I had previously had a spat with another Instablogs member who argued that contrary to my assertion Shia Arabs in the Gulf are not discriminated against. She cited her own experience living amongst Shias in Saudi Arabia and how they were never bothered. But such reasoning misses the point.
One does not have to be harassed consistently akin to the way apartheid Israel abuses Palestinians in order to be maligned in one’s country. Shias are free to live where they want, open businesses, and pretty much do as they please in the Persian Gulf. But they do come under discrimination. Shias, for instance, are often barred from serving in top government positions. Even in Bahrain where Shias compromise two-thirds of the population, they are still denied political power by the ruling Sunni elite. And, to make matters, worse whenever Shias complain about this discriminatory tactic the Sunni elite accuses them of disloyalty to Iran; an unfounded charge. So the Shias have to suffer both discrimination and then charges of being unpatriotic for having the temerity to challenge their disenfranchisement.
But no where do Shias have it worse than in extremist Saudi Arabia. Shias face discrimination in Bahrain and other Gulf nation, but at least they are no consistently vilified by the clerical establishment as in the case in the Kingdom. Saudi Arabian clerics are followers of Ibn Wahhab and his brand of xenophobic, extremist, totalitarian, and harsh Islam. This brand of Islam, among other xenophobic traits, teaches that Shias are heretics. It is not that the clerics simply hold these views, other non-Wahhabi clerics do as well. But that they routinely echo them in a nation where 10% of the population is Shia.
Saudi King Abdullah has made some reforms in recent weeks, but one area where reform is needed but has not be meet is mandating tolerance on behalf of the clerics. The King has sacked a former cleric for previously stating that killing a TV producer who broadcasts scantly clothed women, why not sack those clerics who preach hate? And just toward Shias, but toward Christians and Jews as well.
But the King has done nothing. Saudi TV if filled with attacks against Shias and Saudi websites even call for the elimination of Shias. I believe that any government-founded websites – if they are any – need to remove all bigoted language [private websites should be allowed to continue], but in the arena of television the state should outlaw any television channels – public or private – that preach hate against anyone. But that King has done nothing in that regard or any regard.
The obvious problem with such clerics and their access to media is that they embed hateful views among Saudis who normally would have no problems with Shias. When riots between the Sunni police force and Shias in Saudi Arabia erupted recently on a Saudi news site some commentators left hateful messages that are no doubt ingrained in people due to the sermons of the radical clerics. One commentator wrote that the King should “strike them with an iron fist” and another wrote that Shias be pushed into the Red Sea or dropped over the Iranian-Shia religious city of Qom.
If the radical clerics are not brought under control, the Shias will grow more resentful to their consistent vilification and will protest more fiercely. One has to worry about the response among the majority Sunnis to such a protest. Instead of seeing that the Shias are just protesting for equality, Sunnis who have been taught to hate Shias may view them as an internal threat and the consequences of such a view may be deadly. That is why these clerics desperately need to be brought under control and pushed aside.
The Saudi King could send a message of inclusiveness by appointing a Shia minister; of which there are none now. The King recently appointed a women to the highest position ever within the government – Deputy Minister overseeing women’s education. Such a step was groundbreaking in a country where women still cannot even drive. Appointing the first Shia minister would also be groundbreaking in the cause of Saudi reform. If the King is really interested in plenary reform for all his citizens that it.