According to the Associated Press:
JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia — Former Vice President Al Gore told a mainly Saudi audience on Sunday that the U.S. government committed “terrible abuses” against Arabs after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and that most Americans did not support such treatment.
Gore said Arabs had been “indiscriminately rounded up” and held in “unforgivable” conditions. The former vice president said the Bush administration was playing into al-Qaida’s hands by routinely blocking Saudi visa applications.
“The thoughtless way in which visas are now handled, that is a mistake,” Gore said during the Jiddah Economic Forum. “The worst thing we can possibly do is to cut off the channels of friendship and mutual understanding between Saudi Arabia and the United States.”
Gore told the largely Saudi audience, many of them educated at U.S. universities, that Arabs in the United States had been “indiscriminately rounded up, often on minor charges of overstaying a visa or not having a green card in proper order, and held in conditions that were just unforgivable.”
“Unfortunately there have been terrible abuses and it’s wrong,” Gore said. “I do want you to know that it does not represent the desires or wishes or feelings of the majority of the citizens of my country.”
Did some of the abuses Gore decries happen? I’m sure they did, though I suspect he makes them sound much more large-scale than they really were. Is it always wrong to criticize your country when abroad? (Assuming, here, that we are talking about a country such as the United States where it is possible to criticize government policies at home, and not, say, the former Soviet Union. Or Saudi Arabia, for that matter.) Actually, I don’t think so — though at the moment, with so much anti-American sentiment already existing in the Arab and Muslim world, it is — to put it charitably — imprudent to inflame those passions in an Arab Muslim country.
But even leaving that aside, Gore’s comments are disgraceful and bizarre for two reasons.
(1) Gore fails to mention the fact that non-Muslims in America, too, are often held in shockingly bad conditions after being arrested for minor immigration violations. This is, admittedly, a fact that does not (in my opinion) flatter our country. But Gore’s version is far worse, particularly when told to a Muslim/Arab audience, because it implies a concerted campaign to mistreat Arabs and Muslims in the United States. And I do think there is a good argument to be made that in the wake of 9/11, there were legitimate reasons for some ethnic/national profiling when looking at people whose presence in America was of questionable legality. I suspect, even, that most Americans — without endorsing anyone’s ill-treatment — would back such profiling.
(2) Gore was speaking in Saudi Arabia, whose human rights record speaks for itself (particularly with regard to the rights of religious minorities). To go before a Saudi audience and complain about human rights violations in the United States is like talking to a known serial rapist and expressing outrage at the actions of an occasional sexual harasser.
Gore should do the decent thing and apologize.
More: It’s worth noting that Gore also decried the Iranian regime:
On Iran, Gore complained of “endemic hyper-corruption” among Tehran’s religious and political elite and asked Arabs to take a stand against Iran’s nuclear program.
Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes but the United States and other Western countries suspect Tehran is trying to develop nuclear weapons.
“Is it only for the West to say this is dangerous?” Gore asked. “We should have more people in this region saying this is dangerous.”
That may be a good point, particularly about the need for other nations in the region to confront the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran (though one might also argue that Saudi Arabia is in its own way no better than Iran). But that’s hardly excuses the totality of Gore’s statement.
On a side note, it’s rather ironic that while many on the left (Michael Moore, for instance) have assailed Bush for being too cozy with the Saudis, Gore assails him for an overly tough policy on Saudi visas.