Saudi Arabia and globalisation

Brian Whitaker takes apart Saudi Arabia at length:

‘With all their bluster about “the norms of Islamic law”, it might be imagined that Saudi Arabia and other predominantly Muslim countries stand firmly and consistently on the side of cultural relativism. On the whole, though, they don’t – except when it suits them. To some extent they do accept the principle of universalism – but again, only when it suits them. Through their membership of the UN and other bodies, they are willing participants in a system of international law and they are also among the first to complain about human rights abuses and infringements of international law where Israel is concerned.

In partially exempting themselves from international standards, they are not so much arguing for cultural relativism as for a form of cultural selectivity. It’s a selective defence against whatever forms of external influence are regarded as unwelcome.

And what they are actually seeking to protect is not the sum-total of authentic local tradition but an imagined, officially-approved version of it which in some cases has to be imposed on reluctant citizens. The Islamic “norms” that Saudi Arabia waves in international forums are not those of the country as a whole but those that happen to have become dominant.

If they really believed in cultural relativism as a principle they would surely also have to apply it internally by insisting on respect for the different norms and traditions of whatever distinctive religious, ethnic or regional groups may be found within their own borders. Mostly they do not.’

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