Belfast Telegraph

All religions are suffering in the Middle East mess

By Eamonn McCann

In March 2011, Saudi Arabian tanks rolled into Bahrain to put down a pro-democracy movement demanding fair elections, freedom of speech and an end to imprisonment without trial.

The Saudis made short work of unarmed demonstrators gathered at the Pearl Roundabout in the centre of the capital, Manama. An unknown number was killed. Hundreds of injured were ferried to hospitals. Reporters described heavily-armed masked men controlling the entrances and dragging away people arriving by car or ambulance.

Twenty doctors were arrested for "felonies", including treating the injured, and "treasonous activities", including giving interviews criticising the crackdown. In September 2012, nine doctors were sentenced by a military tribunal to terms of up to five years.

More than 1,000 workers were sacked and many jailed for trying to form trades unions.

Protests were mounted outside Saudi and Bahraini embassies in many capital cities. A delegation from the International Federation of Journalists tried to hand in a petition to the Bahrain embassy in Brussels protesting against the imprisonment of Bahraini journalists, only to have the door literally slammed in their faces.

A rally at Marble Arch in London marking the second anniversary of the Manama massacre was addressed by exiled members of the Bahraini opposition and spokespersons for the Stop the War Coalition and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. There was no representation from those who have been choking social media, complaining that opponents of the ethnic cleansing and slaughter of Palestinians do not apply the same standards to Muslim countries which deny democracy as are applied to Israel.

Most of the repressive Muslim-majority States – the Saudis, the Jordanians, the Egyptians, etc – are in the pro-Western, pro-Israeli camp.

Throughout the Bahrain events, neither the US nor any of its allies did anything more than mumble. The reason is plain: Bahrain is an oil-rich state, it houses the headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet which patrols the Gulf on 24-hour alert for any indication of challenge to US client states, and is an increasingly important hub for global finance.

In November 1990, President George HW Bush and his wife, Barbara, travelled to Saudi Arabia with a clutch of Congressional leaders to celebrate Thanksgiving with the 400,000 US troops then stationed in the country. When the Saudi authorities learned that the president intended to say grace before the Thanksgiving dinner, they told him there'd be none of that Christian nonsense here.

Thanksgiving was celebrated on an amphibious craft which sailed out into international waters before heads were bowed or bread broken.

Christians are allowed to enter Saudi Arabia on temporary work permits but are forbidden to make any public show of their beliefs – displaying crucifixes, bibles, rosaries, statues, etc. There are no Christian churches. The attitude to Jews is the same, only more so.

When it comes to the interests of the global elite now supporting Israel, freedom to worship the god of your choice – indeed freedom itself – counts for zilch.

In September last year, the Christian village of Saidnaya near Damascus was overrun by Jabhat al-Nusra, one of the multitude of groups fighting to overthrow the Assad dictatorship. Local people begged for and were given weapons by a Syrian army base. They then drove the Islamist rebels out. Now the US was threatening to bomb pro-Assad forces in response to a poison gas attack attributed to Assad's army. The Saidnaya Christians believed with reason that they might well be among the targets.

"We gave you St Paul," one Christian fighter told a British news programme. "You bomb us in return."

A Russian-brokered deal led to cancellation of the bombing. Otherwise, the US might well have bombed a Christian village because it had fought off Islamist extremists. In the US, the strongest supporters of the Israeli rampage in Gaza denounced Obama for weakness in backing off.

Iraq was 10% Christian just a few years ago. Now most are gone. The final bell was tolled in Mosul – likely the most ancient Christian community on earth – by a convert-or-die ultimatum from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or whatever it is calling itself these days) which had taken the city in June.

Prior to the US/UK invasion in 2003, there was no such thing as Isis in Iraq or Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria.

The double standards of the US and its allies, even as they pour arms into the region, is a prime factor in the suffering of people of all religions. One way out would involve an arms embargo on the Middle East as a whole, withdrawal of illegal Israel settlements on Palestinian land, lifting the siege of Gaza and all sides negotiations without pre-conditions.

Read recent interviews with Hamas spokespersons. They'd bite your hand off for an offer along those lines. An ybody else?

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