King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, in order to
change the image of Saudi Arabia promote religious tolerance, has embarked on a program of interfaith dialogue.
King Abdullah, promoted by Saudi Arabia as a moderate who can deal with the rest of the world, met Pope Benedict in the Vatican last year, brought Sunni and Shi’ite clerics to Mecca in March and religious leaders to Madrid in June.
Now the king and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon are organizing a special session of the U.N. general assembly on Wednesday and Thursday for talks on “interfaith” issues and the “Culture of Peace.”
How is it possible to make sense of this, from the country that does not permit Jews to reside there and only rarely to visit (until recently, the official Saudi Arabian tourism website indicated that “Jewish persons” would not be admitted), where it is illegal to construct a Christian church, where some cities are off-limits to non-Muslims, and where “insulting Islam” is punishable by beheading?
About thirty world leaders including President Bush and Israeli President Shimon Peres are expected to attend. But just in case you are pinching your cheek to see if you are dreaming, keep in mind that Jew Peres wasn’t invited by the King and may have to scuttle in through a side door:
After the Saudi Ambassador [to Lebanon], Abdel Aziz Khoja, clarified Saudi’s position regarding Israel’s invite to the inter-faith conference stating that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was not responsible for extending an invitation to the Israeli president, ex-premier Salim al Hoss issued a statement that said, “I apologize for anything in my statement that has offended our big sister, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, directly or indirectly.” — Asharq al-Awsat, (a “pan-Arab” newspaper published in London)
God forbid that anyone should think that the Saudi king was that tolerant! Peres’ invitation came from the UN, which unlike King Abdullah, has to keep up appearances.
OK, so what does the Monarch of Megapetrobucks expect to get out of this conference? Is he planning to build a cathedral in Riyadh? Will Chabadniks walk the streets looking for Jews to get them to put on tefillin?
Hardly. Here’s what he said:
“I will go to America for the dialogue of followers of religions,” the king said at a meeting with Information Minister Ayad Madani and newspaper editors. “The dialogue comes at a time when the world is criticizing Islam.” — Jerusalem Post
Now we begin to understand. The problem that needs to be solved is not the treatment of non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia, but the treatment of Muslims in the rest of the world. Although it is unlikely that he can get the US, the EU, and other more or less democratic societies to behead those that insult Islam, maybe they would agree to an ear or a nose.
Saudi road sign