Relax: It's Saudi Arabia

The Lawsuit Against Saudi Arabia

Families of the victims of 9/11 want to sue Saudi Arabia. Fifteen of the nineteen pilots in the commission of a terrifying suicidal act were from Saudi Arabia. It makes sense from every commensensical angle. As we know, however, not long after the incident, several Saudi Arabians were safely escorted from the United States. What people know and the government knows are two, distinct matters. My best guess is that Saudis were not instigators. Osama bin Laden might have been more the lone wolf type. It is only a matter of coincidence that he came from Saudi Arabia and would have known Saudi Arabians, who might, for whatever reason, done his bidding. But even this much is not certain. The United States has two additional concerns. First, Saudi Arabia is important, apart from its renowned terrorist. Second, no publicly known intelligence suggests that Saudi Arabia acted in collusion with bin Laden. Geo-politics are at best fishy. President Obama's insistence on vetoing the lawsuit only serves to enhance the notion that there exists an unbridgeable gulf between citizens and government. Government officials might call themselves professionals or public servants; citizens often enough call them other names.

Personally, I sympathize with the families, who will never get redress or justice. I would also like the lawsuit to be permitted, even if only so that more information comes to light. I think it would be a "win" for the American people, too, not just the families, whether the judicial outcome led to victory or defeat. Saudis could also be given a forum to defend themselves, however they want. We seldom hear from them directly. The media has wasted gobs of time on lurid, high profile courtroom dramas. Yet the burning of the World Trade Center, vital to each and everyone of us, all targets of terrorism, cannot obtain the requisite nod of approval. Why wouldn't Americans want to know the truth? Bibliophiles understand that in a mystery book, the most obvious culprit, as well as his or her motive, is most likely irrelevant. But then, perhaps bin Laden, and his accomplices, had not read a single Ellery Queen between them. It could have been those Saudis, though their nation did not, as far as can be discerned, derive a clear benefit from the fiery inferno.

King Road Tower

Largest LED screen.
Largest LED screen. | Source

Jeddah, Riyadh, and All the Rest

Riyadh is the capital and Jeddah Saudi Arabia's second largest city, located on the Red Sea. The latter is the setting for the movie, A Hologram for the King. From what I can garner, Saudi Arabia has changed a great deal. I cannot recall when the only book I read on Saudi Arabia was published, but it described foreigners who worked there. Workers used to meet surreptitiously in parking lots and either trade or sell hair tonic, since it had an alcoholic content. This was far from the case in the movie, though the restriction against alcohol, is acknowledged. Four books were reviewed in a single issue of the New York Review of Books, asking the question, "In Saudi Arabia: Can it Really Change?" I would say yes and no. Yes, you can now, with only a smidgen of effort, obtain alcohol. But no, there are still publicly held beheadings. Yes, Shias live better. But no, Wahhabis run the show. A lot apparently has to do with the will and whim of Mohammed bin Salman. He was born in 1985, the son of King Salman.

If one were only to review the movie, the KSA would not come across so badly. In fact, it would be American business types who look bad, unable to adapt, tolerate, or lower their expectations, despite billions of petrol-dollars at stake. But the truth is different. Further, it is a mixed bag. There are, for instance, compounds, wherein ex-pats can live, enjoy alcohol, still the drug of choice it seems, mingle freely, and watch movies. They are, or so they think, safe. That is saying a lot if you live in the United States. Here not only is crime rampant, but so is disrespect. You can call 911 if somebody insults you, but most Americans have already learned how to take a joke. Even more shocking, Islamicism is problematic. It does not appear as splintered as Christianity, but sectarian dislike for one another is far worse. The rifts admit no compromise. It pays to remember that Christ only said he had brought a sword; Mohammad actually had and used one.

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4th Development Cabinet -- Indonesia

1983 under President Suharto.
1983 under President Suharto. | Source

Indonesia

While Iran grabs the headlines, Saudi Arabia has been scoring international coups on the Q.T. Indonesia boasts of the compatibility of democracy and Islam. Saudi Arabia is busily building, maintaining, and enlarging a university in Indonesia, begun in Jakarta in 1980. Its raison d'ĂȘtre is the study of Islam and Arabic. It is slowly but meticulously influencing some of the best minds of a nation, independent since 1945. Its first leader was Sukarno, who guided the nascent country into a form of democracy. Then, Suharto, rather than elected, seized power, purged the nation of Communists and Communist ties, and inaugurated a reign of terror that lasted almost until the end of the century. It is alleged that the CIA, which embraced Salafi Islam, aka Wahhabism, helped. As to the role of the CIA, it is difficult to ascertain. It is fashionable to blame the agency for everything that goes wrong throughout the whole world. Its backing of the Indonesian military in 1965 unfortunately led to significant carnage, resulting in the deaths of 500,000, largely due to a failed coup on Communists. Now, led by Joko Widodo, Indonesia has embarked upon a new tack of transparency and fairness. The New York Review of Books picked up on three new publications. Two are from university presses, the third available only in Indonesian. All in all, they speak of a new sense of nationhood, spread out over 17,000 islands. Historiography is the biggest winner, as it affords an opportunity to examine how a metaphorical deck is shuffled so that both heroes and villains can either remain as such or trade places. It all depends.

