America's Gulf allies talk a good game against terrorism. They widely condemned this month's tragic attack in Orlando. And all six Gulf monarchies are signatories to the 2014 Jeddah Communiqué, pledging to crack down on terror groups' finances and "repudiat[e] their hateful ideology."
So how well are they keeping these commitments? Not well at all.
As I wrote earlier this month in the Long War Journal, several members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), particularly Qatar and Kuwait, have failed to take effective action to stop terror finance or convict its top practitioners. Alarmingly, some GCC regimes are also bolstering key parts of the ideology that underpins terrorism rather than consistently fighting against it.
A few Gulf governments, especially Abu Dhabi and Oman, have taken very encouraging steps in this regard. But Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Dubai sponsored or promoted numerous events during this holy month of Ramadan that give a platform to noted hate preachers. Even as these regimes condemn attacks like the one in Orlando, they are fueling the fire by embracing clerics who have dehumanized LGBT people and those of other faiths. Some have even condoned or defended acts of terrorism.
The tragic murders at the Orlando Pulse nightclub seemed driven by similar hatred. The shooter had spoken often about killing people, and expressed hatred of homosexuals, African-Americans, women and Jews. This hatred is significant regardless of speculation whether he himself may have been gay, or the broader issue of anti-LGBT bigotry within the United States.
It is also worth noting that the Islamic State, to whom he pledged allegiance, demeaned the victims as "the people of Lot," (a slur against gay people) and "impure Crusaders," dehumanizing them and denigrating their presumed Christian faith.
Incitement against LGBT People:
The Dubai government's Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department organized a lecture series this month called the "Ramadan Gathering" under the patronage of the ruler's son. Although Dubai is generally the most cosmopolitan place in the Gulf, this event gave a platform to several intolerant preachers, including two lectures the week of the Orlando attack by Ismail Menk, who has called gay people "worse than... animals" and described their behavior as "filthy."
Meanwhile, Qatar's state news wire promoted a holiday lecture series put on by the Doha-based charity "Raf." The event, which according to the charity's website counts two state-owned firms among its partners, included three speeches by Mohammed Rateb al-Nabulsi, who has ruled that homosexuality should be punished by death.
As for Saudi Arabia, it allowed Saleh bin Humaid to lead a Ramadan prayer service and later to deliver a sermon from the holiest site in Islam, in which he called for divine intervention against "the usurper, occupier Jews" and "their evils." Bin Humaid has used that pulpit before to proclaim that homosexuality makes a human being "lower than a beast," arguing that it "violates the sanctity of Allah" and conflicts with "normal souls." The Saudi king subsequently handed Bin Humaid an award this year for "service to Islam."
[Saleh bin Humaid being handed an award for "service to Islam" this year by Saudi Arabia's King Salman. Source: YouTube]
Until at least 2014, official Saudi textbooks taught that the most important debate about homosexuality is how to kill gay people: by fire, stoning, or being thrown from great heights. The Islamic State, which circulates images of Saudi textbooks in its schools, has executed dozens of suspected gay, lesbian, or transgender people using such methods.
Dehumanizing Shi'a and Non-Muslims:
As suggested by Bin Humaid's rhetoric about Jews, this intolerance apparently extends to followers of other religions as well.
For example, Omar Abdulkafi, an Egyptian hardline preacher, has reportedly instructed that Muslims should not shake hands or share sidewalks with Christians. He was scheduled to speak three times this month at the Qatari Raf festival and two times as part of the Dubai International Holy Quran Award, which was founded by Dubai's ruler and uses the Dubai government logo on its speaker's table and promotional materials. The event's organizing committee was chaired by Ibrahim Boumelha, the ruler's own adviser for cultural affairs.
Another speaker at the Dubai Quran Award was Saad bin Ateeq al-Ateeq, who called last year at Qatar's state-controlled Grand Mosque for God to "destroy" the Jews, Christians, Shi'ites, and Alawites. He made similar remarks before, but this time outcry eventually led Qatar to ban him from state TV.
