I am second to none in my distaste for savage religious-based laws. Steal in Saudi Arabia, and you might just lose a hand. Traffic drugs and you might just lose your head (wait…I sort of like that one). Be drunk in public and you’ll be due a whipping. Proselytize for any religion other than Islam and you will be tossed out of the country…if you are lucky.
But…it’s their country, and I don’t have to live there, and as long as they don’t export that nonsense to America (yes…they are trying) I simply don’t care how they treat their citizens or visitors who voluntarily entered the country.
Imagine that, on conquering Jerusalem in 1967, Israel’s government blocked non-Jews from visiting the Temple Mount. Then imagine that a Saudi Muslim sneaked onto the mount, claiming to be a Jewish American, and broadcast his visit on Saudi television. He would surely find global support for defying Israel’s “apartheid” regime.
That’s roughly what happened in reverse on July 18 when Gil Tamary—a Jewish Israeli television journalist who holds a U.S. passport—broadcast himself on Israeli television cruising around Mecca, the most sacred city of Islam, which is forbidden to non-Muslims. The 10-minute program featured Mr. Tamary’s driving by the Great Mosque, passing through Mina, a site on the annual pilgrimage, and climbing Mount Arafat.
Is that a dumb law? Sure. Do I care? No. Once again…It is their country, and they can do what they wish. The arrogance of holding every country on earth to the standards of Western Culture…standards that took 2,500 years to develop…is just silly. It is also the attitude that led to the 20 year quagmire in Afghanistan and the loss of thousands of American lives there and in Iraq.
Pipes also conflates the near universal hatred of Israel and Jews with internal religious rules. The world would criticize Israel for blocking non-Jewish access to the Temple Mount because the world is anti-Semitic and despises Israel. It would be an excuse…nothing more.
The policy of exclusion isn’t merely unjust; it’s also not mandated by Islam. The Koran, at 9:28, bans only polytheists from the Great Mosque—it doesn’t prohibit every non-Muslim from visiting Mecca. As part of his sweeping reforms, Crown Prince Mohammed should open the city of Mecca, its surrounding and Medina to all comers. The mosques may remain exclusive to Muslims, but everything else should be accessible. International and nongovernmental organizations should pressure him to terminate his country’s discriminatory laws.
Mr. Tamary took a chance, initiated a discussion and potentially made a historic difference. He deserves respect, not condemnation.
Mr. Pipes displays a startling lack of perspective, since the government of Saudi Arabia doesn’t have to justify its interpretation of the Koran to anyone other than its citizens (and they choose not to, and that ain’t our business!). And that lack of perspective isn’t confined to access to religious sites. He seems to think that this is important, when any sober evaluation of the geopolitical situation in the area will come to the inescapable conclusion that the only issue of substance is the creation of a strong and unified response to the existential issue of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. Everything else is subordinate to that, and some attention-seeking journalist going for a big scoop is not helpful. And while I doubt much will come of it, the stunt was not helpful.
Mr. Pipes has long held that moderate Islam is the perfect foil for militant Islam, and I guess he thinks that stunts like this and his suggestion that Saudi Arabia should be dragged into the modern world by outsiders is in furtherance of this.
Except he is wrong. Many moderate Muslims will be offended by this stunt, and their views of the West and militant Islam will harden. When Iran is neutralized and the Mad Mullahs are hanging from gibbets in Azadi Square, then perhaps we should turn our attention to the internal politics of Saudi Arabia.
Or even better…let them run their country the way they want, and what we can do is make a concerted effort to keep those attitudes confined to Saudi Arabia and other fundamentalist countries in the Muslim world.