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Saudi Arabia

House of shame
The treatment of religious minorities in Saudi Arabia brings shame to all Muslims

Abbas Bakhtiar
February 21, 2007

It is said that “honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger.” I recently wrote an article “Iran vs Saudi Arabia” in which I criticised some religious elements in Saudi Arabia for financing and spreading the xenophobic and extremist Wahhabi version of Islam throughout the world. Using international reports, documentaries and mainstream news reports, I highlighted the level of Saudi involvement in spreading this extremism and with it the Wahhabi terrorism. I also pointed at the elephant in the room – the House of Saud. I pointed out that House of Saud and its 7000 princes rule the country like a feudal fiefdom and rely on this extremist sect (Wahhabism) as a source of legitimacy.

Of course the article was not published in any Arab or Saudi newspapers or online journals. It was however widely read by Muslims who have access to internet and can read English. It generated a debate about Saudi Arabia and as such, and to my surprise, generated a response from a Saudi backed (London Based) newspaper: Asharq Alawsat. You can read the response here.[1] It is interesting to note that this newspaper did not publish my article, yet published a rebuttal without naming the article or providing a link to it. They perhaps were afraid that their readers may actually go and read the article.

The response was written by Mr. Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed.  Mr. Al Rashed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al- Awsat and currently the general manager of the Saudi Financed Al-Arabiya television. Al-Arabiya was launched in 2003 with an investment of $300m by the Saudi-controlled pan-Arab satellite TV pioneer MBC, Lebanon's Hariri Group, and other investors from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Gulf states. Al-Arabiya television is a Al-Jazeera look-alike station with news and commentary reflecting its owners’ views.

Considering the content of my article, I had expected that if anyone was going to disagree with me, they would come-up with some kind of rational and valid counter arguments. To my surprise, Mr. Al-Rashed did not dispute any of the facts presented; instead he tried to marginalise important issues that lead to extremism. He did not dispute the fact that Saudi Arabia is financing Wahhabi expansion through-out the world (ideology of the Jihadis and Al Qaeda). He did not dispute the financing of Maddrassas in Pakistan, a recruiting ground for Taliban and Jihadis there. He did not dispute the xenophobic preaching of Wahhabi scholars. He did not dispute the Fatwas (religious decree) issued by Wahhabi clerics for murdering of Saudi Shia citizens and other “infidels”; nor did he dispute the dark-age like treatment of women.

So what was his main argument: it is Iran’s fault. What was his conclusion: “people who live in glass houses should not throw stones”.  I would like to answer this by rephrasing a quote by David Brinkly: “a successful nation is one which can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at it”.

Some Questions
Arab TV stations such as Al-Arabiya  love to examine and criticise others but NEVER any Arab country. I take this opportunity to ask Mr. Al-Rashed these questions: how many programs has your TV station made or broadcasted about Wahhabi extremism, or corruption in the House of Saud, or mistreatment of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia, discrimination of non-Wahhabi Muslims, discrimination of non-Muslims, status of women, funding of terrorism, or even suggesting that non-Muslims be allowed to build a temple or a Church in the Kingdom?

Religious Persecution
There are ca 7 to 8.8  million foreign workers in the kingdom, some of whom are Christians (close to 1 million) [2], so far not a single Church has been built for them, nor have they been allowed to build one for themselves. Yet Muslims enjoy all kinds of religious freedoms abroad. Large Mosques are built in London, Paris and elsewhere, yet a Christian taking a wrong turn in the kingdom risks imprisonment and by some accounts even death for treading on a “Muslims only” street or road. The same goes for other religions as well.

The following is only one of many horrible and shameful events taking place in Saudi Arabia:

“Local sources gave AsiaNews details about the fate of these victims of Saudi repression in what some human rights activists have called the worst crackdown on religious minorities in the country in the last decades. 

John Thomas, 37, an Indian national from the state of Kerala, is among the Christians arrested by the Muttawa, the Saudi religious police. He joins another Indian, Vijay Kumar, 45, from Tamil Nadu about whose case AsiaNews has already reported.John Thomas is accused of proselytising. But his relatives explain that for the past eight years all he did was hold private prayer meetings in his flat with fellow Indian Christians of all denominations. Relatives also say that this is the first time that he was targeted and that he has been "tortured in inhumane ways".

Working this time in conjunction with the regular police in an act of methodical persecution, on May 28 the Muttawa picked up John Thomas from his place of work and drove him home. Here, he was beaten in front of his five year old son and the babysitter, who was also struck. After his Bibles and other religious objects were collected, he was taken to prison.”[3]

But the persecution does not stop with Christians. Ahmadis, a small group that consider themselves Muslims are another group that are persecuted.

