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Will Obama revise petrified US policy for Palestine at least now?

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As the fight for presidency by the republican and democratic candidates get intensified US with a very few candidates remaining for the contest, President Barack Obama must know his happy days at White House are coming to an end soon. World expects Obama to ensure peace in Mideast as his major achievement by arm twisting the unwilling fanatic and fascist regime Israel to agree for credible peace as per the Arab peace Plan of 2002 that would have full cooperation of the GCC and entire world frantically seeking a new peaceful ea in west Asia.

The question is will Obama care for world opinion at all when his opinions are not at all listened to by anyone including Israeli leaders? Does it not mean the Obama diplomacy has failed!

Israel, imposed on Mideast into Palestine in 1948 by USA-UK big twins, has over years of western aid and arms& technology supply has become a monstrous fascist and illegal nuclear power in the region, threatening the very existence of Palestinians. The Zionist regime has taken the ‘permanent’ US shield for all criminal operations against humanity for granted and so much that today Jews decide the foreign policy for USA especially for West Asia and South Asia.  

The US presidents make ritual trips to Israel not to declare the continuous US led Western support but in doing so Washington openly admits that the Israeli role in the foreign policy making of USA, especially in West and South Asia. It is not surprising that many countries like India are   trying to be in the good books of Israel and strike military deals for Zionist terror equipment. .

When he assumed power at White House, there was a strong belief in the world that US President Barack Obama would try to fight for world peace and get the Palestinians out of Israeli terror blockades and stop the Israeli illegal occupation and crimes against humanity, by ending their intermittent terror attacks. However, he disappointed the world by supporting the Israeli terror regime in Mideast because he was pursuing the US national interest in Mideast by using Israel.

As the regular US President, Barack Obama just advance the imperialist and capitalist policies very religiously. Though he protected the US-Israeli secret nexus and Pentagon supply of terror goods to Tel Aviv, Obama once famously said he would “always have Israel’s back,” may be rethinking that promise as aides begin weighing options in response to Israeli leader Netanyahu’s election criticism of Obama’s foreign policy and his disapproval of a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict.

When, some time back, President Obama warned that the United States would reassess its relationship with Israel though Israel did not think any new problem cropping up in the bilateral relations as it is the ‘prime duty’ of USA and its NATO allies to shield Israeli regime. However, following Obama’s warning that the United States would “reassess” its relationship with Israel, the White House was not only reconsidering the diplomatic cover along with veto it has long given Israel at the United Nations but was also looking at a range of other possibilities to put pressure on its historically close ally to help resolve the Palestine issue. Bu later, when Palestine pushed for full UN status for conducting international affairs as a soverign nation, Obama used its power to support Israel and oppose Palestine. Obama thus reveled his true Zionist color. Even US officials who hitherto promoted Zionist regime and shielded all its crimes against humanity by misusing media networks have begun take a strong position on Israel. .

As a fascist tradition, US presidents not only misuse the American parliament to support all Zionist crimes against humanity but also, in order to obtain political support of US Jews, encourage the criminal ruler so Israel to address the august body in Washington. But the US parliament is meant for Americans to pass laws, among other things.

Why should US leaders allow Israeli leaders to address the US lawmakers – is there something common between them? Do the US values like capitalism and imperialism plus fascism serve as the strong bridge between Israeli East and American West?

Americans should be ashamed of the fact that off and on Israeli leaders insist on addressing the US Congress to discuss Israeli politics and instruct US policy makers – both domestic and foreign – the course they are supposed to pursue in a given situation. When they persistently insist, the Republicans and even Democrats make the necessary ‘arrangement’ for hawkish Zionist rulers to address the US lawmakers. Israeli leaders address the US Congress and direct the president to execute what is necessary for the promotion of Israeli regime.

Let Israeli leaders are free to misuse their own parliament Knesset for mere anti-Palestine, anti-Arab propaganda purposes but how can they do the same of misusing US parliament for that purpose?

