On Tuesday, 188 of 193 nation members of the United Nations General Assembly voted for the 22ndyear in a row for a resolution that condemns U.S. sanctions against Cuba. Only Israel joined the United States in voting against the resolution. The impact of this year’s vote on Washington must have been particularly offending, however. The tiny Pacific island nation of Palau, which voted with Israel and the United States against a similar resolution last year, decided this year to abstain alongside Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.
U.S. envoy Ronald Godard dismissed the resolution the international community overwhelmingly endorsed, saying, “Our sanctions policy toward Cuba is just one of the tools in our overall effort to encourage respect for the civil and human rights consistent with the Universal Declaration [of Human Rights].” However, U.S. sanctions against Cuba in themselves violate international and human rights laws that provide limits to the imposition of sanctions so they do not negatively impact the enjoyment of social, cultural and economic rights in the targeted country. According to a report published by Amnesty International in 2009, the U.S. embargo against Cuba does just that and has been depriving the Cuban people of their basic needs for food, water, medicine and electricity.
More puzzling is the logic that prompts the United States to punish Cuba with sanctions because of the Cuban government’s supposed human rights violations, while, on the other hand, the United States turns a blind eye to repression and hooliganism perpetuated by its closes allies. The Saudi regime, one of America’s major allies in the Middle East, has been involved in the business of shooting protesters, torturing prisoners, suppressing dissent and detaining activists for quite some time. While members of the Saudi monarchy engage in public-relations exercises and promote religious tolerance abroad, including at Georgetown, the puritanical regime has pursued a different path at home. It continues to treat the Shiite minority in the country as second-class citizens and destroy mausoleums that had housed Islam’s greatest figures from the seventh and eighth centuries. To this day, the Saudi regime, often dubbed as one of Washington’s moderate Arab allies, continues to bulldoze Islam’s earliest material legacy and violently mistreat Shiite pilgrims who are frequently harassed, cursed, arrested and beaten by the Saudi religious police.
Unlike its approach to communist Cuba, the United States has rewarded the Saudi regime’s human rights violations, cultural vandalism and savagery toward Islam’s earliest historical sites and great figures with massive weapons sales and political support. As part of a deal signed between the two countries in late 2011, the United States is shipping $60 billion worth of fighter jets, helicopters and other sophisticated weaponry in what is believed to be the single largest arms deal in U.S. history.
The paradox between the way Cuba and Saudi Arabia have been dealt with is revealing. No matter how much pious humanitarian rhetoric Godard used to justify U.S. sanctions against Cuba, U.S. sanctions policy seems to be motivated by interest rather than principle.
This comes as no surprise for many of us who have witnessed countless cases of U.S. collaboration with the worst elements in different countries to supposedly advance U.S. interests. In August 2010, reports revealed that Muhammed Zia Salehi, a top Afghan official linked to a corruption scandal, was on the payroll of the CIA for many years for “unspecified work.” Defending the CIA’s ties with Salehi, a U.S. official told The New York Times, “If you want intelligence in a war zone, you’re not going to get it from Mother Teresa or Mary Poppins.”
We should not have high expectations from politicians, but Georgetown can play a big role in solving this problem. In particular, I urge the department of Arabic and Islamic Studies and the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, through the programs they hold, to raise awareness and pay attention to the gravity of persistent tragedy in the Hejaz region, the Saudi regime’s cleansing of Islam’s earliest surviving material culture and the sacrilegious destruction of mausoleums housing Islam’s great figures, including the grandsons of the Prophet of Islam.
Faisal Husain is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History.