A report in the Guardian reveals that Britain’s Ministry of Defence has trained, and continues to train, the Saudi force that helped suppress demonstrations in Bahrain earlier this year (“UK training Saudi forces used to crush Arab spring,” May 28). As usual, those who rule are more concerned with maintaining the “stability” of their power than they are with the people on the receiving end of that power.
The Guardian notes that the Saudi Arabian National Guard was “established by the kingdom’s royal family because it feared its regular army would not support it in the event of a popular uprising.” Sounds like a true force for freedom, doesn’t it? Since 1964 the National Guard has been trained by the British government in “weapons, fieldcraft and general military skills training, as well as incident handling, bomb disposal, search, public order and sniper training.” Some of these skills were undoubtedly put to use by the hundreds of Saudi troops who helped put down a popular uprising in nearby Bahrain.
The training these men received is just one element in the latest episode of Western intervention in the Middle East, a show running at least since Napoleon’s day. It’s part of the tradition of making a deal with local strongmen who will work in your interests — often at odds with the interests of those the strongmen rule over. This tradition includes the US School of the Americas, where many graduates went on to leave a path of pillage and torture across Latin America. It includes US support for the Shah of Iran’s brutal SAVAK security service. It’s done with the same motivation as trading weapons for political support, an act countless governments have involved themselves in, recently seen in the “Made in the USA” teargas canisters used unsuccessfully to maintain autocracy in Egypt.
Politicians in powerful countries want local strongmen on their side to extend their influence globally. A dictator might be a “son of a bitch,” but as the saying goes, if he’s “our son of a bitch” then he’s okay.
And what of the training and weapons given or sold to such upstanding individuals? Thugs use them to seize control and political power. Loyal forces like the Saudi Arabian National Guard use them to keep the cannon fodder in line. And superior firepower tends to be helpful in keeping the population from rising against the government.
Even a cursory examination of human rights in Saudi Arabia paints an ugly picture: Widespread censorship, curtailedreligious freedom, women forbidden to even drive automobiles, homosexuality a crime, prisoners tortured, and official punishments include amputation, flogging, and public execution. Saudi forces in Bahrain reportedly discriminated against Bahrain’s majority Shi’a population — discriminated, that is, at the point of automatic rifles.
When the West provides military training and weapons to regimes that actively suppress the freedom of millions of Muslims and engage in sectarian repression, it highlights the absurdity of the claim that Westerners are primarily hated for our freedom. Sure, there are people who harbor resentment for greater degrees of liberty than they are willing to tolerate — and not all of these people are native-born Westerners. But is it any wonder that people are attracted to violence or seek answers in repressive religion when Western governments help suppress peaceful options for reform?
It also reveals the arrogance of Westerners who proclaim that people from a certain area are “not ready for democracy.” This is like giving a person a swift kick to the knees then announcing that he isn’t ready to run.
So long as enough people insist on ruling over others, and enough people let them, violence and repression will be subsidized. The practice of statehood is the expansion of power on behalf of those who rule and those whom rulers need the most. If there is power to be gained in helping governments murder peaceful demonstrators, then weapons and trainers will be sent. Authorities at home export brutality abroad.