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Last Updated: Monday, 18 July, 2005, 10:37 GMT 11:37 UK
Saudi Stories: The booklet

Bill Law
Reporter, Saudi Stories

Hassan is a thin, edgy man in his early 40s. We have agreed to meet in the home of a friend, in the Eastern Province city of Dammam. Hassan is a Shia Muslim. He has something he wants me to see.

SAUDI STORIES
Saudi Arabian men
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Sunni Muslims rule the country. But here in the oil-rich Eastern Province, Shia are the majority. Yet for years they have experienced religious and social persecution.

I'd met Hassan once before, in 2003. Then he had told me about school texts that taught that the Shia were "bad Muslims and unbelievers".

When I ask him if that is still the case, he acknowledges the government has made an effort to remove some of the most intolerant and hateful language from schools.

And then he shows me the booklet.

'Chilling message'

It's glossy and well produced, part of a series intended to, as the cover blurb states, "propagate true Islam and call non-Muslims to Islam" and it is given to foreign workers by a government supervised charity.

The booklet is printed in several languages, this one is in Indonesian, and illustrated with Arabic quotes taken from the Koran and hadiths - narrative accounts of the sayings or customs of the prophet Muhammad and his companions.

The land is still ripe to produce more terrorists. It's a question of providing a fertile ground for this ideology to grow in. If we're able to fix the problem and grow something decent again, then we will be safe
Hussein Shobokshi
Liberal writer
Chillingly, it advocates the killing of those who are "refusers". It's a term of contempt, he says, directed at the Shia.

The organisation that produces and distributes the booklets is called the Islamic Cultural Center.

The charity falls under the remit of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, one of the most powerful in the Kingdom.

The booklet could not have been published without the ministry's knowledge and approval.

Later I show the booklet to Hussein Shobokshi a writer and outspoken liberal. I ask him if he is surprised or shocked by its contents.

"Not at all," he says.

"We are told to think of them as people who are lost. We are told to kill them," he tells me, shaking his head.

'Despair'

When I approach the Saudi government about the booklet I'm told: "The government does not condone nor will it tolerate any incitement to violence. All citizens are equal and the government has a strong programme of reform."

But one official speaking anonymously tells me: "I know these books are being distributed and I know we are not doing anything about it. It fills me with despair."

For his part Mr Shobokshi is unequivocal. For him the booklet is a symptom of a deep illness running through Saudi society and infecting the broader Muslim world.

"The most important war is the ideological war," he says. He accepts the government may be winning the frontline war on the jihadists, but argues they are losing the strategic battle.

"The land is still ripe to produce more terrorists. It's a question of providing a fertile ground for this ideology to grow in. If we're able to fix the problem and grow something decent again, then we will be safe."

I ask him what he believes will happen if the government doesn't take firm action against the ideology of intolerance and the booklet Hassan showed me?

Hussein Shobokshi's reply is blunt: "As long as this message is allowed to be distributed, we will never win the war on terror."


Bill Law's series, Saudi Stories was first broadcast in June and July 2005 on Radio 4 and World Service.

The Saudi Stories programmes are available to listen online or to download in two installments as part of the BBC Podcasting trial.




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