Does The Australian National Imams Council Support The Saudi War On Yemen?

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The War on Yemen is supported by the Australian Government and, it seems, Australia’s most senior Muslim leaders. Michael Brull reports.

It appears the Australian National Imams Council (ANIC), along with the Grand Mufti of Australia, have taken a position on the Saud-GCC-US-UK war on Yemen. They’ve decided to join the many rich and powerful countries partaking in Saudi Arabia’s destruction of the impoverished nation.

On Sunday, ANIC released a statement, announcing that “ANIC and the Mufti of Australia Condemn the attacks by the Hoothi Rebels on the Holy City of Makkah”. They called this a “vicious attack” and “heinous crime”, which they “strongly condemn”, as “this attack targets all Muslims around the world and the principles of Islam.”

Sheikh Shadi Alsuleiman claimed this was “not an attack on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”, it was “an attack on every Muslim”. The Mufti similarly offered a quote about how the Houthis had offended Muslims across the world.

Before I discuss more of the media release, I’d like to note that ANIC’s claims are not based on any real evidence. At best, they are simply uncritically accepting as fact an unproven claim of the Saudi government. At worst, they are disseminating Saudi propaganda, distracting from the barbaric war on Yemen.

 

Was a missile fired at Mecca?

Reuters reported on the events. According to the Saudi statement, paraphrased by Reuters, the Saudis “destroyed the missile 65 km (40 miles) from the holy city before it could do any damage”. They say it was fired from Saada, in north-western Yemen.

The Houthis are a rebel insurgency that successfully overthrew the Saudi imposed government on Yemen. They say that the missile was aimed at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah. The Independent reported that the airport is 75 kilometres northwest of Mecca.

To help readers visualise the two claims, I’ve created a map. Mecca has a black arrow pointing towards it, the airport has a red pin, and I labelled Saada.

mecca-map

To help readers visualise the possible path of the missile, I have drawn three lines. The pink one is if the Houthis targeted Mecca from the closest spot in Yemen. The blue line is if they fired at the airport from the same spot – readers can note the path is different, if close to the pink line. And the green line is a possible path for the missile from a spot which would diverge the most from targeting Mecca.

For reasons that will soon become clear, I have emphasised the boundaries of Mecca province by badly tracing them in blue.

At this point in time, this appears all the information we have. The facts are perfectly consistent with the Houthi claim. All the evidence of what happened appears to be this brief dispatch of 67 words from the Saudi Press Agency.

Media reports of what happened leave out a significant ambiguity of the dispatch. It describes “the interception of a ballistic missile launched by Houthi militias at 21:00 Thursday evening from Saada province toward Makkah area.” Emphasis added.

It is not clear what the Mecca area is. It may be the Mecca Region. As shown on my map, it encompasses Mecca and the airport.

It is possible that the missile was destroyed on the blue path, or perhaps even the green path, 65 kms from Mecca, and in the eyes of the Saudis, this was near the Mecca area, because it was in Mecca Region. That is, the original Saudi report may be consistent with the Houthis having fired a missile at the airport, and not at Mecca.

The Muslim holy site of Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. (IMAGE: marviikad, Flickr)
The Muslim holy site of Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. (IMAGE: marviikad, Flickr)

It is the basis for all subsequent claims, and it never actually says that the missile was fired at Mecca. It simply alleges that a missile was fired “towards Makkah area”, and it was destroyed 65 kms from Mecca.

Nevertheless, in response to the Saudi government’s claims – which have not been investigated or proven by any kind of independent person or body – various Arab countries have taken turns condemning the alleged firing of a missile at Mecca. Then France and Germany condemned it.

Would the Saudis lie about a missile being fired at Mecca? Consider the statement by the Council of Gulf International Relations. They claimed that targeting Mecca confirms “that the battle is not between the legitimacy of Yemen and the alliance of the coup, but between Muslims and those who tried to desecrating (sic) their sanctities and mocking (sic) their feelings”.

That is, in every war, belligerents claim that the other side has done really awful and heinous things. Propaganda is standard to every conflict. In this case, the fact that the Saudi government alleges the Houthis have fired a missile at Mecca is a provocative claim, designed to inflame Muslim opinion against the Houthis.

There is no actual basis for believing it is true, except for those who blindly believe the claims of the Saudi government.

 

anic-on-yemen

Stand with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?

