The United States has signed the biggest arms sale in its history (a staggering $100 billion) with Saudi Arabia.
There is much irony here, not to mention moral revulsion. For consideration:
1. The Saudi Arabian air force (comprising predominantly American and British aircrafts) has indiscriminately and brutally ravaged the country of Yemen over the past year – leaving a people devastated by famine and facing what the United Nations has called the gravest humanitarian crisis of the present time (even surpassing that in Syria!).
The Saudi military is not held accountable for war crimes. Because militant Islamist movements thrive in failed states, Yemen will be the breeding ground for the next version of al-Qaida or ISIL that rises against the West.
2. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states being wooed by the Trump regime are apartheid-type societies, which do not acknowledge religious liberty or the equality of women.
They have done precious little by way of offering shelter or financial help to refugees from Syria or Iraq despite their status as fellow Muslims.
3. Saudi Arabia has played a central role in the nurturing of a violent form of Islamism.
It is home to the most intolerant form of Islam, known as Salafist or Wahhabi.
Until the mid-20th century, this was a theological movement of only localized significance, but the oil wealth of modern Saudi Arabia has allowed the Salafists to spread their militant brand of Islam through the funding of extremist religious schools, charities and mosques across the Islamic world.
The Saudi kingdom took in Salafist leaders expelled by secular regimes, such as Syria, Egypt and Iraq.
It was among Saudis engaged in the Afghan conflict of the 1980s that the fatal fusion took place between Wahhabi Puritanism and the jihadist ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood, leading to the creation of the al-Qaida network.
Many of the conflicts within the Muslim communities of Asia and Africa are fueled by Saudi-funded Salafist organizations that claim to possess a purer interpretation of the Quran and therefore condemn as “heretics” Shi’ites, Sufis and others who have lived relatively peacefully with their non-Muslim neighbors.
Salafism does not necessarily advocate global political violence. It does, however, tend to view the world in Manichaean terms, with the West the source of all the impurities that have contaminated the world of Islam and obscured the message of God.
4. Arabs and Persians have very different civilizations, and their differences were exacerbated by the Sunni-Shia conflict in early Islamic history.
Iran, heir to both Persian and Shia Muslim traditions, boasts a much richer intellectual community of scholars than any Arab nation. It does not pose a threat to the U.S. or Europe.
It is clear that the U.S., with its fear of both ISIS and uncritical defense of Israel, is being manipulated by Saudi Arabia into an irrational anti-Iran hysteria that trades on seeing the Middle East in simplistic black-and-white terms.
Why has the Trump regime’s politically shortsighted arms deal not elicited howls of protest among political and religious conservatives in the U.S. and Europe?
The other part of Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia involved securing deals for American corporations to the tune of several billions of dollars.
This reveals once more the hypocrisy of those conservatives who accuse advocates for social welfare of wanting a “Nanny State.”
What the Republican Party wants is not really “limited government” but a government that subsidizes the rich rather than the poor, that uses its political and military muscle to open up global markets to American corporations.
Trump is only the latest embodiment – though perhaps the most blatant – of the unholy alliance between U.S. government and big business.
Doesn’t this make a mockery of free markets, let alone of democracy?
Vinoth Ramachandra is secretary for dialogue and social engagement for the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. He lives in Sri Lanka. A version of this column first appeared on his blog and is used with permission.