William Bauer interviews a Saudi atheist:
“Please bear in mind, that people are witch hunting for us…so be careful which details you use,” Jabir begins. He is right to be concerned, for he is an atheist in a country where advocating beliefs other than those of a Sunni Muslim engender imprisonment, possible torture, and a theoretical possibility of execution.
Citing works by key Muslim and Arab thinkers, as well as authors such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, Jabir explains that acquiring these books was tricky. Often, he had to smuggle them into Saudi.
“I usually get a few copies of English language books that no one can understand, but I had to cover “God is not Great” with a bag as I went through customs, that was too obvious…”
Then comes another complication, the hiding of these books. The process is so time consuming that Jabir notes: “…if you want to joke with a Saudi atheist ask him “where’s your special book stash?”” Beyond the humour, however, the issue is very serious, and if found with such books, Jabir would be in deep trouble.
In the past ten years, new means of communication have opened doors for many in the Kingdom. Whether it is a young Saudi looking for love, a budding political analyst spoiling for debate, a seasoned writer looking for an audience, or an atheist searching for kindred spirits, the Internet has possibilities for all.
“Facebook and Twitter made it easy to find people who debate and are interested in secular values. We ‘non-believers’ have meetings and groups in a lot of Saudi cities. Although it’s really hard to notice them, if you go into them, then you will be shocked by the numbers and elements of society represented,” Jabir notes.
As encouraging as it is to read about the conscience, resolve, and germs of community of these Saudi atheists, Jabir does not see a cultural transformation coming, describing the attitude of his countrymen as follows:
they don’t care how many people are killed for simply refusing to believe in the religion they were born into, as long as the oil keeps pumping.
On related notes, in June, I interviewed a Moroccan atheist about her experience and a gay Pakistani about his experience. Both are friends of mine who are wonderful people with fascinating and frustrating experiences.