BY Portia Crowe , Chicago Sun-Times
Since Syria’s conflict began in 2011, a stream of jihadist militants has travelled from Saudi Arabia to join rebels fighting the regime of Bashar al Assad. Although travelling fighters are a Saudi tradition going back to the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the Saudi government worries that this time they may return home and take up arms against the monarchy.
So it was perhaps no surprise when the government this year criminalized the act of fighting in foreign conflicts, and named as “terrorist” several groups with which the Saudi jihadists identify: Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, and various factions of al-Qaida.
What was surprising was the inclusion of another group on the “terrorist” list: Saudi atheists. (join AAI petition and action against this law)
They were included to make the law politically palatable to the country’s right- wing fundamentalists. Gregory Gause, a Brookings Institution researcher who specializes in Persian gulf politics, said that members of Saudi Arabia’s religious right often accuse the regime of restricting them while allowing criticism from their liberal opponents — especially since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
So when authorities designed this legislation to rein in right-wing extremists, Gause said they included atheism to give the message, “‘It’s not just you; we’re also cracking down on the evil secularists.’”
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