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."


Stretch for success with yoga, Saudi students urged

Stretch for success with yoga, Saudi students urged
Updated 13 sec ago

Stretch for success with yoga, Saudi students urged

Stretch for success with yoga, Saudi students urged
  • Practice can improve academic performance, online lecture tells university reps

JEDDAH: Saudi university students wondering how to gain a mental edge and improve their academic performance have been offered an age-old answer — yoga.

The Saudi Yoga Committee has delivered an online lecture for university representatives highlighting the physical and mental advantages yoga can offer people of all ages, but especially students.

Nouf Al-Marwaai, the committee’s president, said that the benefits of practicing yoga for young men and women are clear, with studies showing that it improves academic achievement, and can play a significant role in reducing stress and anxiety.

The virtual lecture was organized in cooperation with the Saudi Universities Sports Federation under the theme “Yoga for University Students of Both Genders,” and set out to spread awareness and encourage the practice of yoga among all segments of society.

It coincides with the arrival in the Kingdom of a delegation from the Asian Yogasana Sports Federation to train Saudi yoga referees through a qualification course hosted by the Ministry of Sports in cooperation with the Saudi Yoga Committee.

The virtual lecture outlined options available to students on campus who wish to practice yoga simply for mental and physical health, or those who plan to take it to an advanced level with professional yogasana sports training, as well as local and international competition.

Al-Marwaai said that the committee set out to cooperate with the Saudi Universities Sports Federation in order to “build a generation of yoga-lovers, especially among young people, who want to enjoy physical and mental health.”

The committee is seeking to increase the number of practitioners, and build yoga teams to take part in local and regional yoga championships.

The Kingdom excels at the Arab level in yoga, she added.

Al-Marwaai said that asanas and postures used in yoga can improve balance, increase physical flexibility and deliver a wide range of health benefits.


Arab publishers turn the page with audiobooks, Riyadh forum told

Arab publishers turn the page with audiobooks, Riyadh forum told
Updated 19 min 30 sec ago

Arab publishers turn the page with audiobooks, Riyadh forum told

Arab publishers turn the page with audiobooks, Riyadh forum told
  • Kingdom’s key role in regional publishing outlined on conference final day

RIYADH: The second edition of the International Publishers Conference held in Riyadh ended on Wednesday with sessions focusing on the growing demand for audiobooks, the impact of technology and data services, and the search for ways to innovate and renew education.

The event, which was organized by the Literature, Publishing and Translation Commission, introduced a session themed “Stages of the Global Book Publishing Industry.”

Abdul Karim Al-Aqeel, president of the Saudi Publishing Association, told the session that the Kingdom plays an important role in the growth of the regional publishing business.

Saudi Arabia “has 300 publishing houses, 1,000 individual writers, and reading is popular among 31 percent of the population,” he said.

The two-day conference was attended by Secretary-General of the Indonesian Publishers Association, Mohammed Radwan. 

The event held eight interactive sessions and five workshops to discuss key aspects of the book and publishing industry, review future prospects and read current market trends.

Mohammed Zatara, founder of Wajeez for Audiobooks, said that the format helped to expand public knowledge “because an audiobook can be accessed any time and any place, whether one is going to work or working out at the gym.”

Sebastian Bond, head of the Middle East and Northern Africa at Storytel, said improving the audiobook business requires collaboration between traditional publishers and their audio counterparts to ensure enriching and enlightening content.

Ibraheem Al-Sinan, head of editorial at Raff Publishing, told Arab News that the standard of authorship is “extremely high in the domains of creative books, as well as professional and educational books.” 

Ibraheem Al Sinan, head of editorial at Raff Publishing. (Supplied)

However, he believes that “this trend does not exist in the market due to the difficulty of publishing houses to absorb it and because readers are not attracted by the new authors.”

Al-Sinan said that authors have become part of the so-called content industry, particularly in the film-writing, series and marketing content sectors, “because of high financial return” in these fields.

Publishing has expanded recently with the inclusion of audiobooks and electronic books, “because of the society’s interest in new audio media such as podcasts,” he added.

Audiobooks are recognized as the fastest-growing and most acceptable format, but “are still not as popular as paper books,” Al-Sinan said.

Mohammed Alsalem, a member of the Arab Publishers Association, believes that the presence of “podcasts” as a content channel has had an impact on the widespread and acceptance of audiobooks. 

Mohammed Alsalem, a member of the Arab Publishers Association. (Supplied)

Alsalem predicted a bright future for publishing in the region, particularly in translation and better reader access via traditional and digital channels, indicating “A promising future for publication.”

Mohammed Kandil, CEO and founder of Dar Molhimon Publishing and Distribution, said that artificial intelligence is “inevitably coming,” and that it will help publishers to upgrade their profession and professional development. 

Mohammed Kandil, CEO and founder of Dar Molhimon Publishing and Distribution. (Supplied)

He believes that while audiobooks are now expensive to produce, “one day they will be the basic material on which the writer relies.”

