Why isn't Bush being more strongly criticized for inviting Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah to his ranch on Monday?
If ever there was an existing medieval theocracy that fits the definition, it's the Saudi monarchy. It is the most fundamentalist country in the world, period. The monarchy is unaccountable to its people. Women have an almost total absence of basic rights. Immigrant workers are grossly abused. A visit I made to the country in 2002 as part of a group of journalists confirmed some of this firsthand for me.
"Human rights violations are pervasive in Saudi Arabia," says Human Rights Watch in its 2005 annual survey. "Many basic rights are not protected under Saudi law, political parties are not allowed, and freedom of expression remains extremely limited."Recent reforms have not altered the basic nature of the monarchy, as Human Rights Watch points out in several new reports.
Bush not only hosted the de facto head of this regime at his Crawford ranch, however, but literally held Abdullah's hand all the way to his office. This single gesture undermines all of Bush's rhetoric about freedom and democracy.
I realize that the Saudis are presumably important because of our oil dependency. Judging by news accounts, the price of oil dominated the meeting. Plus, there are the Bush family's ties to the monarchy and Saudi investments in this country. Should we let all this, however, force us into such a close relationship with such an obnoxious regime?
Another argument for staying with the monarchy is that an alternative could be far worse, with Al Qaeda attacks in Saudi Arabia raising such fears. But what kind of a culture spawned Osama and 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers? A culture where schoolkids are taught that "all religions other than Islam are false" and are exhorted not to befriend non-Muslims because "emulation of the infidels leads to loving them, glorifying them and raising their status in the eyes of the Muslim, and that is forbidden." Apparently, one of the main authors of the school curriculum is a cleric, Sheikh Saleh al-Fawazan, who likes slavery and hates democracy. When the Saudi regime--in collusion with the most reactionary clergy in the world--teaches Saudi kids lessons in fundamentalism and misogyny, is it any surprise that not too many liberals and secularists can be found in Saudi Arabia?
And the major problem is that not only do the Saudis peddle this sort of intolerance to their kids, they also propagate it worldwide on the strength of their oil money. Thousands of mosques and religious schools throughout South and Southeast Asia, for instance, are financed by the Saudis to force a cultural change from the relatively easygoing local varieties of Islam to the hard-line Wahhabi brand the Saudis espouse. "Over the past 25 years, the desert kingdom has been the single greatest force in spreading Islamic fundamentalism, while its huge, unregulated charities funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to jihad groups and Al Qaeda cells around the world," stated the U.S. News & World Report in an extensive 2003 report. The problem has reached U.S. shores, too. In a recent study, Freedom House documents that the Saudi government is distributing textbooks that preach intolerance to mosques within the United States.
The misdeeds of the Saudi regime are far more extensive than I can describe in a single column. Entire books can, and, indeed, have been, written about the monarchy and about Bush's relationship with it, of which I'd particularly recommend "House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties," by Craig Unger. The cover has a picture (surprise, surprise!) of Bush holding hands with Abdullah.
When will Bush stop holding hands and start pushing this objectionable regime away from the United States?
Amitabh Pal is Managing Editor of The Progressive.
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