The Corner

Saudi Arabia, A Reminder

Quite what American policy should be towards the Saudi regime is an immensely complicated issue, albeit one that quite clearly should involve higher gas taxes (offset, I would think, by lower social security taxes, but let the angry emails fly), far more intense scrutiny of how Saudi-sourced money is spent in the U.S. and, while we’re at it, no more hand-holding in Crawford, but, with the country’s dictator, er, ‘king’, visiting the U.K., it’s useful to remember the real nature of the Saudi regime.

Writing in the Independent, Robert Fisk (yup…) obliges:

Saudi Arabia’s role in the 9/11 attacks has still not been fully explored. Senior members of the royal family expressed the shock and horror expected of them, but no attempt was made to examine the nature of Wahhabism, the state religion, and its inherent contempt for all representation of human activity or death. It was Saudi Muslim legal iconoclasm which led directly to the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban, Saudi Arabia’s friends. And only weeks after Kamal Salibi, a Lebanese history professor, suggested in the late 1990s that once-Jewish villages in what is now Saudi Arabia might have been locations in the Bible, the Saudis sent bulldozers to destroy the ancient buildings there. In the name of Islam, Saudi organisations have destroyed hundreds of historic structures in Mecca and Medina and UN officials have condemned the destruction of Ottoman buildings in Bosnia by a Saudi aid agency, which decided they were “idolatrous”. Were the twin towers in New York another piece of architecture which Wahhabis wanted to destroy? Nine years ago a Saudi student at Harvard produced a remarkable thesis which argued that US forces had suffered casualties in bombing attacks in Saudi Arabia because American intelligence did not understand Wahhabism and had underestimated the extent of hostility to the US presence in the kingdom. Nawaf Obaid even quoted a Saudi National Guard officer as saying “the more visible the Americans became, the darker I saw the future of the country”. The problem is that Wahhabi puritanism meant that Saudi Arabia would always throw up men who believe they had been chosen to “cleanse” their society from corruption, yet Abdul Wahhab also preached that royal rulers should not be overthrown. Thus the Saudis were unable to confront the duality, that protection-and-threat that Wahhabism represented for them.

Fisk’s speculation that the 9/11 hijackers saw the Twin Towers as ‘idolatrous’ seems to me to be off the point (it seems obvious that the WTC was chosen, like the other targets that terrible day, primarily for its propaganda value as a symbol of American power, and, of course, the number of people that could be murdered there) but the whole piece, not all of which makes comfortable reading (and then there is needless to say-it’s Fisk- the usual punch thrown at the U.S.), is well worth a look.

Most Popular

Liberalism as Faith

The British philosopher John Gray is not someone to shy away from ‘difficult’ topics. If you are looking for a provocative long read this weekend, his new article in the Times Literary Supplement ought to be a contender. I didn’t agree with all of it (for example, I would argue that the supposedly ... Read More
Politics & Policy

An Enduring Error

Editor’s Note: The following piece originally appeared in City Journal. It is reprinted here with permission. Fifty-one years ago, in July 1967, in response to an explosion of rioting in poor black urban neighborhoods around the United States, President Lyndon B. Johnson created the National Advisory ... Read More
Culture

The Mournful, Magnificent Sally Mann

‘Does the earth remember?" The infinitely gifted photographer Sally Mann asks this question in the catalogue of her great retrospective at the National Gallery in Washington. On view there is her series of Civil War battlefield landscapes, among the most ravishing works of art from the early 2000s. Once sites ... Read More
Economy & Business

How the Constitution Limits State Taxes

Must a company have a physical presence in a state for that state to require it to collect taxes? The Supreme Court is considering that question, which has grown more important as online sales have taken off. The Competitive Enterprise Institute has submitted an excellent brief arguing that the answer is yes, at ... Read More