Fox News' Bret Baier reported the Hamza Kashgari story in brief on February 20, giving it little more three tweet's worth of space (the amount of Kashgari's "blasphemous" material):
Finally, a young Saudi blogger has been sent back to his homeland to face trial and possible execution triggered by comments he made on Twitter that were seen as blasphemous against the Prophet Mohammed
The smooth passive voice eliminates state actors and state religion
Hamza Kashgari has apologized for sending three tweets of a fictional conversation with the prophet Mohammed that quickly sparked thousands of angry responses and even death threats.
No official reaction from the Saudi government.
Gee, did they even have anything to do with it?
U.S. human rights groups have asked the State Department to intervene.
Kind of takes it out of Fox News' hands. What a relief! That's Saudi Conservative Media for you.
Now, for a liberal take on the story, courtesy Richard Cohen:
Keep your eye on Hamza Kashgari. He's the 23-year-old former columnist for Saudi Arabia's Al-Bilad newspaper who had the extremely bad judgment to tweet an imaginary conversation he was having with the Prophet Muhammad.
"Extremely bad judgment"? Love the casual concession to totalitarian Islam. What would Cohen say about Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago? I guess that was super-extremely mega-colossal bad judgment.
In almost no time, he was running for his life, hopping a plane in Jeddah and hoping to reach New Zealand. In Malaysia, where he apparently had to change planes, he was held incommunicado until a private plane arrived from Saudi Arabia. He's now back home, in jail and possibly facing a death sentence.
Rather more detail that Bret Baier gave Fox viewers.
I have a certain soft spot for fellow columnists who get into trouble, especially when the issue is what we in America would call freedom of speech.
Such a ringing declaration of human rights!
But I have a certain soft spot, too, for Saudi Arabia.
When I was there, I was treated with great courtesy and hospitality,
That was easy.
and, like any romantic schooled in multiple viewings of "Lawrence of Arabia," I am besotted by the considerable charms of the desert. ...
Cohen of Arabia
Sooner or later, however, Saudi Arabia has to choose what century it is in. It cannot both strive for the high-tech world of tomorrow and at the same time have medievalists dictate and limit the boundaries of freedom. Kashgari may be something of a jerk for the way he taunted the religious authorities -- and picking the Muslim nation of Malaysia for a stopover wasn't too smart, either -- but nothing he did remotely resembles a capital crime. ...
Cohen couldn't be more incorrect. What Kashgari did is indeed a capital crime -- under the law of Islam, not the law of the Free World. "Besotted" by camel opera and "hospitality," however, Cohen can't see straight. Like a Western tool under a Communist spell in days of yore, Cohen has become a transmission belt of conflicted mish-mash. But mark the egregious disparagement due to dhimmitude: In Cohen's eyes, Kashgari is "something of a jerk" for crossing the law of Islam. Doesn't he know better? This is akin to the egregious way in which Pennsylvania Judge Mark Martin disparaged plaintiff Ernest Perce as a "doofus" for crossing Islamic law in the USA.
In his new book, "Saudi Arabia on the Edge: The Uncertain Future of an American Ally," my former Washington Post colleague Thomas W. Lippman writes that Saudi Arabia could choose to become another Norway, an oil-rich nation transforming an abundant natural resource into a knowledge-based economy. This is what Saudi Arabia says it wants to do. Its websites bristle with news about business, about investment opportunities and the great advances the kingdom has made in just about everything. In a certain sense, this is all true.
"Norway"? In one sense, this is pure agitprop. In another, given Norway's aggressively Arabist-Leftist government, it is more apt that either Cohen or Lippmann may realize.
But the Kashgari affair shows a Saudi underbelly that is just plain revolting.
An "underbelly" is unseen, netherworld stuff. Sharia in Saudi Arabia is front and center -- just past the camels and the hospitality.
There is nothing romantic about beheadings, and there is nothing romantic about religious zealotry. The kingdom in fact was founded by marrying the House of Saud with the zealous and intemperate Ikhwan, a fierce Bedouin tribal army.
The "House of Saud" being a bunch of free-thinking Bohos before some unfortunate matchmaking ....
The alliance enabled Ibn Saud to conquer much of the Arabian Peninsula. It has been an absolute and extremely conservative monarchy ever since. ...
Ever since the 7th century, he means.
Saudi Arabia's history and culture are unique -- and so, too, is the role the nation plays in Islam. It is host to Mecca and Medina, cities of immense religious significance,
and if the royal family comes under any pressure for religious reasons, it is not for being intolerant but for not being intolerant enough. This is a very strange land.
This is a very strange column.
I am aware of the king's role as custodian of the holy places, and I am aware of his political need to mollify the country's powerful and totally medieval religious establishment.
Clearly, we are hearing the yarn Cohen's hospitable Saudi hosts spun for him. Poor King, you see, is in between a rock and hard place -- just as Stalin, for example, used to be when he, such a reasonable fellow, had to mollify that pesky Politburo.(Of course, just as Stalin was boss of the Politburo, the King, according to many press accounts, ordered up Kashgari's capture and return to house arrest.)
Then, Cohen seems to unravel a little:
But Saudi Arabia cannot remain under the thumb of an extremely reactionary religious establishmentthat in some sense is as powerful as the royal family. It's hard to attract -- or keep -- first-class talent in what, after all, is a very weird place. Women are not permitted to drive, and the chance remark, if it is deemed heretical, can result in draconian punishment.
Frankly, the economic progress of Saudi Arabia does not concern me today -- and neither do the complicated role and obligations of the king
My cultural relativism takes me only so far. It stops way short of condoning the execution of anyone for an errant, if silly, tweet.
A life is on the line. I asked the Saudi Embassy in Washington the status and the whereabouts of Kashgari and was told to put my request in writing -- an e-mail. That was late last week and I have heard nothing. So keep your eye on Hamza Kashgari -- in some ways the future of Saudi Arabia, in all ways merely a terrified human being.
Poor Saudi Arabia?