It’s not just YouTube videos that contain vile speech, of course. Writing in Asharq Alawsat — though the link goes to Al Arabiya TV — Abdulrahman al-Rashed points out that the copyright to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf expires next year under German law. The book is already banned in Germany, Austria, Poland, Russia and China. Germany wants to keep it that way and is discussing a new law to keep the book from being republished. That’s going to be hard to do, at least with any effect.
As al-Rashed points out, the book is not banned in France, nor is it banned in the US. Nor is it — nor could it be — banned on the global Internet. Anyone who really wants to read it can find a way to do so.
I think al-Rashed gives too much credit to the book. It’s turgid, wandering, and requires a certain amount of dedication to read it. I’ve read the first volume and consider it interesting from the point of view of trying to understand what was going through Hitler’s mind. But it’s hardly coherent. The book, though a ‘best seller’ because it was thought a good thing to have during the Nazi reign, was not widely read. It only mattered that you had a copy of it on your bookshelf in Germany during the 1930s and early 40s. It wasn’t widely read because it was too damn hard to read.
Mein Kampf has been available in the US as long as I’ve been alive. And while there is an American neo-Nazi movement, it is on the fringe of the fringe. Most people coming across it do not start goose-stepping and shouting Seig Heil!. At best, it’s a curiosity.
The problem of neo-Nazis is not Mein Kampf. It is a combination of social and educational failures. Rather than worrying about the effect of a ludicrous book (or obnoxious video), states should be concerned about how they can change the situation so that every one of their citizens can appreciate how awful some materials available to them are and why they should be avoided. They could also take a useful step in not themselves promoting hatred in the way too many Arab states do in republishing and distributing pap like “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a late-19th C. fraud.
Mein Kampf and other books of hatred
There is one year until the rights to the book Mein Kampf (My Struggle) by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler expire. Afterwards, the rights to the book become available to whoever wishes to publish it. According to German copyright law, a book enters the public domain 70 years after the author’s death. The book’s copyright was registered again in Germany in 1945 was written by Hitler 20 years before that. Hitler ensured that the book was very popular among Germans, so much so that a quarter of a million copies were sold in 1933. Part of that wealth, no doubt, allowed him to buy his new Mercedes. When his party won and he took over as chancellor, he ordered that his book be distributed for free to soldiers and newly-weds. Germany, which owns the rights to the book until the end of next year, plans to ban selling and distributing the book under its anti-terror law.
The ban is planned for Germany, Holland and Poland, but the book is still available in France. The law allows for publishing it and selling it in the U.S. as well. Racists and fascists, including Nazis, are in general allowed to distribute their publications and books. Two rare copies of Mein Kampf were sold in Los Angeles in an auction a week ago.
Arab News editorializes against the acquittal of Geert Wilders in a Dutch court. It expresses the hurt that many Muslims feel about Wilders’ comments, but misses the point on free expression, something troubling for a newspaper.
Yes, Wilders’ comments and film have been denigrating and crude. They are examples of ‘bad speech’, speech that does not enlighten us, entertain us, confirm for us our preferred view of life. Rather, they are models of what challenge us, either to refute or to ignore. It’s somewhat amazing that the ‘right to ignore’ is so little exercised these days. We are not obliged to reply to every idiot that makes a stupid statement. In fact, if ignored, if not thrust into even greater notoriety by media and popular raction, many of the idiots just go away.
The Dutch verdict does not mean that the Dutch court hates Islam or Muslims. What it does mean is that Islam, as a religion, does not have the right to special treatment. It is not immune, in the Netherlands, from criticism, even criticism couched in vulgar or hateful words. Nor, contrary to the editorial, does Judaism. In fact, anti-Semitism is a rising problem in Europe–and, some say, the US. Christianity certainly takes its abuse in the West as well.
The editorial also misses the point when it speaks of one person’s rights ending where begins another person’s nose. This statement, originating in Zechariah Chafee’s 1919 law review article “Freedom of Speech in Wartime” actually goes: Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins. The context is actual, physical contact, not verbal. Speech which leads to physical altercations can be and usually is banned, even criminalized. Speech which lacks this physical response—which can include rioting, destruction of property, or violence against people—is not protected speech. Speech which falls short of that physicality is protected speech.
