Mauritanian netizens are experiencing anger, sadness, and confusion, along with feelings of solidarity, after young Mauritanian blogger Mazid Weld ElSheikh, sent a letter to his father on Facebook in which he pledged to deactivate his Facebook account until his father forgave him for his recent activities on the social network. Earlier this month, a group of religious extremists accused ElSheikh of blasphemy, printed the blogger’s Facebook updates and showed them to his father. In response, his father demanded that ElSheikh shut down all of his social media accounts and stop writing. His mother pleaded with her son to leave his social media accounts. On her own Facebook account, she asked everyone to leave her son alone.
Yes, I will leave the online world. I will delete my Facebook account for good to make you content, dad.
For you dad, I write these letters with warm tears bitterly spilling more than any day before…
My left eye cried when you snubbed my words // Then I saw your ignorance once more, in a dream, and so they both went shut…
For you dad…I renew my whole love, gratitude and thankfulness…
I love you dad…I hoped I could be something you get proud of, or a man you get proud of, who helps you with life's misfortunes and shares on social networks ..
But regretfully, I failed. I failed you…with no intention and without premeditation…
I didn't, dad, commit major sins like how those “extremists” described to you ..
I’m your son, whom you raised to care for the welfare of the people, and to stand by the oppressed ..
“Don’t those [extremists] know that [Islam] is the Merciful Gift to the World ..?!
For what reason did some Sheikhs collect my tweets and Facebook updates to print it in a book and bring it to your home and mosque to convince you that your son is an infidel, atheist, non-believer, and a devil…?
Oh dad…do those [extremists] have the right to interpret, explain and deconstruct what I write according to their own sick minds, sick understanding and sick thinking?
Do those pursuers of sedition want to privatize religion into an insurance company, sending their police to arrest those who didn't pay their dues?
I’m a Muslim, dad, and I solely believe in God…and I hope He forgives me on Judgement Day.
I will not sell my religion in the political slavery market.
Mazid ElSheikh is a Mauritanian youth social media activist whose writings some see as bold, and others believe to break with Mauritanian tradition. Mazid describes himself as a Marxist and a Mauritanian leftist. On the contrary his father, Mohamed Lemin Mazid, is one of the most prominent Salafist thinkers in Mauritania, known to be a radical Islamist with many critiques of democracy.
Days ago a group of Mauritanian Islamic scholars issued a statement about converting from Islam (an act of blasphemy) that points to red lines near which a Muslim should not tread. In their statement, they cited quotes from updates shared by the Mauritanian activists on the controversial Arab Critic Facebook page. More than one activist has been “exposed” to their families by a Sheikh called ElRadeyy. The former publicized a list with the names of some Mauritanian atheists. A female activist deactivated her Facebook account silently after family pressure.
A group of secular Mauritanian activists started an initiative called “Rights and Liberties Initiative” in response to the rise of radical Islamist speech in Mauritania as well as calls of blasphemy against activists on Facebook. The activists behind this group issued a statement where they expressed their fear that Mauritanian society is becoming less tolerant of criticism, due to a new wave of radical speech aiming to spread hatred and regression.
Several activists believe calls of blasphemy and radical speech are actually the work of Mauritanian intelligence, to divert people from discussing real economic and systematic corruption as well as issues of political legitimacy in Mauritania (as the country is living with a parliament after boycotted elections with major signs of rigging.) The aim of this diversion is to protect the regime and its future and to intimidate activists with accusations of blasphemy anytime the regime wants to assert its power over the public.
These trends have opened a broad discussion on freedom of faith in Mauritania, and has raised critical questions about whether Mauritanian elites really believe in democratic values, and what progressive Mauritanians expect from this collision with the conservative right.