Gordon Campbell on our Feeble Response to Atrocities in SA

With an ally like Saudi Arabia, who needs enemies? In the past 15 years, the West can thank the House of Saud for

• Providing almost everyone who planned and carried out the 9/11 attacks on the US
• Funding the Sunni extremists who founded al Qaeda
• Funding the competing band of Sunni extremists who founded Islamic State and other fundamentalist groups within Syria
• Crushing the democracy movement in Bahrain
• launching air strikes on civilian populations and fuelling a civil war in Yemen that has turned the country into a recruitment zone for Islamic State
• Supporting the new military-led dictatorship in Egypt
• Wilfully executing a leading Shi-ite cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr, thereby dooming the co-operation between Iran and Saudi Arabia that’s essential to any negotiated settlement of (a) the civil war in Syria, and (b) the related refugee crisis in Europe.

And that’s just Saudi foreign policy, which is largely driven by its de facto alliance with Israel and its regional rivalry with Iran. At home, the Saudi monarchy continues to harshly oppress women, gays and minorities ; it flogs and imprisons those who exercise freedom of speech and ( as does Iran) it routinely executes its opponents, who have been denied any semblance of due process. Like Islamic State, the kingdom of Saud frames political dissent in Koranic terms, as a heretical sin against its status as the sole religious authority. Here’s how the Washington Post summed up the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, in early 2015 :

In 2013, the U.S. State Department listed the reports of the worst human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, which included “citizens’ lack of the right and legal means to change their government; pervasive restrictions on universal rights such as freedom of expression, including on the Internet, and freedom of assembly, association, movement, and religion; and a lack of equal rights for women, children, and non-citizen workers.”

In the past, Saudi officials have denied that any “political prisoners” exist, but activist groups have estimated that there might be as many as 30,000 people imprisoned for political purposes. Last year, Human Rights Watch noted that a number of Saudi human rights activists were given lengthy prison terms on vague charges such as “setting up an unlicensed organization” and “disobeying the ruler.”

The latter charge is illustrative of how religious law can be used for political purposes. “It’s a smart play on their part on what initially is a Quranic term that literally translates as coming out to disobey the caretaker of Muslims, with the emphasis on the coming out, which is used in the double sense of emerging publicly to protest, other than disobeying,” Kechichian of Amnesty International explains.

The last point was highly relevant to the case of Sheikh al-Nimr who had long been an advocate of non-violent resistance to the Saudi regime. Among the death penalty charges laid against al-Nimr was one of ‘disobeying’ the rulers of the Saudi kingdom, in their self-appointed role as the country’s religious guardian of Islam.

In response to these atrocious (and unsustainable) practices, the West routinely goes through all sorts of contortions to avoid giving offence to the Saudis, lest that endanger the West’s access to cheap oil and other realms of Saudi trade. New Zealand’s interim statement about the execution of the Shi-ite cleric was simply to repeat that this country opposes the death penalty – a response so general it could apply equally to Iran, China or even the United States – while refusing any comment on the possible implications for trade. Pretty lame. You would think that we have an interest in finding a diplomatic outcome to the war in Syria – which by this provocative action, the Saudis have put on ice.

The New Zealand government has spoken out against all the executions, with duty minister Sam Lotu-Iiga saying New Zealand was a longstanding opponent of the death penalty. But he would not comment on whether trade negotiations with Saudi Arabia would be put on hold.

Similarly, Labour foreign affairs spokesperson David Shearer did not agree that human rights concerns should be allowed to impede our trade with Saudi Arabia – with Shearer even going so far as to depict trade with tyrannies as providing an opportunity to promote human rights:

“Trading links enables us to get a foot in the door to talk about human rights issues that we would not otherwise be able to do if we didn’t have those links. I don’t believe it’s necessarily in our interests to take this stance in banning trading talks with either country.”

There’s more in the same vein by Shearer here.

This is very odd, self serving reasoning – especially from a Labour Party that once used to vociferously support trade sanctions against apartheid South Africa.

And then there’s the oil.

Cheap oil has been a godsend to politicians in all countries – including New Zealand – who are facing slower economic growth and a fall in their currency. (So far, cheap oil has insulated us from a lower dollar otherwise pushing petrol prices through the roof.) For reasons of their own, the Saudis chose in 2015 to keep up their levels of oil production – despite the existing glut on the oil market being fed by, among other things, North American production coming on stream. Plainly, the Saudis have felt that keeping their market share was more important in the long run, than maximising their current returns. For a kingdom that’s engaged in a difficult and costly civil war in Yemen ( while facing rising dissent at home) this is a risky strategy.