Feelings, sensitivities, honor, and many other emotions and states can be bruised by words, but these are not the same as a physical punch in the nose. Laws recognize the difference. The Dutch laws protecting speech are not as expansive as the American First Amendment. Had Wilders’ comments been aimed at individual Muslims, the court said, they would have indeed fallen on the wrong side of the line. But they were not aimed at people, but at a religion. Religion, as a metaphysical thing, does not have feeling to be hurt. It does not have a nose to be punched.
It is time for Dutch courts to decide that Muslims have already suffered enough
Where is Europe headed? With every passing day, the continent appears to walk back into the Middle Ages, surrendering its much-acclaimed freedom of faith and multiculturalism. The acquittal of Dutch politician Geert Wilders on charges of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims has come as a shock to Muslims around the world.
The man who has spent the last decade abusing Islam and its followers comparing the religion to Nazism and Holy Qur’an to Hitler’s Mein Kampf walked out free with a smirk on his face on Thursday. The presiding judge said he did not think Wilders was guilty of the charges, arguing the politician’s rants against Islam and Muslims were “at the edge of what is legally permissible” but did not cross the line.
Judge Marcel van Oosten observed that while some of Wilders’ comments are “crude and denigrating,” they did not amount to inciting hatred against a particular community and ought to be seen in the context of a “national debate over immigration policy and multiculturalism.” It’s not a question of “some” of Wilders’ comments against Muslims being “crude and denigrating.” The Dutch MP and leader of Freedom Party has a long history of constant and obnoxious hatemongering against the minority community. He is the proud producer of Fitna, the 2008 documentary film that outraged the world’s Muslims by urging them to tear the “hate-preaching verses” from their Holy Book.
From the Elder of Ziyon blog, admittedly not one I visit often, comes this on-point article about how crazy it is that the Iranian government seeks to portray the Saudi government as ‘Zionist’. The post links to several other inanities on the part of the Iranians. One note, though: the Financial Times link isn’t behind a pay-wall, but does require registration…
From Iran’s FARS:
Large numbers of Iranian students staged a rally in front of the UN office in Tehran to protest at the massacre of peaceful protestors in Bahrain and other Islamic countries in the region.
Protestors voiced their support for Muslims in Bahrain and other Islamic countries and underlined that they will continue their support for the oppressed people in those states.
The students chanted various slogans such as ‘Allaho Akbar’, ‘Down with the USA’, ‘Down with the Zionist regime’, ‘Down with Zionist Saudis’, ‘Down with American-style Islam’ and ‘Saudi commits crimes and the UN backs it’ to voice their support for people in Bahrain and other Islamic countries.
The students urged the Iranian government to dispatch voluntary forces to Bahrain and in other Islamic states.
[Thanks to commenter Solomon for the pointer.]
Yesterday, British Prime Minister David Cameron gave a speech at the Munich Security Conference in which he said that multiculturalism had failed in the UK. [Full text here] In this, he echoes Chancellor Angela Merkel’s comments last Fall about the failure of multiculturalism in Germany.
Arab News, in an editorial, takes exception to Cameron’s speech. It protests that he is blaming South Asian Muslims for the failure of British society to welcome them and make them part of Britain. To a limited degree, the editorial is right. On most counts, though, it misses Cameron’s points.
Why European governments and Muslims must work together to make it successful
THERE was a time when Britain was cited as the most successful and thriving example of European multiculturalism and Western inclusiveness. This myth was spectacularly shattered by the 2005 terror strikes on the London Underground and other British landmarks, blamed on the British Muslims of Pakistani descent.
Now, Prime Minister David Cameron has formally proclaimed the death of British multiculturalism. In his first speech as prime minister on radicalization and the causes of terrorism, Cameron yesterday trashed “state multiculturalism” arguing that the conventional British approach of encouraging different cultures to live parallel but separate lives had utterly failed.
So what’s the solution? Cameron suggests a “stronger national identity” to prevent people from turning to extremism. More important, he calls for a tougher stance on groups and organizations “promoting Islamist extremism.”
