Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Should We Boycott Saudi Arabia?

with 10 comments

British Islamists earlier this year.

The brutal beheading of Scott Sotloff is fresh in people’s minds.

A couple of days ago Owen Jones wrote, ” Middle Eastern dictatorships that have played a pernicious role in the rise of Islamist fundamentalist terrorism.”

The article, published originally in the Guardian and posted on the Stop the War Coalition site, makes a refreshing change from one-sided denunciations of attempts to create an “American caliphate”.

He then says,

While there is no evidence to suggest Qatar’s regime is directly funding Isis, powerful private individuals within the state certainly are, and arms intended for other jihadi groups are likely to have fallen into their hands. According to a secret memo signed by Hillary Clinton, released by Wikileaks, Qatar has the worst record of counter-terrorism cooperationwith the US.

And yet, where are the western demands for Qatar to stop funding international terrorism or being complicit in the rise of jihadi groups? Instead, Britain arms Qatar’s dictatorship, selling it millions of pounds worth of weaponry including “crowd-control ammunition” and missile parts.

And further,

Then there’s Kuwait, slammed by Amnesty International for curtailing freedom of expression, beating and torturing demonstrators and discriminating against women. Hundreds of millions have been channelled by wealthy Kuwaitis to Syria, again ending up with groups like Jabhat al-Nusra.

But the worst example comes from Saudi Arabia,

And then, of course, there is the dictatorship in Saudi Arabia. Much of the world was rightly repulsed when Isis beheaded the courageous journalist James Foley. Note, then, that Saudi Arabia has beheaded 22 people since 4 August. Among the “crimes” that are punished with beheading are sorcery and drug trafficking.

Around 2,000 people have been killed since 1985, their decapitated corpses often left in public squares as a warning. According to Amnesty International, the death penalty “is so far removed from any kind of legal parameters that it is almost hard to believe”, with the use of torture to extract confessions commonplace. Shia Muslims are discriminated against and women are deprived of basic rights, having to seek permission from a man before they can even travel or take up paid work.

Even talking about atheism has been made a terrorist offence and in 2012, 25-year-old Hamza Kashgari was jailed for 20 months for tweeting about the prophet Muhammad. Here are the fruits of the pact between an opulent monarchy and a fanatical clergy.

This human rights abusing regime is deeply complicit in the rise of Islamist extremism too. Following the Soviet invasion, the export of the fundamentalist Saudi interpretation of Islam – Wahhabism – fused with Afghan Pashtun tribal code and helped to form the Taliban. The Saudi monarchy would end up suffering from blowback as al-Qaida eventually turned against the kingdom.

The regime is not just tolerated; it works in close cooperation with Western countries like the UK.

Owen notes that as a result,

So much rhetoric about terrorism; so many calls to act. Yet Britain’s foreign policy demonstrates how empty such words are. Our allies are up to their necks in complicity with terrorism, but as long as there is money to be made and weapons to sell, our rulers’ lips will remain stubbornly sealed.

One could add that Saudi Arabia has a regime of sexual apartheid, that it is riddled with racist discrimination against migrant workers, not to mention against non-Muslims of any stripe. And that it is utterly committed to the most vicious anti-Semitism imaginable.

What will the Stop the War Coalition do to change this position?

Will their lips remain sealed as well?

Here is an example of a movement to exert pressure on a state that they support.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement “against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights” encourages the following actions to fight for Palestinian rights.

Boycotts targeting products and companies (Israeli and international) that profit from the violation of Palestinian rights, as well as Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions. Anyone can boycott Israeli goods, simply by making sure that they don’t buy produce made in Israel or by Israeli companies. Campaigners and groups call on consumers not to buy Israeli goods and on businesses not to buy or sell them.

Israeli cultural and academic institutions directly contribute to maintaining, defending or whitewashing the oppression of Palestinians, as Israel deliberately tries to boost its image internationally through academic and cultural collaborations. As part of the boycott, academics, artists and consumers are campaigning against such collaboration and ‘rebranding’. A growing number of artists have refused to exhibit or play in Israel.

Divestment means targeting corporations complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights and ensuring that the likes of university investment portfolios and pension funds are not used to finance such companies. These efforts raise awareness about the reality of Israel’s policies and encourage companies to use their economic influence to pressure Israel to end its systematic denial of Palestinian rights.

Sanctions are an essential part of demonstrating disapproval for a country’s actions. Israel’s membership of various diplomatic and economic forums provides both an unmerited veneer of respectability and material support for its crimes. By calling for sanctions against Israel, campaigners educate society about violations of international law and seek to end the complicity of other nations in these violations.

Of these strategies, the cultural and academic boycott is probably the most contested. It appears to make individuals pariahs, not institutions.

In the UK the Boycott Israel movement has targeted Sainsbury’s and has mounted protests at the shop and other outlets for Israeli goods which have also met with criticism.

Controversy has arisen about the Sainsbury’s campaign, which makes the claim (which looks rather small in comparison with what is happening in Iraq and Syria) that this is a protest against the “genocidal attacks on the Palestinians of Gaza.”

Perhaps these methods are not the best way of expressing opposition to Israeli killings and brutality in Gaza, as incidents have erupted during every protest, including one in which the shop in Holborn withdrew Kosher  products from the shelves.

Members of the public could be forgiven for thinking that this is a call to “not buy Jewish“.

Europe has, as is well known, a history of campaigns against “buying Jew.”

