Since it began in March, the Arab News “Preachers of Hate” campaign has exposed radical preachers such as the American pastor Terry Jones and the Qatar-based Muslim Brotherhood cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. We have analyzed these men’s words and deeds, placed them in context, and explained their malign influence on others. Today our focus moves closer to home, as we shed light on the dark past of the Saudi cleric Salman Al-Odah.
Researching Al-Odah was simultaneously both simple and complex. Simple, because Al-Odah, like many celebrities who fall in love with their own image and the sound of their own voice, obsessively documented much of his recent work. Many of his sermons, fatwas, TV appearances, audio files and articles were therefore readily available on his own website, and still are (although Arab News retains copies of the material we have used for this project in anticipation that it may be removed as a result of our exposé).
Other Al-Odah works are widely available. For example, an audio file of his infamous “Industry of Death” lecture may be easily accessed on YouTube, which raises the question of why the Google-owned platform would allow an overt call for young Muslims to kill others by killing themselves to remain online.
However, researching Al-Odah was also complex. Why? Well, in large part because of his chameleon-like ability to change in the blink of an eye. He has performed U-turns on issues such as jihad, killing, and non-Muslims; his opinions before his arrest and detention from 1994 to 1999, during the “Awakening” era, were different afterwards, as were his views before and after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the US. No issue is too insignificant for Al-Odah to have mutually exclusive opinions. There is no point, for instance, in asking him whether television is a good thing or a bad thing; he has both condemned it and appeared on it. This is why Al-Odah’s critics contend that, perhaps more than any preacher of his time, he has mastered the art of saying different things to different audiences.
It is an art that Al-Odah’s son Abdullah, based in the US, appears to have inherited. Writing in The New York Times, Abdullah defended his father and criticized his current detention in Saudi Arabia as unjust. Abdullah claimed his father was a victim of his own progressive, liberal views, but curiously failed to mention some of his most hateful fatwas.
Abdullah is also a regular contributor to the columns of The Washington Post. One wonders whether either of these august US media institutions bothered to research Salman Al-Odah’s views on the West — for example, his exhortation to “hate America and reject all things American.” They would be doing a serious disservice to their readers if they knew what Al-Odah stood for and failed to report it; and an even more serious disservice if they didn’t bother to find out in the first place.
This is why we believe our “Preachers of Hate” series serves such a significant purpose. No longer can anyone say: “But we didn’t know …”