Of course, few would disagree with Cameron’s argument that the British model of multiculturalism has disastrously failed. However, singling out Islam or Islamist extremism, as he calls it, as the culprit is not just ludicrously naïve and simplistic, it is downright dangerous. For it’s not just South Asian Muslims who have failed to integrate with the host society. Similar has been the experience of most non-Muslim Asians and ethnic Africans, etc., who remain on the margins and fringes of the British society.
Neither Britain nor Germany have covered themselves in glory over the way they’ve managed to integrate immigrants into their societies (nor the US, always). In many ways, they’ve forced ‘parallel’ or ‘separate’ existences. This is not new, of course. Back in 1968, British parliamentarian Enoch Powell delivered his infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, decrying the increase in West Indian immigrants and the government’s ‘appeasing’ their demands. Similar anti-immigrant protests and counter-protests followed the infusion of (culturally) East Indians driven out of Uganda by Idi Amin in the 1970s. Cameron was not talking about immigration: He was talking about integration.
Cameron made it explicitly clear that he was not conflating ‘Muslim’ and ‘extremist Muslim’. He was careful to repeat this and say his focus was extremism that rode on the back of political religious identity. He claimed that British efforts to include immigrants had gone adrift and were accommodating immigrant groups to the detriment of Britain and British culture.
Here’s the quandary: Emigrants leave a country because it does not afford them something (or many things) they consider valuable. In other words, their home country has failed them. This can be the result of corruption, violence, intolerance, or simply that their country doesn’t offer them adequate opportunity to be economically successful. Whatever the cause, it is incontrovertible that their country has failed them in some way.
A country, a culture, however, is not some abstraction. It is the result of a society and its values. Both the ‘sending’ and ‘receiving’ countries exist as the result of a long development of cultural and moral values. In choosing to emigrate to a particular country, the emigrant is making a judgment that the receiving country and its culture is somehow superior to the one he is leaving.
So why, I wonder, do large numbers of immigrants seek to re-establish or maintain the culture they found faulty within a culture they saw as being superior? Do they not realize—or do they choose not to recognize—that, say, a better economic system is the result of a particular culture?
I think immigrants bear the greater burden when it comes to aligning themselves to the culture to which they move. That culture is, by their own definition, successful where their own is not. That’s why they chose to immigrate, is it not? The ‘receiving’ country has its obligations, too, of course. It cannot institute legal barriers that allow only a limited set of opportunities to immigrants. It cannot allow racist, nationalistic, or xenophobic groups within to mistreat immigrants.
I do believe that some cultures are ‘better’ than others, on the whole. I think a culture that offers individual freedom of speech, religion, opportunity is objectively better than one that does not. A culture that offers equality and tolerance, regardless of religion, color, sex, family lineage, etc., is demonstrably better than one that does not.
Too often, cultural values are confused with religious doctrine. It is not a part of Islam that girls should have all or part of their clitorises removed, yet some Muslims think it a religious mandate. And while the Prophet Mohammed married a young Aisha—exact age unknown—that does not mean that it is compulsory to marry little girls, nor that it is appropriate in this day and age. ‘Arranged marriages’ are not the same as ‘forced marriages’, but they often end up being so. There is simply no reason that a 13-year-old should be sent back to ‘the old country’ for a marriage that is illegal in the new country. Anti-Semitism as a knee-jerk reaction to Israeli policies are not a valid response, even if Westerners also make the mistake. ‘Honor killings’ have had no place in Western civilization for hundreds of years (there are exceptions, notably in areas that were once part of earlier Islamic empires); they have no place now. Nor, for that matter, do they have a legitimate place even in traditional societies. They are barbaric and definitionally bad.
I think Cameron is correct, too, in pointing out that rather than solving problems, some Western governments have exacerbated them through well-intended, but flawed attempts to accommodate other cultures and their values. It is simply a fact that what would be harshly denounced, were it to come from the mouth of a white or a Christian, is ignored, if not condoned, when it comes from a differently-cultured immigrant. ‘Cultural understanding’ too often has been transformed into a most condescending moral relativism. ‘Hate speech’ laws, themselves already a repudiation of Western values of free speech, have expanded to include any sort of negative criticism of ‘the other’ or his beliefs. If Western values have value, if they are worth holding, then they are also worth protecting.
