Soccer club Real Madrid removes cross from logo to appease UAE bank
If spreading religious intolerance is the goal, a Middle Eastern bank has scored by prompting Real Madrid to alter its world-famous logo so that a small cross does not appear on an officially-licensed credit card.
The Spanish soccer giant unveiled the adjusted logo that will adorn a new credit card issued by the National Bank of Abu Dhabi, reported The Algemeiner. The new logo looks exactly like the club’s 83-year-old trademark, except for the absence of a tiny Christian cross that normally sits at the top.
The logo change was agreed to by the world’s wealthiest sports team, valued at nearly $3.5 billion, in order to avoid offending Muslim sensibilities as the team and the bank enter a three-year “strategic alliance,” according to Real Madrid President Florentino Pérez.
“I know that the local people experience every match in a special way and that our links with the UAE are constantly growing stronger,” Perez said recently. “This agreement will help the club to keep conquering the hearts of followers in the United Arab Emirates.”
Noted Spanish soccer website Marca: “from the looks of things, the club is willing to compromise on aspects of its identity in pursuit of these new fans.”
However, it was not the first time the soccer juggernaut tweaked its crest to avoid offending Islamic sensibilities.In the oil-rich Emirates in 2012, Real Madrid made the same change to smooth the way for a partnership with a UAE resort.
Real Madrid’s most recent decision to cave into Muslim religious intolerance comes at a time of growing concern for Christians in the Middle East, where Islamic State terrorists have massacred and ethnically cleansed ancient Christian communities in Iraq and Syria, noted The Algemeiner, citing a recentState Department report highlighting several violations of international standards on religious freedom in the United Arab Emirates, of which Abu Dhabi is a part.
“The government prohibits proselytizing and the distribution of non-Islamic religious literature under penalty of criminal prosecution, imprisonment and deportation,” the report observed. “The law prohibits churches from erecting bell towers or displaying crosses on the outside of their premises; however, the government does not always enforce this law, and some churches display crosses on their buildings.”
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WikiLeaks cables portray Saudi Arabia as a cash machine for terrorists
Hillary Clinton memo highlights Gulf states’ failure to block funding for groups like al-Qaida, Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba
The terrorist Ajmal Amir Kasab in Mumbai during the 2008 attacks
The terrorist Ajmal Amir Kasab walks through the Chhatrapati Shivaji train station in Mumbai during the 2008 attacks. Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the atrocity, is one of several groups that have raised funds via Saudi Arabia. Photograph: Sebastian D’souza/AP
Declan Walsh in Islamabad
Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba – but the Saudi government is reluctant to stem the flow of money, according to Hillary Clinton.
“More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups,” says a secret December 2009 paper signed by the US secretary of state. Her memo urged US diplomats to redouble their efforts to stop Gulf money reaching extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide,” she said.
Three other Arab countries are listed as sources of militant money: Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
The cables highlight an often ignored factor in the Pakistani and Afghan conflicts: that the violence is partly bankrolled by rich, conservative donors across the Arabian Sea whose governments do little to stop them.
The problem is particularly acute in Saudi Arabia, where militants soliciting funds slip into the country disguised as holy pilgrims, set up front companies to launder funds and receive money from government-sanctioned charities.
One cable details how the Pakistani militant outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the 2008 Mumbai attacks, used a Saudi-based front company to fund its activities in 2005.
Meanwhile officials with the LeT’s charity wing, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, travelled to Saudi Arabia seeking donations for new schools at vastly inflated costs – then siphoned off the excess money to fund militant operations.
Militants seeking donations often come during the hajj pilgrimage – “a major security loophole since pilgrims often travel with large amounts of cash and the Saudis cannot refuse them entry into Saudi Arabia”. Even a small donation can go far: LeT operates on a budget of just $5.25m (£3.25m) a year, according to American estimates.
Saudi officials are often painted as reluctant partners. Clinton complained of the “ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist funds emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority”.
Washington is critical of the Saudi refusal to ban three charities classified as terrorist entities in the US. “Intelligence suggests that these groups continue to send money overseas and, at times, fund extremism overseas,” she said.
There has been some progress. This year US officials reported that al-Qaida’s fundraising ability had “deteriorated substantially” since a government crackdown. As a result Bin Laden’s group was “in its weakest state since 9/11” in Saudi Arabia.
Any criticisms are generally offered in private. The cables show that when it comes to powerful oil-rich allies US diplomats save their concerns for closed-door talks, in stark contrast to the often pointed criticism meted out to allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Instead, officials at the Riyadh embassy worry about protecting Saudi oilfields from al-Qaida attacks.
The other major headache for the US in the Gulf region is the United Arab Emirates. The Afghan Taliban and their militant partners the Haqqani network earn “significant funds” through UAE-based businesses, according to one report. The Taliban extort money from the large Pashtun community in the UAE, which is home to 1 million Pakistanis and 150,000 Afghans. They also fundraise by kidnapping Pashtun businessmen based in Dubai or their relatives.
