Saudi Arabia declares all atheists terrorists: more media exaggeration & inaccuracy


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title: “Saudi Arabia declares all atheists terrorists: more media exaggeration & inaccuracy”
date: 2014-04-02 16:58
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One of the stories making its rounds is that Saudi Arabia’s new anti-terrorism laws declare that all atheists are terrorists. The Independent‘s article title reads “Saudi Arabia declares all atheists are terrorists in new law to crack down on political dissidents.” The title gives the impression that atheism is a major part of the article and Saudi Arabia’s new anti-terror laws, and that all atheists have been declared terrorists. Those impressions are all false.

Aside from the title and one caption, the 334-word article mentions atheism just twice:

Saudi Arabia has introduced a series of new laws which define atheists as terrorists, according to a report from Human Rights Watch.

and

Article one of the new provisions defines terrorism as “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based”.

The provision quoted above is from a Human Rights Watch report published 30 March 2014. The quote matches the first of seven “terrorism” provisions mentioned in the report:

Article 1: “Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”

The anti-terror atheist provision concerns individuals calling to atheism. Clearly, the wording does not include individuals who are silent about their atheism. None of the other provisions or articles quoted in the report mention atheism. The only new thing here is that calling to atheism is considered terrorism, not that it is considered as unlawful or criminal.

So the long list of media articles claiming that Saudi Arabia has declared that all atheists are terrorists are in error since only spreading atheism was declared terrorism – not atheism per se. While the distinction will not matter to many of the people expressing their dismay with the law, that distinction is the difference between a belief about the Saudi law that is justified and true, and one that is unjustified and false.

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