Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Treating Ideological Sickness in Riyadh

"Prison is not just to punish a person and then let him out. That's a danger to him and to society."
"If he gets out and is good with himself, his family and society, that is better."
Abu Nawaf, assistant prison director, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

"Here, we treat ideological sickness. Just like when a child gets sick and gets better, the sickness can come back later."
"[The Prince Mohammed bin Nayef Center for Advice and Care teaches] correct Shariah thought."
Nasser al-Ajmi, psychologist
Charles Dharapak / AP
Saudi officials say recidivism is low, but Abu Nawaf could provide no statistics. And the International Committee of the Red Cross has no presence in Saudi Arabia, so it cannot monitor prison conditions  24News.ca

"I saw that people were being displaced as refugees, so I wanted to save them." "Then I went there and saw chaos, people killing everyone else, and you didn’t know who was your friend and who was your enemy."
"I am a victim of the American government and the American media."
Abdullah Mohammed, 29, formerly with the Nusra Front, Syria
Prisoners in this special high-security prison for jihadists in Saudi Arabia are referred to as "guests". Orwellian, at the very least. Jihadists who behave themselves while behind its walls are meant to be aided in reconnecting with wives and children and normal life. Any of these guests who have committed jihadist crimes outside of Saudi Arabia are considered as having been misled, as Saudi sons, requiring a re-alignment of their perceptions. Crimes taking place within the kingdom merit a different kind of incarceration and punishment.

The ultimate purpose is to rehabilitate them, have them recognize the error of their ways, and absorb them back into society as loyal and obedient subjects of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Al-Ha'ir Prison, south of Riyadh is a very special place. Within its five facilities over five thousand inmates held responsible for terrorist-related offences are gently treated. Those newly-arrived are assessed by psychologists who identify any social factors leading to their having gone astray; suspected drugs, alcohol, family matters, or simply being with the 'wrong' crowd.

If deemed appropriate, the next step is for the new inmates to meet with clerics to discuss ideology. According to one of the clerics, Khalid al-Abdan, he is involved in correcting 'misunderstandings' related to jihad. He informs inmates that the wars taking place in Syria and Iraq have no relation to jihad since they are sectarian in nature and political, and not particularly about religion. Jihad is religion-specific, where faithful Muslims of all stripes from anywhere in the world are called upon to 'defend' Islam and prepare for a final, overwhelming conquest.

Over 1,700 male inmates find their homes in wards interconnected with bright white corridors where the iron gates, the doors and the guard booths are painted purple. Charming beyond mere words. Benefits of a certain nature elemental to male happiness are provided, according to Abu Nawaf; a monthly stipend for example, equivalent to $400 to enable the purchase of incidentals and enabling inmates to meet obligations during times of temporary release to attend family functions such as weddings.

The public areas are large and comfortably appointed with couches and tables. Inmates not considered dangerous are entitled to "special visits" from their wives. There, they meet in intimate settings, rooms painted pink, with pink beds, complete with a non-alcoholic mini-bar, and a bathroom. Each wife may visit once monthly, and if a man has multiple wives, each of those wives
is entitled to similar visits; four wives for one man amounts to one visit per week. Being on death row is no problem; "It is not only his right. It is his wife’s right, too", emphasizes Abu Nawaf.

There are, regrettably, problems with recidivism. As an example, a young Saudi, Yousef al-Sulaiman, whose stay at the reform center two years ago exposed him to the healing powers of forgiveness, but those powers appear to have faded once outside the prison. In August he blew himself up inside a mosque used by security forces, killing fifteen people. Nor is his the only instance, since other graduates of this and other center branches have also chosen a return to militancy. One was another man who blew himself up close to a mosque last year.

The absurdity of this all is that Saudi Arabia uses its vast oil wealth to expose Muslims as young students in the madrassas they fund all over the world, to the Saudi brand of extreme Wahhabist Islam. It is directly from within that indoctrination that jihad is emphasized. And it is from that exposure to fanatical Islam represented by the Wahhabist brand that al-Qaeda emanated, and later the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

It is the brand of Islam that found huge favour with the Muslim Brotherhood. That old common-sense phrase, "Physician heal thyself" cannot possibly relate to such a situation where an extreme religious ideology leads to an extreme religious response, yet the entity that espouses that ideology obligingly makes an effort to mitigate that extreme response.

Something doesn't compute here.

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