“Saudi Arabia must stop its nationwide campaign to arrest and deport Ahmadis from countries such as India and Pakistan on the basis of their religious belief, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to King Abdullah.

The Saudi government has so far arrested 56 non-Saudi followers of the Ahmadi faith, including infants and young children, and deported at least eight to India and Pakistan, without charging them with a crime. Many other Ahmadis legally resident in Saudi Arabia are reportedly in hiding or have left the country voluntarily for their own safety. Ahmadis in Saudi Arabia are a small community of foreign workers primarily from India and Pakistan, who consider themselves Muslims and follow the teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, a 19th-century Muslim reformer. They also face official persecution in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

"The Saudi government's persecution of Ahmadis on the basis of their faith is turning Saudi Arabia into a byword for religious intolerance," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "King Abdullah must immediately put an end to this campaign and investigate those responsible for this wave of arrests and deportations." [4]

And then we have the largest Saudi religious minority group the Shi’ites who are Muslims and represent 15% of the Kingdom’s population. The following is the religious edict issued by the top cleric of Saudi Arabia only 3 month ago.

“Abdul Rahman al-Barak, one of the top several Wahhabi clerics in Saudi Arabia and considered close to the Kingdom's royal family, also urged Sunnis worldwide to oppose reconciliation with Shiites. The Wahhabi stream of Sunni Islam that is followed in Saudi Arabia is conservative and views Shiites as heretics.

"By and large, rejectionists (Shiites) are the most evil sect of the nation and they have all the ingredients of the infidels," Abdul Rahman wrote in a fatwa, or religious edict, that was posted on his web site Friday.

"The general ruling is that they are infidels, apostates and hypocrites," he wrote. "They are more dangerous than Jews and Christians," he wrote in the edict, which Abdul Rahman said was in response to a question from a follower.

Like most hardline Sunnis, Abdul Rahman employed the word "rejectionists," used as a derogatory term to describe Shiites because they opted out of the Sunni school of Islamic theology. He also said the sect was the work of a Jewish conspiracy.”[5]

Imagine for example that United States’ Catholic archbishop declaring 15% of US citizens as heretics and killing them as religiously acceptable.  But the discrimination of the minorities are not restricted to the religious establishment. It is institutionalised. The following is the extract from Human Right Watch report of 2007.

“Several court decisions raised concern over a lack of standardized canon law to rein in biased judges. In February a judge barred a Saudi Shia from bearing legal witness to the marriage of his Sunni boss’s son. Another judge annulled a marriage, finding the husband “inadequate” because he followed the Ismaili (Shia) creed and not the prevailing Wahhabi (Sunni) creed like his wife. A third judge annulled a marriage, finding in favor of a man who claimed the inferior tribal lineage of his sister’s husband made the latter ineligible to marry into their family, although Saudi sharia law places no conditions of heritage on couples who intend to marry.”[6]

The treatment of religious minorities in Saudi Arabia brings shame to all Muslims. One can not in all good conscious stay silent. A Shi’ite, Ahmadis, or other minority Muslim or a Christian or a Buddhist enjoys much more protection under the law in Israel than he/she does in Saudi Arabia.  Isn’t this shameful?

When Saudi Arabia is allowed to fund and build mosques around the world, it is expected that at least these places be used as houses of worship and peace rather than propaganda machines for feudal lords and their distorted views of Islam. Mr. Al-Rashed and House of Saud can not blame this on others.

Abuse of Foreign Workers
The abuse of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia is also another issue that concern Muslims and non-Muslims everywhere. Many Muslims are working in foreign lands, yet none of them suffer as much as foreign workers do in Saudi Arabia. This perhaps can be traced back to the tradition of keeping slaves in Saudi Arabia. It was not until 1962 that slavery was outlawed in Saudi Arabia.

Only in 2002, 2800 Sri Lankan housemaids ran away from their Saudi sponsors, claiming they had been overworked, sexually abused or physically mistreated by jealous wives. They are among the countless foreign "guest workers" in Saudi Arabia who live and work under conditions that are sometimes compared to modern-day slavery.[7] By 2004, despite criticism from various international institutions, the situation had not improved.

“The 135-page report by the New-York based group catalogues abuses it says are suffered by a predominantly Asian labour force that makes up more than one third of the kingdom's population.

"Migrant workers in the purportedly modern society that the kingdom has become continue to suffer extreme forms of labour exploitation that sometimes rise to slavery-like conditions," it says.

It describes the case of 300 women from India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines who cleaned hospitals in the country's second city, Jeddah.

They worked 12-hour shifts, six days a week, and at night were locked in crowded dormitory-style accommodation where 14 women shared one small room.

