AliAmjadRizvi

The Real Reason Donald Trump Will Win the Republican Nomination

 

Donald Trump knows his audience. He is astoundingly talented when it comes to this one thing.

He knew his audience in the Manhattan business community when he rose to become an enormously successful real estate developer. He knew his audience when he gave NBC one of its biggest hits, The Apprentice, knowing exactly what people wanted, and delivering in droves. And now, in the Republican nomination race, he is the only candidate who has recognized, very honestly, the kind of audience he’s dealing with. And the bigoted, xenophobic rhetoric he is giving them is exactly what they want.

This deterioration of the GOP base is something the other candidates, and even media pundits, are still in denial about. That is why they’re losing. Trump is the only one who has recognized it, and he’s right. The proof is in the numbers. He has had a substantial lead in the polls for five straight months now, plus in every single state (although Cruz is now inching up in Iowa). Today, Trump’s lead is higher than ever.

But it isn’t Trump that is the issue. It’s his audience. And every time we or the media attack Trump, it emboldens and strengthens his schtick: “See? These clueless liberals and the mainstream media hate me! Are you with them? Or do you want to make America great again?” And inevitably, the crowd goes wild. This is his badge of honor.

Watch him in debates versus his stump speeches — he’s remarkably less combative and much more restrained. It’s the same when he’s on Meet the Press, or anything else with a national, bipartisan audience. He retains his brand, but appears much more measured about it.

Remember, this is a man who until recently was pro-choice, pro-single payer healthcare, and whose daughter is close friends with Hillary Clinton’s daughter. Watch how he effusively praised — praised — Hillary Clinton as recently as 2012, here.

Trump is an astute opportunist who is incredibly smart, recognizes his audiences, and plays to their ignorance — capitalizing on their anger, fears, and sense of victimization to further his political stature. It’s classic, dictionary-definition demagoguery. (There’s no comparison, of course, but this is exactly the kind of thing leaders like Hitler were so good at.) His victimhood-peddling allows him to disguise hate and prejudice as hope and justice for poor, anxious Americans.

What’s more concerning is that I’ve come across several liberals in the last few weeks who don’t like Trump, but support him because they feel the Democrats are in denial about Islamic terrorism, refusing to even name it. Sadly, this is true, and the Democratic leadership is largely to blame. The ex-radical Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz calls “The Voldemort Effect”: failing to name the problem makes it harder to fight it, and worse — this is key — fails to differentiate peaceful American moderate Muslims from radical jihadists. This is dangerous. If liberals had taken on this problem honestly and channeled the anxiety of the post-Paris/San Bernardino public from a position of moral strength, Trump would’ve been less able to jump in and channel it from a position of xenophobic bigotry.

Here’s what Trump wrote in his book, The Art of the Deal, back in 1987:

“The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.”

And:

“One thing I’ve learned about the press is they’re always hungry for a good story, and the more sensational, the better. It’s in the nature of the job, and I understand that. The point is that if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you.”

(More Trumpian wisdom from his book that you’ll undoubtedly recognize is collected here.)

The electorate for the general election will be completely different. Trump knows, and has proven time and time again, that people today don’t seem to care when politicians blatantly switch positions, as long as they do it with a lot of confidence and bravado. So, even in the general election, you will see people fall for it. If Trump gets the nomination, which is now more likely than ever, watch him completely change course and adjust to his new audience.

There is a slightly positive side to this for liberals: Trump is the only GOP candidate who is likely to move a bit to the left once he’s in front of a general election audience. After all, he did hold several liberal positions until a few years ago. This is not something you can expect as reliably from a Cruz, or even a Rubio. Both men seem infinitely more reasoned and well-mannered, but make no mistake: they hold positions that are just as extreme, if not more, than those of Trump; and they’re more likely to hold on to them.

It’s still very unlikely Trump can win the general election. But how many seriously thought he had any real shot at winning the primary, or even holding such a substantial, steadily increasing lead over fifteen of the GOP’s supposedly best and brightest candidates for five straight months — in both national and state polling across the United States?