There is an emerging opinion among most Americans to let Israel defend its own actions and crimes against humanity and Washington should be less active in protecting Israel in international forums. The bipartisan leaders are finding new ways to reinforce the message of US opposition to Jewish settlement expansion.

Many Arab leaders and governments have come to view Israel’s occupation of Palestine and its behavior towards the Palestinians as strictly an Israeli-Palestinian problem, not an Arab one. That’s a departure from a bygone era when the struggle against the occupation was a central theme that brought Arab states together. Therefore, Qatar’s official foreign policy towards the occupation and the plight of Palestinians sets it apart from the majority of the Arab world.

Recently, the 16th Doha Forum has wrapped up with speakers from around the world touching on issues ranging from global and regional security to conflict resolution and climate change. Achieving Middle East peace directly linked to ending Israel’s occupation of Palestine and Israel must end occupation of Palestine, said Qatar’s foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdurrahman Al Thani, while speaking at the 16th Doha Forum. He stressed the need to support human rights and bolster security for the people of the Middle East region – and around the world. “Repression, tyranny, double standards and violating human rights and basic freedoms constitute the underlying threats to elements of human security,” he said. According to Sheikh Mohammed, achieving peace in the volatile Middle East is directly linked to ending the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem. Al Thani also made it clear the main foreign policy instrument of his country is the soft diplomacy of “mediation” efforts, while at the same time “discouraging the use of force by Israeli regime to resolve disputes”.

Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s chief negotiator with Israel, spoke about his people’s need for international backing to force Israel to end its decades-old takeover of Palestinian lands. Erekat compared what he called the “right-wing extremism” of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, with that of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group. “What is the difference between one who calls himself the leader of the Jewish state, and another who calls himself as the leader of the Islamic State,” he said in one his many sharp rebukes of Netanyahu. “The two-state solution is the only possible solution that would put an end to the suffering of the Palestinian people,” he said.

Even as international outcry for the creation of Palestine state and internal discussions on containing Israeli aggression continue unabated, Obama seems not to be in hurry to solve the worst ever conflict in human history. The US double speak is evident from the way the USA plays mischief with Palestine and GCC at the same time by speaking for the Zionist crimes.

However, the White House appeared in no rush to lower the temperature in the worst US-Israeli crisis in decades, sparked by Netanyahu’s campaign declaration that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch. The White House officially made clear that it had little faith in Netanyahu’s effort to backtrack since winning election and insist he was in favour of a two-state solution, long a cornerstone of US Middle East policy.

Interestingly, there was no sign of any imminent move to turn the administration’s heated rhetoric against Netanyahu into a tangible shift in policy.

As USA was readying for a nuclear deal with Ira against the will of is real, some analysts questioned whether Washington was merely posturing to put the Israeli leader on the defensive at a time when an end-of-March deadline looms in US-led nuclear diplomacy with Iran that Netanyahu vehemently opposes. The Obama government put everything on the table except security assistance, thinking this would allow Netanyahu time to walk back his comments on Obama more credibly.

Obama eyed on the powerful US Jewish support for the Democrats in Presidency poll. The US officials privately were mindful of the risk that the diplomatic storm could drive a deeper wedge between the White House and the influential US pro-Israel lobbyist camp and cause problems for Obama’s fellow Democrats as the 2016 presidential campaign approaches. Many strategists voiced skepticism that the US government would shift its stance towards Israel in any substantive way, arguing that despite White House annoyance at Netanyahu, there would likely be too high a domestic political cost to pay for alienating pro-Israel Americans.  

But the White House pressure had other motives as well. There’s an effort to apply leverage to the Israelis to get the prime minister to move on some things when he has a new government formed, as there was a US wish to see Israel release frozen Palestinian tax funds and take other goodwill gestures.

Israel takes care not to annoy Washington beyond certain point as it depends on US veto to shield its crimes from any possible punitive measures against the criminal rulers for its crimes against Palestinians and humanity at large. Among the most serious risks for Israel would be a shift in Washington’s posture at the United Nations. If USA refuses to use its veto for Israel , all Jewish leaders would be in jails.

