Is Gulf youth increasingly drawn to atheism?

There are many theories as to why young people are losing their religion, and they all need to be analysed.

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"A lot of folks have reacted online, especially on Twitter, to the article I wrote last week - Atheism: Why is it spreading? - in which I discussed a growing tendency among youth in our Gulf societies to become atheists, despite the fact that our Gulf societies are known to be attached to religion," wrote Dr Sajed Al Abdali, a Kuwaiti writer, in yesterday's edition of the Dubai-based newspaper Al Bayan.

In last week's article, Dr Al Abdali wrote: "Let me cut to the chase: it is essential that we acknowledge today that atheism exists and is increasing in our society, especially among our youth, and evidence of this is in no short supply.

"You can see it in online writings, in forums, blogs and social networking websites, and more timidly, and less frequently, in some newspaper articles. You can also hear it from those who express their atheistic ideas verbally, whether explicitly or tacitly, in this gathering or that majlis," he said.

"I must stress here that when I describe a group of people as atheists, my intention is by no means to insult or demean. My intention is rather to proceed scientifically, for denying the existence of a divine power is scientifically termed 'atheism'," Dr Al Abdali noted. "Sparking up new thinking into this rising trend is what interests me most here."

The responses that followed were numerous and varied, he wrote this week. Some attributed this rising trend of atheism among Gulf youth to "openness onto the materialistic western culture, which is naturally predisposed to atheism".

Some blamed the school syllabi for failing to instil the solid foundations of religion in pupils. Others blamed study-abroad scholarships which prematurely expose young, impressionable undergraduates to widely areligious cultures.

Another camp, the writer added, argued that the rise of atheism must be seen through the prism of the psychology of vice. These respondents maintain that "those who claim to be atheists like to do so in an attempt to relieve their ailing conscience of the guilt of their own moral decadence … Chasing divine power from their psyches allows them to see the things of the world as a string of absurdities - no moral commitment is needed there."

Others yet pointed their fingers at the behaviour of some hard-line Muslim preachers who make taboos out of perfectly legitimate questions. "These [preachers] forbid the youth to as much as think about those questions, such an injunction that today's young minds will never comply with," the writer noted.

"I personally think that all the above applies," he said in conclusion. "We might accept some arguments and reject others, but what is key here is that all of this constitute a first step towards tackling this issue."

Clans keep Lebanon a 'temporary' nation

"It was a surreal scene, but it was also a Lebanese one par excellence," Hussein Shabakshi, a columnist with the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat, wrote yesterday.

A Lebanese clan, so-called "Al Meqdad", declared last week that they were holding 20 Syrian hostages they had abducted in the southern suburbs of Beirut, in retaliation for the capture earlier this year of a clan relative by the Free Syrian Army in Syrian territories. The clan also closed off the road to Beirut airport, Lebanon's only civilian airport.

"A group comes out of nowhere - it could be a party, a militia, a tribe or other - acts up like that, challenging the state and the people … and then gets away with it without being held to account by the official authorities," the writer said.

Lebanon has a poignant history of being denied full sovereignty, either by a purely colonial force or under the tutelage of self-appointed Big Brothers.

More dramatically, the columnist suggested, there are voices inside Lebanon itself that sometimes sanction, if not welcome, foreign interference.

"A considerable segment of Lebanese society is not convinced by such a thing as 'the state of Lebanon' and thinks that it is just a cut-off portion that must be reattached to the motherland, Syria," he said.

It makes Lebanon come across like a "temporary nation", he concluded.

Syria crisis reawakens Cold War mindset

Russia's stance on the conflict in Syria cannot be adequately comprehended without factoring in the mentality of a Cold War that has never really ended, only went through phases, argued Dr Hassan Madan in the opinion section of the Sharjah-based newspaper Al Khaleej yesterday.

"Many things have changed: pro-Russian regimes in Eastern Europe have collapsed, giving way to new political establishments that raced one another to join Nato and the European Economic Community; the Kremlin lost its Sovietness; modern Russia's foreign policy suffered from alterations and turbulence - but the hatchet of the Cold War was never really buried."

Many analysts correctly cited lucre as the main reason for Russia's support for the regime of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad, which is accused of putting the future of the whole nation on the line and killing 20,000 people in the process, the writer said. According to some reports, Syrian arms purchases from Russia stand at $3.5 billion, he noted.

But what Russia is really trying to achieve is more psychological.

Moscow wants western powers to understand that playing in Russia's front yard is not tolerated, and that any plans to "rearrange the Middle East" cannot be implemented without Russia's consent.

* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi