Saudi writers and academics welcomed a recent internet campaign launched by a group of young Saudi intellectuals to promote justice and freedom, and reject sectarianism and takhween (accusations of treason).
The group launched an online forum on August 7th titled "The Free National Network", which aims to spread the concepts of modern civil society, defend freedom and human rights, promote creativity and art and encourage individual skills that are unbound by factionalism and sectarianism, according to the website.
The forum prohibits users from posting material that offends Islam or that calls for violence and terrorism.
The campaign's advisory board includes professors, academics, writers and religious scholars such as poet Zaid al-Almaii, writers Mohammed al-Ratyan and Mohammed Abdullatif Al al-Sheikh and Sheikh Mohammed Ahmad Qasim.
Dr. Mahmoud al-Qaisi, a professor of Islamic studies at King Saud University, said such campaigns are necessary at a time when sectarian and racial divisions have become prevalent.
"A lot of people took advantage of the spread of modern media and the multi-sectarian and tribal character in Saudi Arabia to spew the poisons of divisiveness, and it was incumbent upon intellectuals to stand up to those calls," he said.
"Sectarian divisions feed religious and sectarian fanaticism, which leads to extremism and the use of terrorism against opponents. This is especially true since many extremist groups escalated their confrontations [with their opponents] to sectarian conflicts through the use of fatwas that encourage killing and takfir, as happened in Iraq," al-Qaisi said.
Al-Qaisi said the campaign is also important in the fight against terrorism.
Should the campaign succeed, "we would see a future generation free of terrorist, takfiri ideas to correct the course of human relations, which were marred under the guise of these ideas", he said.
He said the campaign coincides with calls by King Abdullah for a national dialogue between the people of one nation and the rejection of divisiveness.
"An intellectual's primary task is to raise awareness and contest anything that poses a threat to the homeland and its citizens," al-Qaisi said, adding that the individuals who sponsored the campaign have a good reputation and many devoted followers of their writing.
"Their words will have a significant impact, especially on the youth who are still in the formative phase of their intellectual development and at the fact-finding stage," he said.
Al-Qaisi called for more academics to join the campaign, or at least establish similar forums that cater to university students, the primary targets of divisive campaigns.
Saudi writer Wael al-Qasim said he "visited the website since its inception and participated [in the forum] and will continue to do so in the future".
He said he liked many aspects of the website, including the diversity of intellectual, sectarian and ideological viewpoints, the freedom of expression and the site's design and its slogan, "Justice, Freedom, Belonging".
Al-Qasim suggested the campaign could expand to include a large number of prominent figures of diverse beliefs and convictions in the Saudi cultural arena, thus giving "everyone who loves this country the freedom to express their opinions without restrictions".
"It is important to warn against the many corrupt individuals who participated in forums and networking sites, taking advantage of the web to promote ideas that seek to undermine the security of this country and sow chaos," he said.
Mohammad Aziz al-Arfaj, a writer for the Saudi newspaper Al-Riyadh, welcomed the launch of the campaign and cited its importance in promoting cultural and religious tolerance.
All religions call for tolerance, al-Arfaj said, adding that whoever calls for justice, freedom, belonging and the rejection of sectarianism is accepting of his fellow man and thus open to peaceful co-existence.
"Whoever is accepting of others is accepting of himself, and whoever rejects those who disagree with him rejects and opposes himself," al-Arfaj said. "Intolerance is inconsistent with the true purpose of belonging to any sect or creed, and runs counter to the public interest, [whose progress is] sought by all of humanity."
"Intolerance, narrow-mindedness and takhween go hand-in-hand with the disease of extremism, and every narrow-minded extremist who labels his opponents as traitors is rejected by all who are in the right," he added.