Be skeptical, but be cautiously skeptical: the more this man is attacked by liberals and the media, and the more he angers the mainstream with his outlandish statements, the more his lead grows. His audience thrives on the you-and-me-against-the-world rhetoric, and we are giving it to them. We are all Donald Trump’s oxygen, and he knows it.


Originally written for The Huffington Post.

The New Center: Between the Right’s Bigotry and the Left’s Apologism

Earlier this year, I was invited to speak at the International Criminal Justice: State of Play conference at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue (Simon Fraser University) in Vancouver. My talk was on dissidents in Muslim-majority countries and their often overlooked role in the mainstream narrative on Islamism and potential reform. My audience included speakers Richard Falk, William Schabas, International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor James Stewart, and former Canadian Supreme Court Justice and ICC Prosecutor Louise Arbour, most famous for her indictment of then-sitting Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milošević. The complete conference report can be read here.

In light of the devastating Islamic terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, and the ugly anti-Muslim demagoguery of Donald Trump, what I spoke about then feels even more relevant now.

My speech, entitled From Root Causes to Reform: The Challenges of Ushering Islam into the 21st Century, is transcribed below (comments providing context are in brackets).

***
I was raised in a Muslim family, in the Muslim cultures of three different countries — Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. I grew up mostly in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, a US ally with almost unconditional Western support, living there for close to twelve years. This land is the birthplace of Islam, its Prophet Muhammad, and its holy book, the Quran, elements that are revered universally by all 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, regardless of sect or denomination. The monarch holds the title “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,” referring to the two holiest sites in Islam, Mecca and Medina. It is the land that Muslims all over the world face when praying five times a day.

As I grew up there, I felt that something wasn’t right. To this day, Saudi Arabia carries out public beheadings. In Riyadh, this is done at a public square that we expatriates referred to as “Chop-Chop Square.” For perspective, in the same month that the world was reeling with shock at the beheading of James Foley at the hands of ISIS — August 2014 — Saudi Arabia beheaded 19 people, including some for the crimes of sorcery and smuggling cannabis.

The Saudi government, claiming the Quran and Sunnah (traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) as its constitution, also amputates the limbs of those charged with theft. Religious minorities are not allowed to practice their religion. The women in the country suffer some of the most egregious human rights abuses of any in the world. They are banned from driving. They require the permission of a male guardian simply to work or travel. Victims of rape are often charged with fornication or adultery and sentenced to flogging if unable to produce four male witnesses to “prove” the crime.

In time, to my disappointment, I found endorsement for almost all of the Saudis’ actions in the Quran — the beheading of disbelievers in Verses 8:12-13; the amputation of hands for theft in 5:38; the practice of fighting Christians and Jews until they either convert or pay the jizyah tax — as ISIS does in Mosul, Iraq — in 9:29-30; domestic violence in 4:34; and so on. I was dismayed. When I asked my elders to explain this, they seemed just as taken aback as I did. As it turns out, very few of the moderate Muslims I knew had even read the holy book. That did not, however, stop them from trying their best to defend it. They would tell me not to read it “literally.” They questioned the authenticity of the translations, despite being shown several of them. They would explain that the fundamentalists were misinterpreting it, or taking it “out of context,” yet were at a loss to explain what the correct interpretation or context was. They would insist that any inaccuracy or flaw was somehow a metaphor for something more palatable.

So, like many people living in the countries I grew up in, I lost my faith. I became an apostate. As many of you may know, this declaration — simply that I’d changed my mind — is not one I could make in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan as easily as I just made it here. I saw the scripture of my parents’ religion being used to justify everything from child marriages to the lashing of rape victims who could not produce four male witnesses to prove their innocence. And the biggest victims of all this were Muslims themselves. It wasn’t just me. There were many like me who wanted to speak up about these issues, but couldn’t. I promised myself that when I was in a country where I had the freedom to speak, I would.

