Why PM Modi and Obama’s visits to Saudi Arabia should have focussed on intolerance

Theirs is an ideology that will send people to blow themselves up to avenge an insult to Islam, but will not take in the millions of Muslim refugees from Syria into their own country

Written by Rohan Parikh | Updated: April 23, 2016 1:40:50 pm
saudi arabia, gulf countries, intolerance, saudi arabia intolerance, narendra modi, modi saudi visit, modi visit to saudi arabia, islam, radical islam, syria war, syrian civil war Prime Minister Narendra Modi being greeted by King of Saudi Arabia Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at his palace for the ceremonial welcome in Riyadh on Sunday. (PTI Photo by Shirish Shete)

Imagine an India where Hinduism is the official state religion. Practice of other religions is banned. Non-Hindus may not hold citizenship. No Mosque nor Church is permitted. Open display of a religion apart from Hinduism will land you in jail. An unelected dictator rules the country with an iron fist, and passes down rule to his children. Freedom of the press and freedom of expression is banned and social mores have regressed to resemble the 18th century more than they do the 21st.

Scary?

As I am sure many readers will have guessed, what I am really describing above is a metaphor for Saudi Arabia and most of the Arab Gulf states.

It is thus, with great trepidation that I watched first Prime Minister Modi and then Barack Obama conduct their state visits to Saudi Arabia.

We live in scary times. In the US, in Europe, and in India, our free societies are under attack. Our airports, our hotels, and restaurants have become soft targets for attack. There is a growing enemy that wishes to spread their intolerant ideology through terror.

After every terror attack, we rehash, the same question and the same debate: Is Islam to blame?

The answer is unequivocally clear to me: Of course not.

One cannot tar an entire religion by the acts of its most fanatical followers. Just blaming Islam for terror attacks is wrong and self-defeating. It alienates the very same moderate majority that is the bulwark against the spread of fanaticism. It creates a sense of siege and victimhood which sends even more recruits into the hands of the fanatics.

President Barack Obama talks with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, April 21, 2016 (AP photo) President Barack Obama talks with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, April 21, 2016 (AP photo)

However, just as important as it is to remain rational, we must also accept radical Islamic terror for what it is – terror perpetuated by radical Islamists. We must accept that there are certain strains within the large umbrella that is Islam that are fundamentally incompatible with free and liberal societies.

At the same time, it is important to remember that the primary victim and enemy of terrorism is moderate Islam. Like Salman Taseer in Pakistan, there are thousands of moderate and secular Muslims that have been slaughtered by extremists in the name of spreading radical Islam. And it is solely against these extremists, and in aid of the moderates, that we must concentrate our fire.

Now, if we are to fight Radical Islam, in the name of saving our free societies, then let us start at its source and let us then state the obvious – Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries are intolerant, regressive, bigoted, and undemocratic regimes that have no place in the modern world.

Theirs is an ideology that is incompatible with modernity. Theirs is an ideology that does believes tolerance of other religions is heresy, that openly mocks secularism as weakness, that has no fundamental rights, and that says that equality of the sexes is decadence and haram.

Theirs is an ideology that without any sense of irony, will whip up a sense of outrage against any perceived act of intolerance against Muslims anywhere in the world, while at the same time creating at home, the single most intolerant society in the modern world.

Theirs is an ideology that will send people to blow themselves up to avenge an insult to Islam, but will not take in the millions of Muslim refugees from Syria into their own country.

This is an ideology that is a cancer eating away at the free world and at global Islam.

Fighting this ideology is not easy. Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf regimes retain an influential role in global Islam due to their status as the birthplace of the religion and the home of Mecca. Through their charities and mosques, they have spread their intolerant version of the Islamic faith and their beliefs across the globe. Their petro-dollars have long given them a powerful voice. Anecdotal evidence from our own communities in India talks about how Muslim communities have changed with the arrival of Saudi funded mosques, turning more extreme and angrier.

How do we fight this?

We must accept that our free liberal societies have gone too far, and have created a weakness for the forces of hate to exploit. We must update our laws on freedom of speech and freedom of religion to control and counter any ideology that preaches violence or intolerance. We must block the inflow of foreign funds that go towards spreading Wahhabism and other intolerant beliefs. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to spread hate.

The free and secular world must also stop doing business with and propping up regimes that represent the very opposite of what our societies stand for and instead, we must instead actively oppose them. Look at a list of owners of English Premier League Football clubs and one sees how much Western countries are falling over themselves to attract funds and investment from the Gulf. This must end. The price of entry into the economy of the free world, must be a free society at home.

It is only by weakening these intolerant regimes can we free up the free world’s greatest weapon – the large and silent moderate Muslim majority who are an integral part of the modern world, and who can take back the narrative and control of their religion from the fanatical fringe that have hijacked it.

In the end, radical Islam can only be defeated by mainstream Islam, in much the same way that Untouchability and Sati were (or are) being defeated by mainstream Hindus, or the excesses of the Vatican were reigned in by secular Christians, or slavery was defeated by progressive White Americans.

This “Islamic Reformation” will not be possible as long as the financial and spiritual power in the Islamic world rests in the hands of the most intolerant and medieval regimes in the world.

On that note, it was somewhat comforting to see that Prime Minister Modi’s primary agenda during this visit was a discussion on extremism. Mr. Obama (who just recently famously lectured India on its supposed intolerance) would do well to show the same amount of spine.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter @rohanaparikh

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