This bothers me: Saudi Arabia

Sunday 2 March 2008

More Muslim innuendo from the campaign trail. People are talking about photos of Obama and Clinton in Muslim clothing. As an example, Ole Eichhorn said:

BTW: I'm sorry, but this bothers me and this does too. I know, they're Halloween costumes, I know...

I mention Eichhorn's comments because he is not a rabid political blogger. He is a software guy like me, and while his politics are clearly right-leaning, he seems to consider the possibility of voting for a Democrat. There are lots of people bothered by these photos, I don't mean to pick on Eichhorn.

Why are people bothered by people wearing ceremonial garb? Why not be bothered by a sitting president holding hands with a Muslim monarch ruling a country with virtually no religious freedoms? A country where Bibles may be confiscated at the airport? A country where an illiterate woman is sentenced to death for witchcraft?

As near as I can tell, we are allies with Saudi Arabia for two simple reasons:

  1. They have plenty of oil to sell, and
  2. They don't want to kill us.

At the same time we are fighting in Iraq to "spread democracy", Saudi Arabia is a close friend of ours, even though they make absolutely no pretense to democracy, have no freedom of religion, and treat women as second-class citizens, unable even to get driver's licenses. Where's the logic?

I'll take leaders dressing in Muslim garb as a sign of respect for Muslims in democratic countries like Kenya over Bush dressed for casual Friday holding hands with a Saudi royal any day.

And don't worry, I'm not under the illusion that Obama or Clinton would straighten things out. They may not be as chummy with the Saudi royals as Bush is, but I know they are not going to shift Saudi Arabia from the friends column to the enemies column. This failure of reason is deep-seated in US foreign policy.

Comments

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Dan 1:32 PM on 2 Mar 2008

I think you'll find that you're mistaken on the second point ('they' do want to kill us): Bin Laden is a Saudi national and so were a majority of the 9/11 hijackers; this is ignored due to the first point (the oil) but it's not exactly a state secret. Likewise our leaders ignore the genocide in Darfur much as they did the previous genocide in Rwanda but insist that Saddam Hussein had to be overthrown due to his (comparatively trivial) human rights violations and, of course, while committing multiple such violations of their own.

And ask yourself this question: when have we, as a nation, ever left another country once we had our hooks set? We've had a base in Cuba (Gitmo) for over 110 years now: since the Spanish-American war...the same war where we picked up the Philippines and Puerto Rico; we still have bases in Japan and Germany from WWII; we're still in Korea. Do you seriously think that we're going to pull out of Iraq now that we have our own piece of the pie?

When McCain told people in NH that we'd be in Iraq "for 100 years" he was being forthright and honest (he's a career military man from a long line of military men; both his father and grandfather were Admirals; he knows the score about American Imperialism); which of course is exactly why the Limbaugh's of the world can't stand him: you're just not supposed to come out and admit things like that! The man said that Waterboarding is Torture! Madness!!

Likewise Ralph Nader was making the rounds just last week (running his usual quixotic Green Party) asking why it is that Israel is our largest recipient of aid money and how it is that we could condemn the wall around Berlin while pointedly ignoring the wall around Gaza? Jimmy Carter wrote a book a year or so back asking much the same question and was, of course, roundly condemned because saying anything that goes against the policies of the nation of Israel is taken as a public admission of antisemitism.

And Ron Paul shocked me by standing on that stage during a Republican debate and saying (in as many words) that we were attacked on 9/11 not because of Muslims hate of Freedom but rather because the people of the Middle East as a whole were enraged at our constant ham-fisted monkeying in their politics and way of life. The reactions from the Left, Right, and Media were typical.

