The Religious Policeman
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The Religious Policeman was a weblog written by an anonymous blogger describing himself as a Saudi Arabian man, and writing under the pseudonym of Alhamedi Alanezi. The name of the site is a deliberate reference to the Saudi religious policing (Muttawa or Mutaween) organisation called the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. Whilst the blog does feature the Mutaween to great extent, it also concerns itself with the wider subjects of the Saudi Arabian Government's activities, and human rights (or lack of) within that country. Overall, its style is critical and satirical.
The author suspended publication of the blog at various times, claiming reasons of personal safety within that country, and the need to maintain anonymity. The last entry was in 2006, when the author announced that he was planning to write a book. In spite of this, the blog continues to attract a stream of visitors.
Alhamedi started blogging from Riyadh in March 2004, dedicating his blog to the memory of, so he said, "the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11 March 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter." He soon became known for his scathing satirical attacks on the Saudi government and the fundamentalist Wahhabi school which governs all aspects of Saudi society.
In August 2004, Alhamedi announced that he would not be blogging for some time for reasons he did not wish to elaborate on, leading many readers to become concerned that he had been discovered by the Saudi authorities. After a year of silence he reappeared, stating that he moved to London, UK, from where he continued to post regularly until announcing in June 2006 that he was retiring from blogging in order to write a book. Whilst there have been no further entries since then, it still remains a focus of interest, attracting hundreds of visitors each day.
Most of Alhamedi's posts are highly critical of the Saudi ruling family, their policies and the strict imposition of fundamentalist Islamic morals on Saudi society by the Saudi religious police. The treatment of women and of guest workers in Saudi Arabia is also a regular target of criticism. He makes extensive use of satire and humour in his writing.
He generally regards the Saudi royal family as corrupt and incompetent, with a few exceptions, and the religious police and the country's religious leaders as backwards and repressive. While many posts are straightforward factual reporting and analysis, some take the form of imagined conversations between senior Saudi figures such as Prince Naif ibn Abdul Aziz, the Interior Minister, and King Abdullah.
Another common theme is what he sees as hypersensitivity by Muslim leaders to what they see as criticism or blasphemy from non-Muslim countries. During the controversy over the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad by a Danish newspaper in 2005, Alhamedi created the fictitious Muslim Offense Level, a satire of the color-coded threat level advisory system used by the US Department of Homeland Security, intended to keep Muslims informed of how offended they should be feeling on any particular day.
Alhamedi frequently ridicules the inherent racism and xenophobia which is fostered within some aspects of Saudi culture, as well as the official malevolence towards Israeli Jews in particular. For example, in this post he challenges the reader to differentiate between phrases taken from Mein Kampf and those found in current Saudi textbooks, which are believed to "promote an ideology of hatred toward people, including Muslims, who do not subscribe to the Wahhabi sect of Islam." In a typically satiric fashion, he writes:
"In Saudi Arabia, we don't feed our children alcohol. Instead, we feed them race hate. It's a progressive thing, building up layer by layer, using the material you see above. Thankfully, many forget it, just like we all forget algebra and bits of history. But there is a proportion for whom it sticks. They are our "alcoholics". And their hatred extends not only to Jews worldwide, but also the countries that are seen to support them - North America, Europe, Australasia. And a proportion of these decide to do something about it, and sign up with the terrorist groups. Eventually they might get caught, and repatriated. And we have our own "drying-out clinics". It's a program where we get people to talk them round, to see the error of their ways, to be rehabilitated. And unlike a drying-out clinic, we keep them in prison in between times, so you can imagine that the "success rate" is a lot higher."
While most of Alhamedi's posts are critical of the Saudi authorities, he does post positive articles when senior Saudi individuals or bodies take steps or enact policies which he regards as a step in the right direction.
Very little is known about Alhamedi, who guards his anonymity closely in order to avoid the attentions of the Saudi authorities. He claims to be a family man, that he was educated in the UK and the US, and that he is from a fairly prominent tribe in Saudi Arabia, but not one with significant links to the House of Saud.
Though his posts are written exclusively in the English language, Alhamedi has also demonstrated an excellent command of French in the comments section of his blog. It was claimed by some detractors that he was not Saudi at all, citing his limited use of the Arabic language within the blog. However, as Alhamedi pointed out, the blog is intended for an international audience, with English giving the widest international reach. He has demonstrated his familiarity with Arabic when, for example, he explained to readers how to fill out a form on the official Religious Policeman site, the form that citizens can use to complain about the religious transgressions of their neighbours. Alhamedi urged his readers to send the Religious Policeman a bogus complaint, for example denouncing a member of the royal family for having a Christmas carol ringtone on their cellphone.
- The Religious Policeman
- BBC report on Mecca school fire
- Editorial from Dar al-Hayat newspaper criticising The Religious Policeman (Arabic)
- English version of the above article
- "Blogfather" Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit references TRP in the Guardian Online
- The Guardian's Middle East editor referencing TRP (Prince Charles the Islamic Dissident)
- April 25, 2004 - writeup by Tony Allen-Mills in the London Sunday Times (not online).
- Reuters article referring to "The Religious Policeman" -- the most outspoken of all the Saudi bloggers
- http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/1874471.stm Saudi police 'stopped' fire rescue
- http://muttawa.blogspot.com/2006/06/khalas.html 'Khalas'
- http://muttawa.blogspot.com/2005_09_01_archive.html The Official Religious Policeman site