Bush managing US Mid-East policy - through the (oil-tinted) looking-glass

Western groups and leaders, including the US State Department, supported "Reporters without Borders" in petitioning Middle East governments to free arrested dissenter bloggers, including the Saudi Arabian, Fouad al-Farhan.

On January 1st, The Washington Post published: "Farhan's is the first arrest of a blogger in Saudi Arabia. Two Egyptian bloggers and one Tunisian are currently behind bars, according to Sami ben Gharbia, advocacy director for Global Voices, an international research group focused on the Internet and founded at Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

Farhan told The Washington Post and others in early December that an Interior Ministry official had warned him that he would be detained because of his online support for a group of men arrested in February and held without charge or trial.

At the time of their arrest, the government accused the Jiddah-based group, made up of a former judge, academics and businessmen, of supporting terrorism. The men's attorney, Bassim Alim, had said they were arrested for their political activism and their plans to form a civil rights group.

Farhan wrote that he was told he would be released if he signed an apology for his activism. "I'm not sure if I'm ready to do that. An apology for what? Apologizing because I said the government lied when they accused those guys of supporting terrorism?"

Jon Ward in the Washington Times published,
"One day before President Bush arrived here to meet with King Abdullah, he spoke out against Middle Eastern governments that crush dissent and punish political or religious speech.

“You cannot expect people to believe in the promise of a better future when they are jailed for peacefully petitioning their government,” Mr. Bush said Sunday during a speech in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

“And you cannot stand up a modern and confident nation when you do not allow people to voice their legitimate criticisms,” he said.

But when Mr. Bush arrived in Saudi Arabia yesterday, he stepped into a kingdom where some crimes, including apostasy from Islam, are punished by beheading, and where expressing one’s views on a blog can land you in prison.

Mr Bush said to Gulf Arab leaders in the UAE
in the major speech of his nine-day Middle East trip, "The best way to defeat the extremists in your midst is by opening your societies, and trusting in your people, and giving them a voice in their nation." While Mr Bush continued to tout democracy, he put more emphasis on the need for "justice" and broader societal changes, offered a cautious critique of political repression in the Middle East- reassuring nervous Arab leaders of continuing US support.

But Michael Hirsh in "The Growing Power of Petro-Islam" published in Newsweek, calls the President hypocritical in not publicly advocating in Saudi Arabia for the high-profile, jailed civil-rights journalist, Farhan, despite Mr. Bush's inaugural address proclamation,"It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture," while he stumped in Saudi Arabia (pledging his support to sell the monarchy a $20 Billion smart-bomb package) for them to hopefully use to contain Iran's nuclear program, and not against Israel - seeking their support for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

"The Saud family's legitimacy is built not on law but on an extremist brand of Islam, Wahhabism, in which Osama bin Laden was schooled, much as Tony Soprano's power is based on violence. (Remember when people used to talk about forcing the Saudis to change their radical Islamist views after 9/11? Didn't happen. Instead we invaded somewhat secular Iraq—at least it was next door to the real problem—and found ourselves preoccupied.) Imagine if Tony S. ran much of the world's oil supply and used the vast profits to fund more Bada-Bing fronts for organized crime all over the world? Don't you think governments would band together to stop it? Well, that's not unlike what's happening today, with Saudi Arabia's financing of anti-Western sentiment—but no one's doing anything about it, starting with George Bush. Simply because it's the Saudi government. Our "friends."

Clearly King Abdullah and other senior members of his government are not unfriendly to Washington. But many other Saudis are. This is what some experts have called petro-Islam. The Saudis have used their vast profits to fund not Bada-Bing clubs but Wahhabist mosques around the world, even in the United States. Wahhabists—or Salafists, as members of the broader movement are called—believe in a strict interpretation of the Qur'an and a pure, self-contained Islamic state. Many also embrace the idea that integration into the West—or American society—is profane. This never represented mainstream Islam.

