Religious Freedom Fighters Criticize U.S. Arms Plan for Extremist Hotbed

WASHINGTON – An inter-religious group that works globally for the advancement of religious freedom and democracy denounced recent U.S. plans to sell billions worth of arms to Saudi Arabia – notorious for spreading Islamic extremist ideology and for its human rights violations.

"Saudi Arabia has repeatedly demonstrated that it is not interested in a relationship with the United States based on mutual values and concerns," said Joseph K. Grieboski, founder and president of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, in a statement Monday. "Instead, the Saudi regime uses its immense resources to export terrorism, religious extremism, intolerance, and instability."

Over the weekend officials said they would soon seek Congress approval for an arms package worth reportedly some $20 billion over the next 10 years for Saudi Arabia and five other oil-rich Gulf states. Officials said they hope the arms will counter Iranian influence, according to Agence France-Presse.

The Pentagon has not yet release details on the package.

In response, Iran on Monday accused the United States of "spreading fear" and causing division in the Middle East, according to Reuters.

Yet it is unclear if the U.S. House will support the bill as it voted in June to add an amendment to the U.S. foreign spending bill to cut off all aid to Saudi Arabia, accusing the U.S. ally of religious intolerance and funding terrorism.

U.S. lawmakers supporting the amendment have accused the Saudi government of making "no official move" to stop some 3,000 Saudis allegedly fighting U.S. troops in Iraq, according to Agence France-Presse. Moreover, they claim as many as 61 percent of all suicide bombers in Iraq are of Saudi Arabian descent.

Last year, a report by Freedom House concluded that the Saudi Ministry of Education textbooks promoted an ideology of hatred towards non-Wahhabi Muslims.

"What is being taught today in Saudi public school textbooks about how Muslims should relate to other religious communities will poison the minds of a new generation of Saudis," said Nina Shea, then-director of Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom.

The textbook commanded students to "hate" Christians, Jews, "polytheists" and other "unbelievers," including non-Wahhabi Muslims; taught students that "Jews and the Christians are enemies of the [Muslim] believers;" and the spread of Islam through jihad is a "religious duty" among other promotion of religious hatred.

During her talk in May, Shea refuted the Saudi government's repeated assertions that they have removed intolerance from the textbooks and "cleaned" them up.

"What we found in this report is that it is an ideological curriculum of intolerance against the unbelievers, or polytheists," said Shea. "And this includes explicitly Christians, Jews, and other Muslims who are all demonized. They assert that peaceful co-existence is not possible."

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the independent, bipartisan government religious freedom monitor, recommended to the U.S. State Department again this year that Saudi Arabia be designated a Country of Particular Concern – the worst religious freedom violation label. The State Department has often criticized Saudi Arabia for religious intolerance and human rights abuses including a legal system with punishments such as flogging and amputation.

Meanwhile, the Christian persecution watchdog group Open Doors listed Saudi Arabia as the world's second worst Christian persecutor behind North Korea.

In his statement, IRPP's Grieboski concluded: "The United States cannot and must not ignore the atrocious record of human rights abuses, exportation of violence and intolerance."

"Threats that the Saudi will search elsewhere for such equipment cannot serve as the basis for a policy that improves the military capacity of state which flouts internationally-recognized fundamental rights, defies bilateral agreements on religious freedom, and continues to educate its children that discrimination and fanaticism are acceptable," said Grieboski, whose group was nominated for the 2007 Nobel Prize in Peace.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is expected to discuss the arms package in a visit with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Saudi Arabia and the other Arab states this week.

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