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Thursday, 14, September, 2006 (20, Sha`ban, 1427)

Our Articles and Their Israeli Translations
Hatoon Al-Fassi, Arab News

MY ARTICLE for this week should have been on the Sept. 11 attacks and their repercussions. But there is another important subject, which is somewhat related and seems to be more demanding. In my view, the terrorist attacks that took place on Sept. 11, 2001, had less impact on Saudi society in comparison to Western societies. We actually felt Sept. 11 on May 12, 2003, when the first wave of terrorist blasts hit Riyadh and when we saw face to face that those responsible for the terrorist attacks were our own children.

What I am talking about today is our position among Muslims who live in the West in general and our role in promoting extremism among them, particularly among the young Muslims of Britain. I have already written two articles on the topic. In the first article entitled “British Muslims Between Two Identities and Interests,” printed on Aug. 15, 2006, I pointed out that Britain’s discrimination and sidelining of immigrant Muslims has been one of the main causes of creating a culture of extremism among Muslims in Britain. I also mentioned some violent British responses in Manchester in the 1990s.

In the second article entitled “Extremism of Muslims in the West and Our Responsibility” published on Aug. 21, 2006, I pointed out that certain expressions of extremism among young British Muslims were mainly caused by certain “fatwas” or religious edicts issued by some of our scholars. According to letters I received from readers, similar extremist practices are found in the United States as well as in other European countries in varying degrees. These people hold a unilateral interpretation of the religion to be responsible for this phenomenon.

In the second article I mentioned activities of the Islamic student associations in Manchester. The article was translated into English by a pro-Israeli research center called the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) and many foreign websites reproduced the article mentioning their original source — MEMRI. As a result I received several letters from many unknown readers. I had no knowledge of MEMRI until my husband explained to me what the organization was and what its activities were. Established in 1998 in Washington by Yigal Carmon, a retired Israeli general, MEMRI’s main objective is to monitor what is published in the Arab, Persian and Turkish media.

After 2001, MEMRI’s activities became even more important and the organization worked toward translating articles and reports on political, intellectual and economic developments in the Middle East. MEMRI focuses on issues related to terrorism, extremism and Islam as well as on US relations and Arab-Israeli ties. Carmon worked for years for the Israeli intelligence service. After retirement he was selected as an adviser to Yitzhak Shamir and Yitzhak Rabin on terrorism. MEMRI’s board of directors includes a number of researchers, mostly Jews and specialists in Arab studies. Fundamentally MEMRI is a right-wing organization which supports the Zionist, Israeli enemy.

I am not denying the fact that MEMRI’s translation of my article was accurate and beautifully written. However, I would like to point out that intentionally or unintentionally MEMRI failed to translate my first article which dealt with Britain’s discriminatory practices and which, in an objective manner, presented an accurate picture of what is happening there. Articles appearing on MEMRI’s website are read by specialists who look for exciting and spicy news in order to use them for other purposes.

I received a letter from a reader in Manchester who asked me to provide him details of Friday sermons which I said favored Arabs and sidelined women. My intention was to discourage British Muslims from being inducted into extremist ideology as it will benefit neither their societies nor their religion but rather be instrumental in making people run away from them and thus isolating them. I also feared that this trend was our creation. But the British writer was not interested in that part of the story. It appears that he wanted to collect information on religious activism within Islamic associations in Britain, perhaps to stop them or restrain their activities or perhaps from some other motive. Providing such information would be the last thing I would do.

In fact, Islamic student societies in Britain are doing many good things. The associations have been able to establish their presence after exerting great effort. The message of my article was primarily addressed to us in order to point out how the religious opinions of some of our scholars lead some youths to adopt extremist views.

Many of our religious edicts are publicized by looking at Islam from one angle, something that gives the impression that one view is the only correct one and thus placing other Muslims with differing viewpoints in a difficult position. In my article I criticized the Juma sermon at the university mosque, as it was no different from our Juma sermons that ignore public issues as well as private concerns. The university mosque is for students and most of the scholars who delivered sermons were Arabs. They criticized British Muslims for not learning Arabic — as if learning Arabic is the solution to all their problems. They often ignore the problems faced by Muslims in the West, including cultural differences and how to protect their identity and religion.

At the same time, Muslim students in Manchester have interacted and been vocal on Arab and Islamic issues including the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo. I know some women students who are members of Islamic organizations and they joined relief convoys from Manchester University in support of the Bosnian Muslims. They went alone to help their Bosnian sisters — this was something that presented a noble image of Muslim teenage girls. When the issue of Kosovo came to the fore, I cooperated with these girls to raise donations and enlighten the public on crimes committed against Muslims in Kosovo. These young Muslim men and women also reacted positively to the Palestinian issue and supported Iraqi resistance. They organized demonstrations calling for the rights of Muslims and a stop to injustices against them. They also participated in seminars that dealt with social, political and intellectual issues.

I am not writing this article to express my fears about the selective translation of my article by MEMRI. I am happy with every word in that article. The translation of that article shows that there are no borders that separate different parts of the globe, and that our words can reach east and west within seconds. I am against the concept of isolation and approaching things in a different manner for local and external consumption. I consider the concept of seclusion to be naïve, especially in our age of openness. However, I fear misuse of this article, which may be taken out of context to serve a different purpose. In those circumstances, I don’t have any choice except to continue writing in defense of what I believe.

Hatoon Al-Fassi is a Saudi historian based in Riyadh. She can be reached at: