The Saudi Connection, two informed articles from the US neo-conservative,  Weekly Standard :


Saudi Friends, Saudi Foes  + The Saudi Connection

Saudi Friends, Saudi Foes
Is our Arab ally part of the problem?
by Stephen Schwartz

THE EXTRAORDINARY ACT of destruction seen on September 11 had a noteworthy harbinger in Islamic history. In 1925, Ibn Saud, founder of the present Saudi Arabian dynasty, ordered the wholesale destruction of the sacred tombs, graveyards, and mosques in Mecca and Medina. These are, of course, the two holy cities of Islam, whose sanctity the Saudi exile Osama bin Laden and other Islamist extremists ostensibly seek to protect from the defiling presence of U.S. troops on Saudi soil.

Saud’s armed supporters, in a frenzy of iconoclasm, first leveled Jannat al-Baqi, the "heavenly orchard" in Medina, where one of the original associates of Muhammad was buried under the prophet’s supervision. Other relatives and thousands of early companions of the prophet were also interred at the site, as were the imams Hassan and Hussein, venerated by Sunni and Shia Muslims. All these graves were wrecked by Saud’s minions, who then looted the treasure at the prophet’s shrine.

The Saud party went on to demolish the cemetery in Mecca where the prophet’s mother, grandfather, and first wife, Khadijah, were buried; then to smash many more honored sites, devastating the architectural achievements of Arabia, including mosques and even Muhammad’s house. Only the tomb of the prophet was spared, after an outcry from traditional Muslims.

This spree of vandalism was accompanied by wholesale massacres of Muslims suspected of rejecting Wahhabism, a fanatical strain of Islam that emerged in Arabia in the eighteenth century and has periodically disturbed the Muslim world. In the nineteenth century, it fueled the Arab nationalist challenge to the tolerant and easygoing Ottoman Empire; and it became, and remains today, the state-sanctioned doctrine of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, founded in 1932.

These events of 75 years ago aid in understanding the violence of bin Laden and other Islamic terrorists, who (since the waning of atheist leftism as a motivating ideology) are all Wahhabis. A direct line extends from the demolition of the holy places in Medina and Mecca through the slaughter of 58 tourists in Egypt in 1997, the orgy of killing in Algeria in this decade, and the bombardment of the Buddhist statues at Bamyan by the Taliban only months ago to the assault on the World Trade Center, symbol of Western wealth and power. In all these cases, unrestrained destruction and bloodshed were justified by Wahhabi doctrine.

Wahhabis, who regard the veneration of the prophet and of saints as a polytheistic corruption of Islam, are offended by the honoring of tombs and shrines, along with many other traditional Muslim practices. Observance of the prophet’s birthday, for example, is illegal in Saudi Arabia, although lately Prince Abdullah has introduced a novel concession: Observances in private homes will no longer be subject to suppression by the religious police.

Wahhabism’s bloodstained record explains why so many Muslims around the world fear and hate Islamic fundamentalism—and why certain marginal types are drawn to it. As an acquaintance of mine put it, in Muslim Morocco, the footloose young sons of the lower middle class and proletariat can take one of three paths. They may adopt Western ways, drink and acquire girlfriends, and be envied. They may take up the life of an ordinary observant Muslim and be respected. Or they may join the Wahhabis—funded by the Saudis and organized by such as bin Laden—and be feared.

This is the most important point for Western leaders to understand right now: The West has multitudes of potential Muslim allies in the anti-terror war. They are the ordinary, sane inhabitants of every Muslim nation, who detest the fundamentalist violence from which they have suffered and which is symbolized, now and forever, by the mass murder in New York.

There is another historical lesson to be drawn. Wahhabism—whose quintessence is war on America—seeks to impel Islam centuries back in time, to the faith’s beginnings, yet it is neither ancient nor traditional. Indeed, it achieved its culmination, the establishment of the Saudi kingdom, only in the 1930s, in parallel with fascism and Stalinism. Although it appears to be a rejection of modernity, Wahhabism can usefully be thought of as a variant of the nihilistic revolutionary ideologies that spilled oceans of blood in the twentieth century but finally collapsed—truly, the discredited lies consigned to history’s graveyard of which President Bush spoke.

Saudi-backed Wahhabism may indeed follow communism to disintegration sooner than we think; it may now stand at the close of its influence in the world. That is because the Saudi regime has placed itself in a position much like that of the Soviets at their end. The Saudis have been forced to make concessions to the West that clash with the puritanical demands of Wahhabism; their actions do not match their words. In the same way, the Bolshevik rulers of Russia established an order blatantly in conflict with the egalitarian and progressive promises held out by Communist ideology. And like the Soviets, the Saudis have chosen a method of compensating for their failures that will inevitably undermine their power.