Here’s a piece, by a Saudi, on the shortcomings of the Saudi educational system. It points out that the hand of religious authorities on the tiller of education is a dead hand, one that keeps the ship moving in a tight circle, but making no headway toward the future. Wrestling away the controls over education is not a task for the timid.
Saudi Education – A Fight to Enter the 21st Century…
Two areas that ultra-conservatives have a stronghold on in Saudi are the judicial system and the education sector. These ultra-conservatives do not pay much heed towards the banking sector, healthcare, commerce and all other areas. But when it comes to our courts and our schools, they just won’t budge. In this post I’m going address the education sector and their control over it.
This control goes way back to 1960 when it was decided that girls will be allowed to get an education. Men from all over but mainly from Qaseem travelled to the capital to express their opposition even though the girl schools were completely gender segregated and had a separate administrative body overseeing it from the education ministry overseeing the boys’ schools. Throughout the years, the ministers of girls’ education were overwhelmingly long-bearded muttawas and the whole ministry favored employing people who were religiously conservative. Those were the days when mirrors were banned from bathrooms, and uniforms that define the waist or have a belt were against the rules even for teachers. All our beautiful little girls were dressed in bland gray or brown cloth cut into the shape of your grandma’s full-length and long-sleeved house dress. If they cut their hair too short they were punished, and if they styled or let their long hair down they were punished. Stories about principals putting Vaseline in girls’ hair as punishment abound.
Meanwhile, the BBC reports on problems with Saudi texts being used in UK schools:
Arab News runs a provocative Associated Press story about the pending prosecution of the Dutch arm of the Arab European League for the publication of a cartoon characterized as ‘Holocaust denial’. The group says it published the cartoon to show up the ‘double standards’ that permit other infamous cartoons and film producers such as the Islamophobic Geert Wilders to escape punishment while Islamic efforts at ‘balance’ are prosecuted.
The Chairman of the group seems to be missing a few facts in his argument. The most important fact is that under the laws of several European countries, Holocaust denial is a crime in and of itself. I don’t think those laws particularly good, especially some 60 years after WWII, but they are the laws. I think they damage the right to free expression, but while they remain on the books, violating them is punishable by law.
The anti-Holocaust denial laws arose out of very specific circumstances, the mass murder of millions of people—about half of them Jews—during the Nazi reign of terror. For fear that such a thing could happen again, certain European countries have written laws that proscribe public efforts to deny that the Holocaust happened or to mitigate its extent. I think the world unlikely to permit such a thing to happen again, thus the laws are no longer needed. Penalizing Holocaust denial, however, has nothing to do with favoring one religion over another; though the Holocaust did focus on Jews, others were sentenced to death because of their ethnicity (Slavs, Roma), sexual orientation (homosexuals), or mental competence. The Arab European League has chosen a bad example from which to base its argument. For that mistake, they will find themselves in court.
AMSTERDAM (AP): Dutch prosecutors said Wednesday they will charge an Arab cultural group under hate speech laws for publishing a cartoon that suggests the death of 6 million Jews during World War II is a fabrication.
The public prosecutor’s office in the city of Utrecht said the cartoon insults Jews as a group and is therefore an illegal form of discrimination.
Prosecutors plan to press charges for insulting a group and distributing an insulting image.”
This column by Asharq Alawsat‘s Diana Mukkaled is worth reading. It tells the tale of a French-Moroccan comedian—who happens to be Jewish—and how his religion is being used to define him as an enemy of the Lebanese people and a Zionist to boot.
It is simply too easy to make the mental jump, in the Arab Muslim world, between a person’s religion and his assumed political beliefs. Through flawed educational systems and the narrowest interpretations of Islam, children are being (and certainly have been) raised to hate Jews and to equate the religion with the disfavored Zionism.
Comedian Gad Elmaleh has cancelled the tour dates he was scheduled to perform this summer in Lebanon.
This young Frenchman of Moroccan descent has become the target of a fierce media smear campaign conducted by the Hezbollah-affiliated Al Manar television station along with other Lebanese media organs over the past few days. This media campaign has made claims that Elmaleh has links to Israel, and that he previously served in the Israeli army. This smear campaign has utilized images taken from the internet which were later proven to have been complete fabrications.
