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Why Is the West Ignoring Saudis’ Persecution of Christians?



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Saudi Arabia’s deportation of 35 Christian Ethiopian workers last week for holding a private prayer in advance of Christmas in December 2011 has brought the anti-Christian violence of the Saudi regime back into the public eye.

International Christian Concern wrote on its website that “Saudi security officials assaulted, harassed and pressured the Christians to convert to Islam during their incarceration.” One of the Ethiopian workers told ICC, “We have arrived home safe. We believe that we are released as the result of the pressure exerted by ICC and others,” and added: “The Saudi officials don’t tolerate any other religions other than Islam. They consider non-Muslims as unbelievers. They are full of hatred towards non-Muslims.”

During Advent, Saudi authorities raided a prayer meeting at the private home of one of the Ethiopian workers in Jeddah, a city on the Red Sea coast in western Saudi Arabia. The Saudi religious police – mutaween – incarcerated 29 women and six men for over seven months in barbaric prison conditions, where the men faced beatings and the women were subjected to sexually intrusive torture methods.

#more#In 2006, the Saudi kingdom declared that it would not disrupt non-Islamic religious practices. Two years earlier, the U.S. State Department termed Saudi Arabia a “country of particular concern” for its repression of religious freedom. The Saudi government adheres to a strict form of Sunni Islam called Wahhabism that has animated many followers to engage in terrorism.

How have Western governments and human-rights groups dealt with Saudi Arabia’s continued lack of religious freedom for non-Muslim believers? Europe being Europe, the governments of Spain and Austria joined Saudi Arabia in October to create the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue in Vienna.

The Saudis are expanding their educational facilities in Germany. According to a 2010 report in the daily Berlin Tagesspiegel, the Saudi Kingdom appears to have bought land in Germany’s capital to build a new school.

The King Fahd Academy in Bonn, the Federal Republic’s former capital, had already generated attention because an imam preached at the academy that children should be groomed for holy war.

Amnesty International (AI), a major human-rights group, seems to be disinterested in the persecution of Christians. There appear to be no AI press statements on its website blasting the imprisonment of the Ethiopians. When I called the AI London headquarters, a spokeswoman said she would telephone me back today. There was no return call.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in early February called on the Saudis to immediately release the Ethiopians. However, if the U.S. takes protecting religious freedom seriously, the State Department could have summoned the Saudi ambassador for rebuke or pulled its ambassador out ofRiyadh to protest the Kingdom’s refusal to accept Christianity and refrain from imposing violence on Christians. A diplomatic reprimand, which would be a rather modest attempt to draw attention to Saudi conduct, was not part of the Obama administration’s tool kit.  

The ongoing campaign by the Saudi authorities and its religious establishment to decimate Christianity reached its rhetorical zenith in March. Abdulaziz ibn Abdullah Al al-Sheikh, the grand mufti Saudi Arabia, proclaimed it “necessary to destroy all the churches in the Arabian Peninsula.” As my colleague Clifford D. May noted at the time in his column, the grand mufti delivered his directive to an organization called the “Revival of Islamic Heritage Society” (RIHS), which has aided a host of terrorist entities, including al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda affiliates.

How many more imprisoned and tortured Christians will it take for the Obama administration and its Western allies to stand up to the Saudis?

— Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.



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