The United Nations started a two-day "interfaith dialogue" on religious tolerance Wednesday, said Blake Hounshell in Foreign Policy online. The host: "Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy where religious freedom does not exist." Come on, that's like "John McEnroe holding a seminar on good sportsmanship."
It's actually a "bold, courageous, and potentially far-reaching" step by Saudi King Abdullah, said former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the International Herald Tribune, and the "criticism of his initiative from some corners of the Islamic world" should mollify his skeptics in the West. The king is siding with the "modern narrative" of Islam that values engaging with the non-Muslim world, and that should be encouraged.
It's significant that he can't hold the meeting in his own repressive kingdom, said Donald Argue and Leonard Leo in The Christian Science Monitor, where "the message of respect for freedom of religion and belief is most needed." But his goal isn't spreading tolerance, anyway—it's enlisting support for "a global law to punish blasphemy." Pray for failure.
Give King Abdullah a break, said Lebanon's The Daily Star in an editorial. He's taken huge strides, at least for Saudi Arabia, since assuming the throne in 2005. His legitimacy rests largely on the intolerant Wahhabi school of Islam, and for him to push religious tolerance at all is a big deal.
And hey, the conference "broke new ground" when King Abdullah and other Arab leaders stayed seated while Israeli President Shimon Peres spoke, said Betsy Pisik in The Washington Times. It helps that "they liked what he said," but you take historic shows of tolerance where you can get them.
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