HM does not do many interviews, and getting to 'sit in' on a small discussion with His Majesty is a rare and wonderful honour. HM is one smart cookie, and his advise and observations are generally pretty spot on.
In this cable from 2005, just released, he gives a far ranging view of his opinions across the Middle East: Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi, and some domestic issues.
In the middle of the discussion is this, HM is reported to have discussed (* see disclaimer) the Hijab.
¶8. (C) Revealing much about his own views on religion, the Sultan observed that religion combines many features: fundamental pillars of belief, rules of interpersonal behavior, and a kind of social contract, among others. Islam, he said, strictly proscribes only a very narrow band of activities, such as drinking blood and eating pork; everything else is simply cultural interpretation.
He finds it ridiculous that some people claim women must wear a hijab as an article of faith, whereas the Quran makes no such requirement.
Wow. Once again, HM totally rocks. Take that creeping Wahabi-ism. Ladies, over to you! You are free to wear what you want - including the Hijab - but the reason you can wear a hijab is because it's up to you and your cultural traditions, NOT because someone has the right to tell you to wear it or force you to wear it under a religious threat. I guess it wasn't necessary to mention the Niqab.
Photo: Omani Hijab - not prescribed by Quran.
On freespeech and extremism:
Later, he talks about freedom of expression. As well as saying (when discussing Iraq) that "Ordinary people do not want religious or ethnic strife, but rather jobs and personal security", HM expanded on the importance of Arabs expressing their opinions more openly. :
¶15. (C) Asked to gauge the strength of terror groups today, the Sultan agreed with GEN Abizaid that they appear to be weaker, but that it is difficult to know what they may be organizing themselves for in the future. He felt extremist ideology has been discredited by its senseless violence.
The Sultan argued that freedom of conscience and speech were the best antidote to extremist ideology, and was encouraged that Arabs appear to be getting over their fear of speaking out and expressing their views. It is time, he said, to let the silent majority speak and exile extremists to the margins of society where they belong.
He also thought that couching harsh ideologies in religious cloaks was likewise losing its appeal, in part given the human nature of fearing eternal damnation for violating true religious tenets.
So HM also supports free speech, and cites the connection between free speech and its impact of suppressing extremism. People have always wondered how the Sablas and Forums and blogs remained on-line, now we know! It also speaks to HM's responses to the protests this year.
Advice on Iran:
Earlier, HM generously gives his visitor, the US CENTCOM General Abizaid, some really excellent advice on Iran:
Offering the unique perspective of an ancient state that has always bordered Iran, the Sultan cautioned the U.S. not to be fooled by the superficial patina of the "Islamic Republic of Iran." "You are dealing with Persia, not the 'Islamic Republic.'"
This is so true. Every Iranian I meet just wants a peaceful secure economy in Iran, and almost always they have relatives in the USA, and actually really don't mind the USA at all. I wish the new Republican presidential candidates could get that. That one observation contains a heap of deep strategic wisdom, IMHO.
He gives more advice on Iran to the General, detailed in a different cable here
Implications for Oman
I just wish HM would give more speeches and interviews of this nature, in public. In this way his views would have a more pervasive and perhaps longer lasting impact, as he is so sensible in his prescriptions. His arguments are so convincing and imbued with integrity. What a leader. He should show it off a lot more.
How can Omanis get a chance to share more directly in this leadership via the media? Can you imagine HM tweeting?
President Obama has a blog, website, tweeter account, photos, speeches, etc etc etc. Why doesn't HM bypass the MOI and get some young Omani on-line intelligensia to hook him up on the information superhighway?
Follow this link to see the whole interview. It's too big to post here in full.
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: * These alleged confidential documents are more accurately "what wikileaks and their anonymous source purports to be what those representatives from the US State department chose to commit formally in writing (and after editing and review) to the US Secretary of State about what HM Sultan Qaboos was perceived by them to have probably said, or inferred, to them about what HM's opinions were, in an unstated context, and when knowingly shared by HM with official representatives of the US State Department in a non-121 meeting attended by other persons".
Gedit? Caveat Emptor indeed. We weren't there, so you don't know what really happened, right?
In this world, some (or most) of these cables may be official unoffical propaganda/black intel, from almost anyone. It's just the internet after all. So readers are advised that all this is for entertainment value only. Treat it as a novel. For god's sake don't go off and do anything silly based on these digital bits and bytes. And that advice applies to professionals and amateurs alike!