Wednesday, April 02, 2014

2-Apr-14: Charm, offense and antagonism-avoidance

BHO in Arabia [Image Source: Official White House Photo]
Following on from our blog post of a few days ago ["27-Mar-14: Shouldn't this creative approach to terrorism get a little more exposure?"], here's a little more about Saudi Arabia's (ahem) contribution to the global struggle against the terrorists.

The Independent [UK], in an April 1 article ["Saudi Arabia declares all atheists are terrorists in new law to crack down on political dissidents"] about a new law entitled Royal Decree 44 describes how it criminalises
"participating in hostilities outside the kingdom" with prison sentences of between three and 20 years... Article one of the new provisions defines terrorism as "calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based".
(The Independent ran a piece called "April Fools' Day 2014 round-up: Best spoofs and fake articles from around the world" in the same edition. Unfortunately for those living in Saudi Arabia, the atheism article was not one of those spoofs, nor intended to be humorous.)
With President Barack Obama having paid an official visit to Saudi Arabia this past weekend, it's fair to assume the hyper-analytic, politically-sensitive mainstream media would have paid pretty close attention to what it must be like to live in a state where the ruler can unilaterally proclaim into the law-books a criminal provision that makes an act of terror out of "calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based". 

Fair to assume - but unfortunately not so accurate. 

Too much of the past few days' very thin reporting of the Obama visit takes the approach in evidence on the Politico website. There, its senior White House reporter, in an article titled "My Arabian Night: How an Obama pool stop went viral", publishes some truly striking images plus this penetrating view into life under the rule of the House of Saud:
What we found inside was something straight off a movie set. Tall bowls with wrapped chocolates stacked in precise rows. Fresh flowers on every coffee table. A massive gold clock the size of an armoire. Satin upholstery, crystal chandeliers, oriental rugs and luxurious couches with perfectly placed pillows. Photos of the king hung on the walls, including one of him almost touching noses with a horse. [Politico, March 30, 2014]
How bothered ought we to be by the superficiality of the Obama-in-Arabia news coverage? Some parts of the media were very bothered: see for instance "Watchdog Asks Why Obama Failed to Talk Religious Freedom With Saudi King", published on the Christian Post website. On the other hand, consider what the far-far-more influential The Economist Intelligence Unit had to say yesterday:
Soothing Saudi angst was the main aim of Mr Obama's visit, and in this regard it will have been at least a partial success. Mr Obama was fulsome in his comments about the two countries' 80‑year relationship, which he described as "strong", and he avoided antagonising the Saudi leadership by bringing up the kingdom's poor human rights record... It is not clear if the two leaders talked about the attempts by the US secretary of state, John Kerry, to energise the Middle East peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. The issue is not high up Saudi Arabia's list of priorities... The Obama administration is already considering the impact that a new Saudi leader would have on the bilateral relationship... Mr Obama's visit may become the prelude to a bigger charm offensive once King Abdullah's successors ascend to the throne.
For us, that's the take-away line. 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.

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