Kingdom of Venom
Saudi imams continue their calls for death and destruction — right under the eyes of the U.S. government.


At the Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal Mosque in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, the imam reminded congregants of “the rewards that God grants them for acts of goodness, kindness, and charity” and called on them “to focus on helping their fellow human beings, particularly those who suffer from poverty or who are sick.” That was the description provided by an observer who attended the recent service in Al Khobar, which was contained in a cable sent from the U.S. consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia — and obtained exclusively by NRO.

But, as the cable went on to point out, the imam’s message was not confined to peaceful and high-minded rhetoric: He also called for the death of “the Jews” — albeit in a relatively poetic fashion, asking for “God to purify Jerusalem from the footprint of the Jews.” And, based on the May 14 cable’s descriptions of other services across Saudi Arabia — which took place after the May 7 discovery of a weapons cache in Riyadh, but before the May 12 bombings — the imam was not alone in sending this message of hate.

As part of its ongoing efforts to keep abreast of the “Saudi street,” the State Department had asked some of its employees inside the kingdom to attend mosque services and report on them to Washington. The summaries provided are shocking, though hardly surprising. In the country that sent us 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers, State Department officials visited two mosques in the Western Province, two in the Central Province, and one in the oil-rich Eastern Province. According to one State Department official familiar with the contents of the cable, the mosques all have sizeable congregations and were selected because they constitute a representative cross-section of “approved” Saudi mosques. (Most mosques that do not adhere to the rigid standards of Wahhabism, a fundamentalist and Saudi-based strand of Islam, do not operate openly.)

In all five of the mosques covered in the cable — which was marked “sensitive, but unclassified” — the imams said the sort of things people would expect to hear in a normal house of worship. The imams alternatively spoke of “charity,” following “advice” provided by religion, “mercy,” and “justice.” But the sermons also contained comments that definitely would not be found in normal faith services. Two of the five mosque services called for the “destruction” of Americans, and four of the five called for the “death” or “destruction” of “the Jews.” On the latter count, the fifth sermon didn’t not call for the death of “the Jews,” but rather had a more generic prayer for God “to destroy . . . the enemies of Islam.” Judging by the other four sermons, “the Jews” would be considered a subset of “the enemies of Islam.”

At the Al-Hessy Mosque in Riyadh, for example, the imam talked of the pursuit of a “happy and peaceful life” and “asked God to maintain the dignity of Islam and Muslims.” But he was not done. He then “asked for the destruction of the Jews and Americans,” though as if to try and soften the summation somewhat, the cable calls this “something he does not call for on a regular basis.” In any case, the imam’s audience perked up: “The relatively inattentive congregation showed more interest when the Shaykh asked for the destruction of the Jews and Americans.”

Although the Al-Hessy Mosque is not funded directly by King Fahd, it is apparently close to the Saudi government, as officials from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs were in attendance. After the service, the government employees were standing outside — on the heels of the imam’s call for the “destruction” of Americans — collecting money for Muslims in Iraq. Support for Baathist Iraq was even more explicit at the Saudi government-funded and -controlled Grand Mosque in Mecca. The imam there prayed for God to help “Iraq score victory”; on the plus side, though, he apparently did not explicitly ask God to bring death to Americans.

As criticism of its embrace of the House of Saud has intensified since 9/11, the State Department has typically responded by claiming that outsiders didn’t know of all the good things the Saudis were doing behind the scenes to help. When those same critics point to Saudi support for Islamic extremism, State has mostly demurred, sometimes downplaying the issue and other times feigning ignorance. But this new cable from the kingdom removes any such excuses.

Saudi Arabia — and the State Department — cannot write off the imams’ hateful diatribes chronicled in the cable as the statements of “independent” or “dissident” clerics. Two of the five — the two in the Western Province, home to Mecca — are directly funded by the Saudi government, and the other three are funded largely by members of the Saudi royal family. And as evidenced by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs officials collecting money outside the Al-Hessy Mosque, the mosques don’t need to be directly funded by the government to be close to it. Questions of money aside, Saudi Arabia is a police state, so the fact that such public sermons are allowed to continue connotes tacit approval from the House of Saud.

Foggy Bottom officials for years have appeased the Saudi leaders — but to what effect? Unwavering State Department support for the regime apparently yielded not a single statement at any of the services that could be construed as even mildly pro-American, while two of the imams openly called for the “destruction” of Americans. The stronger the government involvement, in fact, the greater the anti-Americanism seems to be. The only two mosques that expressed direct or indirect support for Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the recently concluded war were two of the three mosques with the closest relationships with the government.

None of the inflammatory rhetoric cited in the cable raised eyebrows at State, though, because it is par for the Saudi course. As one State Department official quips, “Saudi Arabia has two things: lots of oil, and lots of venom.” If State has truly made an effort to persuade the Saudis to lay off on some of the incendiary rhetoric — a big “if” — then those efforts have clearly failed. The cable was signed by a fairly pro-Saudi diplomat, Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, the consul general in Jeddah. Her superiors in Washington ought to start paying attention.

— Joel Mowbray is an NRO contributor and a columnist. Mowbray is the author of the upcoming Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Endangers America’s Security.