“Some Afghan businessmen in the UAE have resorted to purchasing tickets on the day of travel to limit the chance of being kidnapped themselves upon arrival in either Afghanistan or Pakistan,” the report says.
Last January US intelligence sources said two senior Taliban fundraisers had regularly travelled to the UAE, where the Taliban and Haqqani networks laundered money through local front companies.
One report singled out a Kabul-based “Haqqani facilitator”, Haji Khalil Zadran, as a key figure. But, Clinton complained, it was hard to be sure: the UAE’s weak financial regulation and porous borders left US investigators with “limited information” on the identity of Taliban and LeT facilitators.
The lack of border controls was “exploited by Taliban couriers and Afghan drug lords camouflaged among traders, businessmen and migrant workers”, she said.
In an effort to stem the flow of funds American and UAE officials are increasingly co-operating to catch the “cash couriers” – smugglers who fly giant sums of money into Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In common with its neighbours Kuwait is described as a “source of funds and a key transit point” for al-Qaida and other militant groups. While the government has acted against attacks on its own soil, it is “less inclined to take action against Kuwait-based financiers and facilitators plotting attacks outside of Kuwait”.
Kuwait has refused to ban the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society, a charity the US designated a terrorist entity in June 2008 for providing aid to al-Qaida and affiliated groups, including LeT.
There is little information about militant fundraising in the fourth Gulf country singled out, Qatar, other than to say its “overall level of CT co-operation with the US is considered the worst in the region”.
The funding quagmire extends to Pakistan itself, where the US cables detail sharp criticism of the government’s ambivalence towards funding of militant groups that enjoy covert military support.
The cables show how before the Mumbai attacks in 2008, Pakistani and Chinese diplomats manoeuvred hard to block UN sanctions against Jamaat-ud-Dawa.
But in August 2009, nine months after sanctions were finally imposed, US diplomats wrote: “We continue to see reporting indicating that JUD is still operating in multiple locations in Pakistan and that the group continues to openly raise funds”. JUD denies it is the charity wing of LeT.
• This article was amended on 15 December 2010. The original caption referred to the Chatrapathi Sivaji station in Mumbai. This has been corrected.
More news Topics
Saudi Arabia Al-Qaida
U) Saudi Arabia background (S/NF) While the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) takes seriously the threat of terrorism within Saudi Arabia, it has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority. Due in part to intense focus by the USG over the last several years, Saudi Arabia has begun to make important progress on this front and has responded to terrorist financing concerns raised by the United States through proactively investigating and detaining financial facilitators of concern. Still, donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide. Continued senior-level USG engagement is needed to build on initial efforts and encourage the Saudi government to take more steps to stem the flow of funds from Saudi Arabia-based sources to terrorists and extremists worldwide. (S/NF) The USG engages regularly with the Saudi Government on terrorist financing. The establishment in 2008 of a Treasury attache office presence in Riyadh contributes to robust interaction and information sharing on the issue. Despite this presence, however, more needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, LeT, and other terrorist groups, including Hamas, which probably raise millions of dollars annually from Saudi sources, often during Hajj and Ramadan. In contrast to its increasingly aggressive efforts to disrupt al-Qa’ida’s access to funding from Saudi sources, Riyadh has taken only limited action to disrupt fundraising for the UN 1267-listed Taliban and LeT-groups that are also aligned with al-Qa’ida and focused on undermining stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Qatar, a tiny energy-rich state in terms of territory and population, has exploded on to the world map as a major rival to the region’s behemoth, Saudi Arabia. By projecting itself through an activist foreign policy, an acclaimed and at times controversial global broadcaster, an airline that has turned it into a transportation hub and a host of mega sporting events, Qatar has sought to develop the soft power needed to compensate for its inability to ensure its security, safety and defence militarily. In doing so, it has demonstrated that size no longer necessarily is the determining factor for a state’s ability to enhance its influence and power. Its challenge to Saudi Arabia is magnified by the fact that it alongside the kingdom is the world’s only state that adheres to Wahhabism, an austere interpretation in Islam. Qatari conservatism is however everything but a mirror image of Saudi Arabia’s stark way of life with its powerful, conservative clergy, absolute gender segregation; total ban on alcohol and houses of worship for adherents of other religions, and refusal to accommodate alternative lifestyles or religious practices. Qatar’s alternative adaptation of Wahhabism coupled with its lack of an indigenous clergy and long-standing relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, the region’s only organised opposition force, complicate its relationship with Saudi Arabia and elevate it to a potentially serious threat.
About the Author
James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg in Germany, and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer. A version of this paper was presented at the Gulf Research Meeting in Cambridge, UK, in July 2013.
Conflict and Stability / Country and Region Studies / General / Global / International Politics and Security / Middle East and North Africa (MENA) / Regionalism and Multilateralism / Religion in Contemporary Society / Working Papers
Last updated on 15/09/2014