Saudi religious police stormed a house in the Saudi Arabian province of al-Jouf, detaining more than 41 guests for “plotting to celebrate Christmas,” a statement from the police branch released Wednesday night said.
The raid is the latest in a string of religious crackdowns against residents perceived to threaten the country’s strict religious code.
Only in Saudi Arabia could the phrase “plotting to celebrate Christmas” appear in official statement. Religious freedom does not exist in the kingdom. There are literally millions of Christians living there, and according to the government they are permitted to practice their religion in private– though not one single church is permitted. But as this news story shows, in fact the religious police do not permit such dangerous practices as a Christmas party. So the foreigners living there who are Christians will continue to be without churches, priests and ministers, sacraments– or Christmas parties.
King Abdallah has chaired several international conferences on religion in the last ten years and has just established the “King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue,” a world center for inter-religious dialogue in Vienna.
What does this all amount to? In 2008 the King opened the first conference with these reported remarks:
“We all believe in one God… We are meeting here today to say that religions should be a means to iron out differences and not to lead to disputes,” he said in an inaugural speech at the three-day World Conference on Dialogue. He called for a “constructive dialogue to open a new page to reconciliation after so many disputes.” ”Most of the dialogue (between religions) has ended in failure…,” King Abdullah said in the speech, delivered in Arabic. “To succeed we must emphasize the common link between us which a belief in God.”
Fine sentiments–but until the Saudi government stops arresting people for “plotting to celebrate Christmas” they cannot be taken seriously.
Elliott Abrams writes for CFR, from where this article was adapted.