Saudi Arabia open to interfaith dialogue to combat religious intolerance, says US Special envoy to combat and monitor antisemitism

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Updated 30 June 2022

Saudi Arabia open to interfaith dialogue to combat religious intolerance, says US Special envoy to combat and monitor antisemitism

Saudi Arabia open to interfaith dialogue to combat religious intolerance, says US Special envoy to combat and monitor antisemitism
  • Historian and Holocaust scholar "encouraged" by the Kingdom's openness to interfaith dialogue 
  • Palestine-Israel conflict has led to misunderstanding and animosity between Jews and Muslims 

RIYADH: Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, US special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, said in an interview with Arab News that openness and honesty when addressing important topics such as antisemitism or hate of Muslims is how change can happen.

Repeatedly confronted by real-world antisemitism, she is perhaps best known for the libel suit filed against her, in the UK, by the Holocaust denier David Irving. Lipstadt won the case in 2000, with the judge describing Irving as a “neo-Nazi polemicist” who engaged in “racist and antisemitic” discourse.

Lipstadt’s visit comes ahead of US President Joe Biden’s trip to the Kingdom next month and at a time when US-Saudi relations have been in “one of the downs,” as Prince Turki Al-Faisal said in a previous interview on Arab News’ “Frankly Speaking” when describing the fluctuating but strategic relationship.

On May 24, Vice President Kamala Harris swore in the Emory University historian and professor as special envoy. Only a month later, she made her first international trip to the Kingdom, telling media outlets that “Saudi Arabia is a very important country in the Gulf and it has shown a willingness and openness to hosting me.”




Lipstadt on the sidelines of a roundtable discussion held at Arab News headquarters in Riyadh. (AN Photo/Basheer Saleh)

On the sidelines of a roundtable discussion held at Arab News headquarters in Riyadh, she noted how “depiction of the Jew, that in years past, often decades passed, the Jew was demonized. The Jew was spoken about in very derogatory language and that had its impact outside the Kingdom in the rest of the Muslim world.” She added that she has observed the change in notion and was “exceptionally encouraged” upon meeting people who recognize the need for change.

“That’s the first step: Recognizing your own shortcomings, whether you’re an individual, whether you’re a community, whether you’re a family or whether you’re a nation, and saying ‘we want to change.’ Only an honest person can do that. And I have seen some of that here (in Saudi Arabia) and I find that very encouraging,” said Lipstadt.

For years, interfaith dialogue has been encouraged with various religious groups, scholars and leaders alike. Open dialogue is a means of acknowledging and getting to the root cause, as Lipstadt said in the roundtable, and understanding how “prejudice operates, the way in which Jew hatred or antisemitism operates. And more importantly, the way in which hatred of one group morphs into hatred of another group, that the same operating principles in every prejudice, whether it’s racism, whether it’s antisemitism, whether it’s hatred of Muslims, whatever it might be, that it operates the same way.”

She added: “You can’t take what I call a silo approach — I fight one, but not the other. You have to fight across the board, but you also have to take them seriously. And too often there’s been a failure to certainly take antisemitism seriously in many countries. And what I have found so interesting and encouraging here in Saudi Arabia is the way in which things are changing.”

BIO: Deborah Esther Lipstadt

Occupation: Special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism with the rank of ambassador

Other posts: Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies

Published works:

- The Zionist career of Louis Lipsky, 1900-1921 (1982)

- Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust (1986)

- Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (1993)

- Betrifft: Leugnen des Holocaust (1994)

- History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier (2005)

- The Eichmann Trial (2011)

- Holocaust: An American Understanding (2016)

- Antisemitism: Here and Now (2019)

Education:

- B.A. from City College of New York

- M.A. and Ph.D. from Brandeis University

Religious and interfaith scholars believe that such discussions and cross-cultural dialogues build bridges, promote peace and are a means toward ending ancient animosities.

In 2016, the American Jewish Committee and the Islamic Society of North America announced a seemingly unlikely alliance of 31 members that included Imam Mohammed Magid and Lipstadt. The announcement came amid growing xenophobia and anti-Muslim rhetoric in the US and across Europe.

Europe and the US have taken different approaches in the postwar era on hate speech and antisemitism, with some European countries making Holocaust denial illegal.

"My country is not perfect. And my president, the secretary of state to whom I report and other leaders acknowledge our shortcomings. And we don’t go out preaching to the world ‘we’re perfect and you should change.’ But what we’re saying is these are issues that concern us within the boundaries of the US and concern us outside the boundaries of the US,” said Lipstadt.

“We don’t come to preach. We come to talk and to teach, and to explore together how things can be made better.”




Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt’s visit comes ahead of US President Joe Biden’s trip to the Saudi Arabia next month. (AN Photo/Basheer Saleh)

One of Lipstadt’s main fields of expertise is in serving the Holocaust cause. For decades and over several administrations, she was a historical consultant to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both offered her presidential appointments to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council and President George W. Bush asked her to represent the White House at the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

“As a great believer in interfaith dialogue and interfaith work cooperation, it can’t be just dialogue — if it’s dialogue, it’s just words,” she said.

