“My biggest fear is that the enlightened Arab thinkers are going to leave the Arab world in search of fresh air: somewhere far away from the sword of the religious authorities.”
– Raif Badawi, ‘1,000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think’
By S THAYAPARAN
COMMENT A long-time reader of my writings and someone who has become a friend asked me what I thought about the visit of the House of Saud. “The prime minister must be really desperate,” he said and was taken aback when I disagreed.
In my opinion, Umno president Najib Abdul Razak is in a better position than the current monarch of Saudi Arabia. Maybe it is because Saudi Arabia is heading into (1) extremely choppy financial waters, (2) waging an ideological and proxy war with Iran, (3) leading a “coalition” against Yemen, and (4) promulgating its version of Islam which has resulted in blowback across the world
1) As reported by CNNMoney – “After years of raking in huge sums of oil money, these days Saudi Arabia is pulling out all the stops to raise cash. The kingdom is reportedly planning to take out a US$10 billion loan from a group of banks, possibly paving the way for its first international bond sale.
“The problem is Saudi Arabia needs oil prices at over US$100 a barrel to break even on its budget. The kingdom spends heavily on perks for its huge population of nearly 30 million. Now it’s being forced to reverse some of those gifts, as highlighted by the recent 50 percent gas price hike. Saudi Arabia’s ‘lavish social spending program is on a collision course’ with cheap oil, (Zach) Schreiber said.”
(Schreiber was CEO of hedge fund PointState Capital who walked away with US$1 billion after betting that oil prices would crash three years ago.)
2) Did anyone else read Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s op-ed piece in the New York Times, titled ‘Let Us Rid the World of Wahhabism’? I certainly did –
“Saudi Arabia’s effort to persuade its Western patrons to back its shortsighted tactics is based on the false premise that plunging the Arab world into further chaos will somehow damage Iran. The fanciful notions that regional instability will help to ‘contain’ Iran, and that supposed rivalries between Sunni and Shiite Muslims are fueling conflicts, are contradicted by the reality that the worst bloodshed in the region is caused by Wahhabists fighting fellow Arabs and murdering fellow Sunnis.”
3) Just last month the United Nations warned Saudi Arabia and its “allies” that war crimes may have been committed in the Yemen conflict – “A Saudi Arabia-led military coalition has carried out attacks in Yemen that ‘may amount to war crimes’”, UN sanctions monitors reported to the world body’s Security Council, warning coalition allies including the United States, Britain and France that they are obligated to respect international humanitarian law.
4) Again, from the New York Times, last year – “Small details of Saudi practice can cause outsize trouble. For at least two decades, the kingdom has distributed an English translation of the Quran that in the first surah, or chapter, adds parenthetical references to Jews and Christians in addressing Allah: ‘those who earned your anger (such as the Jews), nor of those who went astray (such as the Christians).’ Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University and the editor-in-chief of the new Study Quran, an annotated English version, said the additions were ‘a complete heresy, with no basis in Islamic tradition’.”
Compared to the above, being labelled a kleptocrat at the centre of the country’s biggest financial scandal pales in comparison. Furthermore, unlike the wolves baying at the door of the House of Saud, the opposition towards this Najib regime is fractured, with certain members of the coalition still thinking they can deal with PAS.
It is pointless talking about the human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. It is pointless pointing out the fact that the so-called moderate form of Islam practiced in Malaysia is anathema to the kind of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia. It is pointless going over the so-called “donation” that was – or not to be – from the kingdom.
Forestalling another Arab Spring
Remember, when Islamist political parties PAS and Umno were arguing about Umno actually used the donation to “uplift” Muslims?
I certainly do – “PAS vice-president Iskandar Abdul Samad in a statement that was revealing of the Umno strategy but at the same time an unintentional condemnation of Islam, questioned the efficacy of the use of dubious funds in the eradication of Muslim poverty, here in Malaysia.
“Would it have been acceptable to PAS if the so-called gift from The House of Saud was used to ‘uplift’ Muslims here in Malaysia? Of course, PAS splinter group Amanah is equally myopic in its version of how Islam is practiced in Malaysia.”
I contend there is nothing we can and should take from the Saudi kingdom. I would argue that the reason why Malaysia is a so-called moderate state is because however dismally we have managed to resist the excesses of the House of Saud, we still have a multi-ethnic population whose contribution in politics, economics and culture has maintained a fast fading line between what the Wahhabis and their ilk want and what is rational.
Saudi Arabia has been embarking on social programmes for years putting money in the hands of its citizens. This is not nearly enough because with records highs in unemployment and poverty, the country is the poster child for what Islamic states would look like if Wahhabism managed to overrun the world.
The issue here is not whether you think that BR1M is a question of corruption. When the Umno grand poobah notes with satisfaction that the House of Saud is considering adopting a similar plan of putting money into the bank accounts of needy citizens, they are doing this because they have screwed up the economy to the point that people are living in (even more) poverty and the House of Saud is attempting to forestall another Arab Spring.
Saudi jails are filled to bursting point with not only ordinary people who have fallen foul of pernicious Wahhabi laws but also extremely dangerous fanatics who wish to wage war on the House of Saud and have bloody hands from not only domestic terror attacks but also plying their trade on foreign soil.
This of course is to be expected. If former United States ambassador to Afghanistan and the United Nations, not to mention Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad is to be believed, officials from Riyadh admitted that they were funding extremists for years in part because of cold war hegemonic stratagems and their great game with Iran.
Writing for Politico, Khalilzad claimed that measures were currently under way to divest the system of its Islamic extremism. The said measures included:
- New limits on the ability of the religious police to arrest dissidents.
- Purges of extremists from the government and greater efforts to monitor their influence in security institutions.
- The appointment of new religious leaders to counter Islamic extremism on theological grounds.
- The transformation of the Muslim World League – a key Saudi arm for supporting Islamic movements abroad – by the appointment of a new leader and a decision to stop supporting Islamist madrassas abroad.
I suppose we should be grateful that Saudi petro dollars may run out and they will not be able to fund an ideology they know to be corrosive. However, I am not holding my breath. Islamic State is a self-funded criminal organisation. The world over we have Muslims who do not think to question their religious beliefs, especially those which pits them against their fellow men and this is because of the efforts of the House of Saud.
I end this piece with another jailed Saudi dissident Raif Badawi’s quote as to what I think of this visit to Malaysia by Saudi King Salman Abdulaziz Al Saud – “Any religion-based state has a mission to limit the minds of its people, to fight the developments of history and logic, and to dumb down its citizens. It’s important to stand in the way of such a mentality, to deny it from continuing its mission to murder the souls of its people, killing them deep within while they are still alive and breathing.”
More often than not, the truth hits close to home.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.