The worst part of the ANIC statement is in the penultimate paragraph. It says that ANIC urges all Muslims and Muslim countries to “stand in solidarity and support with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia who are the custodians of the sacred cities Makkah and Madina, the Council also commends the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for their ongoing care, role and protection of the sacred places of Makkah and Madina and stands strongly with the Kingdom against any attack on the Muslim sacred cities”.

Commending the Kingdom for their “care, role and protection” of the sacred places of the two cities sounds less like it’s directed at the country as a whole, and more like its directed at the Saudi government.

The King of Saudi Arabia is Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who claims the title of “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques”. That is, ANIC’s call for solidarity with the Kingdom, who are characterised as the “custodians of the sacred cities”, sounds a lot like the Saudi government’s traditional self-glorifying way of referring to itself. It appears ANIC is not just praising the country, but the royal tyrants generally.

Now let me stress once again: the war on Yemen is destroying it.

A few days before ANIC’s media release, the United Nations food relief agency released their own media release. The regional director of the World Food Program warned that “Hunger is increasing every day and people have exhausted all their survival strategies. Millions of people cannot survive without external assistance.”

They are currently working to “treat and help prevent malnutrition among some 700,000 children under five, pregnant women and nursing mothers”.

“An entire generation could be crippled by hunger,” said WFP Country Director Torben Due.

The release noted that “findings from June 2016 show that 14.1 million people in Yemen are food insecure, including 7 million who are severely food insecure. In some governorates, 70 per cent of the population struggle to feed themselves.”

14.1 million people is half of the population. According to Oxfam, 21.2 million people – 82 percent of the population – “are in need of life-saving aid such as food and clean water”.

Before the war, Yemen imported “some 90 per cent of its food needs”, and already “it had one of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world”. Now the situation is catastrophic – and as reported in the Independent, “much of the hunger”, is because of a blockade imposed on Yemen by the Saudis.

The UN describes the result: “In some areas like Hodeidah governorate, Global Acute Malnutrition rates among children under five as high as 31 per cent have been recorded – more than double the emergency threshold of 15 per cent. Almost half of the children countrywide are irreversibly stunted.”

Let me repeat the words of Torben Due: “An entire generation could be crippled by hunger.”

That statement was released less than a week before the ANIC’s statement.

On the day of ANIC’s statement, the Saudi led coalition bombed a security complex, killing 60 people. Earlier in October, they bombed a funeral, killing 142 people.

On the actual day of ANIC’s media statement, the Independent reported on the spread of cholera in Yemen. Cholera is a water-borne disease that “can advance quickly when infrastructure is damaged and clean water is hard to come by, as is the case in Yemen”.

It has “ballooned” to over 1400 cases in 10 of Yemen’s 23 governorates, according to the World Health Organisation. More than 7.6 million people “are living in the areas affected by cholera”.

Saida Ahmad Baghili, 18, suffers from severe acute malnutrition (Reuters).
Saida Ahmad Baghili, 18, suffers from severe acute malnutrition (Reuters).

The Independent reported that, “If unchecked, the illness could affect up to 76,000 people, with more than 15,000 severe cases requiring medical admission, the WHO predicted”.

The situation in Yemen is utterly dire and catastrophic. An entire generation could be crippled by hunger.

Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East, being destroyed by a coalition of the richest, with particularly strong backing by the UK, and strong backing and participation by the US.

As Australian mercenaries join the war, our Foreign Minister blithely supported the Saudi position twice in 2015, even praising the “important role” the invading coalition of Gulf Arab countries has played in “assisting” Yemen.

Our government has imposed sanctions on the Houthis, not on the invading coalition. Our foreign fighters helping destroy Yemen face no penalties for joining the war if they choose to return to Australia.

In the final paragraph of ANIC’s statement, it asks Allah to “protect all people and Muslim countries around the world from any oppressive attack”. Given their support for the Saudi government, and complete lack of compassion for the people of Yemen, it reads like a sick joke, a parody of their own silence on the oppressive attack on Yemen.

As rich and powerful countries threaten to cripple an entire generation with hunger, backed by the most powerful countries on the planet, Yemen stands friendless. Surrounding Arab and Muslim countries side with Saudi Arabia. ANIC responds by urging Muslims around the world to offer solidarity with the Saudis, one of the most oppressive governments on the planet.

Their sole concern is an unproven missile attack that harmed no-one.

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Michael Brull

Michael Brull writes twice a week for New Matilda. He has written for a range of other publications, including Overland, Crikey, ABC's Drum, the Guardian and elsewhere. His writings can be followed at his public Facebook page (click on the icon below right).

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