Discrimination is a terrible thing, but only when the wrong people do it.3:33 PM, May 26, 2015 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
The Guardian had a story last week about the soon-to-be completed Abraj Kudai, a new hotel in Mecca which will have 10,000 guest rooms, 70 restaurants, four helipads, and five floors reserved for the sole use of the Saudi royal family.
Totally unmentioned by the Guardian is that you’re not allowed to stay there unless you’re Muslim.
Several years ago I wrote a piece on the steroid-level religious discrimination by which Saudi Arabia declares two entire cities off-limits to non-Muslims:
The Koranic revelations were given to the prophet Muhammed in Mecca, which was then a pagan place. Soon after, he left Mecca and traveled to Medina, where he assembled an army, returning to conquer Mecca in A.D. 630. "The Prophet then ordered, on the basis of what he said was God's command to him, that the environs around Mecca should only be for Muslims," explains Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University.
The custodians of Islam take the ban seriously, and they have constructed a large apparatus to keep infidels out. In The Saudis, Sandra Mackey's account of living in Saudi Arabia several years ago, she recalls trying to drive near Mecca (with her husband at the wheel, of course): "Billboard-size blue and white signs in both Arabic and English appeared along the road, warning non-Moslems to turn back." She saw religious authorities and Saudi policemen "lounging in a small wooden building adjacent to the road." Eventually, "we were forced off the road by one of the angry policemen." She was fined about $100 and turned away. (What's the penalty for actually being caught inside Mecca? The Saudi embassy refused to return calls.)
Ali Al-Ahmed, executive director of the Washington-based Saudi Institute, explains that these posts "check your religion, basically." He notes that, "if you're a Saudi, of course, there is no problem. But if you aren't, your ID says what your religion is." If you're wondering why it's not a problem if you're a Saudi, Ms. Mackey explains it best by quoting a passage from a Saudi hotel directory: "Islam is the official religion of Saudi Arabia. Churches of other religious denominations do not exist in the kingdom."
Professor Nasr has a more benign view. When traveling to Mecca, drivers are stopped at a toll station, he explains (the city has no airport): "Somebody comes forward and looks and says, 'Are you all Muslims?' And the people will say 'yes' and they'll say, 'Go on.'" But "if the authorities become suspicious because someone doesn't look like a Muslim, they'll say, 'Recite the first chapter of the Koran' or some such thing which all Muslims know by heart."
It’s important to understand that this ban isn’t just for a single holy site, but for an entire metropolitan area. How seriously do the Saudis take it? This seriously:
Companies that rely on skilled workers often resort to using auxiliary offices outside the city. Mackey tells of the building of a hotel designed by a Western architect. The Saudis refused to allow him into the city and, she writes, "insisted that he stand on a hill outside of town and direct the work through a telescope."
And yet American companies which care deeply about social justice at home are happy to accommodate discrimination abroad. Remember last year when Starbucks decided to ban customers who were legally carrying firearms from its stores? Because to Starbucks, progressive ideals are more important that constitutionally-enshrined rights. Well in downtown Mecca there’s a Starbucks. And not only is it inaccessible to non-Muslims, but it’s segregated by gender, too.
Cue the outrage in . . . never mind.
Jonathan V. Last is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.
9:04 AM, Feb 11, 2015 • By JERYL BIER
In January, the State Department signed contracts for an estimated $1,690,000 million for hotels for President Obama's trip to India. Two of the contracts were for the New Delhi stay, and another two were for Agra, the location of the Taj Mahal. That latter leg of the trip was cancelled when President Obama decided to leave early to pay his respects to the recently deceased king of Saudi Arabia. The president stayed in New Delhi for two nights.
7:01 AM, Nov 24, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
Vice President Joe Biden just returned Sunday from a three-nation trip that concluded with a 48 hour visit to Turkey.
3:16 PM, Oct 24, 2014 • By ELI LEHRER
As any visitor to New York City discovers, the Big Apple isn’t the best place to get a hotel room. Rates top $300 per night, the highest in the country, and supply is quite limited.
8:07 AM, Aug 7, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
Vice President Biden's trip to Brazil in mid-June for the USA versus Ghana World Cup game and meetings the following day with the president and vice president of Brazil required rental of vehicles for Biden and his entourage costing over $900,000.
Plus a $1 million car rental tab.11:20 AM, Jun 11, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
In late March of this year, President Obama stayed in Brussels, Belgium for about 24 hours on a weeklong trip through Europe. Lodging at The Hotel in Brussels cost $1.5 million, as we reported in April, including rooms for the president and his entourage, as well as for the advance team in the weeks preceding the visit.
12:02 PM, Apr 4, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
In late March, President Obama took a week-long trip through Europe which included a stop of less than 24 hours in Brussels, Belgium for meetings with the European Union and NATO.
6:47 AM, Feb 7, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
Documents recently released by the government show that the value of hotels and local transportation contracts for the U.S. delegation to Nelson Mandela's funeral in December were considerably higher than previous estimates. On December 19, we first reported the cost at about $11 million. However, rather than two hotels and one vehicle contractor, additional contracts have been disclosed bringing the total to five hotels and two vehicle contractors.
9:58 AM, Jul 17, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
Vice President Biden spent only about 20 hours in Trinidad and Tobago on his recent six day trip through South America and the Caribbean, but the hotel bill for the vice president, his entourage and the advance team came in at about $245,000 for an estimated 1,134 room nights. As is typically the case with VIP travel, the contract was awarded without the usual "full and open competition" due to security and logistical concerns:
In Copenhagen, $430,285.70 for hotel and $200,629 for limousines.9:53 AM, Jun 29, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
The Washington Times reports that the cost of Obama's Africa trip, estimated as high as $100 million, is overshadowing President Obama's agenda. If past VIP trips are any indication, lodging and local transportation would represent only a fraction of the $100 million, yet those costs would likely still dwarf those of the average citizen traveling abroad. In late March, Vice President Joe Biden's $321,000 limo bill and $585,000 Paris hotel bill for his trip to Europe earlier this year were revealed.
1:35 PM, May 1, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
As the White House first announced in March, Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Mexico and Costa Rica later this week. The trip is billed as "an important opportunity to reinforce the deep cultural, familial, and economic ties that so many Americans share with Mexico and Central America." And at yesterday’s White House press conference, the president stated that he is "very much looking forward to taking the trip down to Mexico" this week.
'Approximately 136 hotel rooms for 893 room nights.'9:46 AM, Mar 22, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
Vice President Biden and his entourage spent a little time in London in early February during his first foreign trip of the second term of the Obama administration.