In the wake of the horrific events in Paris in January, there have yet again been increased calls for Muslim communities to deal with the problem of jihadi radicalism. Largely emanating from the West, these demands are quite blatantly rooted in racism and Islamophobia.
However, whilst our governments are frequently outraged by the acts of groups like ISIS and Boko Haram, and individuals like the Paris killers, we more often than not turn a blind eye to the acts of nations like Saudi Arabia, who are equally guilty of the misuse of the Islamic faith.
A Saudi court has recently sentenced blogger Raif Badawi to 1,000 lashes, over a period of 20 weeks. At the time of writing, Badawi had received 50 lashes, and his second flogging had been postponed to let his wounds heal; how humane. Badawi’s crime? Setting up a liberal website and ‘insulting Islam’ back in 2012.
On the same day that Badawi’s second flogging was postponed, a woman residing in Saudi Arabia was publicly executed by sword in Mecca. A Saudi human rights activist, Mohammed al-Saeedi, told media outlet Middle East Eye that the woman, Laila Bint Abdul Muttalib Basim, was executed without painkillers, in order to “make the pain more powerful for her.”
These are not isolated events. In 2014, Saudi Arabia executed 87 people, and has already executed seven in the first two weeks of this year. Where is our government’s anger at such acts? Brutal punishment and executions enacted by ISIS are rightly decried by leaders round the world. But there is an eerie silence when it comes to condemning Saudi Arabia and other Western allies.
There is no sign of a let up in Western hypocrisy on the Middle East. Our reliance on Saudi oil is well known, as is their perceived importance in counteracting Iranian power in the region. We continue to sell arms to Saudi Arabia and strengthen ties with other authoritarian regimes in the region, such as Bahrain, with whom Britain agreed a ‘landmark defence agreement’ in December 2014, allowing the MOD to expand its presence there.
The West’s closeness with these regimes, as well as with Qatar and Kuwait, causes further damage to the already shambolic ‘war on terror’. There are many murky direct and indirect links between these states and the terror groups we so detest.
In February of 2014, during Prince Charles’ visit to Saudi Arabia, British arms company BAE agreed a deal to sell 72 typhoon jets to the Saudis. Spokespeople for the British royal family say that Charles had nothing to do with the deal. Anti-arms campaigners disagree.
Despite the Saudi states brutality towards Badawi, the Saudi Ambassador to France felt it was appropriate to attend the Paris march on 12 January, in support of ‘free speech’ and a show of unity against terrorism. The presence at the march of Mohammed bin Ismail Al Al-Sheikh, whilst sadly, probably not the most hypocritical attendee in a who’s who of suppressors of freedom of expression, was a brazen act of bravado.
Amnesty International is leading the campaign to free Raif Badawi. Currently 243,000 people have signed a petition on their website calling for his release, and Badawi’s wife has stated that international pressure could bring about his release. It is difficult to see where this pressure will come from, given that our leaders remain so in thrall to Saudi power. A public statement condemning the sentence and its brutality will not suffice. If David Cameron and other Western leaders allied to the Saudi state are at all committed to the mirage of freedom of expression, they should speak out forthrightly, both publicly and in private.
By Philip Mansell