[Segment of sermon delivered by Saad bin Ateeq al-Ateeq at the Grand Mosque in Doha on January 30, 2015. Original footage without translation broadcast on Qatar TV]
Yet Saudi state TV gave Ateeq roughly five hours of airtime this month. He continues to be publicly identified as a Saudi government official, and this Ramadan he got to speak to a Dubai audience that included both Boumelha and the UAE's new minister of state for happiness.
[Saad bin Ateeq al-Ateeq on Saudi Arabia's state news channel this month. Source: YouTube]
[Tweet by the UAE's Minister of State for Happiness indicating that she attended Ateeq's lecture this month in Dubai. The logo in red on the table reads "Government of Dubai". Source: Twitter]
By order of King Salman, Saudi Arabia promoted another noted hardliner to the regime's top religious council last month, even though the way that preacher had criticized IS was reportedly by calling it "atheist" and "more infidel than Jews and Christians." Further, the kingdom's pick for the Mecca Grand Mosque's opening prayer leader on the first night of Ramadan this year took to social media earlier in 2016 to peddle his conspiratorial belief that there is an "alliance of Safavids with the Jews and Christians against Muslims."
To their credit, Gulf governments regularly condemn terrorism in general and specific public statements. However, many of the Ramadan speakers promoted by these regimes have long advocated ambiguous or incendiary positions on terror, condoning violence and glorifying or defending its practitioners.
Most notably, Zakir Naik is an Indian televangelist who spoke at Dubai's 2016 Ramadan Gathering and received the Dubai Quran Award's person of the year prize in 2013. His work was publicized by Qatar's state news wire last month, and he too was handed an award for "service to Islam" by the Saudi king just last year.
[Zakir Naik addressing Dubai's 2016 Ramadan Gathering. Source: YouTube]
Yet Naik has also proclaimed with regard to Osama bin Laden that "if he is terrorizing America the terrorist, the biggest terrorist, I am with him. Every Muslim should be a terrorist." He has allegedly been a favorite preacher of several notorious terrorist operatives, authorized keeping slaves and having sex with them, called for murdering apostates, declared "Jews and pagans" the "strongest in enmity to the Muslims," and asserted that 9/11 was an "inside job" by George W. Bush himself.
One speaker at the 2016 Raf festival in Qatar recently called 9/11 a "comedy film" in which no Muslims took part, labeling the Charlie Hebdo murders its "sequel." Another is a 9/11 conspiracy theorist who has previously called Jews "devils in human form" and recommended "jihad" against them as the only "solution." A third, the festival's opening speaker, has repeatedly glorified knife attacks against Israelis in the past.
Meanwhile, a prominent Saudi cleric scheduled to speak at both events in Dubai this month has been publicly embraced by Saudi Arabia's foreign minister and its most powerful prince. He has said women were created "as an ornament" to men, and once stated on Qatari TV that Osama bin Laden died with more dignity and honor than any infidel simply by dying a Muslim. Undeterred, the Saudi king paid the preacher a visit this month and prayed shoulder-to-shoulder with him.
And down the road in Qatar, the country's ruler Emir Tamim hosted a Ramadan banquet at his palace on June 13th for dozens of guests but gave the best seat in the house to the Brotherhood ideologue Yusuf al-Qaradawi. The Emir was even videotaped then planting kisses on Qaradawi, who has memorably called for murdering homosexuals, apostates, Israeli civilians, and Americans in Iraq, both "civilians and soldiers."
Incitement matters. It's a small step from dehumanizing others to perpetrating violence against those deemed less than human.
Of course, freedom of conscience cuts both ways, so Gulf rulers have a right to believe anything they want. But promoting preachers who engage in such egregious incitement is absolutely indefensible.
Until Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Dubai stop doing so, our leaders must speak out.