And THAT is what bothers ME: The level of hypocrisy that let's the average American talk about 'The Land of The Free' when America has 1 in every 100 of it's own citizens behind bars: a higher total prison population than Russia and China COMBINED; the level of ignorance and superstition that allows half the Republican candidates to raise their hands claiming that they don't believe Evolution ever happened (with no backlash in the public nor Press); and the fact that everywhere you look there are talking heads and pundits offering up glib factoids; sound bites; and dumbed down Policy Lite (all with a dash of spin and severed up in a crunchy Ideological shell). I'm sick to death of being lied to, mislead, and manipulated. But I don't think it's going to get any better anytime soon.

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Bryan Price 4:09 PM on 2 Mar 2008

I have to agree with Dan (good thing I read that comment!).

They definitely do want to kill us.

Is it the fact that most of the terrorists were Saudi's? No.

It's the fact that their own school books are written to put down Americans, and beat into the Saudi culture that we aren't worthy of anything. This has supposedly been toned down, but considering that Saudi officials have refused to allow others to scrutinize their books to see if this has happened, I truly doubt that it has.

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Bryan Price 4:10 PM on 2 Mar 2008

And that would be 9/11 terrorists. Too damn quick on the submit button.

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Ned Batchelder 4:28 PM on 2 Mar 2008

When I said, "they don't want to kill us," I meant that the official policy is that the Saudis are friends with us. Their leaders, for example, will hold hands with Bush. Contrast that to Iran or (pre-overthrow) Iraq, whose leaders make speeches denouncing the US, something the Saudis would never do.

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Alia Khouri 5:26 PM on 2 Mar 2008

Sheesh, Bryan, and I thought you software guys were logical... (-: Just because most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi doesn't make all Saudis terrorists. I know there's a fallacy somewhere in your reasoning.

It's actually quite offensive for us law-abiding freedom-loving internationalist secular feminists in Saudi Arabia to be constantly placed in the same bracket as the most vile, criminal, and cultish subset of our society. Would you like to be constantly compared to members of the Manson family just because you are American?

Think about it, Bryan.

And yes, there are folks in Saudi, myself included, who are also quite fond of Python (-:

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Bryan Price 6:09 PM on 2 Mar 2008

Ned: Official policy should be reflected by their curriculum. And that reflection is not good. One can say anything to somebody's face, and even hold hands and kiss. But in the end, are the Saudis pulling out the dagger in our back, or are they shoving it in further and harder? At least with Iran and Iraq, the American people know where they stand with those two countries.

Alia: You misunderstand. I'm not suggesting that all Saudis are bad or terrorists or anything of that sort. Not even a minority of real size. There are kooks in every country (*cough*unabomber*cough*). :) I'm suggesting that the leadership of the Saudis is not doing anything close in their power that is actually in our best interest. It is only for their best interest. And right now, appearing to be our friend is in their best interest. I don't know if I want to be around when they decide that it isn't in their best interest.

Is that logical enough for you?? :) (your right to left is showing BTW...) (yes, I do get to tease you about that. ;-P )

I'm just an old man (I guess I can call 50 old now) ranting, not that anybody (and certainly my children) pays attention to me anymore.

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Vladimir 11:50 PM on 3 Mar 2008

> Where's the logic?

Seriously, does anyone really believe that political leaders give a something about "spreading democracy" or "freedom of religion"? :-)

> The level of hypocrisy that let's the average American talk about 'The Land of The Free'

No, it's the land of Endemic Surveillance Society:
http://www.privacyinternational.org/article.shtml?cmd[347]=x-347-559597

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Alia Khouri 12:59 PM on 5 Mar 2008

Ned asked to me to comment on his post on Saudi and give a general statement about the country. Here's my response:

Your question is a pretty wide-ranging one... How would you like to be asked to do a de Tocqueville on your own country (-: ? You probably know most of the answers anyway and I do not dispute any of the statements you made in your initial post: Saudi Arabia is certainly not Switzerland when it comes to political and religious freedom, in fact I would suggest that we are indefensibly way behind the rest of the world in this regard (especially in the areas of women's rights, democracy, and all the freedoms you guys take for granted).