Mesfer Alsubaie, general director of the Arabic Literature Center for Publishing and Distribution, said that the publishing future is thriving locally and regionally because of local and international book fairs, which have helped considerably in the evolution of the publishing sector. 

Mesfer Alsubaie, general director of the Arabic Literature Center for Publishing and Distribution. (Supplied)

Salih Al-Hammad, founder of Rashm House for Publishing and Distribution, said that although audiobooks are having a growing impact, “paper books have kept their shine and quality.”

He said: “When we talk about audiobooks today, we talk about a few categories of readers associated with the concept of a detained reader, any reader who is in a hospital, on a train, or on an airplane. Book authorship has gone through phases, and books will remain and won’t disappear, just like radios remained when TVs were invented.”


Pakistan braces for harsh winter as gas shortages loom

Pakistan braces for harsh winter as gas shortages loom
Updated 49 min 9 sec ago

Pakistan braces for harsh winter as gas shortages loom

Pakistan braces for harsh winter as gas shortages loom
  • Domestic shortfall predicted as surging LNG prices push Pakistan out of short-term market
  • South Asian nation relies on imports through long-term contracts with Qatar and ENI

KARACHI: Pakistan is bracing for a harsh winter this year amid skyrocketing prices of liquefied natural gas on the global market and record currency depreciation at home.

Analysts are warning of increasing gas outages during peak winter hours as the south Asian country struggles to meet domestic demand.

Pakistan needs 4.1 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) of gas, with winter demand peaking to around 4.5 bcfd against local production of 3.22 bcfd. The shortfall is bridged through LNG imports.

Pakistan began importing LNG seven years ago. However, the price of the commodity on the international spot, or short-term, market has risen from lows of $2 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) in 2020 to highs of $57 in August this year after demand in Europe surged, pushing Islamabad out of the market.

At present, the country relies on imported LNG cargoes through long-term contracts with Qatar and Italian multinational ENI. The agreements allow the country to import about eight cargoes per month, four short of the required 12 to meet the shortfall.

An official from Pakistan LNG Limited, a state-owned entity mandated to import LNG, told Arab News on Tuesday that the country is currently importing long-term cargoes from Qatar and ENI.

With the spot LNG market out of reach, many Pakistani analysts predict shortages will make the coming winter tough for domestic gas consumers.

Pakistan imported its last LNG cargo from Qatar at $17 per mmBtu under a long-term supply agreement.

“Normally the demand in winter increases by around 1 bcfd,” Farhan Mahmood, head of research at Sherman Securities, told Arab News. “As this year Pakistan is unlikely to secure cargoes from the spot market, it is expected that shortfall and load shedding of gas will be higher than last year.”

He added: “With LNG prices currently hovering around $38 per mmBtu and the Pakistani rupee trading at historic lows amid depleting forex reserves, the government may not venture to import costly gas, rather it would prefer to save dollars.”

PLL did not receive any bid in response to a tender floated in July 2022 to import 10 cargoes of LNG.

Pakistan’s woes were compounded after Russia invaded Ukraine early this year, and European countries rushed to secure gas supplies from LNG-producing countries as Moscow slowed gas flows westwards.

The Kremlin has accused the West of triggering the energy crisis by imposing the most severe sanctions in modern history, a step Russian President Vladimir Putin said is akin to a declaration of economic war.

“The Russia-Ukraine war has also disrupted the international market and European countries have rushed to secure cargoes for winter as demand has increased substantially there,” Mahmood added.

However, some experts believe gas outages will be comparatively low this winter, with additional electricity generation compensating for the high demand.

“By December this year, some 1320MW of electricity will be added to the national grid with the commissioning of three coal-fired power plants in Thar, Sindh, that will compensate the gas demand,” Tahir Abbas, head of research at Arif Habib Limited, a Karachi-based brokerage firm, told Arab News.

“There will definitely be a shortfall of gas, but it will not be as severe as last year, keeping in view the additional electricity generation.”

Pakistan’s winter policy of diverting gas supplies from the power sector to domestic consumers also affects industrial production.

This year, the government is expected to encourage consumers to switch to electricity by offering incentives to save gas for industrial and heating purposes.

In another bid to secure long-term supplies of gas, PLL has invited bids for 72 LNG cargoes from international suppliers across a six-year period. The results of the tender will be decided on Oct. 3 when the bids are opened.

Pakistan’s LNG imports fell by 3.37 percent to $629.4 million during July and August compared with the same period last year.

Energy imports increased by 105.3 percent to $23.3 billion during the last fiscal year, including LNG imports, which rose by 90.6 percent to $4.98 billion, according to official data.
 

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British team to retrace steps of epic Philby trek across Saudi Arabia

British team to retrace steps of epic Philby trek across Saudi Arabia
Updated 55 min 46 sec ago

British team to retrace steps of epic Philby trek across Saudi Arabia

British team to retrace steps of epic Philby trek across Saudi Arabia
  • Explorer’s 1,300 km journey a century ago led to lifelong friendship with Ibn Saud, Kingdom’s first ruler
  • The expedition was launched by the UK’s Princess Anne, and the team includes Philby’s granddaughter

LONDON: An Arabian desert expedition aims to retrace the steps of a famous journey by a British explorer who served as an adviser to the first ruler of Saudi Arabia.

