Canada Is Right to Criticize Saudi Human-Rights Abuses

In 2014, Saudi Arabia sentenced the liberal blogger Raif Badawi to 1,000 lashes and ten years in prison for “insulting Islam”—that is, for criticizing the power and influence of the country’s clergy. Badawi has thus far received 50 lashes but remains in prison. Last week, Saudi police arrested his sister and fellow human-rights activist Samar, prompting the Canadian foreign minister, and the foreign ministry itself, to send tweets calling for her release. In response, Riyadh suspended diplomatic relations, instructed Saudis in Canada to return home, and threatened economic sanctions. Elliott Abrams, noting that the tweets in question are neither “harsh” nor “shocking,” comments:

The Raif Badawi case has long been a matter of international concern and comment. [Previous American statements on the matter were] surely tougher than the Canadian comments. Moreover, the United States had no actual link to the case whereas Badawi’s wife and three children are now Canadian citizens. . . .

The Saudi position amounts to this: no government may comment on anything that happens in the kingdom. Any such comment is a violation of Saudi sovereignty. . . That’s an untenable position in 2018. Remember Ronald Reagan calling the Soviet Union “totalitarian darkness” and an “evil empire?” Yet the Soviets did little more than protest verbally, while relations continued normally. . . .

I suppose the Saudis are sending a message that such criticism will come at a high cost, or at least at a high cost unless you’re the United States. One can well imagine that numerous other countries will in fact be scared off, not wanting to pay the price the Canadians will. . . .

I remain supportive of the social and economic reform efforts associated with [Saudi Arabia’s] Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and wish him every success in them. They are critical to the country’s future. I can understand, even if I cannot always support, his efforts to control every aspect of the pace of change lest his experiment with modernizing so many parts of Saudi life evoke so much internal opposition that it fails. But there’s no way to defend what the Saudis have done here. Their foreign ministry should have issued a statement saying the Canadians should butt out, they have their facts wrong, we resent it, and so on, and had their ambassador angrily say the same to the foreign minister—and left it at that. What they have done is an unforced error.

And while I’m at it, hats off to the Canadians for their concern about the family of a Canadian citizen and about human rights around the world.

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More about: Canada, Human Rights, Mohammad bin Salman, Politics & Current Affairs, Ronald Reagan, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy

 

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East