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Monday, November 15, 2004

Our 'friends' the Saudis, and other Islamic topics

With Friends Like These...

When the State Department recently designated Saudi Arabia as a "country of particular concern" in its annual religious-freedom report, few took notice. But this unprecedented step may — just may — signal the start of a tectonic shift for the better in the troubled U.S.-Saudi bilateral relationship, and in the broader war against Islamist terrorism.

Saudi Arabia's welcome, if belated, addition to State's religious-freedom blacklist — along with the likes of Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Vietnam — fulfills the clear policy mandate of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA). This measure explicitly recognizes that religious freedom is inseparable from the full range of other basic human rights, whose promotion and observance in turn advance vital U.S. interests and reflect basic American values. Where religious freedom is threatened or denied, so too are other basic human rights; and such violations of universally agreed-upon norms often reflect wider threats to international public order. Consider only this year's rogues gallery and their handiwork, from ongoing genocide in Sudan to nuclear proliferation efforts by Iran and North Korea.

As part of the annual religious-freedom report, State must designate particular countries that have "engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom" under applicable international law. Designation may or may not result in sanctions, which may be as minimal as a mild private rebuke in the form of a diplomatic note. But what's often overlooked is that this designation is in itself a highly effective sanction, since governments are almost preternaturally averse to public criticism, whether from other states, international organizations, influential NGOs, or the media. And the bigger the megaphone, the sharper the sting of being named and shamed.

Few states are as image conscious and as institutionally thin-skinned as Saudi Arabia.

In Saudi Arabia, "Islam is the official religion, and the law requires that all citizens be Muslims." But the regime's official version of Islam is a narrow, intolerant interpretation of the majority Sunni tradition followed only by a distinct minority of fellow Sunnis around the world:

"The Government enforces a strictly conservative version of Sunni Islam. Muslims who do not adhere to the officially sanctioned Salafi (commonly called "Wahhabi") tradition can face severe repercussions at the hands of the Mutawwa'in (religious police). The Government continued to detain Shi'a leaders. Members of the Shi'a minority continued to face political and economic discrimination, including limited employment opportunities, little representation in official institutions, and restrictions on the practice of their faith and on the building of mosques and community centers."

The situation is grimmer still for non-Muslims, including at least one million Christians among a population of six to seven million guest workers. All public worship is prohibited in principle, and private manifestations of faith (such as possession of Bibles) are often severely punished in practice.

'Fault Lines' of Radical Islam Growing

You know what happens near fault lines? Earthquakes and volcanos.

The most recent hot spots zigzag around the atlas — from Liberia in West Africa to the Netherlands to Southeast Asia. They join a growing roster of places already feeling the strains of religious conflict and terrorism along the edges of the Islamic world — regions as diverse as Chechnya, Nigeria, Spain, Central Asia and the Philippines. Even China is worried about separatist sentiment in its vast and mostly Muslim western province of Xinjiang.

"The militant voices on the street are gaining credibility in more and more places," said Gerges. "That's a worrisome trend."

Part of the reason, many Islamic experts say, can be traced to global communications that forge common points of reference such as al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden's defiance or the guerrilla attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq. But even more powerful rallying cries come from firebrand imams and opinion-shapers: that Islam is under threat and it's the duty of followers to take a stand.


Please notice that it's the "firebrand imams and opinion-shapers" who are causing this. Root causes? Do I smell root causes?

Muslims Say Their Faith Growing Fast in Africa

"There is a kind of statistical warfare with Islam said to be growing by leaps and bounds on one side, and growing Christianity, especially Pentecostalists and charismatics, on the other," said Isaac, an Ethiopian."Statistics have influence. People like to be on the winning side."

But Bah Thierno Amadou, 36, a Sierra Leonian Muslim living in Madagascar, has no doubt his religion is on the march.

"More Africans are converting to Islam. There was hardly any Islam in Sierra Leone in the 1960s. Now it has a big following, and it's getting bigger in each generation," said Amadou, who also lived in Liberia for 16 years.
If people like to win, that implies a war or competition of some kind.

Notice what comes next though:

He says the wars pursued by President Bush are powerful recruiting tools for Islam in many parts of a continent with long memories of 19th century cooperation between European missionaries and colonisers.

"He (Bush) says he's a Christian and he does things to destroy people's lives and property who are Muslims. Africans identify with the victims of Bush, because they suffered under the European colonisers, also Christians," Amadou said.

Balanced, and confusing. Muslims want to win and listen to their leaders, but complain about the other side trying to win. Girlie men.

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