Few things offer surreal experiences as when Islam and the West interact—when 7th century primordialism encounters 21st century relativism. Consider the issue of “interfaith dialogue.” In principle, it is a decent thing: Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others trying to reach a common ground and professing mutual respect. But what does one make of the gross contradictions that emerge when a human-rights violating nation calls for “dialogue,” even as it enforces religious intolerance on its own turf?
Enter Saudi Arabia. Birthplace of Islam, the Arabian kingdom is also the one Muslim nation that regularly sponsors interfaith initiatives in the West—even as its official policy back home is to demonize and persecute the very faiths it claims to want to have an interfaith dialogue with.
Back in 2008, for example, in what was deemed an unprecedented move, Saudi King Abdullah “made an impassioned plea for dialogue among Muslims, Christians, and Jews,” going so far as to refer to the latter two as “our brothers.” His stated goal was to develop “respect among religions.”
The Saudi monarch’s most recent initiative reached fruition on November 26 2012, when the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue was launched in the Austrian capital, Vienna. According to its own website, the center “was founded to enable, empower and encourage dialogue among followers of different religions and cultures around the world.” Lending international legitimacy to this Saudi gesture of goodwill, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was among those who attended the opening.
While all this ostensibly sounds well and good, consider the many incongruities, the many absurdities—initially demonstrated by the simple fact that Saudi Sheikh Abdul Rahman al-Sudais, who was quoted praising the Austrian-based center as proof that “Islam is a religion of dialogue and understanding and not a religion of enmity, fanaticism, and violence,” is also on record calling Jews “monkeys and pigs” and Christians “cross worshippers.”
Nor is he just a run-of-the-mill sheikh: he is the government-appointed imam of Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mosque in Mecca—Islam’s holiest site, where Christians, Jews, and others are routinelycondemned and cursed during the prayers of the faithful.
But this is not surprising. Even the State Department’s most recent internal religious freedom report on Saudi Arabia notes that “Freedom of religion is neither recognized nor protected under the law and is severely restricted in practice. The public practice of any religion other than Islam is prohibited, and there is no separation between state and religion.”
And this is the key point: Saudi Arabia’s brand of religious intolerance is not a product of the “Arab street,” terrorists, or mob violence. It is institutionalized; it is enforced by the state itself. In other words, religious intolerance is being implemented by the very people who claim to want to have dialogue with Christians and Jews under the umbrella of “tolerance” and “mutual respect.”
In this context, what, exactly, do they wish to talk about?… Continue reading for several recent examples of why the Saudi initiative is wholly insincere.