The Soviet Union, although pledging coexistence with the capitalist nations, wasted vast resources on Third World adventures intended to expand its influence and legitimize its revolutionary rhetoric. These ranged from the Spanish Civil War through the Korean War and on to Cuba, Indochina, Central America, Africa, and of course Afghanistan. The irresolvable contradiction between the reality of Soviet communism and its pretensions helped mightily to prepare its downfall.

Similarly, the Saudi regime poses as an ally of the democracies in the antiterrorist coalition, while continuing to spend vast sums of its oil revenues to promote Wahhabi radicalism throughout the Islamic world and the Muslim communities in the West, including America. Recall the Saudis’ obstruction of the investigation of the suicide-bombing of the Khobar towers in which 19 Americans died in 1996. Now it emerges that almost all of the footsoldiers of the September 11 conspiracy whose nationality has been ascertained were Saudi nationals. The truth is that powerful elements in Saudi society have supported Osama bin Laden throughout his campaign of terror, just as they support the Taliban.

An incident observed after the war in Kosovo—in which the West liberated a million and a half Muslims from a genocidal Serbia—shows how the Saudis spread their vicious doctrine and in the process earn the contempt of traditional Muslims. After the NATO bombing ended in July 1999, something called the Saudi Joint Relief Committee for Kosovo, or SJRCK, appeared on the scene. In its first two months, the committee claimed to have spent a million dollars.

Half of this was used to bring 388 Islamic "propagators" or missionaries to Kosovo to spread Wahhabism among the Kosovars. A key goal was to recruit young men for training as Wahhabi imams. Saudi-subsidized mass "cultural programs" featuring prayers and lectures were held in stadiums. Propaganda printed in Albanian pushed a simple message: Reject the West in its totality. The Albanians were unreceptive, and soon the Saudis and "aid workers" from other Gulf states had become so overbearing that the local Muslim clergy were urging U.N. administrators to expel them from Kosovo. The mufti of Kosovo, Dr. Rexhep Boja, declared that the Kosovars had been Muslims for more than 500 years and needed no instruction in the faith from foreigners.

Such anecdotes, common in the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, India, and elsewhere, should help the West address its immediate problem: How to beat terrorism without being seen to lead the global crusade against Islam that Wahhabi propaganda insists we intend? We must first abandon the illusion that because the Saudis are rich and their economic interests coincide with ours they are all our friends. But we must also commit time and effort to helping forward-looking, mainstream, and above all anti-Wahhabi Muslims become part of a permanent coalition for worldwide security.

Many strategists in Western capitals ask where we will find Muslims prepared to stand by the West. One tested Muslim statesman who is widely respected, even idolized, in the Islamic world is the wartime president of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Alija Izetbegovic. A learned and pious Muslim who was imprisoned for his faith by Tito’s Communist regime, Izetbegovic led the fight for the survival of Bosnian Islam. He is an authentic warrior in a legitimate jihad.

In 1997, addressing the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Tehran, Izetbegovic declared, "Islam is best, but we [Muslims] are not the best. The West is neither corrupted nor degenerate. It is strong, well educated, and organized. Their schools are better than ours. Their cities are cleaner than ours. The level of respect for human rights in the West is higher, and the care for the poor and less capable is better organized. Westerners are usually responsible and accurate in their words. Instead of hating the West, let us proclaim cooperation instead of confrontation."

Izetbegovic, of course, is not an Arab, but neither are most of the Muslims in the world. Most of the world’s Muslims, given the chance, would gladly side with Izetbegovic against both bin Laden and his patrons in Saudi Arabia, a culturally incoherent, politically two-faced country that we should regard as a state backer of terrorism at least as dangerous as Libya or Iran.

Stephen Schwartz is working on a book to be entitled The Two Faces of Islam.

The Saudi Connection
Osama bin Laden's a lot closer to the Saudi royal family than you think.
by David Wurmser

TWO QUESTIONS have been raised about Osama bin Laden. First, if bin Laden opposes the Saudi regime, why has he never struck Saudi targets? Second, if he threatens Saudi Arabia, why has the Saudi government taken the lead in recognizing and funding the Taliban government of Afghanistan, which is entwined with bin Laden's al Qaeda organization? The answer is: The bin Laden problem is deeply embedded both in Saudi religious and dynastic politics and in an effort by Iraq and Syria to shift the balance of power in the Middle East.

To begin to unravel this murky business, it is necessary to go back to the mid 1990s, when a succession struggle was beginning in Saudi Arabia. This struggle pits the octogenarian king, Fahd bin Abdel-Aziz, and his full brothers in the Sudairi branch of the family (especially the defense minister, Prince Sultan) against their half-brother, Crown Prince Abdallah. King Fahd and the Sudairis favor close ties to the United States, while Crown Prince Abdallah prefers Syria and is generally more enamored of pan-Islamic and pan-Arab ideas. All of these contenders are old. Whoever succeeds in securing the crown after Fahd will anoint the next generation of royal heirs and determine Saudi Arabia's future course--either toward the West or toward Syria, Iraq, and others who challenge the position of the United States in the region.