A better kind of campaign could be created to protest against the totalitarian regime in Saudi Arabia,. A programme for human rights, demanding that it tolerates all faiths, is democratic, respects women’s rights, allows people to express their own sexual preferences,  and ends its own racism, religious and ethnic, that responds to the demands of what exists of a democratic opposition, would be promoted.

We could begin by putting pressure on companies involved in the country to pull out and calls for international sanctions.

We await the Stop the War Coalition’s forthcoming initiatives to force the British government to act against the Kingdom.




10 Responses

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  1. Easy to do if you don’t have to use petrol.

    Kevin Algar

    September 3, 2014 at 12:11 pm

  2. We have to move from a culture of covering up of abuse to one of rooting it out.

    The StWC has made an important step forward by publishing Owen’s article.

    All states that incorporate the Sharia are complicit in misogyny, social discrimination and religious racism.

    But Saudi Arabia is not just one of the worst it is also an active and important promoter of gangs of abusers.

    We now have to deal with them.

    Andrew Coates

    September 3, 2014 at 12:24 pm

  3. Perhaps the difference lies here: the BDS campaign is predicated upon the idea that, if sufficiently pushed economically and embarrassed politically, Israeli policies towards its Arab population and towards Palestinians more broadly might be reformed in a civilised direction, whereas nothing much could shift the Saudi rulers into anything vaguely civilised, and that were they to fall they’d merely be replaced by frummer Islamists of the ISIS brand.

    Dr Paul

    September 3, 2014 at 12:24 pm

  4. A generous reflection.

    A less generous one would be that they are motivated by the same kind of attitude that meant that some on the left were amongst those who let the Rotherham abusers get away with their abuse.

    A propos the Iraq and Syrian Islamists this is just out: Gruesome evidence of ethnic cleansing in northern Iraq as Islamic State moves to wipe out minorities.

    Fresh evidence uncovered by Amnesty International indicates that members of the armed group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) have launched a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing in northern Iraq, carrying out war crimes, including mass summary killings and abductions, against ethnic and religious minorities.

    A new briefing, Ethnic cleansing on historic scale: the Islamic State’s systematic targeting of minorities in northern Iraq, published today presents a series of hair-raising accounts from survivors of massacres who describe how dozens of men and boys in the Sinjar region of northern Iraq were rounded up by Islamic State fighters, bundled into pick-up trucks and taken to village outskirts to be massacred in groups or shot individually. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of women and children, along with scores of men, from the Yezidi minority have also been abducted since the Islamic State took control of the area.”


    Andrew Coates

    September 3, 2014 at 12:27 pm

  5. I think you’re tilting at the wrong windmill a bit here, Andrew. While you could possibly argue that some people in the StWC may take an indulgent line towards Syria or Iran (who have been the target of NATO threats), I defy you to find one statement anywhere by anyone associated with StWC which could possibly be interpreted as pro-Saudi.

    My own criticism of StWC – which I continue to support, despite everything – is that it has deviated too far from its original remit of opposing British military intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya etc. I’m all for exposing the hell-hole that is Saudi, but there are other groups and campaigns for doing that.


    September 3, 2014 at 12:44 pm

  6. Francis even Galloway is well known to be against the Saudis.

    My point is that those attacking Israel as the embodiment of pure evil (as opposed to a country which carries our very wrong actions, including utterly brutal attacks on Gaza) ought to do something about it.

    If they don’t they can shut up about other countries, and in particular their criticisms of Israeli “genoicde” like this indiivdfual,

    “We can’t just tweet in the face of genocide” Ewa Jasiewicz, Red Pepper.


    Andrew Coates

    September 3, 2014 at 4:13 pm

  7. I think the central point here is not that StWC overtly and expressly support the actions of the Saudi or Qatari states, more the fact that the patronage of ISIS by powerful individuals in those states has funded ISIS without these states doing much or indeed anything to prevent this funding.

    To the best of my knowledge the Saudi Government only put anti funding measures in place in April this year, to little to late. By then ISIS were already killing by the thousand. StWC however, consciously choose not raise this point at any time prior to the Owen Jones article, which is odd because this funding has contributed greatly to a war that you can only think Stop the War would want stopped.

    Instead there has been a stream of weasel worded blather about how it is all the Wests fault for trading with these states as opposed to directly blaming these reactionary fascist states. On this basis, StWC could start a campaign(with others) with the aim getting the UK Government to put a lot more pressure on these states to try and ameliorate the worst effects of these theocracies as a starting point. The anti western slant of StWC has blinded it to not criticising these states directly thus casually disregarding the plight of migrant workers mentioned above. True reactionaries.

    A campaign against Saudi Arabia could work lets not forget South Africa for example. Everything has to start somewhere.


    September 3, 2014 at 4:29 pm

  8. Dave, you’ve explained this better than I have!

    Andrew Coates

    September 3, 2014 at 5:16 pm

  9. Exccept South Africa was run by Europeans, whilst Saudi Arabia, Quatar et al are owned by non-Europeans. Anyway, mondy corrupts. There maybe a case for union campaigns on workers’ rights in those countries, but I seriously wonder how much credibility the ‘Left’ has in the union movement these days. I see for example that UCL has a annex in Quatar and the workers are treated little better than slaves, ie local conditions. The London UCL workers ought to take that up.

    Sue R

    September 3, 2014 at 7:15 pm

  10. Andrew Coates

    September 4, 2014 at 9:45 am

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