Bush urges Saudi religious reforms

US president calls for end to ban on apostasy at UN interfaith conference.

    Bush, left, has a close relationship with
    the Saudi king [AFP]

    However, the outgoing US president was unapologetic about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying that his country was "protecting" Muslims.

    "Through the generations, our nation has helped defend the religious liberty of others - from liberating the concentration camps of Europe, to protecting Muslims in places like Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq," Bush said.

    The UN has described the two-day conference in New York, which is sponsored by Saudi Arabia, as being designed to bridge differences between religions and cultures.

    Rights issues

    All 192 UN member states were invited to the event, which the king set up following one he helped organise in July in Madrid, Spain.

    Saudi police can detain those suspected
    of changing their religion [EPA]
    However, Saudi Arabia's involvment has sparked criticism from some rights
    groups of its own record.

    Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director for Human Rights Watch, said a UN discussion on religious discrimination should spotlight places "where religious intolerance runs deepest, and that includes Saudi Arabia".

    On Wednesday, the first day of the conference, Shimon Peres, the president of Israel, praised King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia for his Middle East peace initiative.

    "I wish that your voice would become the prevailing voice of the region, of all people. It is right, it is needed, it is promising," he said.

    Western 'intolerance'

    Earlier, King Abdullah had said it was "high time" the world learned from history that differences between followers of different religions and cultures "engendered intolerance, causing devastating wars and considerable bloodshed without any sound logical or ideological justification".

    The Saudi monarch called for all peoples and nations to promote peace, harmony and tolerance, saying "terrorism and criminality are the enemies of every religion and every civilisation".

    Representatives of other Muslim states repeatedly stressed what they described as Western intolerance of Islam.

    Asif Zardari, the Pakistani president, took up the theme on Thursday, saying that "imaginary fear of Islam has been rising".

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


    YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

    'We scoured for days without sleeping, just clothes on our backs'

    'We scoured for days without sleeping, just clothes on our backs'

    The Philippines’ Typhoon Haiyan was the strongest storm ever to make landfall. Five years on, we revisit this story.

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    Russian-Saudi relations could be very different today, if Stalin hadn't killed the Soviet ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

    Daughters of al-Shabab

    Daughters of al-Shabab

    What draws Kenyan women to join al-Shabab and what challenges are they facing when they return to their communities?