But Saudi society and the Saudi government is very complex, very varied, very opaque and full of contradictions. We have, like most countries, individual players representing all shades of the political spectrum. We are not by any means a monolithic entity... So it is very difficult for one to make an informed general statement about the country because typically one is expressing a mere intuitive opinion about the state of things..

For example, most of the issues you raised are actually non-representative of the current zeitgeist. Take the current King (yes the guy who held hands with GWB) he is actually the most liberal and pro-women's monarch we've had in years.. but his slow but significant efforts of reform have to be taken into consideration against that which he inherited from prior rulers: an ultra-conservative 'religious establishment' who were given way too much power by monarchs who preceded him... You cannot imagine how important his recent efforts to reform the judiciary are, as his intention is is wrest away power from those who have abused it.... leading to many of the embarrassing injustices that you mentioned... (You may not know that in almost all the cases, the King intervenes positively) So in the battle for progressive thinking, the current King is our friend.

At the same time, we have insular, irrational, ultraconservatives, who honestly believe they have a duty to impose their narrow typically 'religious' view of the world on everyone else, irrespective of the de facto pluralism which is a 'feature' of the post-internet age. A very very small subset of these end up becoming and behaving like 'terrorists'. But then again these are almost universally reviled in the country (even by the ultraconservatives!).

So, the complexity of the country and its people demands a nuanced understanding of why things are the way they are, and it is easy to fall into the traps and draw fallacious conclusions about 'Saudis', 'Muslims', 'Jews', 'Russians', or any other broad category of people.

The world is never as simple as it seems. (-:

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Bryan Price 5:20 PM on 5 Mar 2008

Alia: I'm glad you left this comment. I don't think I'm ignorant about Saudi Arabia (but there is always that chance - lots of those actually, but life in middle America and networks is not one of them. :) ) This comment goes on to educate me more about Saudi Arabia, which is a good thing. And so that it seems that SA is backwards in the human rights regards, the powers that be have evidently recognized that, and are moving things towards that end. I salute SA for that. And I can certainly understand that the changes needed are going to take time. A good example (IMNSHO) of speeding recklessly is our own President. I just remember a commercial twenty years ago that made it sound like living and working in SA would be just like America (although I new back then that was lie, Canada maybe, but the rest of the world? Nope, too many changes, and yes I was in serious running for working there) And I certainly am not up on the current events to know what's up with SA.

So it sounds like I need to revisit my opinions about what Saudi Arabia (powers that be certainly) and revise them to be more favorable. I guess I was aware of the liberalization that the King has been bringing to the Kingdom in the back of my mind. The ultraconservatives I know have put some pressure on the King. Which is probably a fact that disturbs me indirectly.

I appreciate you honesty and willingness to educate us 'Mericans! Lord knows I would NOT be willing to be judged my current President! I'm not even sure I would want to be judged just by any of our past presidents!

I don't tend to make any assumptions about somebody based on their race, religion or origin. I'm a mutt from Western European countries that happened to be born in American. What I worry about is when I'm hearing reports that students are getting told to think instead of letting them actually cogitate for themselves and come up with their own opinions and rationales, I have problems with that. Be it in Saudi Arabia, America (which makes me nuts by the way...), Germany, the moon or Jupiter.

My mindset is considered a Rational mindset (my full type is INTP, which also explains why my opinions should always be considered fluid). Thank you for giving me more data to chew on.

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poetryman69 5:49 PM on 8 Mar 2008

Now that the truth is out there, let the word go forth. Without conservatives there would be no torture. W's veto is complete, absolute and irrefutable proof of this simple fact. Only a conservative would think to change the definition of torture so that he can go on torturing.
We have been told "they hate us for our freedoms" and "they worship a culture of death." What we did not know was conservatives were talking about themselves. Every time W wants another one of our civil liberties it's conservatives who insist you won't miss that right, you don't need it anyway and besides, point to one person who has been hurt by the lack. When you consider that conservatives love torture and the death penalty the truth becomes clear. It is conservatives who have a culture of death. And it is conservatives who hate us for our freedoms.

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