By Amitabh Pal on March 04, 2013

Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Saudi Arabia this week underscores yet again the United States’s willingness to ignore the darker side of the medieval monarchy.

A few years before Kerry, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton munched on lamb and rice with King Abdullah. Back in 2005, President Bush hosted the Saudi monarch at his Crawford ranch. (And then there was President Obama’s supposed kow-towing before Abdullah, which became a rightwing meme.)

This constant show of respect to the Saudi monarchy is a travesty, since Saudi Arabia is a famously repressive theocracy, with an almost complete lack of rights for its people.

“Saudi Arabia in 2012 stepped up arrests and trials of peaceful dissidents, and responded with force to demonstrations by citizens,” states Human Rights Watch in its annual report on the year gone by. “Authorities continue to suppress or fail to protect the rights of nine million Saudi women and girls and nine million foreign workers. As in past years, thousands of people have received unfair trials or been subject to arbitrary detention.”

And yet the lure of cheap oil and arms deals makes the United States look the other way.

“The United States did not publicly criticize any Saudi human rights violations except through annual reports,” Human Rights Watch wryly notes. “The United States concluded a $60 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, its largest anywhere to date.”

The major problem is that not only do the Saudis impose their model on their own people, they also propagate it worldwide on the strength of their oil money. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated in a December 2009 leaked diplomatic cable that entities in Saudi Arabia were the “most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” Clinton said “the groups funded included Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba” (the group responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks), according to Reuters.

A small sampling of the effects of Saudi poison can be seen in Pakistan, where anti-Shiite violence has claimed hundreds of lives this year alone, including a bomb blast over the weekend that killed almost fifty people in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. Reuters reported last year that the major extremist organization responsible for much of the sectarian violence in recent years has Saudi links and funding.

Even in Syria, the main topic of Kerry’s discussion with the monarchy, Saudi influence has been harmful.

“As it has in other conflicts throughout the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia is expanding its influence in the Syrian conflict by arming and funding those elements of the opposition whose aims are limited to the establishment of a narrowly defined Sunni, Salafist government, one that takes its religious inspiration from the Wahhabi government in Riyadh,” writes Frank Mirkow in a blog for The Hill. “In addition to narrowing the base of support for the Syrian opposition, Saudi support for the religious extremist segments of the opposition will strike a blow against the future of a Syrian democracy. No nation is more singularly unsuited to the fostering of a pluralistic democracy in Syria than the tribal absolute monarchy of Saudi Arabia.”

But the perhaps most unforgiveable recent act of transgression by the Saudi government was its invasion of neighbor Bahrain at the invitation of the regime there two years ago to squelch the pro-democracy uprising in that country. The Obama Administration acquiesced in this outrageous act due to a mix of security considerations, Iranophobia, and oil. Dozens have died and hundreds jailed over the past two years in the long night that has descended over the country.

It’s shameful that even in the face of this attack on democracy, the United States feels the need to oblige the Saudis.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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