“The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” warns the famed 12th century proverb. A modern-day addendum to that truism might read, “in 140 characters or less” — at least in Saudi Arabia. That’s because the head of the kingdom’s religious police has condemned anyone who uses social media, especially Twitter, of having “lost this world and his afterlife.”
According to a BBC report, the Saudi Grand Mufti, Sheik Abdul Aziz al-Asheik, said that Twitter was the “platform for those who did not have any platform,” a view that reflects Riyadh’s concerns that dissidents are using online networking to plot antiestablishment activities. The official’s comments echo the sentiments of the imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, who used an April sermon to urge followers to turn their back on Twitter. The Grand Mufti has also verbally attacked Twitter users for being “fools” and “clowns” on several occasions, reports the International Digital Times. Not known for his liberal views, the exulted spiritual leader claimed last month that it is “necessary to destroy all the churches of the region,” according to ArabianBusiness.com.
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Saudi Arabia has the world’s fastest growth in Twitter users, according to the BBC. Tweets have provided grassroots coverage of recent protests in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province, as well as images of human-rights activists on trial. In response, security officials have suggested quelling dissent by linking Twitter accounts with users’ national ID numbers. A number of Web activists have been detained in recent months, including at least one for apostasy (formally abandoning one’s faith), an offense that could result in execution.
Observers view the conservative kingdom’s opposition to Twitter as a reminder of the messaging service’s worth. “The more that repressive government seek to ban Twitter, the more they remind us of the value of this resource as a force for freedom around the world,” George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley wrote in a blog post on his personal site.
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