Human Rights Watch says abuses on women are particularly disturbing.

"Some women workers that we interviewed were still traumatised from rape and sexual abuse at the hands of Saudi male employers," the report says.

The watchdog also recorded executions of foreign workers whose families only learned of the death sentence after it had been carried out.”[8]

No amount of criticism seems to make any impression on the Saudi rulers. Once again the Human Rights Watch, in its 2007 report draws a grim picture of conditions under which millions of migrant workers live in Saudi Arabia.

“Many of the estimated 8.8 million foreign workers face exploitative working conditions, including 16-hour workdays, no breaks or food and drink, and being locked in dormitories during their time off. The government promised to publish in November 2006 a special annex to the new labour law that regulates domestic migrant workers’ rights. Women domestic workers, whom the labour law currently does not protect, are often at risk of serious abuse in private homes.”[9]

One must not forget that most of these migrant workers are Muslim. When I mentioned in my previous article (Iran vs Saudi Arabia) that majority of Muslims and even Arabs hate Saudi rulers, I was not exaggerating.

We have to face the fact that as long as House of Saud is able to buy friends and influence in the West and East no-one is going to really pay any attention to what is really going on in the kingdom. No one cares if migrant workers are abused, if women are treated as third class citizens or if minorities are discriminated, tortured, and imprisoned. As long as the arms contracts are signed and oil flows, then it is OK. As long as United States supports and protects the House of Saud and its feudal system, then we have no choice but to sit and watch.

But this doesn’t mean that we have to keep silent.  Sooner or later, the American people will see this regime for what it is and will demand that their government leave this unholy alliance. It is then that we will see how long this House of horror will stay in power.

The people of Arabia (Saudis) don’t want this system. They have no say in what goes on in the Kingdom. They are as much the victim of the system as the poor migrant workers that work with and for them. The young people of Arabia specially do not want to live under this system [10].

The House of Saud has tried very hard to buy itself respectability and legitimacy; but we all know that it is morally bankrupt. No amount of money can buy respectability or legitimacy. House of Saud can employ intelligent people such as Mr Al-Rashed to present a better picture of itself to the world. But no matter how hard these clever people try, they can not present this rubbish as a piece of art.

I will send this article to, Al-arabiya TV, Asharq Alawsa and other Arab news media, knowing in advance that none of them will publish it, for there is no free press. Mr. Al-Rashed can write to me in Asharq Alawsa but he can not provide a link to my article nor name the article. Saudi backed Asharq Alawsa can publish a rebuttal but can not publish the original article nor name the article. Al-Arabiya and Aljazeera Televison stations can criticise the Americans and others, but can never utter a slightest criticism of the House of Saud. This is freedom the Saudi Style.

I challenge all of the Saudi backed press to publish the original article and this article with any kind of rebuttal that they think will refute my claims. I challenge Aljazeera and Al Arabiya TV stations to broadcast the poor state of women and minorities in Saudi Arabia. I challenge them to ask the thousand of princes where they have gotten their money from. I challenge them to broadcast the recent British bribery enquiry that was broadcasted by BBC[11].  I challenge them to broadcast the recent documentary: “Dispatch: Uncover Mosque”, shown on the Brittish Channel 4. [12] I challenge them to show one Church in Saudi Arabia. I challenge them to prove to the world that they are at least semi-independent.

Finally I would like to leave this message for the leaders of the House of Saud: “Pity the leader caught between unloving critics and uncritical lovers.” (John Gardner) Comment

Dr. Abbas Bakhtiar lives in Norway. He is a management consultant and a contributing writer for many online journals. He's a former associate professor of Nordland University, Norway.

[1] Asharg Alawsat, “Empty Superiority”, 14 February 2007

[2] U.S. Department of State, “Saudi Arabia

[3] Asia News, “Families of Christians arrested in Riyadh appeal to international community”,  6 March 2005

[4] Reuters, “Saudi Arabia: Stop Religious Persecution of Ahmadis”, 24 Jan 2007

[5] International Herald Tribune, “Top Saudi cleric issues religious edict declaring Shiites to be infidels”, 29 December 2006

[6] Human Rights Watch, “Country Summary: Saudi Arabia”, January 2007

[7] St.Petersburg Times, “The world must know about this”,  23 July 2002

[8] BBC, “Saudi system 'abuses foreigners'”, 15 July 2004

[9] Human Rights Watch, “Country Summary: Saudi Arabia”, January 2007

[10] You Tube, “poor Saudi youth”,  30 December 2006

[11] You Tube, “Saudi-UK corruption (BBC)

[12] Channel 4 Documentary, “Dispatch: Uncover Mosque

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