She noted how striking and emotion-provoking Muslim World League Secretary-General Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa’s visit to the former Nazi extermination camp of Auschwitz was for her. Al-Issa joined a group from the American Jewish Committee and prominent Muslim religious leaders in 2020 in what was called an “unprecedented visit.”

“As a scholar of the Holocaust and as someone who has visited there many times, and as a scholar of antisemitism and my knowledge of the change in attitudes and the change in this country and the portrayal of the Jew… I was tremendously moved,” she said.




Lipstadt with Saleh Al Dowais, Chief Operations Officer at SRMG, the publisher of Arab News, Asharq Al Awsat & several other prominent titles. (AN Photo/Basheer Saleh)

The dialogue surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has, for some time now, driven a wedge between the religions, with a growing sentiment against all parties involved. Lipstadt believes that people have the issues confused, the political issues in particular, which is something she said “my country takes very seriously.”

“Antisemitism transcends the political issue, the issue of Israelis and Palestinians. It’s not to say it isn’t serious, of course it’s serious, but we can’t wait to address antisemitism until that is resolved. They both should be addressed together,” said Lipstadt.

Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the US, Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud, recently met with Lipstadt and shared with her Saudi Arabia’s meaningful strides in promoting peace, tolerance, and interfaith dialogue.

Lipstadt described the conversation as "wonderful."


Saudi FM meets GCC head as tenure comes to end

Saudi FM meets GCC head as tenure comes to end
Updated 14 sec ago

Saudi FM meets GCC head as tenure comes to end

Saudi FM meets GCC head as tenure comes to end

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan received the head of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh on Sunday as his tenure comes to an end.

During the meeting, Prince Faisal praised the efforts made by Nayef Falah Al-Hajraf to support joint Gulf action and to serve its causes during his time as secretary-general.

Al-Hajraf expressed his thanks and appreciation for the Kingdom’s support for the council and the trust placed in him.


Suspect in murder of Saudi student set for Feb. 13 court hearing in Philadelphia

Nicole Marie Rodgers, who is originally from Columbus, Georgia, allegedly stabbed Algheraibi in the neck. (Philadelphia Police)
Nicole Marie Rodgers, who is originally from Columbus, Georgia, allegedly stabbed Algheraibi in the neck. (Philadelphia Police)
Updated 29 January 2023

Suspect in murder of Saudi student set for Feb. 13 court hearing in Philadelphia

Nicole Marie Rodgers, who is originally from Columbus, Georgia, allegedly stabbed Algheraibi in the neck. (Philadelphia Police)
  • Alwaleed Algheraibi, 25, stabbed in the neck
  • Bail denied for accused Nicole Marie Rodgers, 19

CHICAGO: A Pennsylvania judge has denied bail for Nicole Marie Rodgers, 19, who is accused of the Jan. 23 murder of Saudi student Alwaleed Algheraibi, 25, with a court appearance set for next month.

Rodgers, who is originally from Columbus, Georgia, allegedly stabbed Algheraibi in the neck. She was arraigned on Thursday and will be held in police custody until her first public court appearance on Monday, Feb. 13, court records provided to Arab News show.

Rodgers was taken into custody on Thursday, Jan. 26, following a three-day Philadelphia police investigation.

Rodgers faces charges including murder, robbery, burglary and theft. Investigating officers told local press that the victim’s phone and other valuables were taken.

Police said that witnesses had heard a person screaming from an apartment building located at the 300 block of Hansberry Street in Philadelphia at approximately 11:50 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 23.

When police arrived with paramedics, they found Algheraibi in the bathroom of a third-floor apartment with a fatal stab wound to his neck.

Algheraibi, described as a college student, was pronounced dead by the Philadelphia Fire Department Medical Unit personnel five minutes after his body was found on the bathroom floor.

Algheraibi was nearing the end of his studies and was due to return to Saudi Arabia.

The victim’s uncle told local Saudi media that his nephew’s suspected killer was a neighbor who lived in the apartment opposite.


Bollywood singers to fire up Jeddah with live performances

Bollywood singers to fire up Jeddah with live performances
Updated 29 January 2023

Bollywood singers to fire up Jeddah with live performances

Bollywood singers to fire up Jeddah with live performances
  • Two-day music festival Indian Cultural Night to be held on Thursday

JEDDAH: Indian melody king Kumar Sanu, playback singer M.G. Sreekumar, actor Dileep, and many more are set to take the stage in Jeddah for live music shows as part of the Indian Cultural Night.

This was announced recently by Junaise Babu, chairman of Good Hope Events, at a press conference with the attendance of various media representatives from Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The two-day music festival will be held from Feb. 2-3 at the Equestrian Club located on Asfan Road, in the Al-Frosyah district in Jeddah. It is expected to draw more than 35,000 music fans from all Asian communities.

