Another Saudi-led meeting on “cultural and religious tolerance” that, interestingly, is not being held in Saudi Arabia. This one seeks an additional veneer of legitimacy under the United Nations banner, but only serves to further diminish any remaining shred of moral authority the U.N. itself has in this area. “Critics Say U.N. ‘Culture of Peace’ Meeting Hides Culture of Oppression,” by Jennifer Lawinski for Fox News, November 6:
Critics are blasting the United Nations for hosting a meeting to talk about religious and cultural tolerance sponsored by Saudi Arabia, a country in which the U.S. government has said religious freedom is non-existent.
Following up on an interfaith meeting they held in Madrid in July, the Saudis asked the United Nations to hold a meeting on the “Culture of Peace,” but some think it’s a move to lend support to the defamation of religions resolution that the world body will vote on this fall.
Would they be offended if someone in attendance regarded George Orwell as a prophet?
The U.N. General Assembly will host the Culture of Peace meeting initiated by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah in New York on Nov. 12-13.
The White House announced on Wednesday that President Bush will attend the meeting on Nov. 13, and will also meet with King Abdullah while in New York.
“The President appreciates King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia’s initiative in calling for this dialogue and remains committed to fostering interfaith harmony among all religions, both at home and abroad,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in a statement.
Israeli President Shimon Peres will also attend the conference. Peres supports a Saudi-sponsored plan to make peace between Israel and the Arab world, but it is unclear if the two nations will discuss the plan while in New York, the Associated Press reported.
Jordan, Bahrain, Lebanon, Kuwait, the Philippines and Finland have also agreed to attend.
The Assembly President, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, a Catholic priest, invited all member nations and observers, including the Vatican, to attend the meeting which it called a “useful prepatory step” towards an interfaith and intercultural meeting it will hold in 2010.
Enrique Yeves, Spokesman of the Presient of the General Assembly Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann said that the meeting will focus on more than religious dialogue “” the topic of the Madrid meeting “” and also touch on cultural issues.
“This is not a meeting on religious dialogue only it is about dialogue among cultures,” Yeves said. “I don’t’ know who has called it interfaith because its official name is Culture for Peace. For some reason most people, especially in the media, believe that it is only on religious dilalogue but it is further than that.”
Critics say that Saudi Arabia’s track record on religious tolerance and human rights shows that its dialogue initiative is just talk. The State Department has considered it a “country of particular concern” since 2004, and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom considers religious freedom to be non-existent in the Arab kingdom.
“We’d like to see a conference like this take place inside Saudi Arabia and the fact that it isn’t speaks volumes. That’s true of the Madrid conference and true of the one at the U.N.,” said commission chairwoman Felice Gaer.
The practice of religions other than Islam, and Wahhabi Islam in particular, in Saudi Arabia is forbidden, so religious leaders of other faiths could not go to Saudi Arabia, she said.
There are between two and three million non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia, Gaer said, and most are expatriate workers from foreign countries who “have to sign labor contracts requiring them essentially to waive their human rights to freedom of religion and to submit themselves to rather abusive treatment.”
Churches are also forbidden in the country.
Saudi Arabia ranks second on the Open Doors 2008 World Watch List of countries that persecute Christians and the State Department has classified it a “country of particular concern” when it comes to violating the right to religious freedom….
But they’re engaging in “dialogue!” So they must be taking concrete steps on the ground as well… right?