Once upon a time, the king invited the infidels to Madrid — but he invited only a handful of Jews who are all, rightly or wrongly, perceived as more critical of Israel and of Judaism than of Islam. The king did not invite any influential religious women. This did not stop any man of faith from attending.
I am talking about Saudi King Abdullah’s interfaith conference in Madrid that was attended by nearly 300 delegates representing Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other faiths from more than 50 countries. King Abdullah opened the conference on July 16 in the presence of Spain’s King Juan Carlos.
I am in favor of dining with one’s enemies and with potential allies. I myself dine quite frequently with Muslim and ex-Muslim dissidents and am in favor of such alliances and dining experiences. But if a king is the host, he usually invites other kings and heads of state. That did not happen in Madrid. The invitees did not have the same worldly power that their host has. Did the king view the invitees as his potential press corps?
If the conference was meant to serve as a positive symbol, I wonder why the King chose Spain, al-Andalus, and not, for example, Mecca. Is he saying that the Muslims miss their previously conquered European lands and plan to reconquer them, one way or another? Or, did the king choose a European location because what he had to say was meant for infidel-only consumption? Is even the king afraid to hold such a conference in his own kingdom?
I have not read what the various conference participants have written but I have received what three rabbi-participants — Arthur Waskow, Michael Lerner, and Brad Hirschfeld — have to say. All three are rather optimistic and positive. Each rabbi makes good points. Each seems to prize "his" special moment alone with the king or with members of the king’s elite staff or cabinet. Perhaps each rabbi feels that if he was invited, the king may be trusted, or that he’s a counterpart "progressive."
But this may not be true. What if the conference is meant to lull the Western world into a false sense of complacency? What if the conference resolutions are meant to be used to promote a more positive (and false) image of Islam internationally — without Islam’s changing at all?
For example, despite their promises, the Saudis continue to indoctrinate their children with hate-filled textbooks against Jews, Israelis, Christians, and Americans. The Saudis continue to fund worldwide propaganda for jihadic terrorism and the terrorism itself; their motto is anywhere but on Saudi soil. The Saudi treatment of women is beneath contempt. (I am including their trafficking in and sexual enslavement of women from other countries and their abominable treatment of Saudi women, including Saudi royal women and Saudi feminists.) The Saudis refuse to sell the West more oil or to lower its price. They still do not allow Christians, Jews, or other infidels to worship in the kingdom.
What if the conference resolutions (which have already been rushed to the United Nations) are precisely meant to launch further charges of "Islamophobia," this time with penalties, for anyone who criticizes Islamic gender and religious apartheid — especially if the criticisms are true? According to a Saudi official, "I hope the United Nations Security Council and other U.N. agencies will adopt the principles agreed upon at the conference as guidelines for promoting world peace and preventing attacks and discrimination on a sectarian basis."
Do you think he is referring to the defamation of infidel religions that has historically characterized the Muslim world and which is still true today? Or is he thinking about Islam’s image in the West and how to further bolster it — with penalties in mind? At the same time, other Islamic groups are fostering Islamist values and attacking Western values in the West.
For example, the radical Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir has just launched a campaign to stop young Muslims from being corrupted by Western "liberal values." The organization, which Tony Blair wanted to ban in Britain, has planned a summer PR campaign against Western "attacks" on the religion.
My three Jewish rabbinical brothers cited above believe that the fact that Abdullah called the conference at all can work as a powerful symbol. If the Saudi king can publicly break bread with infidels, including Jews and Christians, then perhaps he is beginning to question the Koranic view of them as "pigs, monkeys, and dogs."
This is an important point, but: Has this historic conference been covered in the Saudi and Arabic, Persian, and Kurdish media? It has been covered widely in English. Google lists nearly 40,000 references in English. Arab and Muslim readers: Tell us if the good news has appeared in your local Middle Eastern or central Asian media.
My thought: The Sunni king is worried about the Shi’ite menace in Iran (and in its proxy states in Lebanon, Gaza, and possibly Syria), and Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaida menace which, although exiled from the kingdom, remains a danger to us all. This conference could be another example of taqquiya or da’wa, meant to confuse and lull infidels; it could also represent the beginning of a new and strategic military alliance in which Saudi Arabia may choose to work with America and Israel against Iran — but only on behalf of Saudi interests and on Saudi terms.
The Saudi official who spun the news for the English-language Arab News is also quoting as saying: "Islam has a universal message and calls for peaceful coexistence with followers of other religions and it does not want to impose its principles and teachings on other communities."
This is a bold-faced lie. But, if you rely upon the work of someone like Karen Armstrong, the early Bernard Lewis, or Tariq Ramadan, and if you only read the left-liberal media you will (and will want to) believe these words. If you rely upon the work of Bat Ye’or, Andrew Bostom, Nonie Darwish, Ibn Warraq, and Robert Spencer (for starters) you will recognize it for the lie it is.
The conference participants — my infidel brethren — may need a serious dose of even-handed "bibliotherapy" in order to analyze what Madrid was really about.
And next time, no matter how lavish the accommodations or how magical the gifts, please (and here I am paraphrasing Abigail Adams’ advice to her husband when he was president) remember the women. Rabbi Lerner does mention this. But go further: Suggest influential women as invitees before the next such conference. Consider this as part of your effort to educate the Saudis.
Phyllis Chesler is emerita professor of psychology and women’s studies at City University of New York, a psychotherapist, and the bestselling author of 13 books including "Women and Madness" and "The New Anti-Semitism."