If cheap oil prices hurt the Saudis and their allies in the Gulf the same policy is – more importantly – serving to de-stabilise the new, relatively liberal government in Iran, and the struggling government in Iraq. Saudi Arabia is well aware that US sanctions on Iran are about to end, and even cheaper Iranian oil is likely to flood onto world markets. (Both Iran and Iraq really need the revenues from higher oil prices in the West, but they will take whatever revenues they can get in the meantime.)

So there is a geo-political price – as well as an environmental cost – to be paid for the cheap oil we currently enjoy. And once again, we largely have our very good friends in Saudi Arabia to thank for it.

Saluting King Kendrick

During December, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly was the runaway choice as album of the year in almost major critics poll. A likelihood so evident that both Kanye West and Frank Ocean reportedly delayed the release of their albums into 2016, so that they wouldn’t have to go head to head with the Compton rapper. “King Kunta” is a pretty good example of the complexity of Lamar’s vision.

The track is personal – it addresses his rise within hip hop and the haters who aim to limit him, or bring him down – via reference to Kunta Kinte, the 18th century Gambian slave used by author Alex Haley as the embodiment of the slavery experience in his book /TV series Roots.(In amusing ways, yams as a symbol of the seductive nature of power in an African context also crop up in the lyrics. ) Musically, the trail of the song is just as complex. Lyrically, “King Kunta” references – in a less than complimentary way – Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ track, in a verse that also cites prior tracks by Ice Cube and George Clinton. Unpicking Kendrick Lamar’s musical and lyrical heritage is going to keep a lot of graduate students busy for years to come.

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12 Comments on Gordon Campbell on our Feeble Response to Atrocities in SA

  1. I would be interested to learn say 10-15 years ago as to what was the relationship between the price of petrol at the pump/ the price of crude oil and our $, It seems to me (faulty memory?)that the current pump price is well out of kilter. Do you have any idea?

  2. Washington has always been “inseparable” from SA.

    Note how the benefits of the “cheap” ( price fixed) oil never reaches the people at the gas pumps in NZ.
    The price has even has gone up when the oil price goes down. There is more money for the .01% that control oil resources to be made in other markets( derivatives).These are the same people invested in war and profit greatly off it so there is cost only to the people.

    Hmmm what has the UN ever done regarding these human rights violations!?

  3. The depths were plumbed in this Western Big Boys Club grovelling when Key got the flags at half mast for their late king. Might as well have done it for Idi Amin. Makes you sick. The fact that the repulsive Labour Party also chose to join in the grovelling shows us how much we need Corbyn to succeed in the UK. That would send such a message to the LPs sister parties in Aus and NZ.

  4. Sorry to say this but I think your analysis of the Saudi situation is quite shallow and reflects that you don’t even begin to understand the internal politics of Saudi Arabia. Don’t get me wrong – I share your disgust at what they do, but I have lived and worked there so have a little inkling of the dynamics of the place. It’s actually wrong to claim that the family of Saud has all the power. The power is very delicately balanced between the royal family (which generally speaking has moved as far and fast as it could towards better human rights) and the religious groups including the religious police who have immense power. The country actually sits on an uncomfortable fulcrum where movement could break out in horrendous civil war. It’s very easy to criticise the obvious wrongs, but facile to think that trade sanctions and the like can bring about the internal changes that are needed. Deep seated commitment to fundamentalist Islam in a country which sees itself above all as the protector of that faith is just not so easy to overcome.

  5. @David the religious police in SA , like state police in other nations, do as they are told by the rulers.
    Do you really think the invasion and escalation of the war (for its many chaos effects) was not planned by Washington.

    Sharia law is not Islamic, it was not even written by the profit Muhammad.
    But like most of the world( NZ included)these indoctrinated people/serfs sit ignorantly in the grip of a banking cabal’s tyranny.
    These poor SA people have been deceived into identifying with a set of beliefs that cannot academically be said to be Islamic.
    So identified with these beliefs (that were not Islamic) they like us will defend the beliefs when threatened as though they were themselves being threatened. So the problems here really are not “Islam” or “Islamic fundamentalism”. Did Islam invade Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya or bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
    The problem is Washington and the Crown. And Washington( which is not “america”) is the global “five eyed” war machine.

  6. Don’t be silly Anabel. SA’s sharia is part of Islam as much as Vatican canon law is part of catholicism. It wasn’t written by Muhammed (because Muhammed was actually illiterate), but was based on the tedious and pathetic quarrels and the even more inane and inarticulate preachments that he made during his lifetime. Muhammed was a war lord (undeniable fact), and the religion that emerged as a result of his teachings & the observations of how he conducted his life is therefore unavoidably brutal.

