06/19/2004, 00.00
saudi arabia
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Free the Christian O'Connor to Defeat Fundamentalism

by Bernardo Cervellera

The bloody and swollen head of Paul Johnson dangles from the hands of an  unknown man in Al Qaeda's on-line video which announces the decapitation. It is the umpteenth defeat suffered by  civilisation and is the work of barbarians.

AsiaNews asked some Muslim intellectuals to comment on the execution. The  reply? This is not true Islam, it's only politics. Al Qaeda kills because it wants to destroy the kingdom of Saudia Arabia.

 It's true. Among Al Qaeda's plans is the destruction of all Muslim leaderships which are on good terms with the detestable western world. The first in line in the House of Saud which allows the sacred land  of Islam to be trampled upon by foreigners and the faithless.

 However, the assertion is only partly true. Throughout the history of Islam,  there has been an internal battle regarding who keeps alive the purest form of Islam. Muslims wanting to break away from  the past were marked down as "the faithless". It is the iconoclastic and Manichaean tradition of the war of good versus  evil, of good over evil, which is embodied in a political enemy which is branded 'foreign' or 'pagan', which has existed across the centuries in the history of Islam.

 It is not enough to say "that's not true Islam". Islam must come forth and  show tolerance and dialogue, it must accuse these cruel deviations as not only political choices but must label them a betrayal to the Islamic faith, which has a passion for life.

 When the Pope was in Kazakhstan, a few days after September 11th, he appealed to the whole world to label terrorism as something which offends not only human dignity (the political element), but also the sacredness of God (the religious element).

 In the case of Johnson, it's true that Islamic opinion has been voiced,  maybe for the first time, in his defence. One of Johnson's collegues who went by the pseudonym 'Al Mumin' (the Believer) sent  an email to numerous Arab websites, even the fundamental ones, in the hope of coming into contact with his  kidnappers. In the message he quotes the prophet Mohammed: "If they are guaranteed protection then it is forbidden to kill  them, steal from them and wound them." A few days before, six Koranic doctors denounced the abduction of foreigners as a "serious sin".

But the real problem comes from Saudi Arabia. For centuries, the House of  Saud, and today's Saudi royal family, have supported a Wahabite Islam which is one of the most intollerant and violent, as the cornerstone of their power. Now this distructive form of Islam has turned against them.

 However, if the House of Saud wants to survive it must draw back from promoting fundamentalism, as it has already done in Africa and South-east Asia. It must offer an Islam capable of living  alongside other religions.

Over the past few days we have published information on the situation of the Catholic, Brian O'Connor, who was arrested for preaching the gospel in Riyadh. The prison guards tortured him and  'played football' with his head. A regime which supports such humiliations will inevitably allow other humiliations and decapitations  to take place.

Fundamentalism can be defeated if Saudi Arabia  becomes a place of religious freedom. Such freedom will allow schools to teach tollerance, society will appreciate female individuality and the economy will not have profit as its single motive.

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