I arrived in North America permanently in my twenties. Two years after I settled in Toronto with my family, the September 11 attacks happened. Suddenly, the conversation I had been having with myself for years was out in the open. The Internet was now here, and soon enough, everyone had a voice. This is where I found myself caught between two narratives, neither of which I could relate to.

The first was driven by anti-Muslim bigotry — what I call the “Fox News narrative”: all Muslims were closet terrorist sympathizers, we must implement stricter immigration policies to keep them out, and we must profile people with brown skin. These brown-skinned people, of course, included myself and much of my family and friends — never mind that the underwear bomber was black, Jose Padilla was Hispanic, and the Boston bombers came from the Caucasus mountains, which is literally where the word “Caucasian” is derived from. Most of those spewing out this prejudice happened to be very religious, right-wing Christians and Jews themselves [Pastor Terry Jones, Pamela Geller, and more], which didn’t give them much credibility in my eyes. I had read their holy books as well, and they didn’t seem much different from mine.

The second narrative — somewhat more disappointing to me personally — was from the liberal left, which I consider myself in alignment with. This was the narrative of apologism, where any criticism of Islam was conflated with bigotry. Criticizing Islamic beliefs or the contents of the Quran would promptly earn one the label of “racist,” “Islamophobe,” and in my case, “sellout” or “Uncle Tom.” Many liberals also seemed to excuse every atrocity committed in the name of Islam as some kind of reaction to Western imperialism or US foreign policy. Of course, they weren’t completely wrong — the causes of unrest in the Muslim world are complicated and varied — but I also knew first-hand that claiming these deeply held religious beliefs had nothing to do with the behavior they clearly engendered was disingenuous at best, and at worst, dangerous: it gave cover to the fundamentalists, even if inadvertently. [Fundamentalist governments and militant groups would use this far-left narrative of victimization as endorsement to further oppress their own people and strip away their rights.] Fundamentalists in Muslim-majority countries thrive on this narrative. Often, it’s the only good thing they have going for them.

This was my conflict — I wanted to be able to criticize Islam as one should be able to criticize any set of ideas, but I didn’t want to be seen to demonize an entire people — the people I was raised by and grew up with. Neither narrative made this distinction between ideas and people. It is crucial to emphasize the difference between the criticism of Islam and anti-Muslim bigotry: the first targets an ideology, and the second targets human beings. This is obviously a very significant difference, yet both are frequently lumped under the unfortunate umbrella term, “Islamophobia.”

Here’s the thing: human beings have rights and are entitled to respect. Ideas, beliefs, and books don’t and aren’t. The right to believe what one wants to believe is sacred; the beliefs themselves aren’t. If anything, it was precisely because of the horrific abuses I had witnessed ordinary Muslims suffer under theocratic policies and Sharia law that I wanted to start a dialogue to help shatter the taboo of criticizing religion.

Now, we’re not going to be able to resolve the problem of bringing about a reformation in the Muslim world in this 15-minute time slot. But my message to you is this: There are many, many out there with stories similar to mine. There is an alternative narrative reverberating within these Muslim-majority countries that is quite different from the one we get here after it’s been filtered through their state-endorsed blasphemy laws and speech restrictions. Unfortunately, we don’t hear them — because most are silenced before they get to us.

A lot of them identify as liberals, yet feel betrayed by their Western liberal counterparts, who, sometimes for fear of being seen as Islamophobic (what I call “Islamophobia-phobia”) will overlook great illiberal injustices like the subjugation of women, or discrimination against gays, the moment they are endorsed in a holy book. Then, it’s hands off — because it is part of “their” religion, or “their” culture, which simply must be respected at all costs. “They” are held to a different standard — what is known as the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

My good friend, Raif Badawi, is currently in a prison in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He has been sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment and 1,000 lashes, the first 50 of which he received in January, just three days before the Saudi ambassador to France attended the free speech rally in Paris, after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. His crime, as many of you know, is blogging — the official charges were “adopting liberal thought,” “starting a liberal website,” and “insulting Islam.” Now, he is possibly even facing death by beheading for apostasy.

