Politics & Policy

Abdullah’s U.N. Ploy

Tell us again about tolerance, tyrant.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia deserves a medal. In mid-November, he inaugurated a two-day conference at the U.N. aimed at promoting dialogue. Abdullah should be awarded a medal not because he called for plurality, tolerance, and moderation, but because he did so with a straight face. That the ruler of one of the most repressive and despotic nations on Earth convinced anyone to listen to his peroration points only to our willful delusion and profound moral ineptitude.

In his address, Abdullah declared “Human beings are created equals and partners on this planet.” That must have been news to the enslaved citizens of his own country. Saudi women are banned from driving and cannot travel without a man’s permission. Freedom of speech, press, and assembly are virtually non-existent. It is forbidden to build a synagogue or church on Saudi soil. In September, the head of the Supreme Judiciary Council, Saudi Arabia’s highest judicial authority, issued a fatwa to kill the owners of satellite TV stations who broadcast “inappropriate” material. Another member of the same council issued a fatwa calling for the death of hosts of astrology TV programs. In July, the Orwellian-named Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice banned the walking of pet cats and dogs in public.

#ad#Demonstrating the xenophobic, anti-Semitic, gender-apartheid nature of Saudi Arabia is easy. Understanding the West’s appeasement of it is not. After Abdullah’s speech, Israeli President Shimon Peres responded “Your majesty, the King of Saudi Arabia, I was listening to your message. I wish that your voice will become the prevailing voice of the whole region, of all people. It’s right, it’s needed, it’s promising.” One would have thought the King just allowed women to vote, drive, or express dissent. But an oil-rich Arab dictator apparently need only to whisper a few empty platitudes and the West is ready to heap praise.

For Saudi Arabia to preside over a U.N. conference on tolerance is akin to Iraq being offered the chair of the U.N. Committee on Disarmament (with as Iran co-chair!) or Libya being elected to lead the U.N. Human Rights Committee. Never before have such ferocious foxes guarded such naïve hens.

Any sane discussion about tolerance would feature Saudi Arabia as the precise opposite of what is desired. Abdullah would be roundly castigated and one leader after another would denounce his regime. But that would be asking too much, for it would require a modicum of moral clarity and the ability to stand up for something other than immediate economic gain.

As Abdullah waxed poetic at the U.N., the West should be working furiously to undermine his regime. Liberty must not be sacrificed on the altar of perceived economic stability. The Saudi people are being radicalized and alienated under the oppressive thumb of King Abdullah and the Wahhabist imams he subsidizes. That America sends billions of dollars of arms to an unelected government that crushes basic freedoms is as immoral as it is counter-productive.

On November 12 in front of the entire world, Saudi hypocrisy reached a new high. Let us hope that in response, the West does not reach a new low.

David Keyes is the coordinator for democracy programs under Natan Sharansky at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies.

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