David Cameron opposes extremism? But what about Saudi Arabia?

A while back I wrote a blog post criticising British foreign policy toward Muslim countries and suggesting that it is hardly surprising given this history that Islamic extremism toward the West has ensued. David Cameron, however, has another interpretation of Britain’s role in the world entirely, and thinks that nothing Britain has ever done could be partially to blame for the current extremism crisis. In fact, Cameron believes that:

“saying foreign policy is an excuse [for supporting extremism] is really offensive”.

So it is perhaps perplexing (although, let’s be wearily honest, hardly surprising) that this was exactly the reason he gave for supporting Saudi Arabia in an interview of extreme awkwardness on Channel 4 news.

There perhaps might be some who argue that Saudi Arabia do not represent Islamic extremism, but this argument lacks any real credibility. The corrupt Saudi monarchy rules the country with an iron fist, supported in a pact with the Wahhabi religious elite, who offer unquestioning religious support to the royal family’s highly dubious claim to legitimacy in exchange for total control over religious morality. It is this extreme legal structure concerning religious morals that is responsible for an apartheid against women, which forbids them from driving or even being alone in public without the accompaniment of a husband or male relative, the persecution of gay people, and autocratic religious oppression that bans any kind of religious freedom, even within Islam. Sound familiar? That’s because all these things bear a striking resemblance to the much despised and publicly denounced ideology of Islamic State. In fact the Saudi legal system’s list of crimes and their proscribed punishments is almost entirely identical to those officially announced by Isis. According to many sources, ISIS has executed far less people for morality crimes than Saudi Arabia has this year.

It is also undeniable that Saudi Arabia is a state sponsor of foreign terrorism, an accusation Cameron deliberately ignores in his Channel 4 interview. Saudi Arabia has been the principle financial backer of the reviled Taliban in Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan, since at least 1996, and has also channelled funds to Hamas and other terrorist groups. The Saudis also fund dubious schools and charities through the Islamic world which teach the same hard-line brand of Wahhabism espoused by the Saudi regime internally and have repeatedly been shown to be a hotbed for extremist activity. This includes the spreading of hatred of other groups and religions, including Christians, Jews, gays, atheists and even non-Wahhabi Muslims. It is thought that more than $100 billion of Saudi money has been spent exporting Wahhabism to poorer Muslim countries over the past thirty years. In the Wikileaks cache of leaked diplomatic cables, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made clear that:

“donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide… Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups”.

UK support for Saudi Arabia has come under fresh criticism this week, as Saudi Arabia prepares to execute by crucifixion and beheading, a 17 year old boy convicted of crimes against the state for taking part in a demonstration against the Saudi monarchy at the height of the Arab Spring. But unlike his harsh and uncompromising criticism of Islamic State, which he has described as “a barbarous regime of terrorism and oppression that takes delight in murder and oppressing women, and murdering people because they’re gay”, Cameron’s response to John Snow’s questioning was rather more muted. He merely stated that “we oppose the death penalty anywhere and everywhere”.

Tacit acceptance is not the same as an endorsement, perhaps then. But Britain’s involvement with Saudi Arabia goes much further than a begrudging acceptance. We continue to supply arms to Saudi Arabia, our largest arms export market, despite overwhelming evidence that the Saudi’s aerial bombardment campaign in Yemen has killed hundreds of civilians and led to a cataclysmic humanitarian disaster, all using British weapons. The British government has also remained entirely silent on the subject, not even criticising the military action. The continued sale of weapons can only be seen in the context of a continued endorsement of Saudi military action. Considering the appalling state of justice in Saudi Arabia, every person in the UK should be outraged that the dubious commercial arm of the UK’s Minister of Justice has signed a multi-million pound deal to create prisons in Saudi Arabia, presumably where people convicted of such heinous crimes as homosexuality or opposing autocracy will be locked up while they wait to be mutilated or executed. Then, there was dismay when Saudi Arabia was appointed to the UN Human Rights Council, hardly surprising given their almost unrivalled record of human rights abuses as documented above. But the most shocking was yet to come – when it was revealed that the UK government had initiated a secret deal with the Saudis to ensure both would be elected to the council. In other words, the UK actively endorsed the Saudi human rights record and voted from them to be on the council. Cameron’s response to this:

“We have a relationship to Saudi Arabia… it’s because we receive from them important intelligence and security information that keep us safe… The reason we have this relationship is our own national security.”

Saying foreign policy is an excuse for supporting extremism? I’ll leave you to make up your own minds.

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