President Obama did not bring up Raif Badawi’s case in his last visit to Saudi Arabia. [Former Canadian] Prime Minister Harper — who has constantly been railing against the niqab and Islamist extremism — has been silent about Raif’s case despite the fact that his wife and children are living right here in Canada and campaigning tirelessly for his release. [This is the cost our fellow liberal dissidents across the Muslim world pay for speaking out. As their liberal allies, we must support them.]

This isn’t an issue that will be solved militarily. Each time one militant group is defeated, another emerges that is even more brutal, exploiting a new set of grievances to expand its recruiting power. And this is not a regional problem anymore, as evidenced by the Western passports held by thousands of ISIS members. This is also an ideological battle. We can keep trimming the branches, but there is an underlying ideology that has always been at the root of it. We saw it two centuries ago in Thomas Jefferson’s conflict with the Barbary States [before US foreign policy even existed]. And we still see it today with ISIS.

Thank you.

***
Originally published on The Huffington Post.

Guns, Terrorism, and Honesty

Which of the following statements would you say you agree with?

Pick as many as you like. My answer is at the bottom.

1. Better gun control is essential to curb gun violence.

2. Islamic jihadism is a dangerous ideology that must be fought.

3. Guns should not be banned or confiscated.

4. Muslims should not be harassed or discriminated against just because they’re Muslim.

5. We should aggressively criticize and even satirize the problematic aspects of Islam (the religion), as we would with any other religion or political ideology.

6. Day-to-day gun violence is more deadly than Islamic terrorism right now because it has killed many more people.

7. Islamic terrorism is more deadly than day-to-day gun violence, because if it actually succeeds in its stated goals (such as obtaining weapons of mass destruction as ISIS wants to do), it will kill millions more.

8. Anyone who kills innocents to advance a religious/political agenda is a terrorist — this could include Muslims, far-right Christian abortion clinic bombers, radical leftists from the 1960s, Jews, Hindus, and atheists.

9. Islamic terrorism is the most deadly form of terrorism in the world today.

10. Anyone who is mentally disturbed or disgruntled and shoots up his school or workplace is a criminal, but is not a terrorist — even if he’s Muslim.

11. All Islamic terrorists are Muslim.

12. The vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists, and should not have to apologize for the few that are.

13. The few Muslims that do commit terrorist acts do so in complete accordance with a plausible, legitimate interpretation of the Islamic religion.

14. Islamic jihadists are motivated by many legitimate grievances like US foreign policy and the nagging remnants of Western imperialism.

15. Islamic jihadists are motivated by Islamic doctrine, the words of the Quran and hadith, and the promise of an afterlife, eternally, in Paradise.

16. Islamic imperialism (whether the 7th century Arab kind or the Ottoman kind) has done just as much harm (if not more) to the world than Western imperialism.

My answer:

All of them.

None of these points contradict each other. Go ahead and read through them again.

Gun violence, Islamic terrorism, and anti-Muslim bigotry are all real, serious problems that need to be faced head-on. It’s disingenuous to be in denial about one or the other just because you have a certain political affiliation. These don’t have to be conservative or liberal issues. Don’t make them be.

#Solidarity with the victims and their families in San Bernardino.

#ExMuslimBecause: Thousands of Former Muslims Are Speaking Out After Paris —

Where are all the secular liberals in the Muslim world?

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard this question. The answer is both unsurprising and heartbreaking. In Muslim-majority countries, they are often being lashed and imprisoned for blogging, hacked to death in open daylight, or sentenced to death for writing poetry. Here in the West, they are often being disowned from their families, ostracized from their communities, and even murdered by their own families in “honor killings.”

As for those who choose to leave the religion altogether, the outcome is even more sinister. There are thirteen countries, all Muslim-majority, where atheism is punishable by death. And Saudi Arabia — the birthplace of Islam, its Prophet, and the location of its two holiest sites, Mecca and Medina — has declared that all atheists are terrorists. Remember, this is also the home country of not only Osama bin Laden, but fifteen of the nineteen hijackers from 9/11.