    You also note that the people in SA are poor. Nothing could be further from the truth. SA propagates a fairly unique form of evil in this regard. The boys heading from SA to Syria are not poor, uneducated, disaffected, desperate, or from war-torn lands. They are rich, well-educated, well-traveled, loved, Saudi Arabians who have grown up in the worlds only Islamic State that fully embraces sharia in a literal sense.

    You also say that they are defending their beliefs because they feel threatened. I cannot agree. SA has never been colonised, it has been self-governing since the time of Muhammed, it has never been attacked by the West and is not under threat of such. However, because Saudis are educated primarily on the Qu’ran, they view all ‘Muslim lands’ as being subject to their islamic tyranny. This is unjustifiable logic and is possibly the greatest single issue to be overcome in the world. That is best termed as Islamic imperialism & is perhaps similar to how pre-enlightenment Europeans viewed the whole world as heathen pasture ripe for wrecking.

    As for your questions. Did Islam invade Afghanistan? Yes, in about 1965 a brutal form of Islam did depose a benevolent and accountable regime in Afghanistan. In the 1990’s, due to the negligence of the US, the Taliban did again invade Afghanistan and instate Saudi style sharia law. Both these primary movements were in fact led by Saudi Arabians who were motivated to extend the caliphate. It is unfortunate that the US saw sense in using them a proxies to fight the soviets.

    Did Islam bomb Iraq? Yes, a brutal and destabilizing conflict between different factions of Islam (Sadam and the Ayatollah) in which half a million people died in the 1980’s was unquestionably an islamic conflict. Did Islam invade Lybia? Yes. I won’t make any excuses for the foreign policy or history of conflict led by the United States, but I’d also like to note that Saudi Arabia was a heavy supporter of Adolf Hitler & again the motives behind such were religious/ islamic as opposed to financial or defensive.

    Washington is perhaps a war machine, but at least there is some accountability left in the American system. It operates brutally in how it polices the world, but has been fairly good at holding back on using its full power (i.e. nuclear weapons post 1945) which at least gives me a little faith that it does want to live, and it does want to prosper.

    On the other hand, SA has consistently demonstrated that it is motivated by its theocratic system to thrive off death and destruction. SA openly craves the end of civilisation & the day of reckoning. Imagine how dangerous SA would be with nuclear arms!

  7. Steve that is a bunch of total Washington lies and propaganda .
    Lies designed to defend the Washington war machine and create an enemy concept ” Islam” for the WW3 they so obviously want.
    The Bush/Washington lie of WMD “weapons of mass destruction” was the excuse used for the illegal invasion of Iraq.

    Saudi Arabia is an example of the distortion between Islam and politics. Sharia Law is used as a tool to assert control. Muslim governments consolidate power by enforcing submission of their Muslim population in the name of religion.
    The illegal invasions, bombings and perpetual state of war is the history of the thus so far UNACCOUNTABLE Washington.
    Washington’s tentacle the CIA ( and five eyes)have been organizing “regime changes” for over 50 years. They have removed many governments that are unfriendly to US corporate interests and replaced them with regimes that are more likely to work closely and slavishly to carry out the economic and geopolitical desires of the corporate elite.

  8. The Saudi Kingdom and the Crown Empire are one and the same institution— one extended Establishment of ruling elites.

    “Contrary to popular opinion, the Crown Empire does still exist. In many respects, it is more global, more powerful, and more vicious than during its heyday in the 18th and 19th centuries. Moreover, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which was effectively created by the Crown Empire between 1901 and 1932, is a critical extension of that Empire. Abdulaziz ibn Saud, who became Saudi monarch in 1932, was on the British payroll for more than a decade. For the last three decades, the member of the British Royal Family who has been Empress Elizabeth II’s chief executive officer, working directly with the Saudi royal household, and with the key Saudi personalities implicated in creating al-Qaeda and in supporting 9/11, has been Prince Charles” http://www.larouchepub.com/other/2014/4121charles_arabia.html

  9. Get real Steve, Washington’s war machine partnering with the Crown placed SA rulers with its police state & legal system has always been dangerous and oppressive.
    Its always the nation’s indoctrinated belief system that is identified with on an individual level that creates unquestioning obedience to a dangerous system. Look at history and you will see it over and over. Especially in how the Germans were taken over by a govt propaganda belief system in the last rising of this type of fear and hate philosophy.

    Recently Washington’s ten American sailors (in Iranian waters) were only detained by Iran, released after a night in the Islamic republic’s custody. Washington always thinks they have a right to be in everyone else’s back yard stirring up trouble/spying.

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