Today’s video tries to present the relationships that Saudi Arabia has with Turkey and Indonesia. I don’t really do much of this on this channel, unless we’re talking about one of the world’s great rivalries, like Saudi Arabia vs. Iran. That’s too bad. Almost all of the videos on this channel deal with the way the United States relates to some other country. That’s only natural, as I am a US citizen, and all of us are living in the shadow of the world’s most powerful country to some extent. But I think a lot of valuable detail gets left out if we just focus on the relationships between the US and other countries. And that detail is only getting more important.
Power is flattening. The old imperial model, and the early US world system lent itself to a “hub and spoke” approach. Colonized or just weaker countries tended to have one all important relationship, and then lesser ones with neighbors or other countries with which it had some kind of historical connection. Nowadays more and more places are getting rich, and therefore their relationships are getting a lot more complex. Business and cultural ties can strengthen for a wide range of reasons. Everything’s getting a lot more interesting. I hope to do what today’s video does more often, and cover more relationships between countries outside of the context of the United States.
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. As a US citizen I have probably been too focused on what the murder of Jamal Khashoggi means for the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States. Because what it means for the relationship between Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Muslim States, like Turkey and Indonesia, is potentially much more important.
As I have mentioned before, the worst thing the United States ever did to Islam was help set Saudi Arabia up as Sunni Islam’s leader. Conflict between Shia and Sunni countries is largely a myth. Of the 50 or so Muslim countries, only two or three, depending on how you measure it, are actually led by Shia adherents. Most are sunni, making them vulnerable to Saudi propaganda. For 70 years the US has defended Saudi Arabia’s ridiculously weak government, and enriched Saudi Arabia’s ruling family. As the rest of the Muslim world was struggling to recover from colonialism, Saudi Arabia had spare trillions to spend pushing its extreme form of Islam on everybody, leading to decades of disaster, from Somalia to Northern Syria to Afghanistan and downtown New York City.
Trump’s famous orb party in the first months of his administration May have been the last gasp of this approach. Once again, we tend to focus on the ridiculousness of the Orb and how embarrassing it is that Trump chose Saudi Arabia for his first international trip. What we don’t focus on is the way that Trump helped the Saudis inflate their prestige one last time. The Arab Islamic American Summit Trump spoke at featured rulers from all over the Muslim world, who felt like they had to be there to greet the new US president.
That is why I chose to make my first foreign visit a trip to the heart of the Muslim world to the nation that serves as the custodian of the two holiest sites in the Islamic faith…
This guy appearing to fall asleep during Trump’s speech here is important. His name is Joko Widodo, he’s the president of the fourth largest country in the world. It’s also the largest Muslim country and it’s quickly becoming a bit of an economic juggernaut. Indonesia’s economy is now significantly larger than Saudi Arabia’s, and President Widodo is probably wondering what the hell he’s doing here, flattering some medieval petro-state, and listening to a reality TV star spout nonsense.
Another Sunni Muslim Leader decided to skip the conference entirely. I have a lot of problems with Turkey’s President Erdogan, but he at least talks about democracy, and he arrests his opponents, he doesn’t cut their heads off. Turkey dominated the Muslim world for 400 years as the Ottoman Empire. After a bit of an off century, Turkey is now loudly proclaiming its rights as a world leader again. It occasionally has the economic performance to back that up.
These two Sunni Muslim countries, Turkey and Indonesia, are quite rightly beginning to wonder why exactly they are expected to kowtow to a country whose main accomplishment is using the British Empire’s money to steal some holy cities. And they’re starting to do something about it.
The Khashoggi story would not have been possible without the Turkish government. If the Turkish government had simply blackmailed the Saudis, khashoggi’s disappearance could have been a one-day story. Instead, their investigation has been very carefully managed to cause maximum embarrassment to Saudi Arabia. Revelations have been carefully dripped out piece by piece, demolishing each Saudi explanation as quickly as they could come up with them. This has been a very conscious policy by the Turkish government, and it’s working.
Saudi Arabia’s defenders have rightly pointed out that Turkey engages in many human rights abuses of its own. This argument fails of course, when you consider just how infinitely worse Saudi Arabia is. Turkey is consciously trying to push the United States and the world away from its old ally, not by inventing anything, but by stage managing the reveal of Saudi Arabia’s true face. Last week we saw this effort begin to bear fruit elsewhere.
Indonesia is now richer than Saudi Arabia in the aggregate, but it has almost ten times as many people. For decades it has sent folks to Saudi Arabia to work. These workers have very little power, are often abused, and if they fight back they are sometimes executed by the Saudi government. In 2015 Indonesia was so irritated about this practice that they temporarily banned emigration to Saudi Arabia for work. Last week the Saudis executed another Indonesian with no notice to the Indonesian government. Rather than shrug their shoulders the Indonesian government lodged a former protest and threatened further action. The power relations between these countries are changing.
Saudi leadership of the Sunni Muslim world has led to terrorism, state failure, and a decades long crushing of democracy and human rights across the Muslim world. Indonesia and Turkey are, like the United States, flawed democracies. But they are infinitely better than a deranged medieval monarchy, bone sawing it’s opposition to pieces. Saudi Arabia’s replacement by Turkey and Indonesia is something to be very excited about. It may ultimately be a lot more important than whatever the US does or doesn’t do to Saudi Arabia over Jamal Khashoggi.
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