Last edited: January 03, 2005

Who They Hate

WorkingForChange, January 9, 2002

By Laura Flanders

Months ago, the question on many media lips was, "Why do they hate us?" Why did the Islamic world seem to be so hostile to the United States? After three months of war, ABC's Nightline revisited the topic Tuesday night. "Do they still hate us?" What a turnaround it would be if Koppel, et al, would take "us" out of the picture. Hostility to the United States is not the only kind of hate worth talking about.

Three Saudi Arabians were beheaded New Year's Day. The story got precisely no U.S. media attention, as far as a Nexis-Lexis database search could reveal. Ali bin Hatan bin Saad, Muhammad bin Suleiman bin Muhammad, and Muhammed bin Khalil bin Abdullah were executed for "committing acts of sodomy." The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Interior issued a statement announcing that the three were convicted of homosexual acts. The trial proceedings were secret.

By way of explanation, the Associated Pres, which ran a five-line account on its wire the next day, offered the following: "Saudi Arabia follows a strict interpretation of Islam and also imposes the death penalty for murder, rape, drug trafficking and armed robbery." (This stock sentence appears in all AP reports on Saudi executions.) The public executions in the resort city of Abha were only the latest in a frightening pattern of human rights violations and abuses in Saudi Arabia under the country's cleric-run legal code.

Predictably, those who are "different" are the most frequent victims. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission has documented a pattern of violence against persons "stigmatized for their consensual sexual conduct or gender identity."

And the victims aren't only queers. In addition to a number of amputations and floggings, 123 people were executed in Saudi Arabia in 2000, according to Amnesty International. Of the 123 killed, most of them -- 71 -- were foreign workers from India, Pakistan, Nigeria, the Philippines, Yemen, Sudan, Iraq . . . Which is to say, 58 percent of the executed were foreigners, a group which constitutes 25 percent of Saudi Arabia's population.

Why do Saudi clerics hate queers and foreigners and who knows who else? Alone in the United States, the good folks at The Gully have solid analysis of the New Year's Day's events: "Like the Christians thrown to the lions by the fading Romans, the deaths of Ali bin Hatan bin Saad, Muhammad bin Suleiman bin Muhammad and Muhammad bin Khalil bin Abdullah were not about religion, but about politics. About power. And the House of Saud's increasingly tenuous grasp on it."

There's a deepening financial crisis in Saudi Arabia and an increasingly embarrassing political collapse. The House of Saud's hold on the House of Bush is firm as ever, but domestically, the Saudi royals' grasp on power is fading fast.

A state in crisis is a scary place for potential scapegoats. It has ever been thus. Sadly, the victims of bigotry know the history most "mainstreamers" forget: "The social distraction of queer-baiting has been used to great effect historically," writes The Gully's Kelly Cogswell, "from Franco's Spain and Castro's Cuba, to more recently, Egypt and Zimbabwe, and the Christian Right's U.S. Who cares about poverty or political instability, when you can incarcerate a queer, firebomb a gay bar, or electroshock a lesbian?"

Cogswell could have added Hitler's Germany, to the list. There's no better way to assert supremacy than war against Jews, or queers, or foreigners -- pick your "other" of choice.

Does the corruption that is the crumbling, U.S.-supported Saudi government explain why "they" hate "us" or the "United States" or, most broadly, "the West?" Not entirely, of course. As Ted Koppel's guests on Nightline said recently, unless the United States looks at the root causes of terrorism -- economic exploitation, U.S. arrogance and hypocrisy, the treatment of the Palestinians, the hegemony of U.S. force -- the future looks very bleak.

Some have woken lately to the realization that women were the "canaries in the coalmine" of Taliban repression. If we'd paid more attention before, many have said, the "evil-doers" of September 11 might not have found such a cozy place to roost.

A more helpful way of looking at it would be to reconsider our approach to human rights. Human rights are indivisible. It's like justice -- the denial of rights to one group is a violation of the rights of all. States in crisis scapegoat; that's a good way to tell what's going down.

But American policy makers don't care about the queers, the women, the economically vulnerable foreigners. They -- and for the most part, we -- don't care until it's far too late. World War II and Pastor Martin Niemoller produced a poem we'd do well to teach again. Remember? It starts, "First they came for the Communists and I did nothing because I was not a Communist..."

For a long time, the United States has allied itself to rulers who come for Communists, for Jews, for minorities, for queers, for intellectuals, for the outspoken and critical . . . It's not any religion's fault if "they" now come for "us."

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