#BoycottSaudi. Boycott the Hajj. Boycott weapon sales to Saudi Arabia.
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It’s time to hold the Saudis to account for the evils they’ve inflicted on the world.
WASHINGTON — In early September 2015 a petite woman with straight, blonde hair slipped quietly against a wall, unfurling a pink banner just outside the elevators on the lower level of the Ritz-Carlton. She was dwarfed by men walking by, clad in Western suits and thawb-and-keffiyeh — or gown and headdress — for the U.S.-Saudi Investment Forum, a conference of U.S. and Saudi business and government leaders, sponsored in part by the U.S. Commerce Department and the Saudi-American Business Council.
“Obama! Don’t meet with the war criminals! Don’t do business with the bloody Saudi monarchy!” she shouted, a calm in her voice.
Guards swooped the activist, Medea Benjamin, up by her elbows, her feet dangling in air, and swept her up the stairs, to plonk her out on the sidewalk — but not before Benjamin, co-founder of the activist group, Code Pink, had made her point: The world needs to boycott Saudi Arabia for its “callous disregard for human lives.”
The bloody carnage of an estimated 2,177 pilgrims killed in a stampede in late September 2015 during the hajj, the holiest Muslim pilgrimage, with another 863 people injured, brought home the message of the protest.
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Muslims should boycott the hajj and the world should boycott the government of Saudi Arabia, like it did the apartheid government of South Africa, until the House of Saud brings democracy, civil society, human rights — including women’s rights — and a peaceful and tolerant interpretation of Islam to its people and the world.
We should be emboldened by a growing chorus of people who are raising their voices to protest the tyrannical Saudi regime that has wreaked havoc on the world since 1979, burdening our generation with the curse of its extremist brand of sectarian, intolerant Islam.
We are fed up.
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Frustration has been building up for years — fomented with the fact that so many of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi — but it snapped this year, with a number of events: barbaric images of ISIL fighters beheading hostages, raping sex slaves, burning Muslims and slaughtering Christians, as they practiced Saudi theology on steroids; the Saudi imprisonment of activists like Raif Badawi, a blogger sentenced to lashes and jail for “apostasy,” and Mohammed al-Nimr, a young Saudi member of the minority Shia sect, sentenced to crucifixion for “waging war on God”; the Saudi refusal — along with other Gulf countries — to accept Syrian refugees; and the reckless perishing of pilgrims in the stampede last week.
With the death of Saudi leader Abdullah in January 2015, replaced by heir King Salman, Malaysian-American singer and songwriter Ani Zonneveld, executive director of Muslims for Progressive Values, published an “Open Letter to King Salman,” arguing that “Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi ideology is the root of all the ills in the Muslim world,” and appealing for reform. She heard back from no one in the royal empire.
Around the same time, Saudi blogger Badawi’s courageous wife, Ensaf Haidar, traveled through the European Union, the U.S. and Canada to raise awareness for her husband’s case. In an interview, she pleads for folks to “stay by my side” until her husband, her “darling,” as she calls him, is released.
In May 2015, amidst Saudi meddling in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, along with the continued jailing of Badawai, Amnesty International sponsored a protest in front of the Saudi Embassy in Berlin. Calling Saudi Arabia “one of the most repressive regimes in the world,” the Campaign against Arms Trade protested U.K. military sales to Saudi Arabia, which spent about $80 billion in weapon expenditures last year, making it the fourth-largest military budget in the world, after the U.S., China and Russia.
By early September 2015, on the eve of King Salman’s visit to the U.S. to meet with President Obama, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman published a column, “Our Radical Islamic BFF, Saudi Arabia,” asserting, brilliantly: “Nothing has been more corrosive to the stability and modernization of the Arab world, and the Muslim world at large, than the billions and billions of dollars the Saudis have invested since the 1970s into wiping out the pluralism of Islam — the Sufi, moderate Sunni and Shiite versions — and imposing in its place the puritanical, anti-modern, anti-women, anti-Western, anti-pluralistic Wahhabi Salafist brand of Islam promoted by the Saudi religious establishment.”
What is troubling is that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its various proxies, fund, orchestrate and manipulate a campaign to level allegations of “Islamophobia” against those of us who discuss the dangers of political Islam, Islamic extremism and Saudi theology, in particular. But voices are speaking out. David Keyes, executive director of Advancing Human Rights, in an op-ed early published in late September 2015 on Women in the World, a web-venture with the New York Times, asked bluntly, “Why do we tolerate the sins of the Saudis?”
The Code Pink activist, Benjamin, penned a column last week for the Huffington Post, “10 reasons to oppose the Saudi monarchy,” of which highlights included: spending $4 billion a year on mosques, madrassas, preachers, students and textbooks to spread its theology over the last 35 years; and being the “the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups,” according to a 2009 cable by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
With the news of the pilgrimage stampede, many Muslims also have had enough. Parvez Sharma, director of a new film, “A Sinner in Mecca” — about his pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia as a gay man, punishable by execution in Saudi Arabia — falls short of calling for a boycott, but says, “It is time that the corrupt and unholy monarchy of Saudi Arabia and their Wahhabi masters are held accountable.”
“The horrors of the hajj this year are evidence,” he continues. “My new film, ‘A Sinner in Mecca,’ is proof. It is time that Muslims around the world questioned the savage edicts of the House of al-Saud that carries out lashings and beheadings with impunity and disregards the welfare of the millions of pilgrims who seek spiritual shelter in their kingdom. In my opinion the blame for much of what is wrong with the modern hajj lies squarely with the Saudi king who dares to call himself ‘the custodian of the two holy mosques.’”
Others like Raheel Raza, president of Muslims for Tomorrow, a nonprofit based in Toronto, are already boycotting the hajj. “I will not go to Saudi Arabia for the hajj — or any other reason — unless it rulers shape up their human rights record. And I ask all Muslims to boycott them as well. Saudis have single handedly destroyed our spiritual heritage and are now engaged in destroying human beings.”
And Melody Moezzi, author of “The War on Error,” about American Muslims, says, “Until the Saudi regime is gone, I’m not setting foot in Saudi. The Saudi regime never should’ve been allowed to own or run anything — not a country, not a pilgrimage, not Mecca, not Medina, not a street, not a tunnel, not a grain of sand.”
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As news broke of the tragic stampede in Saudi Arabia, the Los Angeles Times splashed a headline across its pages of a Saudi prince arrested by police for allegedly forcing women workers to give him oral sex in his palatial Los Angeles mansion, one woman attempting to scale a fence to escape the “prince,” traumatized and bloodied.
It is time for the world’s businesses, governments, civil society activists and ordinary citizens to hold the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to account for its wanton disregard of human rights, so we can begin to remove the curse of the extremist, unjust and sexist theology that the House of Saud has brought into the world and move toward peace, human rights and dignity.
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