The Commitment Against Fundamentalism Is Full Of Contradictions
Saudi Arabia is a key U.S. ally in the Middle East. The United States has stated Saudi Arabia is a crucial partner in the fight against terrorism and extremism. But are they being honest about their commitment against fundamentalist Islam? Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman claims to be. The de facto leader of Saudi Arabia went on 60 Minutes in his first American interview to argue that his reformist government is changing the nature of the theocratic government and is increasing the fight against extremism.
But is he being honest?
Saudia Arabia is a strictly Muslim country. A citizen is required to follow Islam. Want to have a different faith? At the worst, this is punishable by the death penalty, and at the least, it means you can never be a citizen. Christians have been arrested for engaging in private prayer practice, and many foreign workers of different faiths decry routine discrimination.
Part of the reason for this is Saudi Arabia supports a strict interpretation of Islam called Wahhabism. This is the sect that terrorist organizations like Boko Haram and Al Qaeda follow. While this does not mean that Saudi Arabia is the same as a terrorist organization, it does demonstrate that a fundamental core of the country’s values implicitly supports fundamentalism, even if they claim otherwise.
The country also explicitly supports terrorism. A leaked document in 2013 revealed that the State Department called Saudi Arabia a “critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT, and other terrorist groups. Millions of dollars are funneled to terrorist organizations. Additionally, countries have also accused Saudi Arabia of giving money to mosques and madrassas (religious schools) within their nations, exploding fundamentalism to unprecedented levels. While this has decreased in recent times, it has not stopped.
One of the primary examples that Prince Mohammed bin Salman uses to demonstrate his commitment is finally allowing women to drive cars. However, it still requires the permission of a male family member. Also, the Saudi government has arrested 11 of the activists pushing for this reform, claiming foreign governments have influenced them.
Why is the prince claiming a change to supporting fundamentalism when it seems more symbolic? It could be the $49 billion in military aid that the United States gives to the Saudi government. A good chunk of that money is being used to fight a war in Yemen, where the Saudi forces have been accused of war crimes and purposely targeting civilians.
The prince is doing a goodwill tour of the United States to prove that the government is committed to a more moderate form of Islam. But Americans should remain skeptical. Not only for the continuous human rights violations but the lack of changing a theocratic government that seems committed to a form of Islam that is dangerous and hostile to modernity.