Thursday, January 15, 2015

Saudi Straglehold

This is the first time ever that I agree with National Review editor Rich Lowry and Reza Aslan (who seem to agree with three former or current members of Congress.) It will be the last time ever. And it might be the last time ever I agree with either one of them.

Aslan would not enjoy Lowry's "Of Course It Is Islam," appearing in Politico Magazine. But there is an odd convergence in one of Lowry's statements and one of the Aslan's major themes.

Lowry believes "the point is that there is a broad war of ideas within Islam between the forces of reaction and violence and the forces of moderation and modernity."  In response, he argues

Perhaps the administration’s highest-profile initiative in response to Paris is a Summit on (what else?) Countering Violent Extremists. It seeks “to prevent violent extremists and their supporters from radicalizing, recruiting, or inspiring groups in the United States and abroad to commit acts of violence.”

Who are these violent extremists with such magnetic pull and global reach? They could be anybody, to believe the administration. It is certainly true that you will always have random haters and nuts, including Christian nuts like the evil Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik. And it is certainly true that there are a few non-Islamic groups on the State Department terrorism list.

But they aren’t top of mind, and for good reason. The Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo isn’t launching many attacks on the West. Basque terrorists aren’t recruiting would-be operatives around the world to come back to Spain and learn how to make bombs for spectacular attacks overseas (in fact, the ETA has declared a cease-fire).

This, and Lowry's reminder "On the ground, Muslim popular sentiment often is, at the very least, inconsistent with modernity," lands him on the solid ground occupied by Bill Maher, and abhorred by Aslan. But Lowry adds "Saudi Arabia, the Sunni counterpart of Shia Iran that also imagines itself the keeper of the faith, promotes a harsh version of Islam that has proved a potent breeding ground for terrorism. Are the Saudis not Muslim, either?"

A critic of Christianity who usually doubles as a Muslim apologist, Aslan nonetheless also questions the Wahabbi state, noting Sunday on Meet the Press

There’s no question that there has been a virus that has spread throughout the Muslim world, a virus of ultra-orthodox puritanism.  But there’s also no question what the source of this virus is — whether we’re talking about Boko Haram, or ISIS, or al Qaeda, or the Taliban.

All of them have as their source Wahhabism, or the state religion of Saudi Arabia. And as we all know, Saudi Arabia has spent over $100 billion in the past 20 or 30 years spreading this ideology throughout the world.

And there are very real consequences of Saudi behavior.  At a news conference (video and excerpts below from in Washington on January 7, Representatives Walter Jones (R-NC) and Steven Lynch (D-Mass) appeared at a news conference to announce introduction of their resolution (introduced also in the previous Congress) to declassify the 28 pages of the Joint Inquiry into the Terrorist Attacks of September, 2001. They were joined by Bob Graham, then a Senator from Florida and member of the committee.

Co-chairpersons Graham and Richard Shelby (R-Ga) in December 2002 released the report to the White House for final review. Six months later, Graham noted at the news conference, the declassified version was released and "we were shocked to see that an important chapter in the report had not been redacted, that is, as Congressman Lynch and Congressman Jones said, a word or a phrase here or there, but an entire chapter."

Danger to national security is the excuse given for redacting the 28 pages. But, Graham continued (emphasis his), "As the two Congressmen have just said, they both read the report — not 12 years ago, as I participated in writing the report — but they have read it recently, and have both come to the same conclusion that we did, a dozen years ago, that there is no threat to national security in disclosure."

The Florida Democrat explained

The Saudis know what they did. They are not persons who are unaware of the consequences of their government’s actions. Second, the Saudis know that weknow what they did! Somebody in the Federal government has read these 28 pages, someone in the Federal government has read all the other documents that have been covered up so far. And the Saudis know that.

What would you think the Saudis’ position would be, if they knew what they had done, they knew that the United States knew what they had done, and they also observed that the United States had taken a position of either passivity, or actual hostility to letting those facts be known? What would the Saudi government do in that circumstance, which is precisely where they have been, for more than a decade?

Well, one, they have continued, maybe accelerated their support for one of the most extreme forms of Islam, Wahhabism, throughout the world, particularly in the Middle East. And second, they have supported their religious fervor, with financial and other forms of support, of the institutions which were going to carry out those extreme forms of Islam. 

The Obama Administration  in September launched against the Islamic State in the Levant an offensive which, though righteous in motive and aim, was concerning given the possibility it was a diversion and hence unlikely to achieve its objectives.   The institutions of which Graham spoke on January 7,  he noted, "have included mosques, madrassas, and military. Al-Qaeda was a creature of Saudi Arabia; the regional groups such as al-Shabaab have been largely creatures of Saudi Arabia; and now, ISIS is the latest creature!"

The ex-Senator spoke for many people, but apparently few inside the Beltway, when he argued

Yes, I hope and I trust that the United States will crush ISIS, but if we think that is the definition of victory, we are being very naive! ISIS is a consequence, not a cause—it is a consequence of the spread of extremism, largely by Saudi Arabia, and if it is crushed, there will be another institution established, financed, supported, to carry on the cause.

The regime in Riyadh is not chastened. The Guardian reports

Raif Badawi, the Saudi liberal convicted of publishing a blog, has been told he will again be flogged 50 times on Friday – the second part of his 1,000-lash sentence which also includes a 10-year jail term.

The US, Britain and other western governments had all called for the punishment to be dropped but there has been no sign of any diplomatic action against Riyadh.Amnesty International on Wednesday urged the UK government to challenge Saudi Arabia, which has ignored all protests over the case.

Badawi will be given 50 more lashes outside a mosque in his home city of Jeddah unless a Saudi prison doctor determines he is not yet fit to face the punishmentowing to injuries sustained last Friday. If nothing changes, he will be flogged every Friday for the next 19 weeks.

Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, who is now in Canada, has said she fears he may not be able to physically withstand a second round. “Raif told me he is in a lot of pain after his flogging, his health is poor,” she told Amnesty. “I told our children about the news last week so that they would not find out about it from friends at school. It is a huge shock for them. International pressure is crucial; I believe if we keep up the support it will eventually pay off.”

The first floggings attracted huge attention and anger because they followed the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris and intense discussion of the freedom of expression and Muslim sensitivities about portraying the prophet Muhammad. Saudi Arabia publicly condemned the killings.

British ministers “rightly celebrate free speech in Paris or in London but suddenly seem to lose their own power of utterance when it comes to forthrightly and publicly condemning the authorities in Riyadh,” said Kate Allen, Amnesty International’s UK director. “Why do ministers keep wearing the Saudi muzzle? It seriously weakens the UK’s credibility if it’s seen to tone everything down when it comes to oil-rich Saudi Arabia.”

A Saudi analyst, in light of the murders of the Charlie Hebdo journalists, told the Guardian, "it's not good PR for the kingdom." Yet, it may matter little, because it's not only the United Kingdom, but also the world's greatest- and arguably, sole- superpower, the United States, which are shielding the Saudis.

USA administrations come, and they go. But the last two have in common one major foreign policy objective, to protect the regime which Rich Lowry, Reza Aslan, Bob Graham, Walter Jones, Stephen Lynch and too few others recognize as an extremely powerful obstacle to stopping the spread of terrorism worldwide.

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