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The NYT Dissects Saudo-Masochism By: Stephen Schwartz
Tech Central Station | Tuesday, April 27, 2004


With the bombing of a Saudi police facility in Riyadh on April 21, certain people of influence -- American journalists and officials, as well as leaders of the desert kingdom -- are finally admitting the contradictions of the Wahhabi dominion. And because it has taken so long for so many of them to wake up to this reality, I am going to break two journalistic rules: I am going to write about my own feelings, and about a colleague.

I'll begin with the latter -- Neil MacFarquhar of The New York Times, for whom I have nothing but respect. On Friday, April 23, under the headline "Saudis Support a Jihad in Iraq, Not Back Home", Mr. MacFarquhar confirmed a number of charges that I have made continuously, in print and on TV and radio, over the past year. They include:

· that the Islamist clerical establishment in the kingdom, adhering to the ultra-extreme cult known as Wahhabism, have actively preached for jihad against the Coalition in Iraq -- as I repeatedly charged and documented;

· that the long Saudi border with Iraq is a serious problem, which Saudi officials now claim they are attempting to fix, by allegedly sealing it against the frequent movement of jihadist volunteers northward -- a measure I consistently demanded, to virtual silence;

· that the Saudi rulers have permitted ongoing incitement, inside the kingdom, to the murder of Coalition soldiers in Iraq, as a means of "trying to let off steam" -- which has been the centerpiece of my critique of the Saudi order;

· that when Saudis are killed fighting the Coalition in Iraq their families make their "martyrdom" known to everybody in the kingdom -- which I also documented at length.

With no offense meant, since I am sincere in my admiration of Mr. McFarquhar, his reportage on April 23 read as if it was recycled from any of a number of my articles.

However, there is a difference. Mr. McFarquhar echoes the arguments of Saudi officialdom and the extremists among the Saudi public who see a contradiction between jihad against the Coalition in Iraq and terrorism against the Saudi regime. The former is applauded by the Wahhabis; the latter elicits screams of rage.

But this duality embodies nothing more than the 250-year old hypocrisy pursued by the Wahhabi-Saudi ruling elites, who have always depended on the Christian powers to defend them -- first the British, then us, and the French -- while preaching the most exclusionary, violent, and intolerant form of Islam known in the religion's history.

The outrage of Saudi-Wahhabis when the fire and steel they have rained on New York, Madrid, Bali, Casablanca, Istanbul, and Tashkent suddenly explodes on their own territory is certainly understandable. They have gotten away with mass murder for so long, and have enjoyed such exorbitant wealth at the same time, that it is naturally dismaying for them to be told that their long and successful exercise in fooling the West has ended.

But has it? The bombing on April 21 struck a minor police building comparable to a Department of Motor Vehicles in an American county. With thousands of Saudi princes and princesses pullulating across the globe, and with Saudi-controlled financial and religious institutions equally prominent from Morocco to Malaysia, why have so few been targeted by al-Qaida -- which especially since September 11, 2001, we have been told wants to overthrow the Saudi monarchy?

As I have also explained, time after time, Osama Bin Laden has never called for the fall of the Saudi royals; rather, he advocates the murder and expulsion of Westerners from the alleged "holy soil" of Riyadh (with its Victoria's Secret and other luxury stores) and Dhahran, where the oil is located. But when he discusses the ruling stratum, he asks for nothing more than a change in policies.

And his claims about Westerners trespassing on "holy soil" are bogus. No Muslim except deluded Saudis like Bin Laden considers the whole territory of the kingdom "holy soil." Mecca and Medina are, indeed, sacred to Muslims, but no U.S. troops ever went within hundreds of miles of them -- even though French paratroops were sent into the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979 to suppress an ultra-Wahhabi revolt, and did so with machine-guns. I once astonished a Canadian newscaster by informing her that she was wrong to assert the Prophet Muhammad was born in Saudi Arabia. The entity by that name did not exist until 1932!

Mr. MacFarquhar's headline said it all -- for the Saudi-Wahhabis, murderous jihad is fine in Fallujah, but a crime in the capital of the kingdom. But protests by Wahhabis that massacres in the name of faith are forbidden when the victims are Muslims also ring hollow, for of those slain in the latest -- only the latest -- Wahhabi assault on Iraq have been Kurdish Sunnis as well as many, many Shias. Of course, from the Wahhabi perspective, Shias are not really Muslims. Rather, Wahhabism teaches that Shia Islam is a deviant sect cooked up by a Jew! That is why the preposterous adventure by the upstart Moqtada ul-Sadr, in Iraq, is so reprehensible. Only the Coalition can protect the Shia shrines in Kerbala and Najaf from the Wahhabis, who killed hundreds in their precincts when they sacked them in the 19th century. For the Saudi hardliners, a modern, Shia-led Iraq on the road to democracy, however slow in its progress, is a nightmare; bullets and bombs in the name of Islam are only a problem when Wahhabis themselves might be among the collateral victims.

The majority of the Saudi royals continue to play a double game. Meanwhile, normal subjects of the kingdom yearn for rational reform, not for replacement of the Wahhabi clerics and their Saudi kin (literally -- they intermarry) by monsters even more extreme in their corruption and cruelty. Dissident Saudi subjects with whom I meet frequently, and who have bravely smuggled my book, The Two Faces of Islam, into the kingdom, also possess satellite dishes and have access to the internet. They know that Saudi Arabia is now surrounded by a crescent of countries, from Kuwait to Yemen, that although they are hardly model democracies, at least allow women to drive, unlike Saudi Arabia, and have taken other measures toward normality.

But Iraq is the place where the Saudo-masochism of the Western political leadership hurts the most. There our soldiers, men and women, and the gallant forces of the Coalition, have fallen and been injured in a combat largely directed from Saudi Arabia, just as those who died in Vietnam were victims of a strategy impelled first from China, and then from the former Soviet Union. We couldn't force Beijing and Moscow to stop their proxy war in Indochina, without risking nuclear war. But what stops us from demanding that the Wahhabis cease their proxy war in Iraq?

And now, to the truly personal point. For a year I have received a steady stream of vulgar insults on websites. These come not from Saudi subjects or other Muslims, but from ignorant Westerners, some of them academic experts, others mere Islamophobic ignoramuses, who accuse me of being obsessed with Wahhabism, of knowing nothing about "the problem" as they perceive it, and of ignoring the real threat in Iran, or Syria, or who knows where? But I have left the genuine evils of the regimes in Damascus and Tehran to the large armies of vigilant observers of those fever centers, who somehow forgot to notice the problem on Iraq's southern, as opposed to its western and eastern, borders. Those mainly concerned with Syria and Iran didn't need my extra voice.

From now on, I have an answer for those who accuse me of being obsessed with Wahhabism and the Saudis: "tell it to Neil MacFarquhar and The New York Times."


Stephen Schwartz, an author and journalist, is author of The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa'ud from Tradition to Terror. A vociferous critic of Wahhabism, Schwartz is a frequent contributor to National Review, The Weekly Standard, and other publications.


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