Right of Reply: Peeling the myths off Saudi Arabia

There is no such thing as 'Wahhabism,' just as there is no such thing as 'Maimonism.'

saudi arabia  224.88 (photo credit: AP)
saudi arabia 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
In Isi Leibler's "Candidly Speaking" (July 29), we read the same myths regarding the kingdom of Saudi Arabia; sweeping statements are presented as immutable fact. In 2005, one of my closest professional partners (as well as closest friends) and I planned for and created a model for a Saudi-sponsored interfaith dialogue to be ideally hosted by King Abdullah in Spain. We worked on the concept in Riyadh, where I live. (For the record, she is Jewish and visits the kingdom frequently.) We submitted the business plan to specific members of the royal family, and three years later the dialogue materialized almost exactly as we imagined. It may well be that our idea was coincidence and incidental to the king's own interfaith dialogue, as we were not part of further planning, but either way the desired outcome has been achieved. We also, however, expected precisely the sort of media response printed - that in effect, any Jewish representative who participated on behalf of Judaism would, indeed, be placating the king or appeasing Saudi sensibilities. Any progress made in discussing globally relevant issues, specifically similarities and differences of religions, would be somehow offensive. Or, as written in The Jerusalem Post, they would be "grovelling" or "intoxicated." Yet, if the king or any other Saudi official did not initiate this dialogue, no doubt it would be nanoseconds before it was written that the Saudis failed, once again, to make strides toward peace. ONE CANNOT win for losing, but as the African proverb goes: "The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now." King Abdullah, unlike counterparts in Israel, has planted that tree. Leibler also repeats the oft-cited myth of "state sponsored export of Wahhabism" that has produced a network of sanctified violence. There is no such thing as "Wahhabism," just as there is no such thing as ""Maimonism." As you should know, madrassa is merely the Arabic word for school, madrassa al-din specifies a religious school, and there is no evidence yet to support any direct link between a madrassa and fighters in Afghanistan, Palestine or Iraq. In fact, there have been no convictions for terrorist activities in the United States of any Saudi, which would indicate that they have certainly had no success whatsoever for their supposed multi-billion dollar export of a radical doctrine. It certainly seems a poor cost-benefit analysis. Additionally, the depictions of Jews are yet another story that won't die, and I have addressed the Saudi textbooks and education directly to the US Congress and do not need to repeat here, or specify Torah or Talmud chapter and verse for comparison. The depictions of Muslims and Arabs, specifically Saudis, however, remains abhorrent within Israel at times, just as in many parts of the world. The difference appears to be that Saudis have little ability to recruit the media to their cause, and have almost no ability to boast about their culture and their views to meet the rapidly changing news cycles. They thereby too often fail to quash these sweeping and persistent generalizations, despite all their excessive cash. Also regurgitated is the notion that Jews are forbidden entry to Saudi Arabia. This is completely untrue, but these rumors have existed for decades, begun by US Aramco employees. Despite all corrections from the Saudis, they remain ignored. Clarifying that those with Israeli passports are not permitted entry into the kingdom (akin to no American being permitted to enter Cuba or Iran, for example), the policy rests on the political situation between the two nations. I feel safe in assuming that neither Fidel Castro nor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be invited to many Israeli-sponsored conferences either. FINALLY, LET me address the state of Islam in Saudi Arabia. It is correct to state that it is the official religion, but that is all it is. The confirmation is in the Constitution of Saudi Arabia. It states "Islam," not Sunni, not Sufi, not Shi'ite, not Ismaeli - just plain Islam, full stop. Indeed, would it not be foolish to ban Jews or Christians from the kingdom, given the assumption that the Saudis are spending vast quantities of petrodollars on exporting Islam? Are Jews not the very people whom they would wish to "convert"? Why, until relatively recent history and migration to Israel, were Jews living safely in Arabia, having existed there since the days of Abraham? Actually, why did the prophet marry a Jew, if not to show peace among religions? It is understandable that some may choose words - sharper than swords - to block the path of peace and progress given the prism of Islam from within Israel. As occupiers of a predominantly Muslim land pre-1948, and as occupiers of the predominantly Muslim West Bank and Gaza, those fighting to preserve what is left of their land may "represent" to Israel all of Islam. Yet I suspect that the vast majority of Israeli Jews do not wish to be represented by the likes of the late Baruch Goldstein either, even though his slaughter of Muslims in 1993 was not in defense of his homeland and was instead an act of simple premeditated murder. Leibler is perfectly correct in stating that the fear of offending the other party prevents true progress. Indeed, a conference wherein Shas rabbis sat down with Hamas leaders and openly spoke their minds, now that would be progress. The writer is a Saudi-US political analyst originally from London. She lives in Riyadh and London.