By James M Dorsey
Former Saudi spy chief Turki AlFaisal Al Saud probably mixed his times when he claimed in a recently published memoir that no one should underestimate the political importance of Muslims ’commitment to helping other Muslims.
Prince Turki’s memoir is focused on Afghanistan, an important occupation during his tenure as head of the General Intelligence Department (GID), the kingdom’s foreign intelligence service from 1977 to August 2001, one month before the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. .
“No reader of this book should underestimate the moral and emotional commitment of Muslims to helping other Muslims; this is a very powerful element in modern politics, ”Prince Turki wrote.
Prince Turki, a longtime proponent of reform within the ruling family of the kingdom, was undoubtedly right in writing about significant Saudi Arabian and Islamic support in the 1980s for Pakistan and the Afghan rebels in their jihad against Soviet troops invading the Central Asian state. . .
Jihad gave birth to the Islamic world equivalent of the International Brigades of Communists in the Spanish Civil War but with much broader and longer-lasting consequences.
It seems hard to claim that Muslims still maintain their commitment to help their needy brothers four decades later, as Muslims are experiencing one of the worst, if not the worst, post-World War II period of Islamophobia. Anti-Muslim sentiment ranges from the introduction of bias and prejudice to what critics call cultural genocide.
However, much of the Muslim world, either intimidated by China’s intrusive economic and diplomatic tactics or intending to reap brownie points for a perceived common cause, avoided criticizing the brutal removal of the People’s Republic against Turkic Muslims in northwestern Xinjiang province. . Some countries, including Saudi Arabia, have gone so far as to justify, which means a head-on attack on Islamic and Uyghur religious and ethnic identity.
To be fair, Saudi Arabia has called for a move on the Palestinian issue before it follows the United Arab Emirates and three other Arab countries in establishing diplomatic relations with Israel. Palestinians question whether the kingdom will retain its position after King Salman surrenders the reigns or passes and is most likely succeeded by his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Moral and emotional Islamic commitments may not be superior in Prince Mohammed’s calculations. The heir is expected to attach greater importance to the possible acceleration that Israel’s recognition would give to Saudi Arabia and its troubled personal relations with the United States than to the Palestinian cause. In Prince Muhammad’s mind, relations with Israel may be one way to compensate for a less engaged U.S. defensive position in the Middle East.
Relations with the United States have been strained due to the conduct of Saudi Arabia since its 6.5-year war in Yemen, the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and repression against dissent at home. As a result, the Biden government, with few exceptions, boycotted Prince Mohammed in his dealings with the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia’s tainted human rights record has not only hampered the kingdom’s relationship with the United States and Europe, but has also influenced its efforts to put its long-running ultra-conservative religious past behind it and project itself as a sign of a moderate, pluralistic interpretation of Islam.
In doing so, Saudi Arabia is competing with the UAE, Qatar, Turkey, Iran, and Nahdlatul Ulama of Indonesia to define the faith for the 21st century in what amounts to a battle for the soul of Islam as well as a contest for leadership of the Islamic world, a long-standing Saudi Arabian foreign policy goal.
The King Abdullah International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID), funded by Saudi Arabia, has struggled since its opening in 2012 in Vienna with the association to a kingdom that denied women their rights and violated human rights.
The era of Prince Muhammad, despite witnessing significant improvements in women’s rights, social liberalization, and a degree of religious achievement, did little to improve the center’s image. The killing of Mr Khashoggi and the brutal crackdown on dissent forced the center earlier this year to move its operations from Vienna to Geneva.
“The irony is … that, as the Gulf governments promote their ‘tolerance’ —which is a popular commodity in the Gulf today — they do so in spite of extreme intolerance of political and social pluralism and freedom of opinion and expression,” noted Khalid. al. -Jaber, a former Qatari newspaper editor who leads a Washington research group. “It is not surprising that almost all dissidents against the Gulf monarchies, regardless of their political stripes, have been imprisoned or sent into exile.”
Mr Jaber accused the inter-religious dialogue, when sponsored by autocrats, of “becoming a chapter in public relations cunning to whitewash foreign and domestic misconduct.”
Saudi Arabia’s proposal of a more tolerant “moderate” Islam is further questioned due to its failure to legalize non-Muslim worship and the opening of non-Muslim places of worship in the kingdom as well as its equation of atheism with terrorism.
The Yemeni Press Agency ruled by Houthi reported that a Yemeni journalist was sentenced in late October to 15 years in prison for advertising atheism. The dissident Washington Gulf Institute said Ali Abu Lahoom was also on trial on charges of spreading heretical ideas. It said his case has been prosecuted through the judiciary with unusual speed since the arrest of Mr Abu Lahoom in August.
Ironically, Saudi and UAE exploitation of Islamophobic sentiment to oppose political Islam and the Islamic Brotherhood, considered the biggest challenge to the religious legitimacy of the autocratic rulers of the two Gulf states, was most successful in Austria, despite the expulsion. of the King Abdullah Center, as well as France.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have shown little concern about what impact their support would have for campaigns against political Islam linked to Islamophobia on the status of the Muslim minority in the two European countries.
Anwar Gargash, the then UAE foreign minister, last December defended French President Emmanuel Macron’s new security law introduced in parliament that critics accused of undermining democratic freedoms by implicitly targeting Muslims, imposed a broader ban on home learning and religious control. sports and cultural associations, and expanded degrees of surveillance and limits on freedom of expression.
Mr Macron “does not want to see Muslims ghettoized in the West and he is right. They should be better integrated into society. The French state has the right to explore ways to achieve this,” Mr Gargash said.