By paying effusive homage to the late Saudi King Abdullah and by honoring the kingdom’s new fundamentalist dictator with his presence, President Barack Obama has given the world an object lesson in American hypocrisy.
To be fair, it’s not just the United States that heaped praise upon the dead despot, as world leaders, diplomats and dignitaries lamented the passing of a man who ruled over one of the most repressed societies on earth.
One of the most delusional tributes came from Christine Lagarde, the French managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Lagarde — a woman — had the couilles to actually praise Abdullah as something of a feminist.
“In a very discreet way, he was a strong advocate of women,” asserted Lagarde. “It was very gradual, appropriately so, probably, for the country.”
A country, it must be said, in which women cannot vote or even drive cars. A country where women who speak to men who aren’t related to them face harsh punishment, including public whipping. Even rape victims are severely punished because, as the perverse thinking goes, they must have done something to deserve it. ‘Allah’ forbid a woman has sex before marriage or cheats on her husband — both are punishable by public beheading. Women cannot travel abroad or even seek hospital treatment without first getting the permission of male relatives.
Saudi women and girls have died due to these ridiculous rules — back in 2002, 15 Mecca schoolgirls needlessly burned to death after the mutaween, the dreaded religious police, blocked rescue workers from saving them because the girls were not covered from head to toe in robes as required under the kingdom’s medieval brand of fundamentalist Islam, known as Wahhabism.
It’s not just females who suffer tremendously under the iron rule of the House of Saud. Arbitrary arrest and torture of reform advocates, religious minorities and innocent people is commonplace. The legal system is a farce, with innocent defendants tortured into false confessions, resulting in many people being wrongfully executed, often by public beheading.
When it comes to beheadings, ISIS can’t compete with Saudi Arabia, which although ranking 40th in the world in population is the world’s fourth-most prolific practitioner of capital punishment. The US, with 10 times the population of Saudi Arabia, ranks fifth.
Among the “crimes” for which you can be put to death in “reforming” Saudi Arabia are apostasy (renouncing Islam), blasphemy, prostitution, witchcraft, homosexuality and adultery. Those who are executed are sometimes crucified as well. Lesser criminals often have their hands chopped off without anesthesia.
Jew-hate runs deep in Saudi Arabia, as it does in much of the Middle East. Children’s schoolbooks teach impressionable youngsters to hate not only Jews, but also other religious minorities, gays and others deemed unworthy of humanity. “The hour of God’s judgment will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them,” reads one textbook.
In recent weeks, Saudi brutality was once again making international headlines when a jailed blogger, Raif Badawi, was publicly flogged 50 times — he will eventually receive 950 more lashes — for advocating free speech, and when video of a woman’s beheading was leaked for the world to see.
President Obama knew all, or at least enough, of this when he issued a statement eulogizing King Abdullah, who ruled from 1996 until his death last week at age 90.
“As a leader, he was always candid and had the courage of his convictions,” said Obama. “One of those convictions was his steadfast and passionate belief in the importance of the US-Saudi relationship as a force for stability and security in the Middle East and beyond.”
Obama cut short his trip to India to rush to Riyadh, the Saudi capital, to meet with the new king, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. The president enjoyed an opulent meal with his host, who he praised for supporting his war against Islamic State jihadists in neighboring Iraq and nearby Syria.
When asked about the kingdom’s appalling human rights record, Obama sheepishly told CNN that “sometimes we have to balance our need to speak to them about human rights issues with immediate concerns that we have in terms of countering terrorism or dealing with regional stability.”
Speaking of terrorism, surely Obama is aware that 15 of the 19 hijackers who killed nearly 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001 were Saudi nationals. Or that the very royal family he was sitting down to feast with is a well-known and generous financier for Islamist terrorism.
Of course, being the world’s biggest oil exporter, and America’s number two source of imported oil, gets big love from Washington and Wall Street, which have, after all, supported genocide for much lesser gain. But America’s hypocrisy is all the more galling when you consider that nations which pose little (Russia, Iran) or no (Venezuela, Cuba) threat to US interests are demonized and even punished, sometimes severely, for far lesser transgressions.
Perhaps King Salman will open the door to meaningful reforms in the kingdom he inherits. But the signs are not good. Salman has occupied the Saudi throne for four days now, and already four people have been beheaded under his reign. And while women are expected to gain the right to vote — and run— in local elections starting later this year, the kingdom remains ruled by one of the world’s most repressive regimes, with precious few personal freedoms for any of its subjects, male or female.
It’s been that way through successive US administrations dating back to the discovery of oil there, and it will probably be the same way until the last drop of Saudi crude is squeezed from the earth.