Abdallah is closely allied with the puritanical Wahhabi religious establishment that has underpinned the Saudi government for over a century. The Wahhabis are strident and hostile to a continued American presence in the Middle East. They made this explicit in 1990 in a pronouncement known as the Muzkara an-Nasiha, originated by Osama bin Laden and signed by virtually every sheikh in the Wahhabi establishment. It condemned Saudi Arabia's decision to allow U.S. troops into the kingdom for the purpose of resisting Saddam.

Crown Prince Abdallah has long challenged the Sudairi branch by pushing an anti-Western agenda. In mid 1995, numerous Arab newspapers reported that the crown prince was working with Syria and Egypt to sabotage Jordanian-Saudi rapprochement. The same year, the Turkish weekly Nokta reported that Abdallah had blocked Turkish-Saudi ties by ordering the execution of some Turks, incarcerated for drug-dealing, after King Fahd had assured Turkish emissaries that they would be spared.

In late 1995, King Fahd became ill and feeble, passing power temporarily to Abdallah. When shortly afterwards Abdallah briefly visited a neighboring state, his Sudairi rival, Prince Sultan, asserted power in Riyadh. Abdallah returned to reclaim his dominance, but to do so he employed his wife's close family ties to the Assad clan and invited Syrian intelligence operatives into the kingdom. Then the problems began.

ABDALLAH'S QUEST to secure the succession--leading as it did to his strategic relationship with Syrian president Hafez Assad, and their joint willingness to cooperate with Iraq--is essential background to the major terrorist attacks of recent years, including Khobar Towers, the USS Cole, and September 11. When Abdallah invited Syrian intelligence into Saudi Arabia, he created an opportunity for Syria to foster a terror network on Saudi soil. Its handiwork surfaced first in a minor attack on an American bus in Jeddah in 1995, then in the major attack on Khobar in June 1996 in which 19 U.S. servicemen died. The Washington Post reported that the Khobar bomb had originated in Syrian-controlled Lebanon, and just this month, members of the Syrian-backed Hezbollah were indicted in a U.S. court for this attack.

Sober strategic considerations brought Abdallah, Syria, and Iraq together. The years 1995 and 1996 were watershed years in the Middle East. Before then, hopeful developments (from the American point of view) had seemed afoot in the region. Between 1992 and 1995, Israel had formed a strategic relationship with Turkey; Jordan and Israel had signed a peace treaty with strategic cooperation clauses; Saddam had faced a viable, advancing opposition movement; and Jordan had become the vanguard of an anti-Saddam grouping after the defection in Amman of Saddam's son-in-law, Hussein Kamal. Pro-Western elements of the Saudi royal family pushed to reestablish Jordanian-Saudi ties, solidify Saudi-Turkish ties, and anchor Saudi Arabia in this emerging, powerful, pro-Western regional bloc.

This was a time when the Palestine Liberation Organization averted near collapse only by the generosity of Israel. And the Iranian revolution was floundering. The memory of America's twin victories in the Gulf War and the Cold War was fresh, and Israel's image of invulnerability earned in half a dozen wars still loomed large. Syria, Iraq, and the PLO faced the prospect of a loose-knit pro-American coalition of Turkey, a post-Saddam Iraq, Jordan, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. But tyrants like Saddam and Assad, and tyrannical regimes like Iran's and the PLO's, never accept defeat, which can mean only disgrace or death.

Survival demanded action. It took many forms but crystallized when Syria and Iraq turned from enemies to bedfellows against America; when the Palestinian Authority became sufficiently established to host a smorgasbord of terror groups; and when Abdallah invited Syria into the kingdom. The bin Laden network developed inside this Wahhabi/Abdallah-Syria-Iraq-PLO strategic bloc and became its terrorist skeleton, unifying hitherto separate, isolated, and strategically uncoordinated groups.

While al Qaeda from the start was rooted in the Wahhabi religious establishment, it sprouted and flourished parasitically wherever Iraqi intelligence felt secure: Sudan, then Yemen and Qatar. Bin Laden himself left Saudi Arabia in 1991 for Sudan, where he lived until his removal, via Yemen and Qatar, to Afghanistan in 1996.

For Syria, the new terrorist super-network had the virtue of absorbing and channeling Sunni fundamentalist fervor. Energies that might have been turned against the regime were directed instead against American targets and into Saudi politics. Within the terror network, Shiite and Sunni--who otherwise would never have countenanced working together--could join forces, as could secular Palestinians and Islamic extremists, all the while deflecting their attention from Damascus.

