Thursday, June 18, 2015

18-Jun-15: Saudi advice on showing love and compassion and dealing with others nicely

The political figure bending forward from the waist
(the White House is very definite that he was not bowing) before
the Saudi Arabian king in 2009 is President Barack Obama [Image Source]
What you think of Saudi Arabia – an entity that resembles a family business as much as it does a sovereign state - seems to depend, as with many things in life, on who you are and what you do in life.

How its owners think of their property and the people living in it can be gauged from a somewhat bizarre article that appears in a news report published a few hours ago by Arab News [“Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper... the daily's website gets hundreds of thousands of hits every day from Web surfers worldwide…”]. It’s headed “Shun violence, terror! King reiterates rejection of sectarianism”:
JEDDAH: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman on Wednesday urged Saudis and other Muslims to uphold the values of tolerance, love, unity and mercifulness, and reject violence and terrorism. In a message on the occasion of Ramadan, he reiterated Saudi Arabia’s total rejection of sectarianism based on different schools of religious thought, saying sectarianism would weaken the country’s unity and solidarity. “We have unlimited confidence in Saudi citizens and we’ll not show any leniency toward those who try to weaken the unity of Saudis and undermine the Kingdom’s security,” he said. The message, which was read out on Saudi Television by Culture and Information Minister Adel Al-Toraifi, the king described Ramadan as a month of goodness and blessings when God forgives sins of believers and saves them from Hell. “Islam is a religion of love, compassion and tolerance, and its message was sent by the Almighty as a mercy to the whole humanity,” the king said… The king stressed that Saudi Arabia’s humanitarian activities were not aimed at achieving any mundane benefits but to win the pleasure and reward of God. “We are happy to serve Muslims all over the world.” The king added: “Islam works for goodness and reform and promotes constructive activities. It follows moderation, backs dialogue and brings people together.” King Salman continued, “The holy month generates in our minds the feelings of empathy and compassion toward the fellow human beings. It also teaches us great lessons.” He called upon Muslims to make use of the great blessings of Ramadan through fasting, prayers and righteous deeds. “Muslims should do their duties in the best form and deal with others nicely.”
While those exhortations about moderation, goodness, reform, constructive activities, righteous deeds are still ringing in our ears:
A man was beheaded in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, with the convicted murderer's execution becoming the 89th case this year, according to an AFP count. The death toll has already overtaken the total for all of 2014. [RT, May 27, 2015]
For our part, we have written about Saudi Arabia here several times. We wonder whether Saudi Arabia’s actions exemplify (as its Custodian says above) Muslims dealing with each other nicely. We think not so much, but sometimes it’s better not to be judgmental. 

Here are some randomly selected slices of what we see when we look at the Saudis from our terror-centric standpoint:
  • 25-Jan-15: Summing up the life of an absolute monarch in the mainstream media“The Saudi political system, a blend of absolute monarchy and Islamic extremism, has one of the world's worst human rights records. There is no democracy and basic freedoms are limited… It punishes dissidents, including currently with multiple rounds of publicly lashing a blogger, amputates hands and legs for robbery, and enforces a system of gender restrictions that make women not just second-class citizens, but in many ways the property of men…”
  • 19-Oct-14: Saudi Arabia's sense of where it fits in the war against the terrorists: “…All in all, the notion that the Saudi government claims to be at the "forefront of combating terrorism" raises some questions about what the word forefront could possibly mean when they use it.”
  • 2-Apr-14: Charm, offense and antagonism-avoidance: “The country most closely identified with the 9/11 terrorists gets a flying visit from the world's most powerful political figure because America's policy makers see themselves in a charm offensive directed at a regime that calls its atheists terrorists. We're not sure about how much charm it generated. But offensive? Surely.”
  • 11-Mar-13: Know the neighbours: Saudi Arabia: “A recent report about the jailing of human rights activists in Saudi Arabia got us thinking about what sort of country it really is. So allow us to share some of what we found in a brief hunt on the web…”
British prime minister David Cameron being invested with
the Saudi Order of King Abdul Aziz from King Abdullah in 2012. It's given
to foreigners for "meritorious service" to the Saudis [Image Source]
Then there’s the matter of how Saudi Arabia looks to its powerful customers, competing with each other for Saudi business and especially for Saudi investment.

