Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Perspective: Trump comforted dictators in Riyadh | Siddique Malik

The Saudis cleverly used the summit to turn the issue of Sunni terrorism into a Shia-Sunni conflict, making themselves look like heroes and Iran as the culprit and using Trump, a self-declared champion of deal-making, as a gullible fool who sanctified the trick.

Times of Ahmad | News Watch | UK Desk
Source/Credit: Courier-Journal
By Siddique Malik | May 30, 2017

Saudi Arabia called it an "Arab Islamic American summit." But the May 21 gathering in Riyadh looked more like an orgy of dictatorship, sectarianism, jingoism and hypocrisy. President Trump, the leader of the free world, joined in, rubbing shoulders with brutal dictators. Instead of upholding human rights, he indirectly told these dictator-gangsters that they were free to continue to suppress their people. This statement constitutes a stab in the back of pro-democracy movements and would undermine the cause of freedom and thus America's interests, worldwide.

One of the goals of the "so-called" summit was to devise a plan to curb Islamic terrorism. But none of the attendees mentioned the decades-long role Saudi Arabia played in fomenting Sunni terrorism. The Wahhabi-Salafi oligarchy continues to behave like a cult of death.

It has funded fanatical Sunni seminaries in many Muslim countries. Pakistan has been its worst victim. But the seeds of its ignorance have reached from Morocco to Indonesia. Some — repeat, some — of those who migrate to the West from these countries come imbued with the fanatical ideas propagated by these seminaries. They raise their Western-born children to be robotic fundamentalists and pressurize other Muslim parents to do the same.

Therefore, every now and then, a home-grown Muslim terrorist strikes at a concert, a train station or other public venue. The recent terrorist attack in Manchester, England, horrified the world, as did past attacks in Europe, America and other parts of the world.

But none of them surprised me.

But relax. President Trump is on the issue. The summit hall reflected utmost irony and hypocrisy, as he asked his audience to "drive out" terrorism. Not only did he sound dull and unconvincing, the faces of his audience exuded nonchalance. The occasion showed as much passion, excitement and persuasiveness as one would notice at a hypothetical rehabilitative seminar for drug addicts being addressed by a therapist whose knowledge of the subject is questionable and who himself inhales the drug.

The man ran his presidential campaign on hatred and ignorance. He is averse to facts and abhors those who question him. He admires dictators, hates free media and considers himself above accountability. He asked the FBI if it could drop an investigation that was agitating him. He spoke of throwing some journalists into prison. That's exactly how most of the summit attendees behave in their countries. He told his audience that he was not there "to lecture you." How could he have lectured them? He didn't have the moral standing to do it.

At the start of 2016, Saudi Arabia decapitated a number of political prisoners, including Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a Shia cleric. Guess what gushed out of the speech given by the summit host, the Saudi king? Hatred of Shia Islam and its bastion, Iran. And guess who almost repeated the king's words? The President of the United States.

Iran is no more a proponent of bigotry and hatred than is Saudi Arabia. But the U.S. president sided with one over the other. Far from the summit engendering effective anti-terrorism mechanisms that the visitor from America advocated in his speech, it would add to the Shia-Sunni strife that is one of the reasons that peace and stability continue to elude the Middle East and beyond. The $110 billion arms deal that Trump signed with Saudi Arabia during his stay there would undoubtedly exacerbate regional tensions.

Terrorism just got a new lease on life.

The Saudis cleverly used the summit to turn the issue of Sunni terrorism into a Shia-Sunni conflict, making themselves look like heroes and Iran as the culprit and using Trump, a self-declared champion of deal-making, as a gullible fool who sanctified the trick.  In reality,  both Iran and Saudi Arabia are merchants of death. The world should deal with both at arm's length.

In earnest, not all summit attendees were hard-core dictators. Pakistan, Indonesia, and Tunisia were represented by their democratically elected leaders. But none of them was asked to address the summit. True, these three countries are not fully fledged pluralistic democracies. But they are better than Saudi Arabia and other countries that attended the summit.

No country has suffered from terrorism more than Pakistan has. Tens of thousands of Pakistanis have died in terrorist attacks. Pakistan army is still taking almost daily causalities, as it hounds terrorists.  Pakistani soldiers are the unsung heroes of the war against terrorism. Every morning, the brave people of Pakistan place a collective slap on the face of terrorism, as they go about their lives, undeterred by the possibility of terrorists striking.

Indonesia has had a few consecutive peaceful transfers of power from one democratically elected president to another, one of whom was a woman. Tunisia is the most modern of all Muslim-majority countries. Its new constitution guarantees equality of all citizens, regardless of gender or faith, and enshrines freedom of speech and religion. That's a first among Muslim-majority countries. Tunisia has no blasphemy laws. In this area, it has thus surpassed Europe.

Why did the president not mention these countries' sacrifices and achievements? Because doing so would have offended his Saudi host and other dictators in the room, and contradicted the message of bigotry on which the U.S. president has himself thrived since declaring his candidacy for the White House.

There was a time when a speech by a U.S. president abroad excited and reinvigorated freedom's foot soldiers worldwide. President John F. Kennedy shouted, "Ich bin ein Berliner."  President Ronald Reagan thundered, "tear down this wall." President Trump's Riyadh speech comforted dictators. America, look what you have done to yourself. You are much better than this.

Siddique Malik considers himself a secular Muslim, a foreign policy hawk, a fan of the First Amendment, and a keen student of history and socio-political evolution.  You may contact him at smalik94@aol.com.

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