The United States has long stood in the way of Palestinian efforts to get a UN resolution recognizing its statehood, including threatening to use its veto, and has protected Israel from efforts to isolate it internationally. But most European governments incensed by Netanyahu’s campaign comments against Palestinian statehood, have joined in another push for such a resolution, ignoring US-Israel pressure tactics.

David Makovsky, a former member of Obama’s team in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that collapsed last year, said the question is: “Will the U.S. consider avoiding a veto over the parameters to a final-status deal with the Palestinians?”   “There’s no doubt that this approach will lead to a firestorm between these two governments if they go forward,” said Makovsky, now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Another option under consideration could also be controversial. A report from the government to Congress about US loan guarantees to Israel, including how much is used for settlements, could contain language critical of expanded construction on occupied land in the West Bank.

Observation

Today humanity is fully aware of destructive and anti-human nature of capitalism that promotes expansionist military trends like imperialism and colonialism. Occupation of and continued Israeli aggression against Palestine, like Indian brute occupation of neighboring Jammu Kashmir, does not let peace dawn in the world. Even countries that seek help from the USA, Israel or India also condemn the brutality and repression of these ‘rogue’ powers against the oppressed nations under their colonial yoke, notwithstanding the “help” being   offered by the colonialist nations.  

All these years ever since Israel was established in Mideast by the then big powers led by UK-USA twins, the western rulers pampered the illegal regime in Mideast with terror goods and technology, and money, today Israel has every reason not to take any warning from western capitals seriously and deny a chance for peace in West Asia. Comprehending the total failure of his triclomacy, President began supporting the Israeli fascism as part of NATO imperialism.

That is tragedy of the Palestinians and diplomacy itself.

Will Obama’s United States is not likely to reverse its opposition to the powerless Palestinians becoming a full-fledged UN member and a soverign nation? Instead of stopping   a large sized aid and terror goods supply to Israel, some fanatic US lawmakers already have threatened to push for a cutoff of the meager US aid to the Palestinian Authority whenever it talks about sovereignty from the Zionist fascist yoke or goes ahead with seeking justice and war crimes charges against Israel for war crimes in the Gaza Strip, killing thousands of innocent Palestinians, women their children inclusive.

Will Obama refuse meetings with Israeli leaders and their US lobbyist till he leaves the White House?

President Obama has to take hard decision to disobey US Jewish dictates and declare Palestine a soverign state and support the cause of Palestine UN, by using veto for the Palestine for a change. Will he?

Or, will the White House seeker Trump who is not sympathized with Palestinians make a shift in his approach by openly supporting the Palestinians cause, if he elected to presidency?

It is really funny that President Obama is unable to make Israel listen to him when USA offers huge aid packages to Israel but some American senators and Congress men – the traitors of US democratic foundations for freedom and peace – get sumptuous bribes from Israeli government and Jewish politicians to help the Israeli regime eat the US terror cake.

Obama has enough economic and military tools to get a positive response from Tel Aviv only if he has the will and broad-mind a true statesman should have!

Whether Obama decides to change the petrified US policy for Palestine and Arab world or not, time is overdue for US lawmakers and law-breakers to think seriously about the future of children of Palestine and protect its people as part of their international duty.

Enough of shielding the Zionist criminal wars!

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Middle East

India-UAE tourism and education linkages

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In spite of the continued uncertainty with regard to the trajectory of the covid19 pandemic, globally, countries are trying to return to normalcy. Significantly, the performance of United Arab Emirates (UAE’s) tourism sector in the first quarter of 2022 was not just back to pre-covid levels, but actually managed to do better.

H.E. Dr. Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and Small and Medium Enterprises and Chairman of the UAE Tourism Council highlighted these point while providing tourism figures for Q1 2022.Hotels received an estimated six million visitors in the first quarter of the year – a rise of 10% from 2019. Revenues for the first quarter of 2022, were AED (United Arab Emirates Dinar) 11 billion or USD 3 billion (2.9 billion) which was a jump of 20% from the first quarter of 2019.