The paragraphs below come from the official report of a debate in the UK Parliament’s House of Lords about the fate of (believe it or not) a blogger who has incurred the wrath of the Saudi insiders and may pay for this with his life. Lord Avebury, speaking last Thursday, asked
Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Saudi Arabia about the confirmation of a sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison against Raif Badawi.
And got this answer from the UK’s Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Baroness Anelay of St Johns:
My Lords, we are extremely concerned about Raif Badawi’s case and have discussed it at the most senior levels in the Government of Saudi Arabia... The case is under active consideration and we will continue to watch it closely.
Not so reassured, another peer, the Lord Bishop of St Albans, pressed on with a pretty sharp question:
My Lords, your Lordships’ House will not be unaware of the discrepancy between the attitude to human rights displayed in Saudi Arabia’s public condemnation of the Charlie Hebdo atrocities and this case, where somebody is being punished on the basis of religion. Does the Minister agree that there is a considerable dissonance between the public image that Saudi Arabia is seeking to present and the country’s internal affairs?
Not a bad enquiry.  But the reply from the Baroness is a stunner:
My Lords, I think we have to recognise that the actions of the Saudi Government in these respects have the support of the vast majority of the Saudi population. Against that background blah blah blah
HRH Prince Charles, the prince of Wales, in Saudi
Arabia 2013 [Image Source]
and on she droned. 

Now think about her observation for a moment. One of the UK government’s most senior makers and executors of foreign policy says yes, we are watching, yes, we know as well as you what the Saudis do, but let’s not forget most Saudis support their leaders’ views.

Really? How she, or anyone, can know this is a puzzle. We tend towards the view, exemplified in an article by someone who studies such matters at the Washington Institute: 
What issues are of concern to ordinary Saudis? How does the average citizen view the state of the domestic economy? What are the prevailing public attitudes toward religious extremism? …Even in the short term, the Saudi government, while far from democratic, is no doubt sensitive to social crosscurrents and diverse reactions to its initiatives. As a result, understanding Saudi public opinion is an important part of gauging the country's likely future direction. Opinion polls, however, are almost unknown in the kingdom, and anecdotal or indirect measures of these very delicate subjects are notoriously unreliable.
A British commentator, writing about this two days ago in The Independent UK, asks what every Brit ought to consider shouting into their TVs or at their MPs:
How medieval does a regime have to be before ministers pause to consider the relationship? Three years ago today, Saudi Arabian police arrested Raif Badawi for the crime of running a website “that propagates liberal thought”. His blog had put the case for secularism in observations such as this: “States which are based on religion confine their people in the circle of faith and fear.” As if to prove his point, a Sharia court hauled Badawi back into the fearful circle, sentencing him to 600 lashes and seven years in jail for “going beyond the realm of obedience”. Last year, deciding that he had been let off too lightly, a judge upped the punishment to 1,000 lashes and 10 years’ imprisonment plus a fine of one million riyal (about £170,000). What does our government think of this? …No answer has yet been forthcoming. Perhaps the “vast majority” of Saudis are indeed fanatical sadists who rejoice to see liberal bloggers whipped. Or, then again, perhaps they aren’t. No one knows: this is an absolute monarchy, not a marginal in the West Midlands being polled by Lord Ashcroft. Even if you were a Saudi who deplored the flogging, you wouldn’t say so publicly… It’s almost as if the House of Saud is showing off to Isis, the new kid on the block: “Publicly beheading apostates? Pah. We were doing that when you were in nappies…” How medieval does a regime have to be before British ministers pause to consider whether it is one with which we can do business? So long as the regime in question remains our most lucrative export market for arms, the answer is: “My Lords, I think we have to recognise…”
Now keep in mind what it means when Her Majesty's British government supports policies that have the support of the vast majority of this foreign population or another. For instance, more than 70% of Palestinian Arabs, according to scientific and respected Arab-run opinion polls, support Hamas' blood-drenched approach to violence against Israelis. And more concretely, fully 80% support (and 20% oppose) attempts by individual Palestinians to stab or run over Israelis in Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank as of December 2014. On any serious view, the Mahmoud Abbas PA regime honours those acts of terror and their perpetrators. So is Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office OK with those acts of murder-by-car too? 

(We have had some recent personal experience of trying to extract a rational response to terror-related questions from the British foreign policy establishment. We want to write about this in the next few days.)

Finally, a brief comment on how Saudi views are projected outside its own borders, in particular its views on terror. A senior figure at a serious-sounding Washington/London think-tank in a published January 2015 article sums that up for us:
[F]or decades the Saudis have also lavishly financed its propagation abroad. Exact numbers are not known, but it is thought that more than $100 billion have been spent on exporting fanatical Wahhabism to various much poorer Muslim nations worldwide over the past three decades. It might well be twice that number. By comparison, the Soviets spent about $7 billion spreading communism worldwide in the 70 years from 1921 and 1991... [A] Wikileaks cable clearly quotes then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying "donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide." ...Other cables released by Wikileaks outline how Saudi front companies are also used to fund terrorism abroad.
Might be interesting to know Baroness Anelay of St Johns' view of that. 

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