President Biden’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia was so fraught with controversy, his administration decided it was necessary to defend himself with an op-ed in the Washington Post. That didn’t stop liberal corporate media — still fuming over the Saudi regime’s probable 2018 assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi— from expressing their disfavor with the visit to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). “Biden fist bumps MBS after once vowing to make Saudi Arabia a ‘pariah’ state,” reported NBC News with obvious consternation. Fred Ryan, publisher and CEO of The Washington Post (for whom Khashoggi worked), called Biden’s interactions with MBS at the royal palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, “shameful,” while WaPo columnist Karen Attiah called it a “crass betrayal.”
Nor is the Biden administration the only one taking heat for cozying up with the Saudis. For months professional golfer Greg “The Shark” Norman has taken heat from sports journalists and fellow golfers for his promotion of the LIV Saudi-funded international golf league, which has attracted big names like Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia. Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins called Norman a “fake knockoff handbag” and castigated him for his “ugly, predatory work for the murderous Saudi state.”
Yet for all the elite bluster regarding various politicians’, athletes’, and celebrities’ cooperation or complicity in the Saudi regime’s activities, their endless pearl clutching about Riyadh’s evils rings a bit hollow. That’s not because Saudi Arabia isn’t guilty of great evil. It’s because the assassination of Khashoggi and their mistreatment of women are only symptoms of a much greater wickedness: the regime’s embrace and proliferation of an extremist brand of Islam that have caused incalculable deadly havoc across the world and put the lives of millions of Christians at risk.
The particular strand of Islam practiced and officially endorsed by the house of Saud is Wahhabism, a radical belief system that looks with disdain not only on non-Muslims, but even other forms of Islam. It is explicitly anti-Semitic. Here’s an example of what is taught to Saudi middle-schoolers: “The day of judgment will not arrive until Muslims fight Jews, and Muslim will kill Jews until the Jew hides behind a tree or a stone. Then the tree and the stone will say, ‘Oh Muslim, oh, servant of God, this is a Jew behind me. Come and kill him.’ Except one type of a tree, which is a Jew tree. That will not say that.”
This is the Islamic catechesis given to Osama bin Laden when he was a child. Of the 19 al-Qaeda hijackers responsible for 9-11, 15 of them were Saudi citizens. The second largest source for foreign fighters for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria was Saudi Arabia. “Money coming out of Saudi Arabia reportedly goes to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Qaeda central, and its affiliated groups, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani militant group,” noted a report by the Carnegie Endowment for World Peace.
And the Saudis been very successful in spreading their extremist brand of Islam across the world. Many leaders of the Taliban were educated in Saudi-funded madrassas in Pakistan, 24,000 such schools, according to one report. There are Saudi-funded madrassas in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and many other countries throughout the Muslim (and non-Muslim) world. If you want to know how anti-West, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic Islam has spread throughout the world, inspiring thousands of terrorist attacks, and motivating radical mullahs to harass, threaten, and physically assault Pakistani Christian friends of mine, look no further than Saudi Arabia.
It’s not just the violent ideology responsible for thousands of deaths around the world. Saudi Arabia is also a terrible place for Christians. There are no legal churches in the country, and Christian immigrant laborers are regularly deported if they are discovered to be convening to worship, despite the fact that reportedly more than a million people living in the country are Christian. To convert from Islam is considered apostasy by law and is punishable by death, though Saudi citizens who convert to Christianity are more likely to be killed by family members.
It is also illegal for Saudis to possess a Bible, and Bibles are not permitted into the country (under penalty of death). A Catholic friend of mine who lived in Saudi Arabia for several years rarely attended Mass, because the only chance he had was when a priest visited the embassy of a predominantly Catholic nation. People have been severely punished for trying to spread the Christian faith. According to Open Doors USA, Saudi Arabia is the eleventh worst nation for Christians in the world, behind countries such as Afghanistan, North Korea, and Somalia.
If you are consuming only legacy corporate media, you likely won’t hear much about any of this. They are more focused on criticizing Saudi Arabia for its resistance to Western corporate attempts to push LGBTQ+ ideology. Or about the assassination of a single journalist (who was secretly a bigamist) four years ago — that’s not too detract from the horrific, unjustified nature of his death, but simply to note that the media have gotten far more rhetorical miles out of Khashoggi’s death than the millions of Christian minorities persecuted and the many thousands of people murdered through the actions and propaganda of the Saudi regime.
In other words, the elites in legacy corporate media and the foreign policy wonks are more concerned with their own narrow interests (e.g. LGBTQ+ rights) then they are with the much greater evils perpetrated by the Saudis. They’ll conjure up a thousand op-eds and political cartoons to express their disfavor with the Saudis for killing one of their own, but are comparably silent when it comes to decades of Saudi responsibility for global terrorism and persecution of religious minorities. They’ll censure pro golfers for benefiting from Saudi “blood money” but downplay the hundreds of millions of dollars the Saudis pump into American academic institutions from which they graduated, including M.I.T., Harvard, and Georgetown.
There’s a reason respected scholar Dario Fernandez-Morera did not publish his widely acclaimed book explaining the myth of the Andalusian Paradise with a university publisher. It’s the same reason why contemporary Islamic studies in the United States do not offer the kinds of aggressive critiques of Islam or the Quran that one finds in the academy’s religious studies programs: such scholarship would threaten the cash cow of Gulf donor funding. Many of our leading universities are beholden to Muslim extremists who restrict academic freedom.
So there is good reason to be a bit skeptical about the technocratic elite’s criticism of Saudi Arabia. For someone who knows many Christian Pakistani families who have suffered because of the intolerant and cruel ideology of the Saudis, liberal finger-wagging about Khashoggi and Riyadh’s bans on rainbow flags comes off as a little tone deaf. During one of my tours in Afghanistan, one of my superiors, who had previously served in Saudi Arabia (and was often not able to publicly practice his Catholic faith while there), told me the Saudis were more-or-less equivalent to the Taliban, except they wore gold wrist watches while they execute their enemies. How they procured such apparel reflects decades of U.S. elites turning a blind eye to evil.
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