In fact, the creator of Wahhabism, the 18th-century thinker Mohammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, was notorious among Muslims of his time for being something of an extremist himself. He vandalized shrines, and he was denounced by many Islamic theologians for his "doctrinal mediocrity and illegitimacy," as the scholar Abdelwahab Meddeb notes in "Islam and Its Discontents." The upshot is that Western consumers are paying hundreds of billions of dollars in oil profits to help educate and fund their own potential murderers.

None of this would have happened had it not been for the petro-dollar. The Saudis would have stayed obscure Bedouins and Wahhabism little more than a cult. But because of their oil wealth, the Saudis were able to spread Wahhabism's seed worldwide, making it far more mainstream than it would have been otherwise. As one Egyptian intellectual described it me, "It's as if Jimmy Swaggart had come into hundreds of billions of dollars and taken over most of Christianity."

Saudi Arabia was always the problem, and not just because 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudi. It is because of the rise of petro-Islam in this troubled land. And as oil climbs in value, and research lags on alternative energy sources, this pathological family concern known as Saudi Arabia only grows. Even now no one is really doing anything about this critical problem.

Bush was right when he said in his second inaugural address, "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands." If only he had taken himself seriously on this trip. Perhaps next time he ought to insist on seeing a few dissidents.

Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hasn't missed the White House's complacency against the persecution of political critics.

According to Caroline Glick in the Jerusalem Post:

"WORSE EVEN than the media's intimidation of Zionists is the official harassment suffered by those who insist on speaking out. And as Olmert moves ahead with the leftist establishment's program of expelling Israelis from their communities and transferring them to Palestinian terrorists, that harassment is becoming more and more palpable. {...}

On January 9, three activists stood in front of the Dan Panorama Hotel in the capital where the foreign press accompanying Bush on his visit to Israel was being housed. Jeff Daube, Susie Dym and Yehudit Dassberg were attempting to distribute a report on Fatah's support for and involvement in terrorist attacks against Israel to members of the foreign press. The report, written by veteran researcher Arlene Kushner, contained no policy recommendations. It simply documented Fatah's terrorist activities. For their efforts, they were detained by the police and accused of distributing "seditious materials" and causing a public nuisance.

Beyond its harassment of street protesters and activists, the government is now attempting to silence online protests of its policies. Last week, the ministerial committee on legislation approved a bill that would make Web site owners and editors legally responsible for comments published on their sites. Given the government's arbitrary and biased definition of sedition and incitement, if the law is passed it will effectively force bloggers and Web site operators to block all comments to their Web sites. Yet another avenue of protest will be silenced.

The cumulative impact of these phenomena has been the fifth and perhaps determinative factor enabling Olmert to continue in office. Simply stated, between the media's intimidation and the official harassment of citizens who dare to protest or even disagree with the government's policies, the public has simply lost faith its ability to influence the course of the country. This sense of disenfranchisement has demoralized the public into silence.

For those who wish to help end the tenure of a government pushing a radical, post-Zionist agenda with the support of a mere eight percent of the public, it is important to understand this state of affairs. All ameliorative actions must be geared towards ending the stranglehold of the radical Left on the national debate, and towards defending the civil rights and upholding the reputations of those who protest.

Will all the Western sympathy afforded to Mid-East bloggers' political free-speech also be extended to nationalistic, Israeli bloggers (or blog-commenters) to be jailed for criticizing PM Olmert's "land-for-peace" policies?

1 comment:

  1. The Israeli blog-commenter intimidation has begun - and the Mystical Paths blog acknowledges - they're intimidated!

    "R. Nati, a contributor to this blog, was summoned to the (Israeli) police station today. When he arrived, he was escorted to a room. The police were not waiting, instead the Israeli Internal Security (Shabak, or Shin Bet, the Israeli counter-intelligence and internal security service) was waiting for him.

    He was interrogated as a right-wing activist (he's not), for possible involvement in planning anti-public activities (he's not involved in any way), and for publishing a Violent (?) Anti-Government (?) & Anti-Homosexual (???) Blog - Mystical Paths.

    Well, he doesn't publish it. He does contribute religious and emunah oriented articles somewhat regularly."

    Please read it all: