When Sweden’s feminist foreign minister challenged Saudi morals, she was disciplined for it. Margot Wallström’s stand deserved support but she was met with silence, which exposed the West’s double-standards towards the Saudi regime. Below is an abridged version of a report by Nick Cohen.
Margot Wallström is the Swedish foreign minister who denounced the way that the ‘theocratic’ kingdom of Saudi Arabia prevents its women travelling; conducting business; marrying without the permission of male guardians; and enforces child marriages where girls are effectively raped by older men. The Saudi courts sentenced Raif Badawi to 10 years prison and 1,000 lashes for setting up a website that championed secularism and free speech.
This provoked a Saudi backlash, similar to Salman Rushdie, the Danish cartoons and Charlie Hebdo magazine before it. In retaliation Saudi withdrew its ambassador to Sweden and stopped all visas to Swedish nationals. The United Arab Emirates joined in as the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (representing 56 Muslim-majority states) accused Sweden of failing to respect – what it described as – the world’s ‘rich and varied ethical standards’. The Gulf Co-operation Council condemned what it called: ‘unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of Saudi Arabia’.
Western media barely covered the story, as Sweden’s EU allies showed no support leaving a small Scandinavian nation to face sanctions and accusations of Islamophobia.
As Europe gets older and poorer, it’s finding that moral stands in foreign policy are a luxury it can no longer afford.
In modern politics it seems that a politician, who defends freedom of speech and women’s rights in the Arab world, is in danger of being labelled a ‘right-winger’ who uses human rights as a cover for anti-Muslim hatred.
Margot Wallström is Sweden’s foreign minister in a weak coalition. She took office promising a feminist foreign policy. She recognised Palestine in October 2014 and neither the Arab League nor the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation and Gulf Co-operation Council condemned that as ‘unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of Israel’.
Wallström also challenged the Saudi version of shari’a law, claiming that as the world’s 12th largest arms exporter, it is ‘unethical’ for Sweden to have a military co-operation agreement with Saudi worth $1.3 billion. This made her a threat to the profit-margin of Sweden’s arms companies.
No less a figure than His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf himself hauled Wallström in to tell her that he wanted a compromise. So Saudi Arabia has been successful in turning criticism of its [mediaeval Wahabi] Islam into an attack on all Muslims, regardless of whether they are Wahhabis or not.
This affair shows us that the rights of women always come last. While there may be Twitter storms about sexist men and media feeding-frenzies when a public figure uses ‘inappropriate language’, it seems that when someone in public life campaigns for the rights of women suffering under a ‘misogynistic clerical culture’, no one will cheer them on. In short they are likely to be met with an embarrassed and hugely revealing silence.
Source: The Spectator, 28 March 2015