Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Saudi Jacobins, or more multicultural word games?

One of the truisms that is fast becoming a tired cliche in this new century, is my old favorite, "Words mean things": to engage in any kind of meaningful dialog, one must first share the same definition of the words each side is using.
"Democracy", "Liberty", "Peace", are terms that nowadays mean different things to different people, much like a discussion about the weather becomes meaningless if I'm from a hot climate and claim that it's "cold" outside, while chatting with a fellow from a cold climate whose counter-claim is that it's actually "hot".
We can't just throw terms around as catch-all phrases anymore; there must be an accompanying context if there's to be any real understanding, any meaningful discourse.

Case in point is story behind the promising headline, "Exile Sets Up Saudi Opposition Group In France".

PARIS -- The son of the last ruler of part of present-day Saudi Arabia has said he was setting up an opposition party in Paris to seek democratic rule in the oil-rich kingdom.
"We announce the birth of the 'Saudi Democratic Opposition Front' which will struggle by peaceful means for the establishment of democracy in the country," said Prince Talal Mohammed Al Rashid, son of the last ruler of the independent Rashidi emirate which reigned in the northwestern region of Hail from 1835 to 1921.
"The Al Saud [family ruling Saudi Arabia] must either respect liberties and introduce democracy or give up the power they usurped," Prince Talal, who has been living in exile in France since 1980, said Tuesday.
Talal, son of Mohammed II Bin Talal Al Rashid, said his opposition group would launch a satellite television channel within three months which will broadcast from a European country to "call on Saudis to rise up against the tyrants and usurpers plundering public funds."
[Maybe some of those broadcasts should be re-directed back into France..?]
The Rashidi emirs, who were ousted by the Saud family during its struggle to unite Saudi Arabia, are a branch of the Shammar tribal confederation.
Prince Talal, who has retained his title, said that the confederation was backing his new movement. He said his group, with "some 2,000 active members, mostly in Saudi Arabia," would coordinate its activities with other opponents of the Saudi government at home and abroad, chiefly the London-based Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA) which calls for a regime change in the kingdom....

And here the word games begin. MIRA was an organization fingered by the US Treasury for providing material support to al Qaida.
"Information shows that statements on the MIRA website, including messages from Usama bin Laden and Abu Mus'ab al Zarqawi, are intended to provide ideological and operational support to al Qaida affiliated networks and potential recruits...
..In 2003, MIRA and [Saad al-Faqih, who heads the Movement] received approximately $1 million in funding through Abdulrahman Alamoudi. According to information available to the U.S. Government, the September 2003 arrest of Alamoudi was a severe blow to al Qaida, as Alamoudi had a close relationship with al Qaida and had raised money for al Qaida in the United States. In a 2004 plea agreement, Alamoudi admitted to his role in an assassination plot targeting the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and is currently serving a 23 year sentence. " [source: U.S. Department of the Treasury]

What is a "democratic" movement doing aligning itself with a group holding such close links to al Qaida, of all things? Just what kind of "democratic" messages will the "struggle" of their "active members" consist of? And unless Prince Talal envisions for himself a role comparable to that of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, as a purely symbolic head of state (a goal left unexplained in the press release), what is a prince doing leading a "democratic" movement in the first place? (Could his followers get to vote for who becomes the next prince..?)

Don't expect such judgmental questions from the western media, who evidently are content to parrot noble-sounding press releases and leave things go at that. The exiled Prince announces he is in favor of "democracy", after all, and isn't that a good thing...?

Sadly, as news from Afghanistan ["Abdul Rahman, a Christian for the last 16 years, is charged with rejecting Islam and could be executed under Islamic Sharia law unless he reconverts."March 26 BBC ]
and Iraq ["Homosexuality is seen as so immoral that it qualifies as an 'honour killing' to murder someone who is gay - and the perpetrator can escape punishment. Section 111 of Iraq's penal code lays out protections for murder when people are acting against Islam."August 6 Guardian and Observer]
increasingly reveal to us, we refuse to hold certain people up to the same definition of cultural terms that we insist upon for ourselves.

What does this double-standard suggest lies behind the mask of "multi-culturalism" that is supposed to be such a noble ideal for Canada? What do the lower expectations we hold people of the islamic world to, really say about our respect for these fellow human beings?
Do we do them any favors by giving them their own, private, definitions for western values such as Liberty and Decocracy?

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