If you believe the hype coming out of Riyadh, then it appears, at first glance, that Wahhabist Saudi King Abdullah is seeking to embrace religious leaders of all faiths – yes, Jewish too – by calling for a Saudi-led, interfaith dialogue on religion to help us all live in peace.
Here's an exerpt from an AP story yesterday:
The Saudi king has made an impassioned plea for dialogue among Muslims, Christians and Jews — the first such proposal from a nation with no diplomatic ties to Israel and a ban on non-Muslim religious services and symbols.
The message from King Abdullah, which was welcomed by Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders, comes at a time of stalled peace initiatives and escalating tensions in the region.
Sounds good, right? Perhaps the first glimmer of hope for a new day to dawn on interfaith harmony and Middle East peace prospects? Read on:
The call — the first of its kind by an Arab leader — was significant. The Saudi monarch is the custodian of Islam's two holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina, a position that lends his words special importance and influence. Abdullah said Saudi Arabia's top clerics have given him the green light — crucial backing in a society that expects decisions taken by its rulers to adhere to Islam's tenets.
In Washington, White House spokespeople were all about the initiative, saying they were "encouraged" by the king's call to action. So now you're thinking, 'Wow, this must be going somewhere good, yes?' No. More reading of the AP report is required:
Abdullah, considered a reformer in Saudi politics, has in the past proposed peace deals with Israel, saying his country and other Arab nations are willing to recognize the Jewish state as long as it gives up land to Palestinians.
Prominent Saudi cleric, Sheik Muhammad al-Nujaimi, said he saw no reason why any Saudi official, including Abdullah, cannot meet with Jewish religious leaders. "The only condition is for the rabbi not to be supportive of the massacres against the Palestinian people," he said.
Ummm... what!? That's the ONLY caveat? Well then, seems logical enough. I'm surprised there aren't any other conditions. Perhaps being an avowed Holocaust denier or a charter member of the Hitler Fan Club should also be necessary to take part in this thing?
Still, it seems like many Jewish authorities are actually taking this thing seriously and without the dripping sarcasm above, if you can believe it. To wit:
In Israel, Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger welcomed Abdullah's call.
Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli peace negotiator, said a Saudi-backed dialogue between Muslims and Jews "could be a balancing factor" against extremists but cannot replace diplomacy.
Michael Cromartie, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which monitors religious freedom globally and makes policy recommendations, called the proposed dialogue long overdue.
"I don't care who you put in the room — the fact they're having the conversation can only help," he said. "It's a courageous thing for the king to do. One should not expect Utopia, but it's a start to have an open and free dialogue in a country with a reputation for religious oppression."
A start I can't help but feel is doomed... from the start. What do you think?