27 April 2003
Khaled Abou El Fadl: Stop double standard on Israel, Saudi Arabia
We must avoid becoming an occupying force rather than a force of liberation.
There are already rising protests in Iraq against the American presence, and
considerable religious hostility to certain American conduct, such as not
intervening to prevent the looting of Iraq's national heritage and the
unfortunate decision by the Bush administration to allow Christian
missionaries to enter Iraq in the company of American forces. This smacks of
the conduct of colonial powers. There is a widespread perception that the US
is hinging its humanitarian aid to being receptive to the message of the
missionaries. It is important that we turn over the administration of Iraq
to Iraqis, and that we immediately put a stop to the practice of awarding
contracts to American companies to rebuild Iraq, without any Iraqi input
whatsoever in the process of selecting and awarding these contracts.
If we insist on working alone, we reinforce the notion that we have become
an international bully, and that we are arrogantly dismissive of the
opinions and views of everyone except our own. It is not good long-term
policy to systematically reinforce the notion that we do not at all care
about the views of Arabs, who, after all, are the people who are most
affected by the developments in their region. It is also not good long-term
policy to give the impression that we are only open to Israeli input and
Israeli views, and that we are dismissive towards everyone else. Do we
really want to aggravate the feeling of anti-Americanism around the world?
Do we really want to pick a fight with the whole world, except for a few
countries like Israel and England? It is not in our long-term best interests
to have half the world fear us. The best thing we could do is to give the UN
a large role, and to stop threatening Syria and Iran.
We do not sound very credible when we support Saddam when he fights Iran but
protest his despotism when he fights Kuwait. It was Rumsfeld himself who
pioneered the policy of supporting Saddam in the fight against Iran.
Similarly, it makes little sense for us to support despotic regimes in power
in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, etc., but to pretend
that we cannot live with Syria's despotism.
Saudi Arabia has been allowed to indulge in much unbelievable hypocrisy. It
is due time that the Saudi people are allowed to overthrow this horrendous
dictatorship and establish a democratic order. This cannot be done by
invading Saudi Arabia. But we must stop supplying the Saudi regime with the
means by which it is able to discover dissidents and crush them before
they've had a chance to voice their protest.
It is also not good for our credibility when we are not at all critical of
Israeli occupation and despotic policies towards the Palestinians, but are
critical of a semi-democracy like Iran. Either we take human rights
seriously or not. If we do take human rights seriously, then we do not deal
with or support all human-rights abusers, which includes Israel and Saudi
Arabia. We do not supply them with arms and do not provide them with
intelligence and surveillance equipment. But the policy of double standards
that Bush seems intent on sustaining and promoting will backfire in the long
term, and we will create something like the Iranian revolution all over the
Khaled Abou El Fadl is the Omar and Azmeralda Afi Distinguished Fellow in
Islamic Law at UCLA and the author of The Place of Tolerance in Islam
(Beacon Press, 2002). His essay "Islam and the Challenge of Democracy"
appears in the current issue of the Boston Review.