Saudis Call for Interfaith Dialogue Hypocritical

19 August 2008

By Sami Alrabaa August 18 2008

Saudis’ Call for Interfaith Dialogue is like the Nazis calling for Dialogue with the Jews during and after the Holocaust

Uninvited and curious, I attended the latest Saudi sponsored conference on “interfaith dialogue”, July 16 in Madrid/Spain. A Spanish former colleague, Professor Raphael Redondo facilitated my attendance.

In his inaugural speech, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia called on of the world’ major faiths “to run away from extremism and seek reconciliation”.

King Abdullah said:

I’m bringing you a message from Saudi Arabia, the land of the Two Holy Mosques. This message declares that Islam is a religion of moderation and tolerance, a message that calls for constructive dialogue among followers of all religions, a message that promises to open a new page for humanity in which, Allah willing, concord will replace conflict.

This is laughable and ludicrous. What and whose extremism and tolerance is Abdullah talking about? It is his country that is fostering extremism and intolerance. Till this day, Saudi schoolbooks, the local media, and mosques daily preach hatred and violence against other faiths. For example, Lorenzo, a Philippine worker who was carrying a cross around his neck was jailed and tortured for six years, then, a month ago, he was deported.

Besides, “unlike synagogues, mosques rarely require armed guards – much of the violence directed against Jews actually emanates from Muslims, (Muslim extremists).” Isi Leibler said in the JP (July 29).

Abdullah should have named things by their real name. It is Saudi Arabia that is cultivating extremism and it is the West and other religions that are tolerant.

The Saudi monarch himself publicly blamed 9/11 attack, one that killed 3000 innocent people, as being the work of “Zionists”. While he urged followers of other faiths to embrace reconciliation, King Abdullah had described Palestinian suicide bombers as “heroes”.

Professor Redondo told El Pais daily (July 17), he doubted the Saudi’s motives. “A meeting like this with Saudi Arabia is an insult to the intelligence of every human being, it is a naïve political trick.” He said:

The Saudis are using the conference to lie to the West that they are tolerant of others when everybody knows non-Muslims have zero rights in Saudi Arabia.

Holding the conference in Spain, not in Saudi Arabia, has a clear purpose. The Spanish daily El Pais (July 18) interpreted the choice of Madrid as

an attempt to avoid a real debate in Saudi Arabia where no one (among the non-Muslim participants at the conference) would have been able to practice their religion.

Saudi Arabia is the only Arab country in the world that bans all non-Muslims from practicing their religion on its soil, even though it has a large community of expatriates professing other faiths. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter Mecca. Critics of the conference pointed out that the Spanish venue was a deliberate move to deflect domestic criticism from Wahabbi clerics who vehemently oppose other faiths than Sunni Islam and reject any kind of interfaith.

In a round-table discussion at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid, critics of the conference slammed the Madrid “Interfaith conference” as a public relations operation by the Saudi regime after the attack of 9/11. Simon Henderson, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies called the Saudi conference “simply a PR effort for King Abdullah which will give a misleading picture of the state of religious freedom in Saudi Arabia.”

Tanya Carina HSU’s article, “Right of Reply: Peeling the myths off Saudi Arabia” in the JP (August 5) is a futile attempt to polish the image of fanatic Saudi Arabia. She has a big PR company through which, for huge sums of petrodollars, she operates a propaganda machine for the Saudi regime.

Michael Lawrence, an Islam expert form NYU, said, “Despite his efforts to foster interfaith dialogue, King Abdullah doesn’t appear to embrace religious pluralism in his own country. While in his country no faith is allowed to have their own worship temples, the Saudis have spent billions of dollars building fancy mosques all over the world. A groups of Christians language teachers who were celebrating Christmas last year in Kind Saud University compound were denounced and deported on the spot. They were not even allowed to collect their belongings. ”

The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Sultan seems not to share the ideals of interfaith. He publicly said at King Saud University in 2007, “Thank Allah, Islam is the best religion nowadays. All other faiths are just rubbish.”

Just last Friday (August 1), a couple of weeks after the conference, Saleh Bin Humaid, the grand Mufti of Mecca said after midday prayer which was broadcast by Saudi TV, “The followers of so-called other faiths will go to hell. Only believers like us, Muslims will be allowed into paradise. I only tell them, join Islam before it is too late.”

Women of course have been totally excluded form the conference. Fatema Mernissi, a Moroccan sociologist commented, “For Saudis, women are the source of all sin in society. They are merely sex objects.” She cited the Koran, “Women are men’s field. They can plow them any time they want.” (Sura 2, verse 224). “Women are organized hierarchically and patriarchically. They have no say what so ever in religious terms. No wonder they have not been invited to the conference.” Mernissi explained.

Unless Saudi Arabia takes practical measures in terms of religious freedom for all followers of other faiths in Saudi Arabia, the Madrid conference remains a PR exercise which nobody is buying.

Before lecturing us on intolerance and extremism, the absolute Saudi monarch must begin fighting intolerance and fanaticism in his own country. Hatred and violence must be removed from schoolbooks. Imams preaching hatred and violence against other faiths and their follower must be stopped. A hate-law must be enacted and enforced. The flow of Saudi petrodollars to Jihadits/terrorists across the globe must be stopped. The so-called “morality police”, the Mutawas, must be dismantled. Christians, Jews, and followers of other religions must be allowed to have their own worship temples. Deeds must follow words, Sir.

Isi Leibler (JP, July 29) is right when he points out, “We must also demand reciprocity. Tolerance and rights for Muslims in Western countries must be matched by tolerance to non-Muslims in Islamic states.”

Now, the West is soaked in a huge dilemma. It is aware that the Saudi regime and its Wahabbi establishment are cultivating religious extremism. But the West also needs the Saudi oil and the Saudi petrodollars. Arms deals are the most lucrative venue through which the West can get the excessive cash of the Saudi. The British have concluded an arms deal of $ 20 billion and the Americans a similar one. The Saudis are thinking of concluding one with the Russians.

Hence, these arms deals are forcing Western politicians turn a blind eye to the dismal record of human rights and lack of religious pluralism in Saudi Arabia.

As long as the Saudis remain awash in dollars, they will keep leverage over the West. And the Saudis could daily sponsor a conference on interfaith dialogue. They can fool themselves, but they cannot fool the rest of the world. The world is buying their oil, but not their propaganda.

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