May God save Islam from anti-democracy rulers!

In the Middle East, democracy should be what an oasis is to a desert. But the irony is while Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, who is turning out to be the chief suspect in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, holds the ‘Davos in the Desert’ economy summit with the aim of making his country the region’s next investment hub after Dubai, his country is digressing into a Jahiliyya kingdom.
In Islamic literature, the word ‘Jahiliyya’ refers to the ‘ignorant’ period that existed before Islam liberated the people and set them on a path to become the bright stars in the firmament of knowledge. During the Jahiliyya period, slavery and superstition were rampant; women were treated like chattel with no civic rights; and female infants were buried alive, for they were considered a humiliation. Debauchery was widespread. Violence and revenge killings were part of life and it is said inter-tribal violence continued for decades over trivial matters such as the straying of one’s camel into a rival’s territory.
Since slavery had been part of jahiliyya, if a state treats its people like slaves, denies them the freedom of speech, movement and assembly, the freedom to choose their rulers and oppresses women’s political and civil rights, it only promotes Jahiliyya. Sadly, Saudi Arabia, the birth place of Islam, fits the description. Saudi Arabia’s claim that it is governed by Islamic Shariah, it appears, is only a charade. Islam condemns lies and deception. But since Khashoggi was mercilessly murdered in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate on October 2, the Saudis have changed their narrations umpteen times before they admitted that he was killed during interrogation that went wrong. Yet, they have not provided answers as to what they did to Khashoggi’s body.
On Wednesday, three weeks after Khashoggi was tortured, killed and dismembered, the Saudi media showed footage of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, the man accused of ordering the killing, shaking hands with Khashoggi’s son, Salah, a dual Saudi-US citizen.
Behind this cold-hearted show of indifference is the bitter truth that Khashoggi’s family members in the kingdom are virtual prisoners. They are prevented from speaking out or leaving the country.
Yesterday, the crown prince told the Riyadh investment forum that “those responsible will be held accountable… in the end justice will prevail.”
Can a government said to be run by Shariah law resort to intimidation, acts of cruelty and taking a life without a fair trial? If this is what Islam is, then God save Islam from Saudi rulers!
On January 9, 2013, Rizana Nafeek, a 24-year-old Sri Lankan woman, was beheaded in Saudi Arabia, for causing the death of an infant in her care while she was only a 17-year-old maid in a Saudi household. Plea after plea for mercy was rejected with the infant’s mother insisting that Rizana be put to death. She was beheaded. Eye for an eye and a life for a life: We were told this was Saudi law. On March 25, 1975, King Faisal was shot dead by his nephew. The prince was found guilty and beheaded publicly: We were told this was Saudi law which applied equally to all citizens. But it is unlikely whether anyone will be found guilty and beheaded in the Khashoggi killing, though evidence is strong that Khashoggi was killed by a killer squad sent by a very powerful person.
It is no surprise that most Arab and Islamic leaders have chosen not to speak up for justice. Most of them are themselves autocrats — and, by throwing their weight behind the Saudi rulers in the Khashoggi affair, they seem to endorse oppression, lies and deception so that they can continue to receive the millions of dollars the kingdom throws at them regularly. Some of them were present at this week’s Riyadh investment summit.
If democracy is considered the worst form of government, except for all the others, then monarchical rule is the worst of the worst and an insult to the collective dignity of the world’s 7.6 billion people in an era where attempts to erode not only the freedom of human beings but also animals are squarely condemned. But yet, rather than being criticised and ostracized for human rights violations, Middle Eastern monarchs and autocrats are hailed as great leaders and given red-carpet reception in blatant acts of political hypocrisy. The West’s inaction or ineffective action indicated that for Western countries, Saudi contracts are more important than human rights and democracy promotion. Are we living in an era of sham liberation and enlightenment?
The bitter reality is the West thrives in Middle Eastern autocracy. Will the leaders of the United States, or for that matter any of the Western nation preaching democracy to the rest of the world, adopt a principled policy that they will not meet or share platforms with undemocratic rulers, until the Khashoggi killing is thoroughly investigated and those responsible are punished?
In 2003, the then US President George W. Bush claimed he sent troops to Iraq to end Saddam Hussein’s brutal dictatorship and bring democracy to that nation. The question that remains unanswered is: Why did not he send troops to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Arab countries ruled by dictators? The US intervention in Iraq, Libya and Syria has more to do with oil and geopolitics than any democracy promotion.
What went wrong with the 2011 Arab Spring? It is alleged that the US supported the counter revolution in Egypt to overthrow the democratically elected post-Arab-Spring government and bring back an autocrat in Abdel Fateh al-Sisi. Donald Trump will not even ask the Saudi royals to respect Saudi citizens’ expectations for democracy and freedom, though he describes the Saudi action as the worst cover-up in history and implicated the crown prince in the Khashoggi killing, saying “Well, the prince is running things over there… so if anybody were going to be, it would be him.”
Khashoggi fought for democracy. He believed Islam and democracy were compatible. His mission was to bring democracy to freedom-starved people of the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, where jails are filled with people who expressed their desire to have more freedom, and a say in the way the government is run. The Khashoggi affair won’t be the Magna Carta moment or the ‘no-tax-without-representation’ moment for the Saudis.
We won’t be surprised if an earthshattering political event is staged – for instance, a surprise US military attack on some nation or like Wednesday’s parcel bombs – to cause the disappearance of the Khashoggi killing from the political and media discourse.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
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