Thursday, November 13, 2008

what he means is, we're not enlightened enough to understand why there's no religious freedom in Saudi Arabia

So, amusingly, the Saudi delegation hosted a dialogue on interfaith dialogue for the past 2 days at the UN. Highlights included President Bush talking about God for far longer than necessary, General Assembly President Brockmann rambling incoherently in a vaguely Marxist way, and Pakistan President Zardari raving about his deceased wife in a deranged fashion.

But the real masterstroke came during the press conference after the event, when the Saudi Foreign Minister was asked if the interfaith dialogue would lead his country to allow religious freedom at home (as is widely known, in Saudi Arabia there isn't any, and the Wahabbist brand of Islam exported from Saudi Arabia isn't exactly the most tolerant variety). The Foreign Minister said:

"This is an important question ... for Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is a country that was the center of Islam where Islam originated. It is the country of the 2 holy mosques. It is the country where millions of Muslims pray every day. ... The leader of the country is the custodian of the 2 holy mosques, and therefore it is a country that is responsible not only to its own wishes and whims but to the wishes and will of the international Muslim community. Your question indicates to me that the intent, if I may seek intent, behind the question, is that how can you call for religious tolerance and you don't practice religious tolerance, and therefore how can you have interfaith discussions? But this is against the Madrid spirit. All the discussions that was had in New York. In Madrid we agreed to leave dogma aside, and to leave ideology aside ... so that you can bring people together. If you bring people together so that they understand that they have the same ethics, the same values, this will open the hearts and minds of people for further progress. But to say from the beginning, you have to transform yourself into something which you aren't now, or nothing else can be achieved. I've been carrying the argument too far. Let us begin our work. Let us increase the understanding between the faiths. Let us work on the common values that will help us, and knowing that we are rather than different, similar in many of the issues. ... If we allow the process to continue, this will allow us to change ourselves as much as needed to see each of us the point of view of the other and work together for harmony and peace and not confrontation between the peoples."

Got that? No, neither did I. I guess I haven't transformed myself yet from the incorrigible cynic that I am into the enlightened being I must one day become.

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