For Iraq, the network offered a way to defeat America. It would be a grave mistake to imagine that Saddam's animus against Saudi Arabia or his secular disposition would prevent him from working with the Wahhabi religious establishment or Abdallah if he found this could advance his designs against King Fahd, the Sudairis, or their American patrons. Sure enough, travelers from Iraq report that Saddam's regime has lately encouraged the rise, in Iraq's northern safe haven, of Salafism, a puritanical sect tied to Wahhabism that hitherto had been alien to Iraq. It is no surprise, then, that one of these Salafi movements inside Iraq, the Jund al-Islami, turns out to be a front for bin Laden.

AT ITS CORE, al Qaeda is a product of Saudi dynastic politics. Its purpose is to swing Saudi politics toward the Wahhabi establishment and Crown Prince Abdallah, but not necessarily to destroy the royal family, at least not at first. The most virulent of Saudi dissident groups, such as al-Masari's Committee for the Defense of Legal Rights, call for violence, but they pointedly direct their wrath against the Sudairis, the only targets they mention by name. Bin Laden seeks to destroy the Sudairis indirectly, by separating them from America.

In August 2001, King Fahd fired his director of intelligence, Prince Turki al Faisal. It was a blow to bin Laden. The bin Laden and Faisal families have longstanding ties: Osama's father helped install King Faisal, who reigned from 1964 to 1975. Since the mid 1990s, Turki had anchored the Abdallah faction, and under his leadership Saudi intelligence had become difficult to distinguish from al Qaeda. In particular, Saudi intelligence had served as bin Laden's nexus to the Wahhabi network of charities, foundations, and other funding sources.

Here too family ties are important. Thus, Turki's brother heads a key Saudi "philanthropic" organization (originally headed by Osama) that funds the Taliban and al Qaeda, according to the Lebanese weekly East-West Review. And the Central Asia operations officer in Saudi intelligence is the brother of bin Laden's chief case officer on Saudi Arabia, according to a former CIA official in Iraq. The same former official also reports that Turki was instrumental in arranging a meeting in Kandahar, Afghanistan, between the head of Iraq's terror network, Faruk Hejazi, and bin Laden in December 1998. More recently, Turki bin Faisal's full brother, Saudi foreign minister Saud bin Faisal, unleashed his diplomats to write shrill and caustic attacks on the United States, such as the article a few weeks ago by Saudi Arabia's ambassador in London, Ghazi al Qusaibi, calling President Bush mentally unstable.

But like Frankenstein's monster, bin Laden is becoming a problem for his creators. It is unclear whether Saudi royal factions now control al Qaeda, or bin Laden has become a kingmaker--or aspiring king. Many young princes who face bleak prospects in a gilded, top-heavy royal structure are enamored of bin Laden. This is true even of some Sudairis. Indeed, bin Laden's lieutenants, far from hailing from the margins of society, are products of its elite, with whom they maintain relations. The mastermind of Arab terrorism in the 1980s and '90s, Imad Mughniyeh, a godfather-like figure with links to the PLO, Hezbollah, and al Qaeda, comes from an illustrious family. His father was a cleric renowned among Shiites. And bin Laden's second in command, the Egyptian al-Zawahiri, is the grandson of the head of al-Azhar mosque in Egypt. Syria too, meanwhile, may be feeling the pressure of bin Laden's growing power. Damascus recently had to put down a Wahhabi-inspired revolt in Lebanon's Akkar mountains led by bin Laden associate Bassam Kanj.

It is impossible to avoid concluding, then, that the bin Laden phenomenon is about politics and conflicts within and among states. Some states in the region--such as Jordan and Kuwait--can truthfully deny employing and abetting terror. But many Arab states refuse to consent to America's expanding the war beyond Afghanistan because they know the trail of terror will eventually lead to them. They have trafficked in terror, believing they could harness it and use it to their advantage--none more than Saudi Arabia. This is why the Saudis blocked the American investigation into the Khobar attack, never investigated the December 2000 hijacking of a plane from Jeddah to Baghdad by two men from Abdallah's security forces, and now, according to press reports, lag in providing access to possible culprits and relevant documents.

Bin Laden emerged from a dangerous strategic shift underway since 1995 that was driven by dynastic rivalries. Now, al Qaeda must be dealt with not only in Afghanistan, but also at its source--in the strategic triangle of Syria, Iraq, and the Wahhabi/Abdallah alliance whose interests it serves and whose structures and politics brought it to life. To fail to strike at the roots of al Qaeda will only lengthen the war and make it more deadly.

David Wurmser is director of Middle East studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

October 29, 2001 - Volume 7, Number 7