Thursday, October 10, 2002

There is no freedom of religion in Saudi Arabia. So why isn't the State Department concerned?

After all, this is the same country where, during the first Gulf War, President Bush Sr. was forced to go offshore to a Thanksgiving prayer service with U.S. troops there, lest Saudi sensibilities be offended. Nor is it just Christians and Jews: The country's Shiite Muslim minority also suffers discrimination, harassment and imprisonment. For all these reasons, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (set up by the same law that requires the State Department to produce its religious-freedom index) has now, for the third straight year, asked the State Department to put Saudi Arabia on the official blacklist.

Why hasn't it been? When the question was put this week to John Hanford, the U.S. Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom, he said that it was "a tough call," admitted that Saudi Arabia is a problem but suggested that "you don't find the brutality on a regular basis" in Saudi Arabia that you do in other countries on the list. Must have been a great comfort to those Christians in Saudi jails who, according to a documentary earlier this year by Britain's Channel 4, were lashed by prison guards who urged them to confess to being priests and to convert to Islam.

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