When simply changing one’s mind comes at such a high cost, it isn’t surprising that you don’t hear much from secularists, atheists, or agnostics in the Muslim world.

But this last Thursday, that changed. Maryam Namazie‘s Council of Ex-Muslims of Britainstarted the #ExMuslimBecause campaign last week, encouraging dissidents from across the Muslim world to come out and say why they left Islam.

The response was tremendous. By early Friday morning, #ExMuslimBecause was the U.K.’s top trending hashtag. We heard from secret LGBT Saudis; women who had been forced into marriages; closeted atheists in Egypt and Pakistan tweeting under pseudonyms; young women disowned by their families in the U.S.; and more.

I’ve compiled some of the most popular tweets below. Some come from a purely rational place, and others are understandably angry — which is relatable if you think of what so many ex-Muslims go through. There are also tweets from Muslims who did not take this trend too well, as well as those who were supportive. What you’ll see below is the often unheard, third side to the international conversation we have been witnessing since the Paris attacks — a conversation that represents an increasingly reverberating alternative narrative that is developing across the Muslim world, where atheism is on the rise. While some of it may seem shocking, it is important and should be read by everyone who wants to understand narratives from the Muslim world otherwise all too often silenced before reaching us.

A few points to keep in mind as you read further:

1. Being part of Muslim families and communities, ex-Muslims not only receive the same bigoted treatment as other Muslims, but are also persecuted (often severely) by Muslims who consider them heretics and apostates.

2. Ex-Muslims often find themselves caught between the anti-Muslim bigotry of the far right that demonizes all Muslims, and the apologism of the far left that conflates any legitimate criticism of Islam with “bigotry” or “Islamophobia” — à la Ben Affleck’s tantrumon Bill Maher’s show last year. Criticizing Islam (an idea) and demonizing Muslims (a people) are very different things.

3. Many ex-Muslims feel betrayed by their liberal counterparts in the West. The fight against Islamic jihad should come from a position of moral strength, not xenophobic bigotry. This is a fight that liberals should take on themselves before it’s hijacked by the far right.

Here are some of the tweets:

 

 

 

 

 

Some Muslims weren’t happy with the trend:

But other Muslims were very supportive:

And some non-Muslims who had also left their religions showed solidarity:

If you are an ex-Muslim with a story, you can participate by:

Tweeting the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain: @CEMB_Forum
Messaging the council on Facebook: www.facebook.com/exmuslims
Emailing rayhana.sultan@gmail.com or maryamnamazie@gmail.com

If you’re in North America, you can also contact these other great organizations:

Muslimish (for questioning and ex-Muslims): Muslimish.com
Ex-Muslims of North America: EXMNA.org

And if you’re an ex-Muslim in a Muslim-majority country, you can get your story out there by contacting Movements.org, an organization that puts dissidents in oppressive countries in touch with international journalists, writers, lawyers, government officials, and more.

The next time you hear someone speaking as if they represent all Muslims in their view of the faith, remember that their voice isn’t the only one.

FILE - In this Friday, Feb. 6, 2015 file photo, members of the Austrian Greens protest against the punishment for Saudi blogger Raif Badawi in front of the KAICIID in Vienna, Austria. Saudi Arabia's Supreme Court upheld a verdict against a liberal blogger who was flogged in January after being found guilty of insulting Islam and breaking technology laws, state-linked news websites reported Sunday, June 7. (AP Photo/Hans Punz, File)

Here’s Why Blogger Raif Badawi Deserves the Nobel Peace Prize

“If anyone hurts one’s feelings, he will be punished by the law,” said Inspector General of Police Shahidul Haque last month, addressing free speech advocates at a press conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh. “None should cross the limit.”

