Monday, October 21, 2002

The Saudi way
Khalid Hasan, The Friday Times
Saudi Arabia has been above criticism in Pakistan for two reasons. Saudi Arabia is the land of Islam’s birth and seat of its holiest places. Two, the Kingdom has remained a good friend of Pakistan, helping it tide over its financial difficulties and generally being supportive on all major issues, including Kashmir. Saudi governments and the Saudi way of life has almost never been subjected to critical analysis, nor has the Saudi interpretation of what Islam is and what Islam is not been questioned for fear of causing offense.
Loosely translated, that means that Arabia is revered as the birthplace of Islam, and the Saudis are revered because they have a really big checkbook and they support Muslim countries against all comers, regardless of right or wrong.
However, after the events of September 11, the focus on the Kingdom and how it interprets Islam has come under sharp and sometimes hostile scrutiny in the West. This may also be the time for us to take an objective, dispassionate look at the austere version of our religion that the Kingdom promotes at home and what it has spent many years and hundreds of millions of dollars on promoting abroad. The Saudi view of Islam is based on what is known as Wahabism, an interpretation of Islam that al-Qaida and the Taliban have offered as spiritual justification for their actions. It is these strident, intolerant, violent voices that appear to have set the current Islamic agenda, an agenda whose costs are now being borne by the entire world of Islam, including Muslims living in other countries
Wahhabism is an interpretation of Islam that takes it to a logical extreme. That's unpleasant enough, but it's their country, and they're free to screw it up any way they want. Islamism, the export version, takes it up at that point and then takes it to illogical extremes.
Had all the enemies of Islam, past and present, got together to work out the most effective way to harm Islam, do injury to its followers and tarnish its image, they could not have come up with a more deadly, a more successful scheme than the World Trade Centre attacks of 11 September 2001.
He's called that one right. Had the Saudis after 9-11 been sympathetic and cooperative, horrified at the idea of such large-scale terrorism perpetrated against innocent people, our relationship with them would still be good. Instead, they were arrogant and blustering, giving every indication of having a dirty conscience, and we took the attack as Islam's true colors. Too bad for the Sufis and the Islmailis and all the other Muslims who aren't nutbags; they let the wahhabis present themselves as true keepers of the faith, and we're taking them at their word...
Nothing has been the same since and nothing will be same for the foreseeable future for Muslims. Those who reside in the West, and in such a normally tolerant country as the United States, have witnessed with growing dismay the erosion of what was once the American way of life. Being a Muslim is in itself reason enough to be suspect in a given situation.
He's got a distorted view of the U.S. He's been reading entirely too many accounts in the Islamic press. Such incidents as there have been have been minor, with nothing organized. Given the same situation with Westerners in a Muslim country, there'd have been blood flowing in the gutters...
Sometimes the hostility is palpable, at other times subtle. At times, it may be only imagined, but that things have changed for Muslims since that fateful day in September is a fact of life and a very sad and unpleasant fact of life A friend of mine in Virginia who was running a small business selling laptop computers has said that his sales fell in the wake of 9/11 and have never really recovered. Some said their bank credit facilities had been curtailed. Others said they had lost customers. Muslims have had problems when out looking for house rentals. School children have borne the brunt of this assault and have had to put up with taunts and insults. Many Muslims have lost their lives or suffered serious physical assault and injury. The recent increase in shockingly unseemly attacks on Islam’s most revered figure are something that was almost unheard of before 9/11. Muslims can only protest through their ineffective organisations, but these protests have little or no impact. Some of those making these attacks are President George Bush’s close political allies and supporters. The Washington Post newspaper asked the President recently to publicly distance himself from these men. He has done no such thing so far and is not likely to. The general attitude is summed up in the saying: Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.
He's distanced himself from the domestic buttheads sufficiently for most domestic consumption. Falwell and Robertson and their by-products have been dismissed by most people, including most conservatives, as not bright enough to discuss the problem without drooling. On the other hand, the Saudi imams have been spraying spittle and venom in full force, non-stop, since well before 9-11. Monkeys and apes and hate-thy-neighbor are weekly staples of Friday sermons. Most of us think Bush has been entirely too gentle with the Saudis — and maybe with Muslims in gentle. Islam has shown itself demonstrably not to be a religion of peace, unless it's the peace of the grave.
And all these indignities have been brought upon Muslims and all this harm done to them because of the contorted thinking of those who claim to be waging ‘jihad’ for the greater glory of the religion by which they swear and in whose name they operate. While the Saudis may have always acted out of the goodness of their hearts and for their love of Islam and its timeless message, the fact is that they have funded organisations and patronised groups that have an extremely narrow and intolerant understanding of Islam.
He might want to rethink that "goodness of their hearts" stuff. To us, it looks like a program directed at world domination and the destruction of our civilization...
They are unaware of the contribution made by Islam to the flowering of world civilisation and culture, of science and medicine, of art and literature. Their concept of Islam is based on ignorance and a lack of understanding of the true nature of this great civilising and intellectually liberating force.
And also on a healthy dose of self-interest. To a midieval mind, surrounding yourself with two or three layers of buffer states is a pretty good defense...
It may be instructive to take a look at how the Saudis view religion. Saudi Arabia is an Islamic monarchy - a contradiction in terms - which offers no legal protection for freedom of religion. All citizens are to be Muslims under the law. Public worship of other faiths is forbidden, though their followers may do so in private, but not always is this permitted. There are seven million foreigners in a population of 17 million, including 0.9 million Pakistanis, 1.5 million Indians, 1.0 million Bangladeshis, 0.8 million Filipinos, 130,000 Sri Lankans and about 1.1 million Egyptians, Palestinians and Lebanese.
Even when the House of Saud falls, we won't consider the War on Terror over until there's freedom of religion in Arabia — not only for "people of the book," as the Koran calls for, but also for Ba'hais, Buddhists, Taoists, animists, and atheists.
Practices contrary to the teaching of the 18th century reformer Muhammad bin Abdul Wahab are discouraged, such as observing the birthday of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) and visits to the tombs of revered Islamic figures. Anyone spreading a contrary interpretation of Islam or Islamic practices is dealt with strictly, sometimes in prison. All mosque imams are on state payroll and foreign imams are forbidden from leading Friday prayers, which the government describes as part of its “Saudization” plan to replace foreign workers with Saudi citizens.
They've got enough "holy men" running around not to need to import any...
There is discrimination against women. Their testimony in the Kingdom’s courts does not carry the same weight as that of a man. Women may not marry non-citizens without government permission and men must obtain approval from the Ministry of Interior to marry women outside the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Women cannot marry non-Muslims, while men can marry Christians and Jews. While women have to demonstrate legally specific grounds for divorce, men may pronounce divorce without cause. If divorced or widowed, a woman may keep her children up the age of seven if they are boys, and nine if they are girls. Thereafter, the custody goes to the husband or his family.
We'll also be able to tell the War on Terror is over when you can go out and have a few beers at a titty bar in Mecca. I doubt if I'll live to see the day, but my kids might. I plan on leaving a small bequest in my will to be spent only for that purpose...
The majority of the world’s Muslims and Muslim states do not follow these practices. Is theirs then not the way which is truly representative and is that not the message which should be going out to the world?
Unfortunately, Muslims states have been severely influenced by the wahhabis, and it's doubtful they'll be able to revert to previously tolerant forms of Islam. After the war crests, there will probably be a net decline in the numbers of Muslims, and there will be a certain decline in the numbers of antilibertarian Muslims. Our ideals — freedom to do what a person wants as long as it doesn't physically hurt someone else — will eventually kill Islamism and possibly Islam with it, just as it has killed Communism and Fascism.