Friday, May 12, 2017

How can Canada pretend that Saudi Arabia is an honourable, peaceful country?


If you believe the official word from Ottawa it appears Saudi Arabia and Canada are on good terms. A Canadian government website, dealing with trade, takes care to assert that we share with the Saudis “many peace and security issues, including energy security, humanitarian affairs (including refugees), and counter-terrorism.” It also says admiringly that “The Saudi government plays an important role in promoting regional peace and stability.”
No wonder Canada seems willing to sell military vehicles and other products to Saudi Arabia. It sounds like a friendly government we should enjoy dealing with. Not democratic, of course, but sort of on the right side, at least sometimes.
On the other hand, UN Watch, an independent monitoring service, this week sent out a bulletin headed “UN holds lavish NGO forum in Saudi Arabia while rights activists languish in prison.” It seems that the Saudis, with support from a Saudi foundation headed by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the Saudi minister of defence, generously hosted a large global gathering of non-government organizations on the subject of Youth and their Social Impact.
It was staged in the luxury of the Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh (which advertises Distinguished Fine Dining and All-Men’s Spa) — even as, UN Watch went on, “young bloggers and human rights activists like Raif Badawi languish in prison for the crime of advocating freedom in Saudi Arabia.”

The name “Raif Badawi” was placed near the top of the bulletin because UN Watch knows it’s the name most likely to upset Saudi officialdom. In fact, to many people the treatment of Badawi damns Saudi Arabia as irredeemably evil.
Saudi law gives the state the right to ban any organization the government opposes, on grounds that it violates “Islamic Sharia” or public manners or national unity. Individuals committing such crimes, even if they are otherwise peaceful, get long prison sentences. Many activists are currently in jail for advocating human rights reforms.
And Raif Badawi? The more you know about Saudi Arabia, the worse it appears. Once you digest the stifling and humiliating rules governing women, and perhaps even consider them routine, you may begin to wonder how the Saudis treat men. And then you come across Raif Badawi and everything grows darker still.
He’s a young Saudi Arabian writer, the creator of the website Free Saudi Liberals. He was arrested in 2012 for insulting Islam through electronic channels and charged as well with apostasy, the abandonment or breach of faith (though he says he’s still a Muslim). He’s not respectful of the grand institutions of the country. He’s referred, for instance, to Al-Imam Mohammad Ibn Saud Islamic University as “a den for terrorists.”
Even worse, he believes in secular government — “Secularism is the practical solution to lift countries (including ours) out of the Third World and into the First World,” he says. “Look at what happened after the European peoples succeeded in removing the clergy from public life and restricting them to their churches. They promoted enlightenment, creativity and rebellion. States which are based on religion confine their people in the circle of faith and fear.”
Badawi apparently lives his life by words he quotes from Albert Camus: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
He was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes in 2013, then re-sentenced in 2014 to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison plus a fine. The lashes were to be carried out over 20 weeks.
The first 50 were administered on January 9, 2015 — in front of a mosque while hundreds of spectators shouted “Allahu Akbar.”
The succeeding lashes are indefinitely postponed, apparently because of his health. He’s known to have hypertension and his condition has worsened since the flogging began. His wife, who lives with their three children in exile in Canada, predicts that he won’t be able to survive more lashes.  Still, that part of his sentence hangs over him, capable of being invoked at the pleasure of his jailers.
The lashes, and the government’s absence of shame, seem to show that official Saudi Arabia is cruel, bigoted and uncivilized
The word “flogging,” with its overtones of barbaric violence and sadism, has aroused anger in many places and turned Badawi into an international hero. Eighteen Nobel laureates signed an open letter urging Saudi academics to condemn the flogging. Vigils marking his birthday are held outside Saudi Arabian embassies in several countries. Amnesty International designated him a prisoner of conscience, “detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression” and obtained 800,000 signatures on a petition demanding he be released.
He received the International Prize for Freedom in Brussels and 67 members of the U.S. Congress signed a bipartisan petition arguing he should be freed. Several people nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. He received the Sakharov Prize from the European Parliament, the PEN Pinter Prize from Britain and the Franco-German Journalism Courage Award. PEN Canada gave him its One Humanity Award. South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote to the Saudi king supporting Badawi.
To this and much more, the Saudi Arabian government responded by asserting that “it does not accept interference in any form in its internal affairs.”
The lashes, and the government’s absence of shame, seem to show that official Saudi Arabia is cruel, bigoted and uncivilized.
Should Canada be engaged in trade with this country, as if were normal? How much longer can Canada’s relations with this backward state exist in a state of massive denial?

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