The NYT had an interesting series of unrelated articles about Muslims over the last week.
I respect that the article is trying to show how the Saudis are attempting to deal with demon they helped create, but really does not address some of the inconsistencies in the approach. For example:
Saudi schools teach a version of world history that emphasizes repeated battles between Muslims and nonbelieving enemies. Whether to Afghanistan in the 1980s or present-day Iraq, Saudi Arabia has exported more jihadist volunteers than any other country; 15 of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11 were Saudis.
some participants have been in detention for months or even years without trial or access to lawyers. But graduates of the program say the treatment is far from harsh.
Again, I do not want to diminish what this program could achieve, but there are structural issues in Saudi Arabia that need to be addressed.
I was going to do a bigger write up of this, but instead I’ll just post the response from an Islamic Center in California. Unfortunately, the text is not available on-line yet.
An open letter to the “culture and peace” conference at the United Nations.
We take this opportunity to welcome and hail the Saudi sponsored session of the General Assembly on “culture and peace” at the United Nations in New York on Wednesday, November 12 and 13, 2008.
We commend the participants at the United Nations General Assembly who have gathered to provide and promote a free avenue to dialogue on cooperation and understanding of world religions and civilizations. We believe that only through mutual and honest dialogue can nations prevent clashes and confrontations.
Nonetheless, we would like to draw the respected participants’ attention to a fundamental problem of the conduct of the government who is sponsoring and spearheading the talks. It is ironic and unbecoming of a government to try to promote religious tolerance worldwide while at home exercise a systematic and deliberate prevention of religious tolerance and freedom —“O you who have faith! Why do you say that which you do not do!” (Holy Quran 61: 2-3)
Although the contemporary Saudi leadership today is reaching out more in comparison to its previous rulers; nonetheless, the nation is notoriously known, and continues, to practice a reprehensible form of religious intolerance, especially toward the Shia Muslim population of the kingdom. The Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International cite numerous cases where the kingdom has violated human rights and discriminated against its people.
Fifteen to twenty percent of the religious fabric of the Saudi society is of the Shia following of Islam. However, the Shia, according to the highest religious offices and authority figures in the kingdom are branded as heretics and a blasphemous “cult.” The result of this stigma has trickled a violent attitude by ordinary citizens against the Shia citizens living in Saudi Arabia. At home, this minority is constantly subjected to prosecution by being deprived of fundamental human rights and usurped of its religious practice and recognition by its government who is supposed to protect its citizens. The authority frequently raids Shia Muslim places of worship (mosques) and religious institutes. A climate of fear and intimidation haunts them daily, forcing them to hide their belief and to practice their faith underground. The Shia judiciary system has been compromised, and a ban on their religious books and literature has been placed, and their religious leaders and reformers have been silenced and imprisoned by the government.
Since the inception of the kingdom, it has institutionalized a systematic and deliberate process to discredit and marginalize its own citizens who follow the Shia belief. From the educational institutes, to the state funded media outlets, and employment the Saudi government has continued its religious prosecution, distortion, and denigration of the Shias. In the eastern province of the kingdom, the majority of its citizens are Shia but they have been neglected and marginalized as a minority. The Ismailis (a denomination of the Shia branch) living in the province of Najran and the native Twelver Shia of Medina also suffer the same discrimination and intolerance.
Muslims are fast approaching the holy Hajj pilgrimage to the sacred cities of Medina and Mecca. Records of rising abuse and mistreatment have been documented against the Shia pilgrims, especially after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Saudi religious police intensify their interference and harassment of peaceful and abiding Shia pilgrims. Thousands of Shia pilgrims are banned from practicing their holy visitations (called Ziyarah, an act of Islamic piety that pays homage to Prophet Muhammad and his household and decedents (imams)). On record, there have been scores of peaceful Shia pilgrims who were subjected to arrest and threatened with deportation before completing their religious duty of the Hajj rites.
We believe that any initiative to promote peace and tolerance should begin domestically in order to bear fruit worldwide. A nation cannot promote the practice of cultural and religious peace when it forbids such practices at home.
We call upon all conscience leaders attending the United Nation meeting to bring these issues to the table and remind the Saudi leadership of their moral and Islamic duties towards their citizens, Muslim pilgrims, and humanity.
Sayed Moustafa al-Qazwini
Founding Imam of the Islamic Educational Center
The First Fruits of Catholic Muslim Theological Dialogue
This piece is actually pretty good. The text of the declaration can be found here.