Waging post-warfare: Stop double standard on Israel, Saudi Arabia

Boston Phoenix

27 April 2003

Khaled Abou El Fadl: Stop double standard on Israel, Saudi Arabia

We must avoid becoming an occupying force rather than a force of liberation. There are already rising protests in Iraq against the American presence, and considerable religious hostility to certain American conduct, such as not intervening to prevent the looting of Iraq's national heritage and the unfortunate decision by the Bush administration to allow Christian missionaries to enter Iraq in the company of American forces. This smacks of the conduct of colonial powers. There is a widespread perception that the US is hinging its humanitarian aid to being receptive to the message of the missionaries. It is important that we turn over the administration of Iraq to Iraqis, and that we immediately put a stop to the practice of awarding contracts to American companies to rebuild Iraq, without any Iraqi input whatsoever in the process of selecting and awarding these contracts.

If we insist on working alone, we reinforce the notion that we have become an international bully, and that we are arrogantly dismissive of the opinions and views of everyone except our own. It is not good long-term policy to systematically reinforce the notion that we do not at all care about the views of Arabs, who, after all, are the people who are most affected by the developments in their region. It is also not good long-term policy to give the impression that we are only open to Israeli input and Israeli views, and that we are dismissive towards everyone else. Do we really want to aggravate the feeling of anti-Americanism around the world? Do we really want to pick a fight with the whole world, except for a few countries like Israel and England? It is not in our long-term best interests to have half the world fear us. The best thing we could do is to give the UN a large role, and to stop threatening Syria and Iran.

We do not sound very credible when we support Saddam when he fights Iran but protest his despotism when he fights Kuwait. It was Rumsfeld himself who pioneered the policy of supporting Saddam in the fight against Iran. Similarly, it makes little sense for us to support despotic regimes in power in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, etc., but to pretend that we cannot live with Syria's despotism.

Saudi Arabia has been allowed to indulge in much unbelievable hypocrisy. It is due time that the Saudi people are allowed to overthrow this horrendous dictatorship and establish a democratic order. This cannot be done by invading Saudi Arabia. But we must stop supplying the Saudi regime with the means by which it is able to discover dissidents and crush them before they've had a chance to voice their protest.

It is also not good for our credibility when we are not at all critical of Israeli occupation and despotic policies towards the Palestinians, but are critical of a semi-democracy like Iran. Either we take human rights seriously or not. If we do take human rights seriously, then we do not deal with or support all human-rights abusers, which includes Israel and Saudi Arabia. We do not supply them with arms and do not provide them with intelligence and surveillance equipment. But the policy of double standards that Bush seems intent on sustaining and promoting will backfire in the long term, and we will create something like the Iranian revolution all over the Middle East.

Khaled Abou El Fadl is the Omar and Azmeralda Afi Distinguished Fellow in Islamic Law at UCLA and the author of The Place of Tolerance in Islam (Beacon Press, 2002). His essay "Islam and the Challenge of Democracy" appears in the current issue of the Boston Review.

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