Opinion

Mark Zuckerberg, terrorist!

JINOY JOSE P | Updated on April 09, 2014

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The Facebook founder? What are you smoking these days?

I’m perfectly fine. You should pose that question to the Saudi government.

Why bring the Saudis into this?

Well, according to a report by Human Rights Watch, the monarchic regime in Saudi Arabia introduced a series of rules last week, that define atheists as terrorists. The Facebook founder, as you know, is one of the most famous atheists on the planet today. So, by default, Zuckerberg can be a potential terrorist in the eyes of Saudi law.

What’s wrong with atheists?

In fact, the Saudi move was not solely aimed at atheists. Saudi King Abdullah wielded the sword on all forms of political dissent and protests that could “harm public order”. Unfortunately, atheists fall under this category.

I have heard there are some militant atheists groups…

The new laws aim to tackle the increasing movement of Saudis nationals to Syria, to be part of the raging civil war in that country. It so happens that some of them, trained by the military in Syria, came back home and started applying their new skills and ideas to overthrow the monarchy, according to the Saudi government.

To check this, King Abdullah issued Royal Decree 44, which criminalises “participating in hostilities outside the kingdom” with prison sentences of between three and 20 years, says Human Rights Watch. Article 1 of the new rules defines terrorism as “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based”.

To be fair, Saudi Arabia is a theocracy, and can ban non-believers, right?

Technically, it can. While terming atheists terrorists, the government seems to have no issues with the atheist-founded Facebook or other inventions by atheist such as Apple Mac or Microsoft Windows (Bill Gates is an agnostic). Remember, Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud, a member of the Saudi royal family, had significant investments in Apple, which he sold in 2005. I’m sure they will watch Brad Pitt’s movies too — he is a non-believer too.

So why complain?

Human Rights Watch says Saudi authorities have never put up with criticism of their policies, but such recent legislations are way too finicky. These regulations undermine any hope that King Abdullah intends to open a space for peaceful dissent or independent groups.

What are the other impacts of this new law?

Activists Waleed Abu al-Khair and Mikhlif al-Shammari recently lost appeals and will soon begin three-month and five-year sentences for criticising authorities. The new “terrorism” provisions can be used against many such peaceful dissidents and can lead most of them to the gallows.

Well, the Saudis were always somewhat extreme…

They are not the only ones. In 13 countries around the world, people who openly support atheism or reject the official state religion face the gallows under the law, according to the The Freethought Report 2013 by the International Humanist and Ethical Union.

Even though India doesn’t ban atheists officially, our society’s tolerance of non-believers is erratic. You might remember the murder of anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar just about a year ago. Such cases apart, so far so good, I’d say.

Let me guess — you’re an atheist!

Does that matter?

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Published on April 09, 2014
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