The stellar performance of UAE’s tourism sector in the first quarter of 2022 is being attributed to a number of factors including two major events — the Dubai Expo 2020 and the World’s Coolest winter campaign.

In order to attract more visitors to the Dubai Expo 2020, UAE had also relaxed conditions for international travellers. The Emirate has also introduced new visitor visa categories with an eye on giving a boost to tourism. What is remarkable is that during the first quarter of 2022, average occupancy increased 25% from 3 nights to 4 nights and witnessed an 80% growth (no other country had such high occupancy rates)

The total number of tourists received was 4 million, and not surprisingly, Indian nationals along with tourists from UK, US and Russia accounted for a significant percentage of tourists to UAE. While other countries like Singapore have also opened their borders to international tourists, including Indians, and removed restrictions, the biggest advantage the UAE has is its geographical location – especially for tourists from the South Asian region. Given that the travelling time is less, even short breaks are possible.

Apart from this, getting a UAE visa is relatively easier than one for the west and even ASEAN countries. UAE also has enough to offer for families in terms of shopping, recreation etc. There is also a wide variety of options, as far as hotels are concerned.  Since a significant number of Indians have business links or even offices in Dubai, in many cases holidays are coupled up with business trips. The fact that UAE hosts important cricketing events – in 2021 it hosted the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2021 and T20 world cup – will help it in attracting more Indian tourists in the future.

UAE is not only likely to continue to remain as a favoured tourist destination, but in the near future, it is also likely to attract more international students, especially from India. Apart from its geographical location, and the fact that it is home to a substantial population of South Asian expats, it is also home to a number of campuses of UK and US universities.

Most importantly with an eye on attracting qualified professionals and researchers, UAE has introduced a long term residency visa, dubbed as Golden Visa for  researchers, medical professionals and those within the scientific and knowledge fields, and remarkable students. Here it would be pertinent to point out that UAE-India Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) which came into effect earlier this month permits easier access for Indian engineers, IT professionals, accountancy professionals and nurses. The introduction of short term work visas will also help in attracting professionals from India.

  In the past, one of the reasons why UAE lost out to other countries, in attracting professionals and students from South Asia (though the number of Indian professionals in UAE has been increasing in recent years), who preferred the West, Australia or Singapore, was the fact that UAE did not provide long term residency.

With the introduction of long-term visas, it is not only professionals, but even students who otherwise may have sought to pursue education in the west who will now look towards the UAE. One of the options, which students from India could go for is the dual degree program, which has been introduced by many UK universities, where they spend some time in UAE and the rest in UK. Here it would be pertinent to point out, that UAE universities are also offering scholarships with an eye on attracting international students. One of the provisions of the India-UAE Foreign Trade Agreement (FTA) which both countries signed earlier this year is that India will set up an IIT in Abu Dhabi.

The UAE has been seeking to re-invent for some years. A good example of this is the UAE Vision 2021, Dubai Vision 2030 and Abu Dhabi Vision 2030. The Gulf nation has been able not only to handle covid19 successfully, but with its innovative and visionary thinking it has been able to do remarkably well in attracting tourists. Its ability to think out of the box will enable it to emerge as an important economic hub. UAE is likely to not just remain a favoured tourist destination, but also could emerge as a top preference for Indian nationals to study and work.

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s heady days

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These are heady days for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

With King Salman home after a week in hospital during which he had a colonoscopy, rumours are rife that succession in the kingdom may not be far off.

Speculation is not limited to a possible succession. Media reports suggest that US President Joe Biden may visit Saudi Arabia next month for a first meeting with the crown prince.

Mr. Biden called Saudi Arabia a pariah state during his presidential election campaign. He has since effectively boycotted Mr. Bin Salman because of the crown prince’s alleged involvement in the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Mr. Bin Salman has denied any involvement but said he accepted responsibility for the killing as Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.

Mr. Bin Salman waited for his 86-year-old father to return from the hospital before travelling to Abu Dhabi to offer his condolences for the death of United Arab Emirates President Khaled bin Zayed and congratulations to his successor, Mohamed bin Zayed, the crown prince’s one-time mentor.

