Quick Notes: Saudi Arabia, Margot Adler, and UK Hindus

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  April 10, 2010 — 2 Comments

Saudi Arabia’s Internal War Against Other Faiths: A few quick notes for you on this Saturday, starting with another story out of Saudi Arabia of a foreign national being held on dubious charges. This time a Hindu Indian woman and her newborn child are being kept in solitary confinement after being accused of poisoning her husband for converting to Islam.

“An Indian doctor in Saudi Arabia has been in solitary confinement with her infant child for nearly 18 days pending investigations into her husband’s suspected murder, after he allegedly converted to Islam. Her husband, also a doctor in Najran, died on January 31. Suspicion that he was poisoned was raised a month later despite certification by a legal medical specialist under the health ministry that cause of death was “myocardial infarction” (heart attack). The spanner came while the family was preparing to leave for India with the body following clearance by the Indian Consulate General in Jeddah … On March 1, the doctor was summoned to a local police station and told that her husband had embraced Islam before his death and for that reason she could not carry the body to India. A fortnight later, she was again made to report to the police and put in solitary confinement with her infant son, born to her on February 18.”

Despite there being no proof of the husband’s conversion, no proof that his wife poisoned him, and no documentation of the supposed “new evidence” being provided to the Indian Consul, she’s been held now for nearly three months, with local authorities engaging in the now-familiar strong-arm tactics.

“The doctor told her mother on being allowed a meeting that investigators had asked her who else was involved with her in the alleged crime.”

No doubt she’s been asked to write a “confession” as well, just like Lebanese citizen Ali Sibat, currently on death row for being a television psychic, and making the mistake of traveling through Saudi Arabia. However, unlike Lebanon, India is a rising economic and nuclear power, and it remains to be seen if Saudi Arabian government will allow this to become an international incident. It’s one thing for a government to oppress its people, this is fairly commonplace, even today. It’s quite another thing for a government to start randomly seizing foreign nationals on trumped-up charges, especially when it seems those being seized are adherents to faiths or beliefs that place them outside the semi-protected “people of the book”. Eventually the crazed religious police and heretic hunters will seize the wrong man or woman, and they’ll find themselves unprotected by the realpolitik that keep the voices crying out about their human rights abuses muffled.

Margot Adler on Journalism and Blogs: The Colorado Daily Camera asks “Drawing Down the Moon” author and NPR journalist Margot Adler five questions while she’s in town for the Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado, and she says some smart (and nice) things about journalism and new media.

I don’t believe in objectivity, but I do believe deeply in fairness, and what that means to me is that when I interview any person, no matter what their politics or views, I try to stand in their shoes. Because I’m very aware of what I believe, I bend absolutely backwards when I talk to (someone I don’t agree with) … I am very excited by some of the new media stuff, I’m very excited by the potential of blogs and I’m excited by some of the independent radio stuff that’s happening. I think that communities talking to each other are really important.

What to say other than I agree with Margot Adler? I too think that fairness is more important than a false objectivity, especially today, and that new media options are empowering communities to inform themselves.

Hindu Voting Power in the UK: In a final note, now that the next general election in the UK has been scheduled for May 6th, The Hindu Forum of Britain (HFB) is encouraging the 3/4 of a million British Hindus to use their votes strategically in order to elect candidates that are responsive to their needs.

“Though dispersed throughout UK, sizeable number of Hindus are concentrated in certain areas like the suburbs of London and the south east, Leicester, West Midlands, Greater Manchester and Yorkshire. In some of these areas, Hindu vote may have a significant impact on who represents them and addresses their concerns in Parliamen … The Forum is implementing a campaign to encourage the community to engage with their prospective parliamentary candidates and to air their views before making an informed decision as to which party to vote for. As part of the campaign, the Forum will be organizing local hustings, distributing information through temples, community centres and other mediums to raise awareness on the importance of voting.”

What’s interesting about this campaign is that it isn’t centered around a blanket endorsement of Labour or the Tories, but is instead asking individuals to evaluate local candidates and to vote for the one most responsive to Hindu issues and concerns. With many predicting a “hung Parliament” due to the race being so close, they may be able to press this situation to gain attention and concessions they never have before. I think religious minorities, especially Pagans, should pay close attention to this campaign, and see if a similar non-partisan issues-focused strategy could benefit us.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Jason Pitzl-Waters