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Time to Take Saudi Arabia Seriously

This week the State Department has an opportunity to hold the kingdom of Saudi Arabia to account.

11:00 PM, Mar 13, 2005 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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ON TUESDAY, March 15, the U.S. State Department faces a deadline: as previously mandated by State itself, the bureaucrats must show that they have taken action in accord with last year's designation of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a "country of particular concern" because of its flagrant violations of religious freedom.

Will State fulfill its responsibility? Who knows.

That's why 15 Senators from both sides of the aisle sent a letter to Secretary Condoleezza Rice last Friday demanding that the U.S.-Saudi relationship be "defined more clearly."

The signatories were: Charles Schumer (D-New York), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Evan Bayh (D-Indiana), Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia), Gordon Smith (R-Oregon), Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), John Ensign (R-Nevada), Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey), Norm Coleman (R-Minnesota), Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut), Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin), Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska), Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), and Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania).

The need for heightened pressure on the Saudis has never been more obvious. The kingdom continues to maintain the ultra-radical Wahhabi sect of Islam as the state religion. Wahhabism is more an ideology than a faith, and is the inspiration for al Qaeda and much of the terrorism launched against U.S., coalition, and Iraqi democratic forces north of the Saudi-Iraq border.

As the text of the letter notes, the Saudi regime continues to disseminate limitless quantities of Wahhabi literature through mosques and schools on American soil. Samples of these materials were highlighted in a recent report by Freedom House, but the problem is not new. The Saudi Institute, a human rights monitoring group in Washington, first exposed the dissemination of Saudi hate propaganda in America two years ago.

(On Saturday, March 12, three democratic reform leaders went on trial in the kingdom: Dr. Abdullah Al-Hamed, Dr. Matrook Al-Faleh, and the poet Ali Al-Domaini were arrested on March 16, 2004, for demanding adoption of a constitution by the Saudi monarchy.)

Saudi Arabia is an especially flagrant violator of its own subjects' religious rights. Non-Wahhabi Sunni Islam is banned; the large Shia Muslim minority is suppressed; the spiritual teaching of Sufi Islam is illegal. Possession of religious works, including classics of Arabic and Islamic literature, reflecting these traditions, is a crime.

And, of course, Saudi Arabia has millions of foreign workers living and toiling on its soil--more than a quarter of its population of 16.5 million--of which a large but unknown number are Christians from such countries as the Philippines, United States, Canada, Western Europe, India, and South Korea, Buddhists from Sri Lanka and India, Hindus, and non-Wahhabi Muslims from Sudan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Egypt. None of these people has the right to practice their faith openly while serving their Saudi masters.

The kingdom is the only Muslim country in the world which forbids non-Muslims to practice their faith. It is the largest absolutist monarchy in the world.

The 15 Senators have it right: "it is essential that Saudi Arabia be held accountable for its support of radical Islamic ideology."

Stephen Schwartz is the author of The Two Faces of Islam.