International politics is a rough and necessarily hypocritical business. A temporary alliance of convenience is not the same as friendship, but sometimes it makes sense to pretend that it is.
Saudi Arabia is a repulsive theocracy, a cesspit where self-righteousness and corruption walk, well, hand-in-hand. The influence that Saudi money has had on Islam worldwide has been malign. The west’s ‘partnership’ with the country’s regime is a matter of occasionally shared enemies at best. Nevertheless, I can understand why it’s necessary for western leaders to feign a certain amount of sadness over the death of the Saudi Arabian
tyrant enlightened reformer, Abdullah, fly to his funeral and so on.
But was it necessary to fawn quite so much?
Here’s David Cameron, admittedly not a politician who understands very much about the world beyond Britain’s shores, but still:
[Abdullah] will be remembered for his long years of service to the kingdom, for his commitment to peace and for strengthening understanding between faiths.
Strengthening understanding between faiths?
Islamist police in Saudi Arabia have stormed a Christian prayer meeting and arrested its entire congregation, including women and children, and confiscated their bibles, it has been reported.
The raid was the latest incident of a swingeing crackdown on religious minorities in Saudi Arabia by the country’s hard-line Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.
The 28 Christians were said to be worshipping at the home of an Indian national in the eastern city of Khafji, when the police entered the building and took them into custody. They have not been seen or heard from since, raising concerns among human rights groups as to their whereabouts.
Look, I can understand the need to say something nice about the man, but even if I did buy into the argument that Abdullah was moving his country in the right direction (“cautious modernization” was the weasel-phrase used by Angela Merkel, although the IMF’s sleazy Christine Lagarde won the prize with the claim that Abdullah was a strong advocate for women “in a very discreet way”) as rapidly as anyone could, I would not think that stressing the dead king’s commitment to “strengthening understanding between faiths” would be the way to go.
Cameron’s kowtowing was not the only British humiliation.
A decision to mark the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia by flying flags in Whitehall at half-mast [half-staff] has been criticised by MPs. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said it had asked government buildings to fly the union flag at half-mast for 12 hours in line with protocol that says this is appropriate following the death of a foreign monarch. The Ukip MP Douglas Carswell said it was an “extraordinary misjudgment” in the light of the kingdom’s human rights record. The houses of parliament and Westminster Abbey are among the buildings in London where the government guidance has been followed after King Abdullah’s death early on Friday.
Lowering the flag over Westminster Abbey has, in particular, raised a few eyebrows, not least those of the Spectator’s Ed West, oddly unconvinced that this was an entirely suitable way to honor “the leader of a country where conversion to Christianity is a capital offence”.
In the abbey’s defense, it was argued that it had little say in the matter (true enough: it’s complicated, but it has to with the fact that England—quite rightly, given its history— has an established church), an excuse that lasted until, the Daily Telegraph reported, the Archbishop of Canterbury said this:
The Archbishop of Canterbury has insisted it was right for flags above government buildings and Westminster Abbey to be lowered to mark the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
The Most Rev Justin Welby said the Saudi head of state had played an “important role” in helping to bring faiths together and “tackle interfaith violence”.
If the West wants to signal that is a, to use Bin Laden’s phrase, “weak horse”, groveling like this is a good way to go.