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 artist with a disability blows minds with his paintings

Ahmed Hakeem’s paintings were displayed at Markaz Al-Oun Bazaar. (Supplied)
Ahmed Hakeem’s paintings were displayed at Markaz Al-Oun Bazaar. (Supplied)
Updated 07 August 2022

Saudi artist with a disability blows minds with his paintings

Ahmed Hakeem’s paintings were displayed at Markaz Al-Oun Bazaar. (Supplied)
  • Ahmed Hakeem’s love of creativity helps him to forget the difficulties he faces to draw some amazing art pieces
  • Hakeem has not let his disability be an impediment to what he likes doing, which is painting

RIYADH: With joy, Ahmed Hakeem holds his brush, starts picking vibrant colors, and then he paints cubic and abstract shapes on an empty canvas.

Hakeem is a 34-year-old Saudi artist who has a mild intellectual disability. Individuals with mild ID are slower in all areas of conceptual development and social and daily living skills.

But Hakeem’s love of art helps him to forget the difficulties he faces as a person with a disability to draw some amazing art pieces. He has not let his disability be an impediment to what he likes doing, which is painting.

Not only that he is good at painting, but he is also an athlete. He is a good swimmer, he plays basketball, he loves running, he has won bronze and silver medals in sports.

He is also good at ping pong, padel, hiking, and loves animals.

During the pandemic, Hakeem unleashed his creative side and started to learn to paint. He enrolled in classes, and he started drawing abstract and cubic art.

FASTFACTS

• Hakeem is a 34-year- old Saudi artist who has a mild intellectual disability. Individuals with mild ID are slower in all areas of conceptual development and social and daily living skills.

• He has not let his disability be an impediment to what he likes doing, which is painting.

• He is also an athlete. He is a good swimmer, he plays basketball, he loves running, he has won bronze and silver medals in sports.

His paintings were displayed at Markaz Al-Oun Bazaar, which is a help center and non-profit organization that helps people with intellectual disabilities, and he wants to have his own gallery in the future.

Hakeem, who works at Juffali Heavy Equipment as an assistant, also talked about how hard it is for people with disabilities to find a good job.

“You need to know about the challenges that I am having with the community in general. Most people with disabilities are usually unemployed and don’t have access to powerful governmental aid, but their families have to enroll them in special clubs, and this can be financially stressful to the parents, so there is a lack of community and activities for us,” Hakeem told Arab News.

Nour Hakeem, his sister, said: “Because Hakeem looks normal and is not in a wheelchair, many places we go, they see him as a normal person, and every time we go out, I have to have proof that he is mentally challenged, which is very hard.”

“Even though the plane’s tickets are more expensive than the economy ticket and the discount they give us isn’t that much, so basically we book him a normal economy ticket but hopefully with time this is going to change soon because there is more attention by the authorities on people with disabilities,” she said.

According to APD, the official association of people with disabilities, the percentage of people with disabilities in the Kingdom is 7.1 percent, or 1,445,723 people out of a population 32.94 million. The association is set to organize its efforts and build an integrated institutional system to remove barriers to people with disabilities and empower them to live in society without discrimination.

 


King Fahd National Library exhibits rare Qur’ans

King Fahd National Library exhibits rare Qur’ans. (SPA)
King Fahd National Library exhibits rare Qur’ans. (SPA)
Updated 07 August 2022

King Fahd National Library exhibits rare Qur’ans

King Fahd National Library exhibits rare Qur’ans. (SPA)
  • The King Fahd National Library recently added to its collection Chinese books donated by the National Library of China

RIYADH: The King Fahd National Library has opened an exhibition of rare Arabic manuscripts, including medieval copies of the Qur’an, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
The library’s Secretary-General Dr. Mansour bin Abdullah Al-Zamil launched the opening, which includes books printed prior to the Kingdom’s unification during the reign of King Abdulaziz.
Saleh Al-Aboudi, director of the library’s Anecdotes and Collections Department, gave a presentation explaining the exhibition’s contents, which boasts Qur’ans dating back to the third century AH as well as local manuscripts, miniatures, antiquities, inscriptions, and other Arab and Saudi publications.
The King Fahd National Library recently added to its collection Chinese books donated by the National Library of China.
The books — covering subjects including history, economy, tourism and culture — are distributed in Arabic and English. They include literature related to China, including books on the Chinese language and children’s books, which serve as an opportunity for Saudis to get to know the country and its culture.

