Commercial and bureaucratic hindrances collided with an uncontrollable reality: the faith of many players.
A controversial Saudi-financed centre for interfaith dialogue is being threatened with closure because of Saudi Arabia’s dismal human rights record.
The Austrian Government is considering the closure of the King Abdullah International Centre for Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) in Vienna, of which the Holy See is a founding observer.
In its denial of religious freedom and democracy, and its barbaric system of punishment, the Saudi kingdom is one of the worst offenders in the world.
The Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi, who has been sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for insulting Islam, was publicly flogged outside a mosque after Friday prayers in Jeddah last week. Mr Badawi will be subjected to 20 sessions of 50 lashes each. His second was due to take place today but Amnesty International reported it had been postponed, apparently on medical grounds.
The Austrian Government’s foreign policy council subsequently met to discuss a possible closure of the centre. Several Austrian MPs have said they are increasingly sceptical of its purpose. He could “certainly imagine” closing the KAICIID, Austrian Chancellor, Werner Faymann, said on prime time television news on 12 January.
Meanwhile one of the most prominent figures in Christian-Muslim dialogue, Fr Professor Christian Troll SJ, said that Germany’s financial links with Saudi Arabia were inhibiting inter-religious dialogue.
The fact that Germany had “for a long time” courted Saudi Arabia for economic reasons and had not demanded respect for fundamental human rights “energetically enough”, was a political shortcoming that was holding Christian-Muslim dialogue in check, he said.
Saudi influence had even been felt in German schools he said, with certain schools in Bonn and Berlin being allowed to use the Saudi Arabian school curriculum. “For years Islam was a non-issue at the theological university faculties. Teachers and priests are just not knowledgeable enough for [in-depth] dialogue with Islam,” Fr Troll told KNA news agency.
Meanwhile speaking on behalf of KAICIID’s board of directors, Metropolitan Emmanuel of France declared on 8 January, the day after Islamists slaughtered 10 journalists and two policemen in the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine: “We utterly denounce the brutal attack on the French newspaper that killed and injured innocent people ... let us seek justice for these heinous acts and also let us pursue peace through dialogue.”
A spokesman said Austria could withdraw from the Centre but it could only be closed with the agreement of the other founding members, Spain and Saudi Arabia.