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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ban Saudi Arabian Airlines?

Two weeks ago, I blogged an article in the Jerusalem Post by Michael Freund in which he reported that Saudi Arabia confiscates "bibles, crucifixes and stars of David." At the time, I wondered whether I could be admitted to Saudi Arabia at all, given that I live in Israel, although I do have an American passport.

Daniel Pipes has come up with a response to the Saudis, whose discrimination apparently goes beyond Christians and Jews to all non-Wahhabi Muslims; the Saudis also confiscate Korans other Islamic literature and Muslim religious objects that originate outside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Pipes suggests that Saudi Arabian Airlines, which informed Freund that the foregoing objects could not be brought into the Kingdom, be banned from flying to the 18 airports it currently flies in North America, Europe and Japan until "that stuff" can be brought into the Kingdom. The eighteen airports are Athens, Frankfurt, Geneva, Houston, London, Madrid, Málaga, Manchester, Milan, Munich, New York, Nice, Osaka, Paris, Prague, Rome, Vienna and Washington, DC. That means that the countries involved are Greece, Germany, Switzerland, the US, England, Spain, Italy, France, Japan, the Czech Republic and Austria. Eleven countries. Pipes makes a good argument for his proposed measure:
SAA, the state-owned national carrier and its portal to the world, offers a pressure point for change. To take advantage of this vulnerability, Western governments should demand that unless the Saudi government at least permits "that stuff" to come in, SAA faces exclusion from the 18 airports it presently services in Europe, North America and Japan.

Were those routes shut down, Riyadh would face a tough choice:

• Ignore this action. Allowing Western airlines to service Saudi Arabia without reciprocity would presumably be too great a humiliation for the monarchy to abide.

• Cut off the Western airlines in return. Cutting off the Western airlines would unacceptably isolate Saudis from major markets and premier destinations.

• Permit non-Wahhabi religious items. That would leave the Saudis with no choice but to accept the import of "Bibles, crucifixes, statues, carvings, items with religious symbols such as the Star of David." Further, once these materials are allowed, other benefits would likely follow, such as permitting non-Islamic religious buildings and services in Saudi Arabia for the millions of non-Muslims resident there. Muslims who reject the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam would also eventually benefit from this loosening.

Such joint action would also send a long-overdue signal to the despots of Riyadh - that Westerners have thrown off their servile obeisance to their writ.
It's a nice thought, but I think Pipes himself understands that it won't work because no western government has the intestinal fortitude to make it happen:
WHO WILL be first to act? Which national government or municipality will arise from the customary dhimmi posture and ban SAA (slogan: "We aim to please you") from its runways, thereby compelling the kingdom to permit infidel religious items, monotheistic and polytheistic alike, into its territory?
So Pipes has another idea:
If no government acts, what about a delegation of Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and others boarding an SAA flight with much publicity, openly displaying their religious artifacts, daring the airline to confiscate them?
Unless they plan to begin their public display on landing in Riyadh this will never happen either. You can't board Saudia without a visa to 'the Kingdom' and you can bet that if anything this obvious ever happened at - for example - JFK Airport in New York, any visa that had been issued would be canceled faster than you could say mutawwa'in (the name of the Saudi 'religious police').

Pipes has a third suggestion:
Or which public service law firm in those 11 countries will bring local human rights suits against SAA as an arm of the Saudi government?
The problem with that idea is that in most countries you'd need to find a plaintiff who has standing (a legal basis for a claim - saying you want to go to church in Saudi Arabia isn't good enough). You'd also need to find a very deep pocket to be able to fight a court battle against the seemingly limitless wealth of the Saudis.

Pipes' ideas are creative but I don't think they can be implemented until the West breaks its dependence on Saudi oil and the oil's price drops to about $20 per barrel.


At 9:54 PM, Blogger JVP said...

Banning Saudi Arabian Airlines flights is like trying to cure the symptoms but not the disease. They are just publishing information that is official Saudi policy - those are not airline policies. You need to go beyond that if you want to create true change.


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