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Is About Minority Rights, Not Majority Rule!

ICC Note

“Some Christian worship services are held secretly, but the government has been known to crack down on them, or deport Filipino workers if they hold even private services. The Saudi authorities cite a tradition of the Prophet Muhammad that only Islam can be practiced in the Arabian Peninsula .”

By Thomas L. Friedman

December 7, 2007 Saudi Arabia (Watani)-King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia met Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican – the first audience ever by the head of the Roman Catholic Church with a Saudi monarch. The Saudi king gave the pope two gifts: a golden sword studded with jewels, and a gold and silver statue depicting a palm tree and a man riding a camel. The BBC reported that the pope “admired the statue but merely touched the sword.”

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You see, the king of Saudi Arabia , also known as the Keeper of the Two Holy Mosques of Mecca and Medina , can visit the pope in the Vatican . But the pope can’t visit the king of Saudi Arabia in the Vatican of Islam – Mecca . Non-Muslims are not allowed there.

Moreover, it is illegal to build a church, a synagogue or a Hindu or Buddhist temple in Saudi Arabia , or to practice any of these religions publicly.

As BBCnews.com noted: “Some Christian worship services are held secretly, but the government has been known to crack down on them, or deport Filipino workers if they hold even private services. The Saudi authorities cite a tradition of the Prophet Muhammad that only Islam can be practiced in the Arabian Peninsula .”

I raise this point because the issue of diversity – how and under what conditions should “the other” be tolerated – is roiling the Muslim world today, from Lebanon to Iraq to Pakistan . More churches and mosques have been blown up in the past few years than any time I can remember.

A senior French official suggested to me that maybe we in the West, rather than trying to promote democracy in the Middle East – a notion tainted by its association with the very Western powers that once colonized the region – should be focusing on promoting diversity, which has historical roots in the area.

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