Friday, July 18, 2008

Islamist fundamentalism on the move in Yemen

Well, we can't be against protecting virtue and fighting vice, can't we?
Ami Isseroff

Abdul Majid Al-Zindani, Sadiq Al-Ahmar, Hussein Al-Ahmar and company prepare to address the crowd of 6,000 who gathered to hear about the new "Authority for Protecting Virtue and Fighting Vice." YT photo by Almigdad Mojalli
SANA'A, July 15 — A meeting hosted by Sheikh Abdul Majid Al-Zindani announced on Tuesday that it intends to create a new para-governmental authority to comb the streets and root out anything in society that the committee deems to be a vice, including co-education in schools and universities and television series played during the month of Ramadan.
The newly-created Authority for Protecting Virtue and Fighting Vice said they will work side-by-side with the concerned governmental authorities. Members said they plan that the authority will be responsible for finding offenders who are promoting vice and report them to the police, who will then decide what to do with them. The group said that it would be the Yemeni police force who would decide whether or not to punish those caught by the authority.
However, the government released a statement the same day as Al-Zindani's meeting saying that only the government should concern itself with citizens' freedom, and no other institution can give or take away rights. Likewise, various political opposition parties launched an intense campaign against the authority since hearing of its plans in May.
"The authority was supposed to be composed of 25 clerics and five ministers," said Hamoud Al-Tharehi, the Supreme Committee member from the Islah Islamic Party. However, during the meeting, it was decided that the authority will instead consist of 42 clerics alone. "We reconsidered the issue and decided to restrict the authority to the Yemeni Clerics Association," added Al-Tharehi, pointing out that cooperation between clerics and governmental authorities might be difficult and lead to more problems.
Abdul Majid Al-Zindani, the head of Al-Iman University and a controversial figure in Islam as well as in Yemen, reaffirmed that the security forces would really be the ones protecting virtue and fighting vice. "Our only medium of change is the word, but the act is left for the state," said Al-Zindani.
Al-Zindani also said that the authority will ask the government to close any workplace spreading vices like serving alcohol and permitting prostitution. "We will never be silent towards any place, wherever it is," he added.
Al-Tharehi stated that the authority would specifically target private institutions frequented by the wealthy. He said that those are the institutions that smuggle children and promote prostitution.
Al-Tharehi denied that the authority had any hand in recent restaurant closures, but praised those who were responsible.
"The individuals who closed the restaurants don't belong to the authority, but they have good faith," said Al-Tharehi. "Also, there are individuals in Hodeidah who have good faith and individuals in Aden who have good faith," he mentioned in reference to the vigilante anti-vice squads in those cities that seemingly spontaneously cropped up in the last year.
The Yemeni clerics who will make up the new anti-vice authority released a statement of their own, expressing shock at the spread of vices in the country. They said these vices included bringing Arab and foreign female singers and dancers to Yemen for performances, opening nightclubs, broadcasting or holding fashion shows, mixed-sex dancing and pornographic channels in some hotels.
The statement also condemned broadcasting certain television series that play during Ramadan, which they said contradicts with morals during the holy month.
Yet another vice in the eyes of the authority, according to its published statement, is sending female students away to study in foreign countries without companions from their families. The authority said it also considered co-education in schools and universities to be a vice.
In another statement, members of the authority condemned what it called "the press campaign" against the Authority of Protecting Virtue and Fighting Vice, accusing the press of encouraging the building of churches and an overall increased "Christianization" in Yemen. The statement also accused the media of insulting and satirizing verses from the Holy Quran, the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) and Islamic clerics in general. It added that the press was a herald for vice and pornography.
The meeting's attendees numbered around 6,000 people, consisting of tribal sheiks, clerics and Members of Parliament (MPs). However, the meeting didn't involve any academics, government representatives or women. Female journalists, including one from the Yemen Times, were turned away from the meeting and told leave. Al-Zindani claimed in the meeting that he had sent 100 invited to academics, but none responded.
Most of the attendees were wearing traditional Yemeni garments including the thobe and the jambiya and the overwhelming majority had long beards.

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