The planned 1,300-km Heart of Arabia coast-to-coast trek across the peninsula was launched by Anne, Princess Royal of the UK, on Wednesday. It was her first public engagement since the death this month of her mother, Queen Elizabeth II.

The expedition will honor the undertaking and achievement of adventurer, Arabist and intelligence officer Harry St. John Philby, who traveled from the Gulf coast village of Al-Uqair to Jeddah, on the Red Sea coast, on a mission in support of Ibn Saud, the Kingdom’s first ruler.

The Heart of Arabia journey will set off in November, a century after Philby’s crossing. It is led by veteran British explorer Mark Evans and the team, which will travel by foot and on camels, includes Philby’s Saudi granddaughter, Reem.

After reaching Riyadh they will travel west on the final stage to Jeddah, which is likely to present the greatest challenge because of harsh winds and rough terrain, including sand and loose rock.

Philby was sent to Arabia during the First World War to assist T. E. Lawrence as part of the British efforts to foment an Arab uprising against the Ottoman Empire, which at the time stretched across the Red Sea side of the Arabian Peninsula all the way to Yemen.

His journey led to groundbreaking cartographic and natural discoveries, and resulted in significant changes to the political landscape of the Middle East.

Philby, who would later reside in Riyadh, developed a close relationship with Ibn Saud, who at the time was a significant tribal leader. Philby adopted local dress and customs, and converted to Islam, which helped him play a key role in the events that led to the Arab Revolt and the creation of Saudi Arabia.

Evans said of Philby: “He is considered by many as one of the greatest early explorers of Arabia. He not only set out across uncharted land but took time to record everything he saw.”

Reem Philby said that she is drawn to “the stillness and constant movement of the desert at the same time.”

She added: “Just observing how nature controls everything in harmony and how we are the ones that have to adapt, makes one very humble.”

Princess Anne said: “How did people live in the environment that he crossed? What was different about it? And actually, what’s perhaps even more important in modern terms, is to understand how much has changed compared to what existed before.”

The Arabian landscape has long attracted interested intrepid Britons, including explorer and writer Wilfred Thesiger, who commended the tribes he encountered during his crossing of the Kingdom’s Empty Quarter for their loyalty and generosity.
 


Hajj, Umrah e-services app undergoes update, name change

Hajj, Umrah e-services app undergoes update, name change
Updated 28 September 2022

Hajj, Umrah e-services app undergoes update, name change

Hajj, Umrah e-services app undergoes update, name change

MAKKAH: Hajj and Umrah government officials have alerted pilgrims around the world about an important update and name change to a key services and permits app for the Two Holy Mosques.

Launching the newly named Nusuk app, an update on the Eatmarna platform, Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said visitors and worshippers would be able to access a range of e-services including applying for a visa and booking hotels and flights.

Hajj and Umrah services adviser, Ahmed Saleh Halabi, told Arab News: “During the past few years, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has been keen to switch to the e-government system to add ease to the experience of pilgrims and visitors. As such, their experience will be forever remembered as an enriched religious journey.”

He pointed out that the portal allowed users to select from a list of service packages.

“The program will provide the pilgrims with a cultural and religious journey, while reflecting the bright and civilized side of the Kingdom in the Two Holy Mosques,” he added.

The platform has been designed to provide services and information to help worshippers perform rituals with ease and is part of the Saudi Vision 2030 objectives to improve service offerings and the quality of religious experience.

Ahmed Bajaiffer, an investor in Umrah companies, said: “Nusuk is the representation of the strong will of the Kingdom’s leaders and their loyalty toward Muslims, citizens, and residents.”

Nusuk has been launched in cooperation with the Saudi Tourism Authority and is linked to the services provided by the Kingdom’s official tourism website, Visit Saudi Arabia.

Head of the World Hajj and Umrah Convention, Mohsin Tutla, told Arab News: “What Nusuk has developed resonates with the World Hajj and Umrah Care Foundation’s vision toward enhancing the pilgrim’s experience.

“When traveling to a foreign country, visitors may often feel anxiety or even fear; for many, Arabic is not their first language, and trying to make sense of the cultural practices of a new country at times can be difficult.”

Via the nusuk.sa platform, Hajj and Umrah performers can receive visit or Umrah visas with the option to buy a service package and pay electronically.

“The launch of this service sends a strong message with it: We are listening, we are caring, and we will provide the solutions to continually enrich your experience, and we do it with passion, as the Kingdom sees serving pilgrims as a privilege and obligation,” Tutla added.

According to the Saudi Press Agency, more than 21.5 million Umrah and Hajj performers had registered with the Eatmarna app since its launch, and it has issued 6.4 million permits to visit and pray at Al-Rawdah Al-Sharifah at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.