Elmaleh is Jewish; however he has never served in the Israeli armed forces, nor is he Israel’s ambassador to the French-speaking states, as the media campaign alleged.
There can be no doubt that Elmaleh’s religion was used against him, and if we are to rely solely on facts, the only thing that has been ascertained is that Elmaleh is indeed Jewish. There is no truth in the allegation that Elmaleh is an Israeli citizen, or that he served in the Israeli armed forces. This media campaign against Gad Elmaleh is ongoing despite his official denial of these accusations.
This Arab News story is worth pointing out not so much for the news it carries, but for the fact that it is newsworthy: Killing a Jew is treated as murder in a Yemeni court. Murder, no matter the religion of its victim, should be treated as murder. To do anything else is rank bigotry.
The story also contains details about the now-tiny Jewish population of Yemen.
Yemeni to die for killing Jew
Khaled Al-Mahdi | Arab News
SANAA: A court of appeals yesterday sentenced a former air force pilot to death for the murder of a Jewish man last year. The court in the northwestern province of Amran convicted Abdel Aziz Yehia Hamoud Al-Abdi, 40, of premeditated murder of Jewish teacher Moshe Yaish Nahari in December. The Amran court yesterday threw out a lower court verdict that had convicted Al-Abdi of murder but said he was “mentally unstable” when he committed the crime and ordered him to pay $27,000 in blood money to the relatives of Nahari.
Copenhagen University’s Middle East and Islamic Network (CUMINET) has an interesting post on the Durban II Conference on racism and how the Middle East and the West were attending (or not attending) completely different conferences. The writer, Sune Haugbolle, cites several different issues as causing the breakdown: ‘racism, islamophobia, freedom of speech and colonialism’. He argues that colonialism and post-colonial responses to it are the lenses which most accurately explain the differences.
I suspect that this post-colonial response is indeed a major factor. I have to side with the critics, however, who point out that colonialism has been dead for at least 50 years. Attempts to see ‘neo-colonialism’ lurking behind every bush or policy is incredibly narcissistic and shows a poverty of thought. Unfortunately, the Middle East as a whole is stuck in the middle of the 20th C. (if not earlier) and I don’t see any signs that that’s about to change.
Arab reactions to Durban II: the ghost of colonialism
The images of EU representatives walking out during Ahmedinejad’s speech in Genève yesterday, amidst the cheers of Arab and other representatives, are haunting. They speak of a chasm in cross-cultural understanding, and that sense will probably remain as a big ugly stain on our collective global consciousness from this event even if the diplomats manage to avoid further walk-outs and a final document is agreed upon. It is a chasm worth dwelling on for a bit. How can the world’s leaders, in 2009, disagree fundamentally on such a universally deplorable phenomenon as racism?
We can begin to grasp this chasm by looking at the Arab press’ reactions to Durban II. The views on racism presented here differ dramatically both from the Western press and from the universalising UN discourse that forms the basis of the conference. As columnist Mahmoud Mubarak wrote in al-Hayat on 20 April, “the seven years that have passed since Durban I have been some of the most racist in recent history.” From an Arab perspective, the US is to blame for much of this: the war on terror, Iraq, Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib, Quran-pissing in Guantanamo, have all been products of a resurgent neo-colonialist US under President Bush. Add to that the Muhammad cartoons, Israel’s incriminate wars on Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, the continued occupation of Palestinian territories, and the racist ideology that underpins it. One then wonders, according to Mubarak, why none of these issues will be on the agenda at Durban.
He answers the question himself. The reason is that the Western countries have other priorities, and perhaps other views of what racism means. Mubarak wryly ends his piece by noting that the Dutch call for a sentence on protecting “sexual freedoms” (ie. homosexuality) in the final document of Durban II “reflects the difference in thinking between the Islamic countries and Western countries on the priorities of this conference!”
The ugly fact is that most Saudis are antisemitic. The fact of Israel and its history, seen by most Saudis as criminal, has so blinded the typical Saudi that he is unable to differentiate ‘Jew’ from ‘Israeli’. The antipathy felt toward Israel is simply transferred to all that is Jewish, mindlessly and uniformly. This is furthered by selective quotation from the Quran and various ahadith that seem to form a constant background noise to any discussion of international politics.
