Austria has been considering closing down an “interfaith” dialogue center it has thanks to the backing of none other than those ardent fans of pluralism, Saudi Arabia.
The Austrian government has threatened to close a controversial Saudi-sponsored religious dialogue center because of the latter’s failure to condemn the flogging of a Saudi human rights activist and blogger.
Saudi Arabia has responded to the threat by issuing a counter-threat to move the permanent headquarters of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries [OPEC] out of the Austrian capital of Vienna.
The dust-up began in mid-January, when Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann expressed public outrage over the refusal of the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue [KAICIID] to speak out against the flogging of Raif Badawi, a Saudi human rights activist and blogger who has been sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for “insulting Islam.”
Right, well, that’s why you shouldn’t accept backing from the Saudis for anything.
Th[e] KAICIID, which is headquartered at the Palais Sturany in the heart of Vienna and has the status of an international organization, is ostensibly dedicated to “serving humanity” by “fostering dialogue” between the world’s major religions, in order to “prevent conflict.”
The KAICIID says that while it condemns all forms of violence, it has not spoken out specifically about Badawi because it does not want to get involved in the internal affairs of other countries.
The center was inaugurated in November 2012 in an elaborate ceremony attended by more than 650 high-profile guests from around the world, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and the foreign ministers of the center’s three founding states, Austria, Spain and Saudi Arabia.
Riyadh, which is financing the KAICIID for the first three years at an annual budget of 10-15 million euros ($11-17 million), has promised that there will be “zero politics, zero influence in the center.”
But the primary focus of the King Abdullah Center has been to promote a program called “The Image of the Other,” which examines “stereotypes and misconceptions” about Islam in education, the media and the Internet.
Oh yes? What about The Image of Raif Badawi? What about Raif Badawi as the Other? What about views of Islam that are shaped by the fact that Raif Badawi is being imprisoned and tortured by the Saudi state for expressing liberal views – views of the very kind that the KACIID seems to be mouthing? What about all of that, eh?
The center-left Green Party, which governs Vienna in a coalition, has said that the KAICIID glorifies a country “where freedom of religion and opinion are foreign words.” In a statement, the party advised:
“Austria should not allow itself to be misused in this way, to allow itself to be involved in whitewash by a repressive Saudi regime which is using this center as a fig leaf for its dishonorable human rights situation.”
The Green Party is right.
That article is dated February 8. One from February 24 reports that Ensaf Haidar is appealing to Austria to close the center.
Ensaf Haidar, the wife of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, has called on the Austrian government to close a Saudi-financed dialogue centre in Vienna, and to help end her husband’s suffering and save him from further floggings.
In a video message presented by the Initiative of Liberal Muslims in Austria (ILMÖ), Haider thanked Amnesty International and Austria’s Green Party for holding weekly vigils for her husband outside the controversial King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID).
Ah, I’ve been posting photos of those demos. I didn’t realize the building was an Interfaith Insult to Our Intelligence.
She called on Austria “as a guardian of human rights to do everything to achieve the closure of the King Abdullah Dialogue Centre”. She added that the centre was damaging Austria’s reputation as it refuses to speak out on human rights issues in Saudi Arabia.
Haidar – who lives in Canada and wasn’t able to get a visa to travel to Vienna – is hoping that a royal decree from the new Saudi King Salman may pardon her husband.
Close it, Austria. Do the right thing.