al Bilad. And — some say crucially — he is not of Saudi descent, but a Uighur from the central Asian state of Turkmenistan, where they are (comparatively) liberal about such matters. Anyway, here is the full extent of the poisonous Islamophobic diatribe he posted online:

‘On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you’ve always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you.

‘On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more.

‘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.’

That’s it. Hardly Lutheran, in its challenge to Islam, is it? But then, it is not yet 1521 in Saudi Arabia; it will be, one day, three or four hundred years hence. So the young journalist posted his tweets, when he might have been better off commemorating the prophet’s birth with something like ‘Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Prophet (PBUH), happy birthday to yoooooooooooo.’ And that’s when the death threats started and the state announced it wanted him locked up and the imams demanded his head on a pole and people began publishing photos of his home address and vigilantes turned up at his local mosque.

He had some form, Kashgari, having previously tweeted his displeasure at the way women were treated in Saudi Arabia with the words: ‘Saudi women won’t go to hell, because it’s impossible to go there twice.’ His card had been marked then.

With his latest tweets, his friends were too scared to defend him, one of them posting the following: ‘Right now we’re not worried about freedom of speech. We’re worried about the safety of our friend. And right now we can only help his safety if we condemn him, and [from there] try to rationalise what he said.’ So they condemned him.

Kashgari apologised, retracted his statement, apologised again but to no avail — eventually he wised up and got the hell out, and booked the wrong flight. He wanted to go to New Zealand and booked a flight which took him there, via Malaysia. At KL he was bundled into custody by the Malaysian Old Bill, at the specific request of their implacable allies the Saudis. Early reports suggested Interpol had been involved, but I rang Interpol and they swore that they’d had no involvement at any level.

I believe them. The Malays these days do as they’re told by their Islamic masters and need no intermediaries. For several years now the Malaysian government, facing a domestic upsurge in support for the ultra-Islamic PAS, has been engaged in demonstrating to the world — and its Islamists at home — its fundamentalist Islamic credentials. The country’s foreign minister insisted that Malaysia should not be used as a transit destination for wanted criminals and bunged Kashgari on the first available plane from whence he came. This was despicable and craven behaviour from a once-­admirable country which has, with some success, convinced the world that it is the moderate face of Islam. It can’t adopt that pose any longer. Kashgari was held in isolation without recourse to legal representation before he was bundled back on a plane to Riyadh. I hope, if you’re thinking of going on holiday to Malaysia, you think again.

According to the Saudis, this young man, Hamza Kashgari, now faces charges of blasphemy and apostasy, which of course in that desert hellhole carries a maximum sentence of death. A young lad was imprisoned there 20 years ago for having mentioned the two words ‘Mohammed’ and ‘penis’ in the same sentence: he’s still inside. There’s a Facebook campaign demanding Kashgari’s release, called Free Hamza Kashgari — but I don’t suppose it will be of much use.