Mr. Bin Salman used the composition of his delegation to underline his grip on Saudi Arabia’s ruling family. In doing so, he was messaging the international community at large, and particularly Mr. Biden, that he is in control of the kingdom no matter what happens.

The delegation was made up of representatives of different branches of the ruling Al Saud family, including Prince Abdulaziz bin Ahmed, the eldest son of Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, the detained brother of King Salman.

Even though he holds no official post, Mr. Abdulaziz’s name topped the Saudi state media’s list of delegates accompanying Mr. Bin Salman.

His father, Mr. Ahmed, was one of three members of the Allegiance Council not to support Mr. Bin Salman’s appointment as crown prince in 2017. The 34-member Council, populated by parts of the Al-Saud family, was established by King Abdullah in 2009 to determine succession to the throne in Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Bin Salman has detained Mr. Ahmed as well as Prince Mohamed Bin Nayef, the two men he considers his foremost rivals, partly because they are popular among US officials.

Mr. Ahmed was detained in 2020 but never charged, while Mr. Bin Nayef stands accused of corruption. Mr. Ahmed returned to the kingdomn in 2018 from London, where he told protesters against the war in Yemen to address those responsible, the king and the crown prince.

Mr. Abdulaziz’s inclusion in the Abu Dhabi delegation fits a pattern of Mr. Bin Salman appointing to office younger relatives of people detained since his rise in 2015. Many were arrested in a mass anti-corruption campaign that often seemed to camouflage a power grab that replaced consultative government among members of the ruling family with one-man rule.

Mr. Bin Salman likely takes pleasure in driving the point home as Mr. Biden mulls a pilgrimage to Riyadh to persuade the crown prince to drop his opposition to increasing the kingdom’s oil production and convince him that the United States remains committed to regional security.

The crown prince not only rejected US requests to help lower oil prices and assist Europe in reducing its dependency on Russian oil as part of the campaign to force Moscow to end its invasion of Ukraine but also refused to take a phone call from Mr. Biden.

Asked a month later whether Mr. Biden may have misunderstood him, Mr. Bin Salman told an interviewer: “Simply, I do not care.”

Striking a less belligerent tone, Mohammed Khalid Alyahya, a Hudson Institute visiting fellow and former editor-in-chief of Saudi-owned Al Arabiya English, noted this month that “Saudi Arabia laments what it sees as America’s wilful dismantling of an international order that it established and led for the better part of a century.”

Mr. Alyahya quoted a senior Saudi official as saying: “A strong, dependable America is the greatest friend Saudi Arabia can have. It stands to reason, then, that US weakness and confusion is a grave threat not just to America, but to us as well.”

The United States has signalled that it is shifting its focus away from the Middle East to Asia even though it has not rolled back its significant military presence.

Nonetheless, Middle Eastern states read a reduced US commitment to their security into a US failure to respond robustly to attacks by Iran and Iranian-backed Arab militias against targets in Saudi Arabia and the UAE and the Biden administration’s efforts to revive a moribund 2015 international nuclear agreement with Iran.

Several senior US officials, including National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and CIA director Bill Burns, met with the crown prince during trips to the kingdom last year. Separately, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called the crown prince.

In one instance, Mr. Bin Salman reportedly shouted at Mr. Sullivan after he raised Mr. Khashoggi’s killing. The crown prince was said to have told the US official that he never wanted to discuss the matter again and that the US could forget about its request to boost Saudi oil production.

Even so, leverage in the US-Saudi relationship goes both ways.

Mr. Biden may need Saudi Arabia’s oil to break Russia’s economic back. By the same token, Saudi Arabia, despite massive weapon acquisitions from the United States and Europe as well as arms from China that the United States is reluctant to sell, needs the US as its security guarantor.

Mr. Bin Salman knows that he has nowhere else to go. Russia has written itself out of the equation, and China is neither capable nor willing to step into the United States’ shoes any time soon.