Haque’s colleagues came under fierce criticism from protesters for their inaction after blogger Niloy Neel, 40, was brutally hacked to death by men armed with machetes. Neel was found beheaded in his home, with his hands cut off. Shortly before his death, he had filed a report with the police saying he was being followed and threatened. The police did nothing.

It should have, argue the protesters. Niloy Neel was the fourth blogger to be hacked to death in Bangladesh in just six months. In May, Ananta Bijoy Das was killed in broad daylight while walking to work. In March, it was blogger Washiqur Rahman Babu. In February, it was American writer Avijit Roy, murdered as he and his wife walked back from a speaking engagement at Dhaka University.

***
It has been an extraordinarily successful year for opponents of free speech. The year 2014 ended with movie theaters caving to North Korean threats, forcing Sony to pull the movie The Interview. On January 7, Islamists massacred 11 people in the Charlie Hebdoattack. Two days after that, Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was publicly lashed 50 times outside a mosque in Jeddah, as a crowd yelled “Allahu Akbar.” The next six months saw the killing of the four Bangladeshi bloggers. And three Al Jazeera English journalists, including a Canadian and an Australian, remain jailed in Egypt.

The Dhaka police chief’s response to the bloggers’ killings — that they should watch what they write — was unsurprisingly repugnant.

But before being shocked, recall how everyone from Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau to 145 members of PEN — who protested the group’s honoring of Charlie Hebdowith its freedom of expression courage award — submitted their own “I condemn the murders, but…” statements. Remember how, even here in the West, much of the discussion around The Interview revolved around the content of the movie, how appropriate it is to show a sitting head of state being assassinated on film, and other concerns that are completely and utterly irrelevant to the issue at hand.

Now, Bangladesh is officially a secular country that has finally started rounding up some of the Islamist murderers who claimed responsibility for the attacks. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, however, are a different matter. In these countries, it is the government itself that kills you for thinking differently.

Last year, Iran executed Mohsen Amir-Aslani for insulting Jonah and “making innovations in religion.” Soheil Arabi is still imprisoned for his Facebook posts. And Jason Rezaian, an American correspondent for The Washington Post, remains in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison on charges of espionage and “propaganda against the establishment.”

Rezaian’s brother, Ali, hopes that the new Iran deal will help the U.S.-Iran relationship and improve the chances of Jason being released and returning to his family. I hope he’s right.

But the release of Rezaian and three other American political prisoners in Iran wasn’t even on the negotiating table in Geneva. President Obama, known to be a realist on international relations, has explained why bringing up the issue could have weakened the United States’ negotiating position and compromised the deal.

And so, as four Americans remain imprisoned in Iran with their government unable to do much to get them out — what hope is there for everyone else?

***
When Fareed Zakaria asked the president in January if he would bring up the case of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi with Saudi Arabia’s new monarch, King Salman, Obama’s response was measured:

“What I’ve found effective is to apply steady, consistent pressure, even as we are getting business done that needs to get done. And oftentimes that makes some of our allies uncomfortable. It makes them frustrated. Sometimes we have to balance our need to speak to them about human rights issues with immediate concerns that we have in terms of countering terrorism or dealing with regional stability.”

Last week, for King Salman’s first visit to Obama’s White House, his entourage bought outthe entire Four Seasons hotel for the weekend, brought in crates of gold furniture — gold mirrors, lamps, hat racks — and laid out red carpets everywhere, even in the parking garage.

A lot has happened since their last meeting. The Saudi government, which hasn’t taken in any Syrian refugees, has banned the adoption of Syrian children. Over 100 people have been executed by beheading or firing squad for crimes that include apostasy, heresy, and even sorcery. And Raif Badawi’s prison sentence of 10 years and 1000 lashes has been upheld by the country’s highest court.

But none of these issues came up for discussion last week. The purpose of the meeting was to allay the Saudis’ fears about the Iran deal, and this was a success. The United States again let the Saudis know it has their back.

Last year’s recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala Yousafzai, was shot in the head for standing up to the Taliban. 2010 recipient Liu Xiaobo was imprisoned for standing up to the Chinese government. 2003 recipient Shirin Ebadi was repeatedly threatened for standing up to Iran’s ruling mullahs.

