How credible is a Saudi initiative on interfaith dialogue?
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, which the U.S. State Department lists as a “country of particular concern” because of its severe restrictions on religious freedom, is sponsoring talks at the United Nations in New York today and tomorrow on improving interfaith dialogue. Is this a credible exercise?
(Photo: King Abdullah with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at U.N. in New York, Nov 12, 2008)
Analysis leading up to the meeting has been full of reservations. Our Riyadh bureau chief Andrew Hammond noted that the influential religious establishment in Saudi Arabia shows scant support for the king’s initiative. Our Middle East news editor Samia Nakhoul quotes Saudi delegation member Jamal Khajoggi as saying “The king can change positions, he can hire and fire people but he cannot change the mind-set of people or the clerical establishment quickly. It has to be gradual.”
The most brutal assessment came from Ali al-Ahmed, a Washington-based Shiite Muslim dissident from Saudi Arabia quoted by the New York Times: “It’s like apartheid South Africa having a conference at the U.N. on racial harmony.”
King Abdullah has taken some pioneering steps for a Saudi monarch. At the same time, his country still restricts all religious activity except Wahhabi Islam severely.
Do you think King Abdullah is a credible sponsor for a conference on interfaith understanding?