Friday, July 30, 2010

Successful CDHR Conference

Based on a declaration made by a constellation of Muslim scholars, mostly from Al-Azhar, Islam’s oldest intellectual center, the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (CDHR) hosted a conference titled "Echoing Muslim Scholars' Warning against Wahhabism: Should the U.S. Listen?" The well attended conference was held on Capitol Hill on July 20, 2010

As an educational and democracy promoting organization, CDHR deemed it necessary to echo the voices of prominent Muslim scholars’ warnings against radical Islam, specifically the notorious Saudi government’s doctrine of Wahhabism. The goal of the conference on July 20 was to reiterate CDHR’s calls for the transformation of the Saudi religious and educational institutions that teach rejection of modernity, democratic reforms, and knowledge-based education. Wahhabism also indoctrinates the oppression of women and minorities and the condemnation of other religions, as stated by the participants in the Al-Azhar conference: "Wahhabism is a Mortal Enemy of and Threat to Islam and the World."

Dr. Ali Alyami, Founder and Executive Director of CDHR, hosted the event and addressed the impact of Saudi Arabia’s religiously based policies on human development. He said the state doctrine is designed to deny people the opportunities to challenge themselves and explore their full potentials. He argued that people can only develop if social, scientific, political, and economic activities and challenges are not only prevalent, but encouraged and demanded by society. This translates to freedom of speech and expression, gender mingling, scientifically-based education, and competitiveness in all fields.

Based on its close alliance with and support for the Saudi ruling family, the West, especially the US, is in a position to peacefully influence events in Saudi Arabia. Dr. Alyami encouraged the West to understand the nature of the Saudi system and its reliance on religious extremism and its byproduct, terrorism, as declared by the Al-Azhar conference participants. Alyami called on the US to publicly and unabashedly support Saudi men and women who push for democratic reforms because they are the key to stabilizing the country and undermining religious extremists who are bent on oppressing their people and spreading their lethal ideology.

U.S. Congressman Dan Burton (R-IN., 5th District) discussed his experience with the plight of American women in Saudi Arabia and how Wahhabism has spread to the U.S. and Europe. He said he would oppose the wearing of the burqa in public when asked what he would do if he was presented with a similar challenge to that facing France and other European countries.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Director of the Center for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, argued that the West does not understand the influence of ideologies, especially Wahhabism, on daily life. His recommendation for the U.S. was to take the Wahhabi ideology seriously and confront its expansion throughout the U.S.

Jack Pearce, the former Assistant Chief Justice of the Antitrust Division for the Reagan Administration, spoke on how the spread of Wahhabism has come to represent a new clash of civilizations. He suggested that the U.S. should use any available leverage to push the Saudi-Wahhabi establishment to promote human rights and institute modern forms of governance.

Members of the audience asked formidable questions about Wahhabism’s impact on the U.S. and the West. One man asked why patriotism would not work to prevent U.S. bureaucrats and former officials from taking money from the Saudis. Mr. Gartenstein-Ross replied that those individuals should be ashamed of themselves, and Dr. Alyami added that the acceptance of Saudi money should be made public. Other questions included how energy independence would impact the spread of Wahhabism and whether there are any reform movements within Saudi Arabia. The debates continued during the post-conference reception as guests mingled with speakers in order to learn more about Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia, and CDHR.

See photos from the conference

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