See update at the end.
Chris Stedman wrote a public Facebook post a couple of days ago about a little misunderstanding between him and the people at The National, an English-language newspaper based in the United Arab Emirates. They invited him to write an opinion piece.
I decided to use this opportunity to look at what I think are the most constructive aspects of a UAE-sponsored UN resolution that calls for interfaith dialogue, free expression, and the open debate of ideas.
I would still rather see more secular dialogue (which of course religious people can perfectly well engage in) than interfaith dialogue (which excludes non-religious people). But if the UAE is a fan of free expression and the open debate of ideas that has to be a good thing. Maybe they can exert some pressure on their neighbors to let Raif Badawi and Waleed Abu al-Khair out of prison.
My piece originally opened with the stories of Raif Badawi and Waleed Abu al-Khair, two Saudi prisoners of conscience. (I wrote more about their situations here: http://bit.ly/1zlUVkB) As you will see if you click the link below, their names do not appear in the published piece. I was informed of this decision shortly before the publication deadline; I asked about putting their names back into the piece, but that did not happen.
Well that would have been the moment to say “no piece then.”
While I remain grateful that I had the opportunity to write about the importance of dialogue and free speech, I also believe that Raif and Waleed’s stories and struggles are important—so I plan to donate what I will be paid for this piece to their families, and I hope people will continue to speak out about what they are going through.
Hmm. I have to disagree with Chris here. I don’t think he should be grateful, since in fact the pretense of giving him the opportunity to write about the importance of dialogue and free speech is pretty laughable given the reality. I think he should be indignant rather than grateful, since the people at The Nation did not in fact give him the freedom to discuss a grotesquely savage and cruel punishment for free speech next door to the UAE, but instead cut it out of his article without his consent. I think he should have pointed out the cynicism of the discrepancy to them, and refused to help them with their charade.
Muhammed Syed of EXMNA left a sharp comment about what can be expected of the UAE given their legal code…
The irony of a piece talking about dialogue which is censored to remove mention of a person jailed for creating a website which promoted dialogue is not lost on me, and I hope others as well.
For the future keep these facts in mind as well,
“The government prohibits proselytizing and the distribution of non-Islamic religious literature under penalty of criminal prosecution, imprisonment, and deportation. The law prohibits proselytizing for any religion other than Islam. The government sometimes threatens to revoke the residence permits of persons suspected of proselytizing for a religion other than Islam.
The law prohibits blasphemy, swearing, profanities, insults, and all types of vulgar language and behavior. Offenders are subject to fines, imprisonment, and deportation. The law provides penalties for using the Internet to preach against Islam, proselytize Muslims, “abuse” a holy shrine or ritual of any religion, insult any religion, and incite someone to commit sin or contravene “family values.”
Conversion from Islam to another religion is not recognized, and no data is available detailing the number of conversions. The legal punishment for conversion from Islam is death, although there have been no known prosecutions or legal punishments for apostasy in court.”
Also, check out
I think this is one time when interfaith dialogue was not the way to go.
Update: I tweeted at Chris about this and he told me it happened very fast, while he was traveling. I make terrible decisions under those conditions, so I’ll put all the blame on the people who got him into this. It’s very damn sleazy of them.