Like sleepwalkers approaching a precipice, the hardliners in the Saudi royal family, and Westerners concerned to protect them, head inexorably toward disaster. Amazingly, the cloak of fake mystery that surrounds the kingdom, as dark and impenetrable as the garments forced on its female subjects, prevents most commentators from perceiving that the trail the oil sheikhs and their sycophants are following is very old. It was trodden before them by the monarchs of France and the tsars of Russia, and by many other doomed tyrants.
Nevertheless, step-by-step, the U.S.-Saudi alliance, essential to the survival of the regime, is cracking. Several new elements of the crisis have emerged. The U.S. Treasury has sent a team of investigators to Saudi Arabia to track down prominent individuals allegedly associated with the funding of extremism. One such person, financier Khalid bin Mahfouz, has been informed that the Saudi American Bank has closed his account, and returned his money to him by check. (Bin Mahfouz not long ago threatened to sue me for statements I made about him in my book, The Two Faces of Islam, but backed off when faced with a stiff retort.) Last Friday, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told al-Jazeera that terrorists bent on mass murder in Iraq, targeting Coalition troops, foreign humanitarian-aid workers, and their Iraqi supporters, were crossing the long northern frontier of Saudi Arabia. “These fighters… are not being stopped at the borders, and this is something that causes us a great deal of concern,” Armitage averred.
Armitage added the usual ameliorative language about Saudi efforts “to bring extremism under control,” even as these new tears appeared in the veil. In reality, unblinkered watchers of the kingdom, and Saudi dissidents, have pointed out for months that thousands upon thousands of Wahhabi imams, who are state employees, have continuously preached and incited young Saudi males to go north for their version of jihad, before, during, and after the Coalition intervention, in sermon after sermon every Friday. The same few observers noted that the terrorist bandits who call themselves Ansar al-Islam, and who organize suicide terror in Iraq, are promoted and adulated in the Saudi media, and that Saudi-Wahhabi penetration of Iraqi Kurdistan had long been supported by the Saddam regime. Saudi-Wahhabi “relief agencies” — the same charged with supporting terrorism by their activities in Central Asia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Caucasus, and even on American soil — have been allowed to set up shop in postwar Iraq, with millions of dollars at their disposal.
Some American and foreign doomsayers use the Iraqi confusion to argue that the country’s liberation gave al-Qaeda a new lease on life. However, it should be obvious that al-Qaeda cannot be defeated globally until the U.S. takes adequate measures to gain full disclosure and cooperation from the Saudis, rather than honeyed words such as are purveyed by the effete Adel al-Jubeir, the Sheikh of Spin, who does the cobra dance on American T.V. As U.S. domestic pressure for a real ultimatum to the Saudis increases, the veil continues to fall apart.
The most remarkable paradigm for understanding the slow Saudi collapse comes to us from Russian history. The czars were profoundly undermined by their patronage of a madman, Rasputin, whose bizarreries expressed, like nothing else, the primitive mental horizon of the rulers. Osama bin Laden may not provide massages for the women in King Fahd’s palace, but otherwise he may well be designated the Saudi Rasputin. The Russian monarchy was further compromised by its commitment to an irreversible military disaster in the First World War, from which it could not extricate itself. Similarly, the Wahhabi order cannot separate itself from the carnage now being inflicted by terrorists in Iraq.
The majority of Iraqis — the Shia majority of 65 percent and the Kurds — see the Wahhabi warriors who have appeared in their midst, cruel and implacable, not as liberators or resistance heroes, but as enemies. Do we need to send more Americans to Iraq? I think not. Backing permanent Kurdish and Shia militias to police their own country would solve a lot of problems. Simply closing the Saudi border would make an even bigger difference.
Meanwhile, the Friday preaching of terrorist martyrdom, in Riyadh and other Saudi cities, continues unchecked. Cosmetic fatwas calling on a renunciation of extremism mean nothing; nor do occasional arrests and even the extra-judicial killing of those accused of ultraradicalism mean anything. The problem is at the center of power, in the person of prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, minister of the interior and the real ruler of the country; he’s the uncle of the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Prince Bandar bin Sultan.
Yet notwithstanding continuing revelations about Saudi funding of terror, Bandar remains untouchable in Washington, along with his wife, Princess Haifa. Although her convoluted financial links to Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, the two lead hijackers among the 15 Saudis out of the 19 9/11 terrorists, attracted widespread attention late last year, she somehow fell through the cracks when the congressional report on the terror conspiracy was recently released. The sojourn of al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar in San Diego was reexamined, but Princess Haifa’s Islamic covering billowed out, masking her from renewed publicity.
This is appropriate, if immoral, because Princess Haifa has much more to hide than her propensity for charity to terrorists. To certain defenders of the Saudi monarchy, any discussion of Princess Haifa is an unspeakable insult. James Zogby of the Arab American Institute, which once paraded itself as a legitimate and moderate advocacy group for those loyal to American institutions and concerned for peace, has become especially strident on this issue. Recently, he loudly decried how “the donations made by Saudi Princess Haifa to ‘needy Saudi women’ [have] been transformed into a scandal.”
But no magic was necessary to “transform” Princess Haifa into a paragon of Wahhabi obscurantism and anti-Western hatred. It is well-known among Saudis residing in this country that the princess compels the wives of Saudi diplomats in Washington to attend “lectures” intended to reinforce their Wahhabi bigotry and contempt for the West, the better to “protect” them from temptation during their time as our guests. It is similarly notorious that the religious-affairs section of the Saudi embassy, a black hole of Wahhabi hatemongering, enjoys a separate status, with immense financial resources and extraordinary powers, which it abuses to foster Wahhabism in America through, among other channels, Saudi-controlled “Islamic academies” — i.e., locally accredited primary and secondary schools. Prince Bandar’s closest associates within the diplomatic staff are troglodytic Wahhabis who don’t speak English and have no interest in the affairs or sensibility of Americans.
It is time to shine a bright light on all aspects of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, and for our political leaders to acquire sufficient moral courage not to turn away from what may thus be revealed. In addition, we must rid ourselves of the fairytale peddled to us by the Riyadh royals, which holds that the only alternative to their misrule is something even more harsh and extreme. Saudi-Wahhabi ideology has always represented the most extreme form of Islam, beyond which there are no worse variants. The replacement of the tsars by Communism was not an inevitability; over the past quarter century dictatorships in countries as varied as Spain, Bulgaria, South Korea, and Indonesia — the latter with the largest Muslim population in the world — have given way, through managed transitions, to a new, and if not a perfect, and least a livable, way of life, based on entrepreneurship and popular sovereignty.
The Saudis and their agents must be booted out of Iraq to prevent further casualties to the Coalition forces. South of the Iraq-Saudi border, the house that Saud built must be evacuated before it collapses on its subjects’ heads. And here at home, it is long past time to demand a housecleaning at the Saudi embassy in Washington. Let Bandar go home, and let the Saudi kingdom send us an ambassador we can trust.
— Stephen Schwartz is the author of The Two Faces of Islam, Saudi Fundamentalism and Its Role in Terrorism, which has just been issued as an Anchor paperback, with a new after word).