 


Makkah governor receives US consul general in Jeddah

Makkah governor Prince Khaled Al-Faisal receives US Consul General Faris Asad in Jeddah. (Supplied)
Makkah governor Prince Khaled Al-Faisal receives US Consul General Faris Asad in Jeddah. (Supplied)
Updated 07 August 2022

Makkah governor receives US consul general in Jeddah

Makkah governor Prince Khaled Al-Faisal receives US Consul General Faris Asad in Jeddah. (Supplied)
  • Faris’ other past assignments include assistant information officer in Amman, Jordan, and public diplomacy officer with a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Mosul, Iraq

MAKKAH: Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal received US Consul General Faris Asad in Jeddah on Sunday.
They discussed topics of common interest. Asad also concurrently serves as the US representative to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, headquartered in Jeddah. He joined the US Department of State in 2004 as a foreign service officer.
Most recently, Faris served as political chief at the US Embassy in Dushanbe, Tajikistan from 2018-2020.
Faris’ other past assignments include assistant information officer in Amman, Jordan, and public diplomacy officer with a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Mosul, Iraq.

 


 


Saudi aid agency inaugurates 2nd phase of free eye surgery projects in Yemen

KSrelief inaugurates 2nd phase of free eye surgery projects in Yemen. (SPA)
KSrelief inaugurates 2nd phase of free eye surgery projects in Yemen. (SPA)
Updated 07 August 2022

Saudi aid agency inaugurates 2nd phase of free eye surgery projects in Yemen

KSrelief inaugurates 2nd phase of free eye surgery projects in Yemen. (SPA)
  • The Noor Saudi program aims to perform 6,000 specialized eye surgeries over the course of the year

ADEN: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center launched on Friday the second phase of its project to provide free eye surgeries, part of the Noor Saudi program, which will be implemented in the governorates of Aden and Mukalla, Yemen.
Director of the KSrelief office in Aden Saleh Al-Thibani said that the campaign aims to combat blindness and assist patients who cannot afford the costs of treatment.
The Noor Saudi program aims to perform 6,000 specialized eye surgeries over the course of the year, which will be implemented following a series of projects to cover as many patients in need of eye operations as possible.
Each project, Al-Thibani explained, consists of performing 400 operations, in addition to providing necessary medicines and eyeglasses.
Undersecretary of the Yemeni Ministry of Health Dr. Ahmed Al-Kamal expressed appreciation for the center’s continuous support of the Yemeni health sector and its humanitarian work in the country.
KSrelief concluded the volunteer training program in Mukalla on Sunday.  

Around 712 individuals benefitted from the program that focused on providing first aid for bicycle accident victims, common injuries, life  psychological first aid, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation training among others. 

 


2-year afforestation campaign launched in Saudi Arabia’s Asir

Saudi Arabia launches afforestation campaign in Asir. (SPA)
Saudi Arabia launches afforestation campaign in Asir. (SPA)
Updated 07 August 2022

2-year afforestation campaign launched in Saudi Arabia’s Asir

Saudi Arabia launches afforestation campaign in Asir. (SPA)
  • Saudi Arabia launched the Saudi Green and Middle East Green initiatives with the goal of planting 50 billion trees, reducing carbon emissions by more than 10 percent of global contributions

ABHA: The Saudi National Center for Vegetation Cover and Combating Desertification recently announced the launch of a two-year project aimed at rehabilitating fire-affected sites in the forests of Al-Jarrah Park in the Asir region.

The afforestation plan will see more than 160,000 trees and local plant species planted.

The project aims to boost the vegetation cover inside Al-Jarrah Park. The nature of the soil and geological features of the site will be tested in order to choose the most appropriate plan for rehabilitation.  

The center also aims to combat fire in different regions of the Kingdom and oversee the management of pasture lands, forests and national parks, which will boost sustainable development and enhance the quality of life.

Saudi Arabia launched the Saudi Green and Middle East Green initiatives with the goal of planting 50 billion trees, reducing carbon emissions by more than 10 percent of global contributions.

The initiatives are part of the Kingdom’s endeavors to strengthen regional and international partnerships with a view to overcoming environmental challenges, protecting the planet and combating climate change.