Critics of Mr. Biden’s apparent willingness to bury the hatchet with Mr. Bin Salman argue that in the battle with Russia and China over a new 21st-century world order, the United States needs to talk the principled talk and walk the principled walk.

In an editorial, The Washington Post, for whom Mr. Khashoggi was a columnist, noted that “the contrast between professed US principles and US policy would be stark and undeniable” if Mr. Biden reengages with Saudi Arabia.

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Saudi religious moderation: the world’s foremost publisher of Qur’ans has yet to get the message

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When the religious affairs minister of Guinea-Conakry visited Jeddah last week, his Saudi counterpart gifted him 50,000 Qur’ans.

Saudi Islamic affairs minister Abdullatif Bin Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh offered the holy books as part of his ministry’s efforts to print and distribute them and spread their teachings.

The Qur’ans were produced by the King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qur’an, which annually distributes millions of copies. Scholar Nora Derbal asserts that the Qur’ans “perpetuate a distinct Wahhabi reading of the scripture.”

Similarly, Saudi Arabia distributed in Afghanistan in the last years of the US-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani thousands of Qur’ans produced by the printing complex, according to Mr. Ghani’s former education minister, Mirwais Balkhi. Mr. Balkhi indicated that the Qur’ans were identical to those distributed by the kingdom for decades.

Mr. Ghani and Mr. Balkhi fled Afghanistan last year as US troops withdrew from the country and the Taliban took over.

Human Rights Watch and Impact-se, an education-focused Israeli research group, reported last year that Saudi Arabia, pressured for some two decades post-9/11 by the United States and others to remove supremacist references to Jews, Christian, and Shiites in its schoolbooks, had recently made significant progress in doing so.

However, the two groups noted that Saudi Arabia had kept in place fundamental concepts of an ultra-conservative, anti-pluralistic, and intolerant interpretation of Islam.

The same appears true for the world’s largest printer and distributor of Qur’ans, the King Fahd Complex.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has, since his rise in 2015, been primarily focussed on social and economic rather than religious reform.

Mr. Bin Salman significantly enhanced professional and personal opportunities for women, including lifting the ban on women’s driving and loosening gender segregation and enabled the emergence of a Western-style entertainment sector in the once austere kingdom.

Nevertheless, Saudi Islam scholar Besnik Sinani suggests that “state pressure on Salafism in Saudi Arabia will primarily focus on social aspects of Salafi teaching, while doctrinal aspects will probably receive less attention.”

The continued production and distribution of Qur’ans that included unaltered ultra-conservative interpretations sits uneasily with Mr. Bin Salman’s effort to emphasize nationalism rather than religion as the core of Saudi identity and project a more moderate and tolerant image of the kingdom’s Islam.

The Saudi spin is not in the Arabic text of the Qur’an that is identical irrespective of who prints it, but in parenthetical additions, primarily in translated versions, that modify the meaning of specific Qur’anic passages.

Commenting in 2005 on the King Fahd Complex’s English translation, the most widely disseminated Qur’an in the English-speaking world, the late Islam scholar Khaleel Mohammed asserted that it “reads more like a supremacist Muslim, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian polemic than a rendition of the Islamic scripture.”

Religion scholar Peter Mandaville noted in a recently published book on decades of Saudi export of ultra-conservative Islam that “it is the kingdom’s outsized role in the printing and distribution of the Qur’an as rendered in other languages that becomes relevant in the present context.”

Ms. Derbal, Mr. Sinani and this author contributed chapters to Mr. Mandaville’s edited volume.

The King Fahd Complex said that it had produced 18 million copies of its various publications in 2017/18 in multiple languages in its most recent production figures. Earlier it reported that it had printed and distributed 127 million copies of the Qur’an in the 22 years between 1985 and 2007. The Complex did not respond to emailed queries on whether parenthetical texts have been recently changed.

The apparent absence of revisions of parenthetical texts reinforces suggestions that Mr. Bin Salman is more concerned about socio-political considerations, regime survival, and the projection of the kingdom as countering extremism and jihadism than he is about reforming Saudi Islam.

