On BBC Question Time this week, our relationship with Saudi Arabia was brought to the fore as a touchy subject with Conservative minister Anne Soubry struggling to articulate a consistent foreign policy position.
The government has the unenviable task of trying to balance national security with the promotion of human rights, but by bending over backwards to Saudi Arabia – one of the greatest human rights abusers and exporters of hatred in the world – it is doing neither.
David Cameron claims that we have a relationship with Saudi Arabia because “we receive from them important intelligence and security information that keep us safe”.
But this is a regime which executes children in spite of ratifying international treaties that prohibits such behaviour. There have been over 150 executions this year, most through the brutal method of beheading, and almost half for offences that do not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes” as required by international law. These include drug offences, apostasy and even “sorcery” – and frequently after unfair trials.
The Saudi kingdom allows no freedom of religion: there are no churches, and the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, appointed by the government, has even called for thedestruction of all churches in the entire Arabian peninsula.
In sermons, preachers often spread hatred against other groups – for example, Saad bin Ateeq al-Ateeq, who has long-standing ties to the kingdom’s government, recently called upon God to “destroy” the Shia, Alawites, Christians, and Jews. And the anti-Shia hate has only increased in recent years after the sectarian troubles in Iraq and Syria.
And, as we know, the Saudi regime has an abysmal record on protecting women (even if there have been very minor incremental improvements in recent years). Women are treated as second class citizens, completely separated from public life. They are not allowed to drive, and cannot go anywhere without a chaperone.
It appears that, as a nation, we consider the Taliban to be bad for destroying the Buddhas of Bamiyan statues, and Isis as evil for destroying Palmyra. But the Saudi regime has engaged in a systematic destruction of its heritage, with more than 90 per cent of the old quarters of the holiest cities of Islam razed to the ground – including Historic mosques, tombs, mausoleums, monuments and houses.
Of course, many would argue that our foreign policy are not based on human rights but on security and national interests: Robin Cook’s ethical foreign policy is long dead and buried.
That is why, unwisely, some are calling for a reappraisal of our policy towards Syria’s Assad, or Egypt’s Sisi. But in these cases, there is a direct correlation between the human rights abuses in those countries and our security here at home.
And further to this, while some argue that Saudi Arabia is a force for stability in the region, its foreign policy has many direct ramifications for our own security. According to a 2013 European Parliament report, Saudi has invested more than $10 billion to promote virulent intolerance outside the norms of traditional Islam through charitable foundations – a move that has severe repercussions across the world, over and above its ongoing support for hatred-spouting media such as Wesal TV.
This is a country whose actions seem to be against the very universal values we claim to champion both here and abroad of “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs” – and fits the very bill of extremism.