May 23, 2018
This is a Ramadan battle that we have grown accustomed to in the past few years. Ramadan is accompanied with television battles in which extremist voices attack TV series every year. This takes place in Ramadan in particular because it is the month when a majority of people flock to TV screens. The aim of these campaigns is to distort and suspend works of art, because they know that they influence the public and society against their extremist rhetoric.
Al-Asoof, a drama series airing on MBC, is set between 1970 and 1975. The show beautifully reflects the period with accurate details based on real testimonies. Unfortunately for its haters, Al-Asoof is actually a long series and only the first season is being aired this year.
Extremists oppose it because they see it as an attempt to destroy what they built in the next two decades after 1975, during a period they call the “Sahwa”. And they are right. The series presents an image of a conservative and pious Saudi society that is free of all the distortions that were introduced by extremists in wake of the Iranian revolution, which tarnished the image of the entire Muslim world, not just Saudi Arabia.
Extremists are right to be angry because the series opened the eyes of more than 80 percent of viewers to a Riyadh they believed to be a dark city whose residents were ignorant, narrow-minded and extremist. The truth is the complete opposite. The history of the capital and of the entire country was blurred and rewritten. False witnesses want to suspend the airing of Al-Asoof to prevent the people from discovering the truth.
There is huge controversy over that period. Comparisons have been made between the traditional old alleys and today’s world, which is controlled by concepts derived from different interpretations of Islam. These concepts were created by groups that want to control the neighborhood, city, country and the entire Muslim world.
In their attack on Al-Asoof, they pick small stories to distort the drama’s greater idea – stories like those related to bastard children, disputes and flirting. Yes, all these issues used to exist in that society, which was normal and which had flaws known to all other modern societies.
The extremists are not objecting to these depictions, but they fear the portrayal of a tolerant society that has never known hatred or radicalism. They do not want the people to know the truth.
The emergence of Khomeinism, extremism and the Sahwa led to the closure of cinemas, banning of concerts, persecution of artists and confiscation of books. Writers and thinkers were threatened and seminars were suspended. They restricted work at television until it became a gloomy outlet dominated by educational programs. They distorted charitable works and portrayed as heroes preachers and fighters in Afghanistan. Add to this the distortion of history, literature, science, arts and media. Even banking was not spared of their influence.
They are attacking Al-Asoof because it highlights a period that was intentionally kept in the dark. Extremists from among the Sahwists want to turn this light off. What further enrages them is that this series is being aired at the same time the Kingdom is restoring awareness and returning life to how it was before 1979. This is our very ordinary, old and real society with its virtues and flaws.