Babu told Arab News that Saudi Arabia has been hosting massive entertainment and cultural events and is becoming the Gulf region’s premier entertainment hub.

He said: “We are planning to introduce the same standard of events for our Asian community.

“We are working with the relevant authorities and ensuring all safety measures are put in place as we organize a live music performance for thousands of expats in Jeddah, mainly from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.”

On Feb. 2, the South Indian night will feature Malayalam cinema’s favorite actor Dileep, singer Sreekumar, Nadirshah, Kottayam Naseer, Ranjini Jose, Amrutha Suresh, Fazilah Banu and Mahesh Kunjumon, among others.

On Feb. 3, the Bollywood night music festival will be led by famous musicians such as Sanu and Rachana Chopra and various other artistic performers from Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Tickets are already on sale, with four categories starting from SR500 ($133) for VVIP seats, diamond tickets for SR300, gold for SR150 and silver for SR90.

Bollywood music events are a recurring theme on local event calendars. On Friday, the Makan Music Center in Jeddah organized an Indian-themed music night to support local artists and bands.

Fans of Indian music were treated to well-known Bollywood tunes and other genres of Indian music. The themed night was part of Makan’s cultural events calendar, during which local bands showcased genres including Arabic and Latin music.


Formula E for entertainment for fans in Diriyah

Formula E for entertainment for fans in Diriyah
Updated 29 January 2023

Formula E for entertainment for fans in Diriyah

Formula E for entertainment for fans in Diriyah

RIYADH:  From live gaming racing experiences, musical performances, food trucks, and face painting, this year’s Formula E Allianz Fan Village pulled out all the stops to create memorable fun for visitors in Diriyah.

“It’s truly wonderful. I brought my kids and wife. It has been loads of fun,” Michael Brintley, a business strategist living in Riyadh, told Arab News.

“We played the racing game in the Jahez tent, and my daughter got her face painted.

“It’s a nice experience to have on top of the races going on. We are still new to Saudi, so this was our first Diriyah Formula E, but it was great.”

The fan village welcomed locals, expats, families, and friends to watch the races and enjoy downtime in between rounds on Friday and Saturday.

It boasted many tents and booths, giving interactive experiences and offering activities such as a miniature remote-controlled racing game around Diriyah hosted in the Saudia airline booth pop-up.

The live gaming arena gave guests the full racing experience through multiple simulators and several different levels.

The fan village also had a main stage with multiple screens which displayed a live broadcast of the races.

Live performances, from marching bands to magicians, took place on a smaller stage to entertain families, while other tents featured live music and autograph sessions from competing drivers.

Formula E merchandise and memorabilia could also be bought, and near to the store was a padel court for visitors seeking some exercise.

Yusra Al-Humaidan, 22, attended the event with friends to share the experience.

She said: “I decided to come to Formula E with some of my friends at the last minute. We did not attend the first day but, after seeing all of the videos and pictures on Snapchat, we decided to come and see it.”

The party toured the fan village before returning to the Emotion Club, Formula E’s premium hospitality club.

She added: “The games in the [fan] village were so much fun. We saw this man dressed like a trophy who was dancing, and we played some of the car racing games before we ate dinner.”

The event ended with concerts by French Montana and John Legend on the podium stage.

The two-day Diriyah E-Prix, which ended on Saturday, took place during the ninth season of the FIA Formula E World Championship.

Some 11 teams and 22 drivers took to the race grid for the fifth time in the Kingdom since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman inaugurated the event in December 2018.


Saudi Arabia condemns ‘provocative’ Qur’an burning in Denmark

Saudi Arabia condemns ‘provocative’ Qur’an burning in Denmark
Updated 29 January 2023

Saudi Arabia condemns ‘provocative’ Qur’an burning in Denmark

Saudi Arabia condemns ‘provocative’ Qur’an burning in Denmark

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Saturday strongly condemned the burning of copies of the Qur’an by extremists in the Danish capital, Copenhagen, “in a new provocative step to the sentiment of millions of Muslims around the world.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated the Kingdom’s position, which “strongly rejects all these blatant acts that have unfortunately been repeated in several European capitals recently, under the pretext of freedom of expression, without a clear reaction toward stopping these practices.”

The Kingdom called on all European governments in which these extremist violations occurred, to urgently address all these practices that contribute to fueling hatred and conflict between followers of religions, the ministry said in a statement.

Rasmus Paludan, a far-right activist who holds both Danish and Swedish citizenship, already infuriated the Muslim world by staging a Qur’an-burning protest in Sweden on January 21. On Friday, Paludan replicated the stunt in front of a mosque as well as the Turkish Embassy in Copenhagen and vowed to continue every Friday until Sweden is admitted into NATO.

Several regional and international organizations, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Muslim World League, Arab Parliament and Gulf Cooperation Council, also issued statements strongly denouncing the incident, along with Pakistan, Jordan, Turkiye and Oman.