The sight of President Trump dancing the Ardah at the Arab Islamic American Summit is like a splash of icy water after a long, deep sleep. The commentariat sneered at his efforts to reach out to the Islamic world after the ‘poisonous’ anti-Muslim rhetoric of his campaign. GOP establishment hacks hailed Trump’s doubling-down behind the US’s long-time ‘ally’, the Saudis. Persophobes cheered on this lynchpin in the anti-Iranian coalition. It all amounts to the same thing: the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Do we forget that Saudi Arabia embodies everything truly despicable about fundamentalist Islam – the subjugation of women, the persecution of religious minorities, and the systematic execution of LGBT people, to name just three? Do we forget that they spend billions of dollars building thousands of mosques across the West to propagate Wahhabism? Or that they’re ‘providing clandestine financial and logistic support to Isil and other radical Sunni groups in the region,’ according to US State Department documents leaked in 2014? Or that they’re currently being sued by families of 9/11 victims for complicity in those monstrous attacks? It’s incredible how much wilful self-deception we human beings are capable of.
Those who decried President Obama’s disastrous deal with Iran – $30 billion in exchange for meaningless promises not to pursue nuclear proliferation – should recoil at Trump’s $100 billion arms deal. Saudi Arabia is simply the other side of the Iran coin. In fact, it could be much worse. The Saudis opposition to Iran is borne of one thing, and one thing only: sectarianism. Their network of Sunni terrorists (Isis and al-Qaeda being the chief examples) are larger and better funded than Iran’s cadres of Shia militants. Their goons have carried out far more deadly terrorist attacks on the West than Iran’s. Their proselytisation efforts are much more successful.
Meanwhile, their track record on domestic human rights is measurably worse than Iran’s. The Kingdom’s government is more centralised and autocratic than the Islamic Republic’s, which just re-elected the moderate Hassan Rouhani by 57 per cent. Iran rates much higher in women’s economic participation, health, political empowerment, and workforce participation. Five seats in the Iranian legislature are reserved for religious minorities, including Christians and Jews. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, denies citizenship to non-Muslims; apostasy and the possession of non-Islamic scriptures are capital offences. Yet we overlook all of this because the Saudis sell us oil and aren’t openly trying to destroy the infidel West… ‘openly’ being the key word here.
What’s doubly sad is that there’s a great deal of merit to the idea that we should do more to support moderate, peaceful Islamic nations. I’m on the record in these pages several times as opposing Trump’s more aggressive anti-Muslim rhetoric, and I’m 100 per cent in favour of him strengthening ties to the governments of (say) Jordan and Egypt. One can’t praise men like King Abdullah II and General al-Sisi enough. Both have proven strong, uncompromising enemies of jihadism, Sunni and Shia alike. But those gestures of goodwill are spoiled when we draw King Salman and his demonic brood so close. Every dollar, every rifle, every bomb we send the Saudis to bribe them into fighting Isis – funds they might hand over to the Islamic State anyway – could be sent to our smaller but infinitely more committed Muslim allies.
Granted, some good has come out of the Arab Islamic American Summit. The Gulf States have unanimously pledged to stop their banks from channelling funds to Isis, which is certainly a boon to the War on Terror. But ask yourself why we had to spend billions negotiating such a small concession to the War on Terror. These Sunni theocracies are virtually indifferent to Isis’s existence – assuming they haven’t supported them directly, of course. They don’t care about the proliferation of jihadist violence and ideology; many of them actively encourage it. They don’t care about the thousands of Westerners who’ve died in terrorist attacks; some have worked diligently to that very end.
In retrospect, it was naïve to assume Trump would take a clearer view of the situation – that he’d commit the US to fighting terrorism in all its forms, state and clandestine alike. Of course he wouldn’t. The Saudi lobby in our Western capitals are horrifyingly powerful. They enjoy access and influence unrivalled by any country in the region except, perhaps, Israel. Trump’s foreign policy advisers – namely John Bolton, war-hawk par excellence – have been schilling for the Kingdom for decades. Hell, the President couldn’t hire a dogsbody to fetch his decaf latte who hasn’t snorted blow off a stripper’s belly with some minor prince.
Not to go all reductio ad Hitlerum here, but what do we mean when we say ‘Never Again’ every January 27th? This summit in Riyadh is Munich, 1938 all over again. Year after year, our leaders travel to Saudi Arabia with planes full of cash and weapons, and come back promising ‘peace in our time’. Meanwhile, fundamentalist Islam continues to claim the lives of millions of Christians, Jews, liberals, and sexual minorities. This is no peace. This is appeasement. Make no mistake: future generations will hold us to account. ‘Why did you wait to destroy this abomination?’ they’ll ask. ‘Why did you sit by while they committed such unspeakably evil things to you, to their own people – to the world?’ Do what’s right, or start preparing your excuses.
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