That is the case here, as cited by MEMRI. They correctly point to the idiotic ravings and calumnies of a Saudi cleric as broadcast on Al-Jazeera TV earlier this year.
Several years ago, there was a survey (methodology unknown) that asked Saudi school children what they thought of Jews. Now, none of these children had actually met a Jew. They were uniform in their reactions, though: they should be spat upon or chased away with stones or simply killed. That reaction did not spring unattended from the minds of these children: it was put there. Perhaps they overheard parents discussing Palestine and sloppily equating ‘Jew’ with ‘Israeli’. They certainly heard school teachers and clerics condemning Jews with fanciful tales about using the blood of Christian and Muslim children in making matzos and pastries for Purim… stories like that used to be commonplace in the Saudi media.
While the country officially tries to improve Saudi relations with Jews—as witnessed by the award of a King Faisal Prize to an American Jew and by King Abdullah’s calls for greater religious tolerance—Saudi society has a lot of catching up to do. The government can start by sending clerics such as the one quoted below for some education. This cleric is earning some sort of government salary. His continuing to do so should be contingent upon being educated enough to know what he’s talking about, not blindly repeating tales he probably learned as a child himself.
Following are excerpts from an address by Saudi cleric Khaled Al-Khlewi, which aired on Al-Jazeera TV on January 11, 2009.
To view this clip, visit http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/2061.htm.
“The Jew is Treacherous, Disloyal, Deceitful, and Belligerent By Nature; Nothing Works With Him But Force”
Khaled Al-Khlewi: “The [Jewish] Qaynuqa tribe betrayed the Prophet Muhammad. A woman went to a Jewish market to buy a piece of jewelry. The members of the Qaynuqa tribe were the most ruthless and wealthiest Jews. When the Muslim woman reached the market, what did they do to her?
“A Jew sneaked behind her, and tied her gown to her headdress, so when she tried to get up, her private parts were exposed. She cried for help, and one of the Prophet’s companions came and killed the Jew. Then the Jews ganged up on him and killed him. When the Prophet Muhammad learned about this, he fought the Qaynuqa tribe and banished them. This is the only way to deal with them.
“In the case of the Qurayza tribe – or rather, the Nazir tribe – the Prophet Muhammad went to them, and learned against a wall. Some of the Jews said: ‘The Prophet Muhammad is leaning against the wall. Someone should go to the top of the roof and throw a rock on his head.’
“Then the Angel Gabriel appeared, and informed the Prophet in advance about this treachery. So the Prophet Muhammad banished them. The Prophet carried out the greatest killing among the Qaynuqa tribe, because they had violated their covenant with him.
“So, my friends, the conclusion we may draw from this introduction is that with the Jews, nothing works but force. Memorize the following parable, just like I learned it from others: ‘Kiss the head of a Jew, and he will deceive you – deceive him, and he will kiss your head.’ The Jew is treacherous, disloyal, deceitful, and belligerent by nature. Nothing works with him but force.
In Asharq Alawsat, Editor in Chief Tariq Alhomayed posits that the Iranian President’s vile speech at the UN’s anti-racism conference are aimed at the Arab world, not the world as a whole. Ahmadinejad really didn’t care that delegates from Western countries walked out in disgust because he knew he had the ears of those who agreed with him. Whether it is a desire to see Israel simply disappear or Holocaust denial, there are plenty of Arabs who think Ahmadinejad is on the right track.
Alhomayed cautions, though, that Iran talks the talk but fails to walk the walk. Iran seems to take the position of “Let’s you and him fight” while staying safely on the sidelines.
Ahmadinejad was Addressing the Arabs
When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave the speech in which he attacked Israel and described it as a racist state during the Durban II UN anti-racism conference, he was not addressing the international community so much as he was addressing us [the Arabs].
What Ahmadinejad said yesterday about Israel was nothing more than a mild and condensed version of statements that he has repeated in the past. Indeed in the past the Iranian President has vowed to wipe Israel off the map, as well as describing the state of Israel as being illegitimate. Ahmadinejad also said that Israel will be unable to survive, and that the Holocaust is nothing more than a myth. If we remind ourselves of all of this we will realize that Ahmadinejad was [comparatively] pleasant with regards to the language he used on Monday.
