Moral Low Ground


Islamic State: The ‘Wrong’ Kind of Brutality

Note to IS: You're doing it 'wrong.' (Militant photo)

Note to IS: You’re doing it ‘wrong.’ (Militant photo)

As the United States and five Arab nations — none of them democracies, most of them repressive dictatorships — begin bombing Islamic State targets in Syria, President Barack Obama has begun boasting on the “broad coalition” he’s enlisted in the fight against the murderous militants.

On Tuesday, Obama said the participation of forces from five regional monarchies — Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — “makes it clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone.”

“Above all, the people and governments in the Middle East are rejecting ISIL and standing up for the peace and security that the people of the region and the world deserve,” Obama added.

The people of the region also deserve to live in societies where they won’t face execution if they reject Islam. And of course that’s one of the reasons we’re bombing IS, we’re told. Trouble is, I’m talking about coalition partner Saudi Arabia, not Islamic State.

In Saudi Arabia, arbitrary arrest and torture are commonplace, especially if you’re a member of a religious minority or advocate any sort of serious societal reform. And how Saudi society could use some serious reform! The medieval brand of Islam, Wahhabism, which rules supreme in Saudi Arabia, means that women cannot vote or even drive cars. They cannot be be treated in a hospital or travel without written permission from their husbands or male relatives.

If a woman in Saudi Arabia commits the ‘crime’ of allowing herself to get raped, she risks being publicly whipped for whoring around with unrelated men. If she dares complain to the media, she’ll get whipped some more — up to 200 lashes in some cases.

Segregation of the sexes is so extreme in Saudi Arabia that 15 schoolgirls were locked in their dormitory to suffocate and burn to death during a raging fire because the dreaded morality police would allow them to be saved unless they were wearing robes and headscarves.

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most prolific executers. Only China has put more people to death over the past decade. Among the ‘crimes’ for which you can get yourself publicly beheaded (who said IS had a monopoly on decapitation?) in the kingdom are: adultery, apostasy (renouncing Islam), blasphemy, homosexuality, prostitution, sorcery and witchcraft. Lesser offenses are often punished by amputating limbs — without anesthesia. And with many Saudi defendants denied legal counsel or tortured into making false confessions, one can only wonder how many innocent Saudis are walking — or limping — about limbless, or lying in the ground headless.

Oh, and must I mention that 15 of the 19 hijackers who killed nearly 3,000 people on 9/11 were Saudi? Or that members of the ruling royal family fund Islamist terror organizations?

In neighboring Bahrain, state security forces brutally crushed a pro-democracy uprising, killing scores of demonstrators while arresting and torturing thousands. They tortured medical professionals who dared treat wounded protestors. They tortured 12-year-old schoolgirls. They reportedly forced prisoners to eat their own excrement.

While the brave Bahraini dissidents stood up for their freedom, President Obama vowed to “stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights” throughout the Middle East as the Arab Spring bloomed. But instead he welcomed Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, Bahrain’s crown prince, to the White House, where Obama “reaffirmed the strong US commitment” to the murderous monarch. Then, despite objections from Congress and human rights advocates, Obama pushed forward with a $53 million arms sale to the repressive regime.

In Jordan, arbitrary deprivation of life and liberty, denial of due process, torture, judicial interference and prolonged wrongful detention plague a society in which freedom of expression is severely limited by the ruling Hashemite monarchy. There is also widespread gender discrimination, as well as discrimination against religious, sexual and national minorities — especially Palestinians. Abuse of poor foreign workers, especially domestic servants, is rampant.

In Qatar, even writing poetry critical of the ruling dictatorship can result in lengthy — even lifetime— imprisonment. Torture is endemic. Women and migrant workers have few rights, and slavery is rife as the nation prepares to welcome the world (but not gay people) to the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Forced labor and a lack of free expression also stain the UAE’s human rights record.

As awful as IS is, most of the dynastic dictatorships with which we’re fighting it can be just as bad. But Islamic State has no firm control of any oil it’s willing to share with the West. Saudi Arabia has oil for sale. Lots of it. So do the UAE and Qatar. Bahrain has some oil; Jordan has none, but hosting the US Fifth Fleet and lying directly across the Persian Gulf from Iran gives the former great strategic importance, as does the latter’s support and peaceful relations with US über-ally Israel.

Other brutal, but Washington and Wall Street-friendly, tyrants with oil include:

-Teodoro Obiang (Equatorial Guinea): The US State Department human rights report on this tiny — but oil rich (and fantastically corrupt) — West African nation lists “torture of detainees by security forces, life-threatening conditions in prisons, and arbitrary arrests” as grave concerns.

-Islam Karimov (Uzbekistan): Karimov, who has ruled this former Soviet republic in Central Asia with an iron fist since the 1991, is fond of medieval tortures, including boiling his political opponents alive. After Uzbek military and security forces massacred hundreds of innocent civilians demonstrating for greater freedom in Andijan in 2005, US officials helped block an international investigation of the slaughter.

That’s not only because of Uzbekistan’s tremendous oil and natural gas reserves, but also because Karimov, who George W. Bush once feted at the White House, provides valuable assistance in the war in Afghanistan. And so US aid, which amounted to more than half a billion dollars under Bush, continues under Obama.

-Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov (Turkmenistan): It’s been nearly a decade since “President for Life” Saparmurat Niyazov, whose bizarre cult of personality made Josef Stalin look like something of a moderate, mercifully died. But Turkmenistan remains one of the world’s most repressive countries. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov controls all aspects of life in the Central Asian nation, with religious and ethnic minorities facing particularly severe repression. Yet successive US administrations have ignored Berdymukhamedov’s brutality and cozied up to his regime in pursuit of lucrative oil and natural gas pipeline deals and access to routes to supply troops in Afghanistan.

Saddam Hussein had oil. He also had permission, even encouragement, from the United States to launch a disastrous war against a peaceful neighbor, Iran (which hasn’t initiated one since the 1700s), which claimed a million lives and saw the use of chemical weapons against both soldiers and civilians alike. Including his own Iraqi Kurdish civilians, a horrific crime against humanity all but ignored by the Reagan and Bush administrations, which kept the aid and support flowing. Until, of course, Saddam miscalculated and invaded Kuwait, threatening the free flow of its oil.

Detestable dictators around the world have learned a valuable lesson. If you’ve got oil, you’ve probably got friends in Washington and on Wall Street. And you can treat your own people, and even your neighbors, horribly, providing that you’re sufficiently pro-US. Venezuela, where the late Hugo Chávez — no human rights hero but four times democratically elected and a true populist reformer — presided over massive oil reserves, dared stand up to US imperialism and was incessantly demonized.

The same can be said for the Iranian mullahs and the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, both dictators for sure but no worse (better, actually) than some of those embraced as America’s friends. Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, no dictator, is also targeted for standing up to American hegemony.

Yes, Islamic State does control a small portion of Iraq’s oil supply, and it’s using the proceeds to fund its reign of terror. But its control is tenuous at best, and likely temporary as the world gears up to confront it. A genuinely barbaric bunch, IS is doomed to be eviscerated in what may be the closest thing to a justifiable military action we’ve seen in some time. But given all the other horrific regimes Washington allows to exist, often with its blessing (and massive military aid), it’s worthwhile to ask if things might be different today if Islamic State’s brutality was more like Saudi Arabia’s pro-America variety and less like, well, the same thing, minus the overt friendliness.

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