The road to Mecca is forbidden and foreboding to non-Muslims. Should they venture onto it, Saudi Arabian law mandates arrest, imprisonment, lashing, and expulsion. Signs high atop highways into Mecca from Jeddah and other entry points read, "Only Muslims Allowed."
Is it, therefore, reasonable to follow these edicts? Is it acceptable for CNN, the New York Times, the U.S. State Department, and the European Union to refrain from sending Christians, Jews, and other non-Muslims into Mecca to report on talks among the warring Palestinian Arab factions now being held under the personal auspices of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia?
Nope. The world cannot perpetuate a farce by participating in discrimination imposed by a jihadist Muslim fundamentalist government playing big boy on the world diplomatic scene. What if the historic talks that led to peace in Bosnia had been held in Mecca and excluded Christian Serbs and Croats? Would the city of Rome, the nation of Italy, or the rest of the world accept a Vatican law stipulating that only Christians may enter the Holy See, that Muslims may not visit Vatican churches, offices, or museums?
Nope. Nor should it stand for this farce in Mecca.
In the 21st century, Saudi Arabia cannot apply seventh-century rules to non-Muslim reporters, diplomats, and Palestinian Arabs, especially as it is portraying itself as a peacemaker in the Arab and international world while enforcing laws that exclude "the other." This is exactly the sort of thing Saudi fundamentalists are trying to propagate in Lebanon, Iran, Egypt, North Africa, and around the world.
It has been argued that since Mecca is a Saudi city, the Saudis should be free to do as they please. Not so. For starters, such discriminatory laws are primitive and uncivilized today. Mecca is a Saudi city, just like Riyadh, and Saudi Arabia chose to host talks on an international issue that non-Muslims care about.
Saudi Arabia inserted itself into the bloody fight between the Islamic and secular Palestinian Arab factions for obvious reasons. It wrapped a historical crisis in Islamic garb to make an otherwise pan-Arab issue exclusively Islamic. Nor can the Saudis, who have always been a behemoth in their grab for space, impose the view on world Muslims that they are the arbiters of all disputes involving Muslims.
The truth is the Saudis have no special formula to end the killing among the Palestinian Arabs. Indeed, they have promoted, with their checkbook diplomacy, the fundamentalists in Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other groups for years. They have built scores of mosques and madrassas in the West Bank and Gaza to spread their fanatical Wahhabi creed and have actively undermined Palestinian Arab Christian political leaders and mayors in the West Bank.
The other truth is that the Saudis can be made to dance to world tunes when they have to, and the world should force them to do so now.
As a foreign correspondent for the New York Times in 1987, I applied for visas for my then executive editor, Joseph Lelyveld, and myself to visit Saudi Arabia. The Saudis reacted typically, asking that we fill the religion section of the visa application. They stressed that Mr. Lelyveld, who is Jewish, should write "Christian." "Jewish" was written instead, and the application officially submitted — with a caveat from me that there would be a dear price to pay if this visa were not granted. The matter had to go all the way to king, then the late King Fahd, with a strong warning from the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and the foreign minister, Prince Saudi Al-Faisal, that having agreed in principle to the visit, Saudi Arabia could not stop a Jew — not to mention the editor of one of America's most influential newspapers — from entering.
Not only did the Saudis cave in, they were unbelievably hospitable, with the government lining up every senior official, including some we hadn't asked to see.
The State Department, CNN, and other organizations should force the issue as well and insist on sending one of their Christian or Jewish representatives to cover the talks in Mecca.
Let's have an "O.K. Corral" moment on this. Say no to discrimination.