It is clear that Ahmadinejad’s speech was essentially aimed at the Arab and Islamic street, and is equivalent to adding credit to the Iranian account, in the same way that credit is added to pre-paid mobile phones. But what will these words add to the Palestinian cause, or to the rights of occupied Arab territories?
Since last week’s announcement that Saudi Minister of Interior Prince Nayef would become Second Deputy Prime Minister, ‘Saudiologists’ have been trying to figure out what it all means. As ‘Kremlinologists’ of an earlier age, those interested in the Kingdom have been trying to read between the lines, to see things that are not visible, in order to understand what happened and why.
Economist provides some general information about the Prince, including his membership among the ‘Sudairi Seven’ (now Six). These are the full brothers who are sons of Abdulaziz and Hassa bint Sudairi and perhaps the greatest power concentration in the country. The piece offers a tentative conclusion that as he is known to be extremely conservative, Nayef might be in a position to push for reform harder than the more mild and tolerant King. I’m not at all sure about that. Given Nayef’s ultra-conservatism, I suspect he believes that the conservatives are mostly right in their opposition to reform. His apparently willingness to believe various conspiracy theories that always seem to move responsibility for bad things from the Saudis is not encouraging either.
Several encomiums appear in the Saudi media, of course. Asharq Alawsat has two, one by a nephew, Pr. Turki Al-Faisal (He is My Uncle Naif Bin Abdulaziz), another by Mshari Al-Zaydi (Protecting Saudi Reassurance).
Many Middle Eastern newspaper have stuck with the reporting from Agence France Presse (AFP), (an example here from Beirut’s The Daily Star: Saudi Interior Minister moves step closer to throne after promotion to deputy premier). These stories tend to focus on the fact that the First Deputy Prime Minister, Prince Sultan, has been in poor health for an extended period. During that time, Pr. Nayef has been acting in his stead. In this view, the King has merely offered formal acknowledgment of the fact. That’s entirely plausible.
Simon Henderson, formerly a journalist with Financial Times and the BBC and now with the American conservative think-tank Washington Institute for Near East Policy, offers a somewhat different take. In Desert Schism: Prince Nayef Bids for Saudi Throne. He suggests that the appointment was made due to pressure from the Sudairi group. To mitigate that, however, the King also approved the statement of Pr. Talal that Nayef’s appointment did not put him directly in the line of succession, that that issue would still have to be determined by the Allegiance Association. Henderson points out that while Pr. Sultan’s health is certainly an issue when it comes to Saudi succession, Pr. Nayef’s health is not really wonderful, either. He thinks that the stability of the Saudi state is beginning to come into question.
Writing at Foreign Policy‘s blog run by Marc Lynch, Saudi-watcher Gregory Gause, I believe, is on point: On Prince Nayef and the Succession: Nobody Knows What It Means. There are too many plausible explanations for why Nayef was appointed at this time. All of them can be correct. Do, however, read the comments to the piece which strongly argue against it.
I think I’ve made it clear that I’m not thrilled by this appointment. I’m deeply troubled by the way Pr. Nayef absolutely refused to consider the idea that Saudi terrorists existed, all the way up until the May 2003 bombings in Riyadh. His search for reasons that exculpated Saudis from charges of terrorism has led him down some very twisty paths toward conspiracy theories. He is also quite clear in his demonization of Israel that edges rather closely to Antisemitism. Those are not great traits for the leader of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. To his credit—or at least to the credit of his Ministry—Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been firmly quashed since its attacks in 2003/2004.
There still remains the huge question, though, of whether Nayef is actually in line for the throne. The role of the Allegiance Association remains unclear. It appears that it did not need to be consulted for the King’s naming Nayef to the new position. That position, after all, is not a formal one with succession implications. It well may be the case that when the time comes, Nayef would be refused.
I think what needs to be watched for is Pr. Sultan, his health, and what happens should he suddenly leave the scene. Nayef’s ascent to being Crown Prince is not guaranteed, though the current nomination seems to make it more likely, but perhaps not. We’re going to have to wait for other things to happen before we can clearly understand just what Nayef’s new position means.