17 Aug 2014

Cameron's love affair with Islamic fundamentalism (arms sales and oil more important than human rights)

Nearly 30 million people now live in a fundamentalist Islamic state in the Middle East. All churches and other non-Muslim places of worship are banned.  
The death penalty extends to adultery, homosexuality, sorcery, attempts to convert to religions other than Islam and a range of other offenses.  
Consumption of alcohol is punished by flogging. Atheists are defined simply as terrorists and dare not proclaim their truth. There is an absolute ruler and democracy is frowned upon. Women must be veiled and it is illegal for them to drive.  
Dissent is severely punished. The regime spends billions every year promoting its brand of Islam.  
You might think all of this would worry David Cameron and Nick Clegg, but far from attracting protest or even calls for “intervention,” this state, Saudi Arabia, is one of Britain’s closest allies, targeted for trade deals and supplied with the very best British weapons.
The relationship between Saudi Arabia and Britain, which has been maintained by successive governments, is perhaps the most ignored and murky element of British foreign policy.  
During the recent Birmingham “Trojan Horse” affair, where Michael Gove claimed that Islamic fundamentalists were targeting schools, I was struck by the absurdity of this.  
Local parents rejected Gove’s contention and argued fiercely that he was using Islam as an excuse to foist his own views on unwilling West Midlanders.  
Islam, like most other religions, has elements that are fundamentalist and regressive and others that celebrate diversity and peace.  
Michael Gove doesn’t seem very concerned about Christian fundamentalists who establish schools in Britain — in fact he seems quite relaxed about it.  
However, could we imagine, for example, the British government condemning the Westboro Baptist Church, which disrupts funerals on a regular basis, for trying to take over a school in Guildford?  
It also struck me as strange to read BBC reports saying that Saudi Arabia was hemmed in by Islamic fundamentalists in Yemen and by Isis in Syria and Iraq. While the brutality of Isis greatly exceeds that of Saudi Arabia, their religious outlook is based on similar assumptions of conservative Sunni sectarianism.  
The absurdities of government policy from Blair to Cameron and beyond are stark, obvious and almost totally ignored.  
Islamic fundamentalism is criticised but a powerful fundamentalist state that nurtures the most repressive of doctrines is supported by British governments.
In 2012, according to the BBC, David Cameron travelled to Riyadh to “establish a personal relationship between the PM and the Saudi king.” 
Cameron ignored the brutal suppression by Saudi authorities of Arab Spring protests in the country and also in neighbouring Bahrain, and used the visit to promote arms sales.  
When challenged on establishing a personal relationship with a despotic ruler in a country where adultery and homosexuality are defined as capital crimes, he replied: “People who think we shouldn’t be friends with — or our Prime Minister shouldn’t be visiting — a country that is such an important ally and such an important force in the world would be advocating a head-in-the-sand policy, and that is not in our national interest.”
Muslims in Britain can be subject to all sorts of scolding and thinly masked racism meted out by British politicians, while the same politicians cosy up with the House of Saud, simply because we don’t have enough oil and the Saudis pay billions for our weapons.  
We know that 90 per cent of media articles portray Islam in a negative light, yet globally and historically Islam has promoted peace, science and co-existence.  
When medieval Europe was dominated by superstition and hatred, Muslim Spain was an oasis of scientific learning, protection of different faiths and cultural flourishing.  
The majority of the world’s Muslims reject the narrow and regressive Saudi interpretation of their religion.  
However, fundamentalism advances because money pours out of Saudi Arabia to promote the most reactionary of creeds. The real Trojan horse buys its timber from Britain and its way is smoothed by our political establishment.
Challenges to Britain’s relationship have been thwarted time after time. In 2006 BAE Systems negotiated the sale of Eurofighter Typhoons to Saudi Arabia in the so-called Al-Yamamah deal which was worth billions of pounds and allegedly involved large-scale bribery.  
Taken to court in the US, BAE organised a plea bargain but was fined $400 million.  
In Britain, investigations into corruption were halted after the intervention of then prime minister Tony Blair. Blair noted: “Any proposal that the investigation be resolved by parties pleading guilty to certain charges would be unlikely to reduce the offence caused to the Saudi royal family, even if the deal were accepted, and the process would still drag out for a considerable period.”
The negative influence of Saudi Arabia on neighbouring countries in the Middle East would require another article as would the violence meted out to migrant workers. 
There are a number of conclusions and points for action.  
Of course, in an economy dependent on the consumption of oil and the production of weapons, all governments will tend to ignore the despotic nature of Saudi Arabia, so we need to promote renewables and diversify.  
Workers should not pay for the crimes of politicians but it’s possible to convert arms production to useful manufacturing. 
We need to celebrate and give solidarity to the heroic individuals who campaign for human rights in Saudi Arabia, such as the women who protest by driving and those imprisoned for calling for national elections.
We need to inform ourselves about the nature of the repression in Saudi Arabia, Cameron’s quest for a “personal relationship” with King Abdullah and the murky interface between the country and powerful British business interests.  
Above all, whenever Gove or other Cabinet members challenge Muslims, we should challenge them on their government’s support for a state that promotes so much repression and sectarianism in the name of Islam. 

Derek Wall is international co-ordinator of the Green Party

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