It also spotlights the tension between the role Saudi Arabia envisions as the custodian of Islam’s holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, and the needs of a modern state that wants to attract foreign investment to help ween its economy off dependency on oil exports.

Finally, the continued distribution of Qur’ans with seemingly unaltered commentary speaks to the balance Mr. Bin Salman may still need to strike with the country’s once-powerful religious establishment despite subjugating the clergy to his will.

The continued global distribution of unaltered Qur’an commentary calls into question the sincerity of the Saudi moderation campaign, particularly when juxtaposed with rival efforts by other major Muslim countries to project themselves as beacons of a moderate form of Islam.

Last week, Saudi Arabia’s Muslim World League convened some 100 Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist religious leaders to “establish a set of values common to all major world religions and a vision for enhancing understanding, cooperation, and solidarity amongst world religions.”

Once a major Saudi vehicle for the global propagation of Saudi religious ultra-conservatism, the League has been turned into Mr. Bin Salman’s megaphone. It issues lofty statements and organises high-profile conferences that project Saudi Arabia as a leader of moderation and an example of tolerance.

The League, under the leadership of former justice minister Mohammed al-Issa, has emphasised its outreach to Jewish leaders and communities. Mr. Al-Issa led a delegation of Muslim religious leaders in 2020 on a ground-breaking visit to Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi extermination camp in Poland.

However, there is little evidence, beyond Mr. Al-Issa’s gestures, statements, and engagement with Jewish leaders, that the League has joined in a practical way the fight against anti-Semitism that, like Islamophobia, is on the rise.

Similarly, Saudi moderation has not meant that the kingdom has lifted its ban on building non-Muslim houses of worship on its territory.

The Riyadh conference followed Nahdlatul Ulama’s footsteps, the world’s largest Muslim civil society movement with 90 million followers in the world’s largest Muslim majority country and most populous democracy. Nahdlatul Ulama leader Yahya Cholil Staquf spoke at the conference.

In recent years, the Indonesian group has forged alliances with Evangelical entities like the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), Jewish organisations and religious leaders, and various Muslim groups across the globe. Nahdlatul Ulama sees the alliances as a way to establish common ground based on shared humanitarian values that would enable them to counter discrimination and religion-driven prejudice, bigotry, and violence.

Nahdlatul Ulama’s concept of Humanitarian Islam advocates reform of what it deems “obsolete” and “problematic” elements of Islamic law, including those that encourage segregation, discrimination, and/or violence towards anyone perceived to be a non-Muslim. It further accepts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, unlike the Saudis, without reservations.

The unrestricted embrace of the UN declaration by Indonesia and its largest Muslim movement has meant that conversion, considered to be apostasy under Islamic law, is legal in the Southeast Asian nation. As a result, Indonesia, unlike Middle Eastern states where Christian communities have dwindled due to conflict, wars, and targeted attacks, has witnessed significant growth of its Christian communities.

Christians account for ten percent of Indonesia’s population. Researchers Duane Alexander Miller and Patrick Johnstone reported in 2015 that 6.5 million Indonesian had converted to Christianity since 1960.

That is not to say that Christians and other non-Muslim minorities have not endured attacks on churches, suicide bombings, and various forms of discrimination. The attacks have prompted Nahdlatul Ulama’s five million-strong militia to protect churches in vulnerable areas during holidays such as Christmas. The militia has also trained Christians to enable them to watch over their houses of worship.

Putting its money where its mouth is, a gathering of 20,000 Nahdlatul Ulama religious scholars issued in 2019 a fatwa or religious opinion eliminating the Muslim legal concept of the kafir or infidel.

Twelve years earlier, the group’s then spiritual leader and former Indonesian president Abdurahman Wahid, together with the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, organised a conference in the archipelago state to acknowledge the Holocaust and denounce denial of the Nazi genocide against the Jews. The meeting came on the heels of a gathering in Tehran convened by then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that denied the existence of the Holocaust.

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