Our fair weathered Saudi friend

For now, we have a Saudi ally in the young crown prince. So long as no one in Israel loses his head, and no one in Saudi Arabia exploits the alliance to chop off Muhammad’s head.


SAUDI CROWN Prince Mohammad bin Salman looks on as he meets with French President Emmanuel Macron in Riyadh last week. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Have we entered a new period of sweetness and light with our Arab neighbors? On Monday The Atlantic published an interview the magazine’s editor Jeffrey Goldberg conducted with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman.

Hours after its publication, the responses began pouring in.

The basic line, repeated by all major newspapers, is that the Saudi crown prince recognized Israel’s right to exist. Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt gushed about it on his Twitter feed.

Referring to the interview as “amazing,” Greenblatt wrote that “all should watch [Muhammad bin Salman].

He is far from perfect [and] there is a long road ahead, but in a region long dominated by hateful despots, [the prince] envisions a very different future for Muslims, Jews, Christians and all in the Middle East.”

Other commentators were even more exhilarated.

Are the prince’s fans correct? Is his ascendance to the Saudi crown the harbinger of a reformation of Islam and the beginning of a new era in Islamic relations with the Jews and the world as a whole? Not really.

Most of the reports on the interview have focused on the prince’s remarks in which he ostensibly recognized Israel’s right to exist. But did he actually recognize Israel’s right to exist? Did he distinguish himself from all the other Arab leaders who to date have recognized that Israel exists but not admitted it has a right to exist? Let’s check the text.

Goldberg asked the prince, “Do you believe the Jewish people have a right to a nation-state in at least part of their ancestral homeland?” Muhammad replied, “I believe that each people, anywhere, has a right to live in their peaceful nation. I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land. But we have to have a peace agreement to assure the stability for everyone and to have normal relations.”

Does this mean that he recognized Israel’s right to exist in the Land of Israel? Maybe. Maybe not.

Where is the Israelis’ “own land”? In Jerusalem? In New York? Goldberg tried to find out. He asked, “You have no religious-based objection to the existence of Israel?” Muhammad responded, “We have religious concerns about the fate of the holy mosque in Jerusalem and about the rights of the Palestinian people. This is what we have. We don’t have any objection against any other people.”

In other words, it certainly appears that the prince has a religious-based objection to the existence of Israel.

Sort of.

As Dr. Harold Rhode, a recently retired adviser on Islamic Affairs in the Office of the US Secretary of Defense explains, during much of his conversation with Goldberg, Muhammad engaged in the Islamic practice of “taqiyya,” or dissimulation for the benefit of Islam. According to the Koran, Muslims are permitted to lie about Islam to advance the faith.

This conclusion is easily reached when considering his responses to other questions, which like his answer regarding Israel, were deliberately imprecise. Goldberg asked Muhammad simple direct questions and he responded with answers that were either misleading or open to multiple interpretations.

Consider their discussion of Wahhabism. Since Saudi Arabia was established 85 years ago, it has been governed under Wahhabist Islam. Wahhabism, a school of Islam founded in the 18th century by the radical Islamic scholar Ibn Abdel el-Wahhab, views itself as the only legitimate version of Islam. Wahhabism calls for the abrogation of all novel interpretations of Islam. It aspires to Islamic global dominion. And upholds jihad....

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