This year, it is Raif Badawi — jailed, publicly lashed, and fined for standing up to the Saudi monarchy — who is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, alongside his also-imprisoned lawyer and brother-in-law Waleed Abulkhair. In January, 18 Nobel laureates wrote to the president of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Makkah Province, urging Saudi academics to stand up for the blogger.

***
Standing up for your values is most difficult when those closest to you are violating them. It’s easy for Western leaders to condemn the Taliban, the Islamist Charlie Hebdo shooters, Iran for its free speech restrictions, China for jailing Liu Xiaobo, or the murderers in Bangladesh.

But going up against Saudi Arabia — chief exporter of both oil and Islamism — is the real test. Who will do it?

The United States won’t. The superpower whose most recent Republican president famously held hands with the late King Abdullah as they strolled through his ranch, and most recent Democratic president apparently bowed to him, is terrified of offending the Saudis.

Other Western countries won’t do it either. David Cameron, recently praised for his insightful speech on combating Islamism, flew the union flag at half-mast to mourn the death of King Abdullah in January. Similarly, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, also seemingly “courageous” in his denouncement of Islamism, simultaneously conducted a $15 billion arms deal with the kingdom that’s contingent on secrecy.

Refreshingly, for a little while this year, Sweden was the exception to all this. Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, who had denounced the Saudis’ outrageous treatment of Raif Badawi, triggered a diplomatic firestorm when she wrote a speech for Arab leaders, calling them out on human rights abuses and their treatment of women. A day later, Sweden also revoked a decade-long weapons export agreement with Saudi Arabia, infuriating the Saudis.

Accusing Wallström of “flagrant interference,” they blocked her speech and recalled their ambassador to Stockholm, severing diplomatic ties. They stopped issuing visas to Swedish businessmen, and refused to renew the visas of Swedes who had them. They even refused to accept four Amazonian monkeys from Sweden for a Riyadh zoo. Ultimately, Wallström was compelled to backtrack and assuage Saudi authorities, telling them her speech wasn’t meant to insult Islam, and the Swedish government wants to restore good relations with Saudi Arabia (Swedish exports to Saudi Arabia totaled $1.3 billion last year). Wallström drew a significant amount of criticism from the Swedish business community and its lawmakers for her stance. This is the cost of trying to hold Saudi Arabia accountable, even for one of the most progressive social democratic countries in the world.

And that brings us to the United Nations. Will it stand up to the Saudis?

Probably not. Saudi Arabia has been given a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council. This year, the Saudis — who ban churches, temples, or the practice of any religion except Sunni Islam in their country — even hosted a human rights summit on freedom of religion, happily attended by the president of the Human Rights Council himself. And one of the main reasons Sweden scrambled to normalize relations with the Saudis during the Wallström affair was to prevent damaging its chances of re-election to the U.N. security council. The U.N.’s priorities on this seem pretty clear.

***
That leaves the Nobel committee. At times, the Peace Prize has been given not just to recognize people’s achievements, but also to pressure them to do better. Giving Raif the prize would do both. It would recognize the efforts of all those around the world who have been jailed or killed this year for intrepidly speaking out in places where it’s needed the most. And it would also send a strong message to Saudi Arabia from the rest of the civilized world — a message that neither the U.S., the U.N., or any other Western country has yet had the courage to properly convey.

It really has been a notorious year for writers, cartoonists, bloggers, and journalists. They haven’t just been censored, but imprisoned, publicly whipped, massacred in cold blood, and hacked to death with machetes. They need to know how much the rest of us value their contributions, sacrifices, and courage.

By going up against the Saudis’ human rights abuses and free speech restrictions, Raif Badawi has done what even Barack Obama won’t do. Yet, of the two, it is Obama who has a Nobel Peace Prize.

This year, the Nobel committee needs to change that.


Originally published on The Huffington Post.

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