Originally published under the title “‘Modernization’ without Religious Tolerance in Saudi Arabia.”
Prince Mohammed met with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in Silicon Valley last June. Three months earlier, Saudi Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah declared that it’s “necessary to destroy all the churches of the region.”
Bloomberg recently listed Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman 42nd on its list of 50 Most Influential movers and shakers in finance. An Oct. 15 New York Times profile called him the “most dynamic royal” in Saudi Arabia, “a man who is trying to overturn tradition.” Unfortunately, he’s not trying hard enough.
Prince Mohammed, 31, is the public face behind Saudi Vision 2030, a 15-year plan of regulatory, budget, and policy reforms unveiled in April. It is designed to build a “prosperous and sustainable economic future” for the kingdom by reducing dependence on oil exports and implementing a privatization program that will supposedly create a sovereign wealth fund of more than $2 trillion, the world’s largest.
Acutely aware of its growing need for Western capital investment and technology, the kingdom has shown small signs of reducing its horrendous violations of political and civil liberties, such as granting women limited suffrage, and improving government transparency. The Saudis are today even willing acknowledge the role their kingdom played in creating Al-Qaeda and other Islamist currents. “We did not own up to it after 9/11 because we feared you would abandon or treat us as the enemy,” one senior Saudi official told Politico. “And we were in denial.”
But there is one area where no reform appears to be in the offing. As the kingdom embarks on a revolutionary project to reduce its dependence on oil and increase direct foreign investment, it does not seem to appreciate the importance of religious tolerance in a society trying to open its economy to the world.
The Saudis don’t seem to appreciate the importance of religious tolerance in a modern society.
In recent weeks, the Saudi authorities deported 27 Lebanese Christians for the crime of conducting non-Islamic prayers, the kingdom’s religious police ordered a clothing outlet to cover the U.K. flag on the logo of British International School uniforms because it displays the Christian cross, and a video surfaced of a leading Saudi cleric calling on God to grant mujahideen (jihadists) in Syria and Iraq “victory over the godless Rafidah (Shia Muslims) … the treacherous Jews, and over the spiteful Christians” in a sermon at the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
As William McCants of the Brookings Institution recently told Politifact, “official Saudi textbooks teach that Christians are seeking to destroy the religion and must be hated as a consequence.” Despite the fact that 1.5 to 2 million Christians, mostly Filipino and other southeast Asian expatriates, live and work in the kingdom, Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that does not allow the building of churches or even the open practice of Christian religious rites. Most expatriates live in loneliness away from their families and loved ones. Restrictions on their freedom to worship compounds this isolation.
The Saudis can take advantage of poor Christian workers (and those of other faiths) because their remittance dependent governments lack negotiating leverage.
There is a lot the West can do to pressure Riyadh to extend full religious rights to Christians.
While there is little that labor-intensive Asian societies can do to pressure Riyadh to extend full religious rights to Christian workers, there is a lot that the West can do. So long as the Saudis depend on Western capital investment and advanced technology, the United States is uniquely positioned to press for greater religious freedoms for Christians and other non-Muslims.
While it may be unrealistic to expect this from the White House, the U.S. Congress has shown greater willingness to challenge Saudi Arabia as of late. The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which would strip away the “sovereign immunity” of foreign governments against terrorism lawsuits, has passed both houses of Congress, with the Senate overriding President Obama’s veto last month. Another bipartisan bill was introduced earlier this month to block the recently-proposed sale of Abrams tanks and other military equipment to the kingdom until its human rights record improves.
It’s time for the United States and other Western governments to tell the Saudis that business-as-usual relations cannot continue unless their kingdom puts in place the building blocks of religious tolerance and pluralism. Saudi officials may bitterly object, but those who are fighting for real reform inside the kingdom need this ultimatum to win out over hardliners.
Hilal Khashan is a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. For more on this topic, see his article in the Summer 2016 issue of Middle East Quarterly.
A Sa’ar 4.5-class Corvette of the Israeli Navy fires its canons during a naval exercise off the coast of Israel.
Israel’s Defense Ministry on Sunday announced a series of deals for the purchase of combat systems from local defense industries in the amount of $420 million by the end of this year. This is part of a project to acquire warships whose mission would to protect natural gas platforms within Israel’s “economic waters” in the Mediterranean against military threats.
An Israeli soldier training in Krav Maga.
Several dozen members of the Indian military are currently learning how to protect themselves using the Israeli martial art of Krav Maga, India Today reported this weekend.
“I brought Krav Maga to India in year 2002 after intensive training in Israel,” Vikram Kapoor — the head instructor at the International Krav Maga Federation — was quoted as saying. “This is the only self-defense technique that is being evolved every moment and that is why it is the best.”
Culminating a three-year process, delegates at the Mennonite Church USA assembly in Orlando on Thursday adopted a resolution titled “Seeking Peace in Israel and Palestine,” with approximately 98 percent voting in favor. The resolution calls on members to “avoid purchase of products associated with the occupation or produced in settlements in occupied territories.” It also establishes a process for the church to review its investments “for the purpose of withdrawing investments from companies that are profiting from the occupation.”
Rabbi Steven Wernick says Netanyahu recruited progressive Jews to find a compromise for the holy site; now that the PM has reneged, world Jewry won’t be silent
The fight for pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall is a battle already won by Jewry’s Conservative movement. For some 20 years, Conservative Jews have inhabited a spiritual home at Jerusalem’s contentious holy site, which they won through a series of Supreme Court cases — in a section allocated to the Davidson Archaeological
Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. (Photo credit: hebron.com)
In a secret ballot held at the World Heritage Committee’s 41st annual summit in Krakow Poland, on Friday, UNESCO voted twelve to three in favor declaring the Holy City of Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs “Palestinian world heritage sites”.
The resolution described a Muslim history of the city while blatantly ignoring the Biblical narrative describing 3,000 years of Jewish connection to the site. Six countries abstained from the controversial vote which, at the request of Poland, Croatia, and Jamaica, was a secret ballot; a first for such a vote.
During last month’s 2017 Chicago Dyke March, the true face of “inclusion” among “progressives” finally surfaced. According to the Chicago based newspaper Windy City Times, the march proceeded calmly with people “of all races, genders and gender identities” attending, until “the Dyke March Collective ejected three people carrying Jewish Pride flags (a rainbow flag with a Star of David in the center).”
Something is terribly broken in the relationship between American and Israeli Jews. I say this as an American Jew who has lived in Israel for almost half a century. But if anyone thinks this started with Women of the Wall or PM Netanyahu’s recent – and I believe unfortunate – backtracking on the agreement over egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel, he is suffering from selective memory, if not total denial.
gentleman from times gone by. He was soft-spoken, courtly, and wore his pants hoisted high and held up by suspenders; clearly, a European who had personally endured horrors in the last century.
Indeed, he had personally survived the Holocaust in Poland. Therefore, I could not immediately understand why he now attends a very left-wing synagogue—but, totally incomprehensible, was his unexpected and rather passionate defense of Poland and of the Poles. He argued on their behalf as if his very life still depended upon it.
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s decision to visit Jerusalem but not Ramallah has prompted much comment.
The expectation of equal treatment goes back to the Oslo Accords’ signing in Sep. 1993, when the prime minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin, represented his government in the handshake with Yasir Arafat, the much-despised chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization. No one found it strange or inappropriate at the time but things look differently nearly a quarter century later.
Matthew Healy at the Atlantic, one of the few remaining liberal anti-censorship magazines, offers a disingenuous counterpoint to the debate over political correctness.
The attempts to silence dissenting points of view are counter-speech, according to Healy. And counter-speech is an important form of free expression.