Thursday, July 27, 2006

State Department Decision on Saudi Arabia Calls for Response

The following is a press release put out by the U.S. State Department on July 19, 2006:

Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom John Hanford briefed Congress today on religious practice and tolerance issues in Saudi Arabia. Ambassador Hanford's briefing focused on the results of bilateral discussions on these topics, as well the problem of intolerant language in textbooks and educational curricula.

Ambassador Hanford explained that this process has made it possible to identify and confirm a number of key policies that the Saudi Government is pursuing and will continue to pursue for the purpose of promoting greater freedom for religious practice and increased tolerance for religious groups. These include policies designed to halt the dissemination of intolerant literature and extremist ideology, both within Saudi Arabia and around the world, to protect the right to private worship, and to curb harassment of religious practice. For example, the Saudi Government is conducting a comprehensive revision of textbooks and educational curricula to weed out disparaging remarks toward religious groups, a process that will be completed in one to two years. The Saudi Government is also retraining teachers and the religious police to ensure that the rights of Muslims and non-Muslims are protected and to promote tolerance and combat extremism. The Saudi Government has also created a Human Rights Commission to address the full range of human rights complaints.

Saudi Arabia was first designated a Country of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act in 2004. In light of these ongoing developments, and in view of the policies that the Saudi government has put in place to promote greater tolerance for members of the various religious groups in Saudi Arabia, the Secretary has decided to leave in place a waiver "to further the purposes of the Act," as provided for under the legislation.

Ambassador Hanford commented, "I am pleased that the Government of Saudi Arabia has been willing to engage with us in a substantive manner on these critical issues. These policies are significant developments, and I appreciate the Saudi Government's interest in confirming them publicly so that all interested parties may follow progress made in these areas."

Pardon me if I sound cynical, but does anybody really believe that this decision was not made without pressure from the White House to find some reason not to have to impose sanctions on America's favorite Muslim ally in the Middle East? These same promises to reform have been made before by the Saudis and broken. As a nation described as being "of particular concern" in the department's two last annual reports on religious freedom in the world, Saudi Arabia should be subject to commercial sanctions. But Washington has been doing everything possible to avoid this. In December, Saudi Arabia was granted a "temporary added extension of 180 days" to implement reforms requested. The March deadline came and went. And surprise, surprise...nothing changed. Now, because the Saudis set up a human rights commission and made even more promises, the Secretary of State decided to continue waiving punitive measures. Human rights commissions are only as good as the people who sit on them and I think it very unlikely that the Saudis will appoint dissidents who will criticize the government and hold it accountable. Religious freedom simply does not exist in Saudi Arabia for its own citizens. What "various religious groups" can the Saudis possibly be referring to granting more liberties to, when it is illegal for a Saudi to be anything but a Muslim?

This decision is foolish and mocks the intent of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. In 2005, we saw a similar response when Vietnam avoided sanctions by signing a May 2005 agreement with the U.S. undertaking to address religious freedom concerns. It seems that any country that is potentially beneficial to US interests is exempt from the consequences of being designated a Country of Particular Concern. To the best of my knowledge, only Eritrea has suffered sanctions under the Act this year and Eritrea, of course, has little strategic importance to the U.S.

It is unfortunate that President Bush's administration seems willing to sacrifice persecuted Christians and other religious minorities and the ideals of the International Religious Freedom Act on the altar of political pragmatism. But also unfortunate is the silence of the U.S. Christian non-governmental organizations in regards to this decision. For the past week I have waited in vain for one of the many organizations in the United States who work on behalf of persecuted Christians to make a public statement critiquing this announcement. Searching through several of their websites this evening, most make no reference to it at all and only one made a brief and rather muted comment expressing cynicism that the Saudis would really change.

Come on, my dear American friends. I understand that many of you consider President Bush an ally and supporter of religious liberty. But our support of religious liberty must transcend foreign policy and domestic politics if we are to be faithful to God rather than Caesar. Surely faithfulness to God calls for a thoughtful response to an issue like this. I am certainly not pretending to offer one here. As a Canadian, I am hesitant to venture too far into U.S. politics. But I, for one, would welcome a thoughtful American perspective on this decision. Any takers?


Diana said...

In my limited knowledge of the politics of the Bush administration, I can see only few reflections of Bush's so-called Christian faith. Mostly he's a president, not a Christian. God put him there so I'm not knocking the guy, however, there is enough b.s. on capital hill to fertilize the sahara. Religious freedom is probably not high on the political priority list. One holy war at a time, folks! If they really enforced religious freedom and Christians were given the right to be Christians because they were protected, militant Muslims would find a more stealth and violent way of ridding the world of the infidel. I think dominance with the option of peace is the U.S.'s priority. We want to be the big kids and stick with the other big kids but we have to manage peace between them. The idea is to move toward a one world government where the kid with the most stuff is king of the world.

I love my country and I am content with how Bush is running it. He's trying to hold up the moral foundations while also allowing for capitalism to please his millionaire buddies. You can't win 'em all but at least he's a classic Texan-American with a respect for unborn human life and a love for freedom. He's not a spineless coward and he's helped America stand strong in the face of terrorism and give us something to fight against. That's really when America thrives, when we have an ideal to fight for.

It's a romantic notion and I'm sure what's really going on has a lot to to with preparing the world for the final anti-christ. Besides, if religious freedom were universally allowed there would never be the opportunity to die for Christ. The U.S. isn't really a "Christian Nation" anymore. It's mostly a Capitalist Nation with an overdose of creature comforts and dependencies. Is that cynical?

Thanks for giving me the OK to express my point of view. I'll let you know when I start my study of modern martyrs. You'll be my first resource. :)


Glenn Penner said...

You mention that America thrives when it has an ideal to fight for. As I recall, America used to fight for freedom, not security. It seems that since 9/11, that the shift has been to fight for security. Sadly, the price of security is often freedom.

Anonymous said...

I am ashamed that our President and his administration are failing to act and I can only wonder what is motivating him to do so. If it truly is him pleasing his "millionaire buddies," then may the Spirit cause him to repent and give him the grace to stand up for justice.

Anonymous said...

I see so much circumstantial evidence that President Bush really loves God, or at least loves the God he worships (perhaps not the real one). I'm afraid that this is true of so many "Christians" in the U.S. today--they think they are godly because they have such strong feelings about God, but unfortunately don't take the time to search the Bible to see who God really is.

I see Bush honoring God in some of his actions, but not all. He supports many of the big issues that the Christian right-wing conservatives believe in, and that is good, but there appear to be just as many issues in which he is fighting against God's cause --promoting a one-world government and catering to big-business concerns to name two.

President Bush (and his father when he was president) appear to use compromise to a large extent to try to accomplish goals which are important to them. Unfortunately, they often compromise on issues of morality, and end up losing the bigger battle when the opposing Democratic Party reminds the world of their hypocrisy years later (even though the Democrats were directly helped by the compromise).

Glen said...

You are to be commended for a very important and patriotic website. Our country was founded by a collection of Americans that had a dream of living in a place were freedom prospered for everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs. I am not a religious person, but I respect you. America, and her Bill of Rights, protects your right to practice your religion and your right to free speech. God bless you, God bless America, and thanks again for the great forum that you freely and openly provide for all to actively participate.

Glenn Penner said...

Thank you for your comments. However, please note that the US Bill of Rights provides no ptorestion for me as I am a Canadians and not an American and this weblog is published in Canada. Funny how people assume otherwise.