What does one make of the gross contradictions that emerge when a
human-rights violating nation calls for “dialogue,” even as it enforces
religious intolerance on its own turf? by: Raymond Ibrahim
In principle, it is a decent thing: Christians, Jews, Muslims and others trying to reach a common ground and professing mutual respect. Enter Saudi Arabia. Birthplace of Islam, the Arabian kingdom is also the one Muslim nation that regularly sponsors interfaith initiatives in the West—even as its official policy back home is to demonize and persecute the very faiths it claims to want to have an interfaith dialogue with.
Back in 2008,
for example, in what was deemed an unprecedented move, Saudi King
Abdullah “made an impassioned plea for dialogue among Muslims,
Christians and Jews,” going so far as to refer to the latter two as “our
brothers.” His stated goal was to develop “respect among religions.”
The Saudi monarch’s most recent initiative
reached fruition recently, on November 26, 2012, when the King Abdullah
Bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural
Dialogue was launched in the Austrian capital, Vienna.
According to its own website, the center “was founded to enable,
empower and encourage dialogue among followers of different religions
and cultures around the world.” Lending international legitimacy to this
Saudi gesture of goodwill, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was among
those who attended the opening.
While all this ostensibly sounds well and good, consider the many
incongruities, the many absurdities—initially demonstrated by the simple
fact that Saudi Sheikh Abdul Rahman al-Sudais, who was quoted praising
the Austrian-based center as proof that “Islam is a religion of dialogue
and understanding and not a religion of enmity, fanaticism, and
violence,” is also on record calling Jews “monkeys and pigs” and
Christians “cross worshippers.”
Nor is he just a run-of-the-mill sheikh: He is the government-appointed imam of Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mosque in Mecca—Islam’s holiest site, where Christians, Jews and others are routinely condemned and cursed during the prayers of the faithful.
But this is not surprising. Even the State Department’s most recent
internal religious freedom report on Saudi Arabia notes that “freedom of
religion is neither recognized nor protected under the law and is
severely restricted in practice. The public practice of any religion
other than Islam is prohibited, and there is no separation between state
And this is the key point: Saudi Arabia’s brand of religious
intolerance is not a product of the “Arab street,” terrorists or mob
violence. It is institutionalized; it is enforced by the state itself.
In other words, religious intolerance is being enforced by the very
people who claim to want to have dialogue with Christians and Jews under
the umbrella of “tolerance” and “mutual respect.”
In this context, what, exactly, do they wish to talk about?
Do they wish to talk about how the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia—yet
another top-ranked Saudi religious official—declared that it is “necessary to destroy all the churches of the region,” basing his verdict on the commands of Muslim prophet Mohammad?
Do they wish to talk about how, despite promising to reform their school textbooks, the Saudi education system continues to indoctrinate Muslim children
with hatred and incitement, teaching that “Christians are the enemies
of the Believers” and that the “the Apes are the people of the Sabbath,
the Jews; and the Swine are the infidels of the communion of Jesus, the
Christians”? Little wonder the imam of Mecca’s Grand Mosque uses such
monikers—even as he gushes about the Saudi-sponsored Vienna-based
initiative for “dialogue.”
Maybe they wish to talk about the 28-year-old Saudi woman, Maryan,
who, after converting to Christianity, had to flee the nation, and is
reportedly currently hiding in Sweden, even as authorities try to
extradite her back to Saudi Arabia to face the crime of apostasy,
which calls for the death penalty? Earlier Maryam had said that,
though she “was raised to hate Judaism and Christianity she has come to
love those religions since finding peace in Christianity.”
Do they wish to talk about how 35 Christian Ethiopians were arrested
and abused for almost a year simply for holding a private house prayer?
Upon release, one of the Christians observed that, “The Saudi officials
do not tolerate any religions other than Islam. They consider
non-Muslims unbelievers. They are full of hatred towards non-Muslims.”
Or do they wish to talk about how last December 2012, Saudi
“religious police” stormed a house in the province of al-Jouf, detaining
more than 41 guests for, in the words of the police statement, “plotting to celebrate Christmas”?
Of course, the Vienna-based King Abdullah International Centre for
Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue does not wish to talk about
any of these instances of state-enforced religious intolerance. Instead,
the purpose of the center’s existence is to deflect criticism from
Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries, and direct it onto the West.
This was amply demonstrated during the center’s inaugural symposium,
when Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the head of the Organization of Islamic
Cooperation, urged Western governments to enact laws countering
“Islamophobia,” because it “leads to hate crimes and as such, it
generates fear, feelings of stigmatization, marginalization, alienation
In other words, Saudi-sponsored “interfaith dialogue” is about
silencing the truth—pressuring the West to show tolerance to Muslims by
not criticizing them for persecuting others, which would be portrayed as
It still remains to be determined which is more surreal, more
unbelievable: That Saudi Arabia, which tops the charts of state-enforced
religious intolerance, is sponsoring “religious dialogue,” or that the
West, including leaders of those religions whose adherents are daily
persecuted by Saudi and Muslim intolerance, are going along with the
gag—and all of them with a straight face.
a Middle East and Islam specialist, is a Shillman Fellow at the David
Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East
Forum. A widely published author, he is best known for his book, The Al Qaeda Reader
. Mr. Ibrahim’s dual-background—born and raised in the U.S. by
Egyptian parents —has provided him with unique advantages to
understanding of the Western and Middle Eastern mindsets.