US Analyst: No Excuse for Hajj Tragedy
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – An American political analyst has denounced Saudi Arabia’s lack of commitment to handling of this year’s Hajj pilgrimage as the main cause of catastrophic incident in Mina, near Mecca, stressing that “there is no excuse” for such a tragedy.
“Accidents happen, of course, but this is recurring event going back centuries, and managing it to avoid such mishaps should be the highest priority for the country hosting it. KSA is an extremely wealthy country, and Hajj is big business for them. To the extent that the crane failure or other incidents stem from any lack of commitment in resources, training or attention to detail, there is no excuse,” Daniel Patrick Welch, from Boston, said in an interview with the Tasnim News Agency.
Daniel Patrick Welch (Donal Pádraig Breatnach) is a writer of political commentary and analysis. An outspoken critic of US foreign policy, he lives in the city of Salem with his wife Julia. Together they run The Greenhouse School (http://www.greenhouseschool.org). He has traveled widely, speaks five languages and studied Russian History and Literature at Harvard University.
Welch has also appeared as a guest on several TV and radio channels to speak on various topics.
The following is the full text of the interview.
Q: During the past days, many countries and Islamic figures and organizations have criticized Saudi Arabia for its incompetency and imprudence in organizing the big event as this is not the first time such a tragedy has happened. How do you think such a great annual event should be managed then? Do not you think that there should be a council of several Muslim countries instead of only Saudi Arabia because Mecca is not only the heritage of Saudi Arabia but also of the entire Muslim world?
A: The disaster has understandably raised concerns from Muslims around the world, and reignited the debate over whether there should be some sort of joint control over such an important event and sites as the Hajj and Medina and Mecca. While the sites are under sovereign control of KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), the Hajj is a sacred duty for the entire global Muslim community. This might be especially helpful in the interest of minimizing any alienation and conflict between Sunni and Shiite communities, which of course both have an equal duty to perform Hajj. A secular diplomatic analogy might be the case of the UN being situated in New York City, under the control of the United States, which can manipulate and use visa restrictions to harass governments which it regards as hostile. Borders and national sovereignty should not serve to give one group disproportionate control over sites or systems in which an entire global community has an interest.
Q: Do you believe that Saudi Arabia is no longer able to manage and provide safety and security for a crowd of two million Muslim pilgrims in an event that the circumstances are well-known beforehand?
A: While it is easy to take pot shots at those in control over what could be simply a horrible accident, the presumption in your question is correct: Accidents happen, of course, but this is recurring event going back centuries, and managing it to avoid such mishaps should be the highest priority for the country hosting it. KSA is an extremely wealthy country, and Hajj is big business for them. To the extent that the crane failure or other incidents stem from any lack of commitment in resources, training or attention to detail, there is no excuse.
Q: According to reports, the caretaking staff appointed by the Saudi government to be in charge of this year’s Hajj are not properly trained and lack essential skills to run the big event. Do not you think that this failure is mainly because the Saudi government is using its experienced and well-trained forces in wars with its neighboring countries?
A: This is obviously speculative, so it is impossible to know for sure. But it does beg the larger question raised above over commitment of resources. Again, KSA is a wealthy kingdom, and has all the resources necessary if properly applied, so if this is not happening it is fair to look at where those resources are being used. Once again using the analogy to the US, attention is often drawn to the vast sums being spent on the war budget and foreign military campaigns as domestic infrastructure is untended and crumbling into dust. These questions will also receive more attention as KSA moves into the spotlight by assuming leadership of the UN Human Rights Council, which many have criticized given its own egregious human rights record.
It (Saudi Arabia) is also involved not only in the illegal war on Yemen, but implicated in the death squad proxy wars in Libya, Syria and a host of other countries on behalf of and in conjunction with the US, along with other [P]GCC states, Turkey, Jordan and so on. Specifically relating to Hajj, these activities have actually led many Muslims to call for a boycott of Hajj. I doubt this is something that will happen any time soon--but adherents point out that while Hajj is a duty for all Muslims at some point in life, there is no pressing need for it to be done, for example, this year. So the rising questions surrounding the pilgrimage are something the Saudis would be wise to take seriously.