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Getting to Know Our Saudi Friends By: Claude Cartaginese
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The Saudi government recently launched a multi-million-dollar public advertising campaign to educate the average American about the benevolenceof its Islamic regime. A blitz of radio ads have been designed to highlight Saudi Arabia’s friendship with the U.S., and to try to negate some of the bad press the former has received due to the post-9/11 fallout. The advertisements are being aired in 19 U.S. cities and will run until September 6. They cite the September 11th Commission’s report as proof that the Saudi government has been a loyal friend and ally in the fight against Al Qaeda.  Mr. Abdel al-Jubeir, a senior foreign policy adviser to the Saudi Royal House, was also sent to the United States to appear on television to set the record straight. He informed viewers that not only is his country unequivocally on America’s side in the war on terror, but also that it is a much more “modern and reliable” nation than the American public has heretofore realized.

I believe this initiative to emphasize Saudi reliability, and to extol the existing bonds of Saudi-American friendship, is an excellent idea, given the doubts that many Americans have begun to experience about the sincerity of the friendship the Saudis are offering. As an average American myself, I was troubled to learn that Saudi Arabia was accused by many of funding and providing support to Al Qaeda and other terror groups. I was also troubled to learn that 15 of the 19 September 11th hijackers were Saudis.

Unfortunately, none of the newly produced ads seem to address any of my concerns. I have, for my own edification, however, undertaken to write down some questions in the hope that I may someday find a Saudi advertising executive knowledgeable enough to answer them. Keep in mind that my aim is not to offend anyone, particularly any of our Saudi friends and allies. I’m just trying to educate myself.


I was wondering, for example:


Why is it that any of our Saudi friends can come to the U.S., find a mosque in almost any major city and pray there, but no American non-Muslim would find even a single house of worship in all of Saudi Arabia where he could do the same? In fact, we’re viewed as infidels.  This is troubling to me. Does Islam view itself as so vulnerable to foreign influences that the mere exposure of its faithful to another creed might result, were it a free society, in their voluntary conversion away from Islam? By contrast, our Saudi friends are free to come and visit any house of worship (of any denomination) in the United States, and not only will they not be harassed or expelled, but they will be welcomed. Why am I, on the other hand, not even permitted to set foot in the holy city of Mecca, even as a tourist?   


More questions come to mind whose theme is religious:


Why is it that any Saudi, male or female, can come to the U.S., carry their prayer beads, wear a veil or headdress, go to a public place (such as a park downtown), and sit down with their Koran and read – or even preach out loud – but I, as a Christian, cannot go to Saudi Arabia, put on my cross, and go to a Saudi park to read my Bible in solitude and silence? Nor, for that matter, can the practitioners of any other non-Muslim faith do the same. Why not?


It hardly seems fair for a friend to unilaterally put so many restrictions on me. While we’re on the subject of religion, I was also wondering:


Why are Saudis, as Muslims, encouraged by their government and the Royal Family  to come to the U.S. to try to convert people to the faith, but if I were to go to Saudi Arabia and, as a Christian, do the same, I would face many lashes with the whip (or worse)? And in such a case, why is it that any Saudi I may have had success in converting to my faith (whether by accident or intent) would face the death penalty for apostasy? This is puzzling indeed.  It seems that one of the functions of the Islamic Affairs Division (IAD) of the Saudi embassy is to evangelize for the Islamic faith. Late last year, several officials from the IAD were actually asked to leave the United States as a result of their promotion of radical (Wahhabi) Islam. Should diplomats be trying to convert people in the country where they are serving? Apparently, there is even a name for this evangelization-dawa. Seems a bit bizarre.


I’ve got a few other questions on my mind. They may seem trivial, but remember I’m just an average American who would really like to get to know my friends better.              


Just curious: Why wouldn’t my wife be able to drive a car, or even ride a bicycle, if I brought her with me on a trip to Saudi Arabia, but Saudi women visiting the United States are free to drive any automobile they like, on any road of their choosing, in any city or hamlet in this vast country? Why wouldn’t my wife be permitted, while visiting her Saudi friends, to show her face or even her hair in public? Why wouldn’t she be permitted to go shopping alone, or even sit at a café? And if I were single, why couldn’t I marry a Saudi woman without the permission of the Saudi government (which is rarely given anyway)?


Why do textbooks published in Saudi Arabia and distributed to Islamic schools in the United States openly call for jihad against Christians and Jews? 


I didn’t think friends acted that way towards each other.


By the way, I was also wondering:


Why can my Saudi friends come to the U.S. to participate in, or even organize, a lawful anti-government demonstration in the very shadow of the White House, but I can’t go to Riyadh and peacefully demonstrate against the Saudi Government or Royal Family?


Either the Saudis’ concept of friendship differs radically from mine, or they really don’t have much interest in being friends.               


I realize that these questions have no easy answers. On the other hand, maybe I already know the answers. I just thought I’d ask.

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