Suharno and Suharto. How very different, yet surely not the result of a single letter! What does start to shape up within the mind, from whatever discipline, is how dictatorships have a knack for finding other. All dictatorships are like-minded. It does not make sense on the surface, yet, no matter what the main issue, they befriend one another. Lands receptive to dictatorship find ways to bond. Thus, it was not difficult for the Saudi regime to find a co-conspirator in Indonesia. Now, things might change. Suharto's 1998 obituary in the New York Times claims he was the bloodiest ruler Indonesia has ever known, though his regime is distinguished for having brought "order". It is the same charge leveled against Wahhabis by non-Wahhabis. Too strict, but very little crime. Perhaps not now, since things have tapered off, but their fighting techniques in the centuries leading to ours, as described in books (or, are authors just too moralistic?), are truly bloodcurdling. Nevertheless, I do not think Wahhabism will overtake Indonesia overnight. Over time, however, who knows?


Ibn Saud (1910)

The Wahhabis under Ibn Saud take Saudi Arabia.
The Wahhabis under Ibn Saud take Saudi Arabia. | Source

Image Versus Reality

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is not an ordinary place. It has religious police. A thoughtless sequence of tweets landed a man in prison for nearly two years. Its Wahhabism is regarded as the only true faith. A woman still needs a man to open a bank account. It aggressively opens Quranic schools. But are they institutions of learning or indoctrination? Not known for terrorist activity, its secretiveness has given rise to ugly rumors. It is, after all, a monarchy. One man rule, especially in the aftermath of WWII, is not popularly endorsed. Ibn Saud seems to have been either one of the luckiest historical figures or someone meant to be. He appears on the scene well before the discovery of oil in the 1930s. He pitilessly attacks bedouins and everybody else considered "polytheist". They are worse than infidels! Afterward, following a convenient merger with the Standard Oil Company, known as ARAMCO, or Arab American Company, all kinds of organizations are formed to protect the various interests of people who work for oil concerns or own them.

No matter what, no individual or group can best the Saud or Wahhabism. In the KSA, there is no division, as we know it, between church and state. Legal systems, of which there are several, are all greatly influenced by theology. As already stated, in so many ways, the Shia of Eastern Arabia, who work and pray, as do their richer and more dominant brothers and sisters, never achieve equality. Rather, they must fight for every material gain. The difference is, however, rioting and spontaneous acts of violence are mostly past tense. Saudi Arabia has had its share of intifadas and revolutionary events, but on smaller scales and for shorter lengths of time. The discontented have tried a multiple amount of ways, experimenting with Communism (probably in its most impure form), following various leaders, the most famous of which is Ayatollah Komeini, or, as was the case with Egyptians, to their advantage later on in combat, employing what they learned from the British and French the hard way. Nothing, to be honest, really worked.

A Monument to Friendlier Times

Standard Oil building in Los Angeles from 1926(?).
Standard Oil building in Los Angeles from 1926(?). | Source

What is the Real Saudi Arabia?

The question is like the old quiz show where at the end of a line of inquiry, the real person stood up. In the Gulf War, Saudi Arabia was a great ally, allowing the United States to set up its base, form an international coalition, and cause Iraq to relinquish a bid to annex Kuwait, a bold plan ending in total failure. But now there are allegations that, like Iran, Saudi Arabia is also involved in terrorism. It has been a haven for troublemakers. Its form of Islam has also come under fire, which is probably unfair, given the fact that there are no dead certainties about Islam after the late 600s, and the death of the Prophet. The Shia of Qatif and al-Ahsa definitely have trouble understanding why they must be second class citizens in areas they have known for centuries. Let's face it: the Industrial Revolution, especially following the manufacture of automobiles, and the discovery of Middle-Eastern oil, has forced civilization into "overdrive". Where dates were once farmed, now everyone slaves for oil companies and their subsidiaries -- owned, operated, and managed by the richest Sheiks of the KSA.

Back in grade school, the question was sometimes asked, Who do you like? I feel myself wondering the same, only about versions of Islam. To be sure, I feel kinda sorry for Shiites, the martyr they revere (Husayn Ibn Ali, grandson of the Prophet), and the fact that in Saudi Arabia they must conduct services in secret. But are the Wahhabis as unfeeling as a Shia author depicts them? True enough, Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was not born until 1702. He enjoyed a long life, till 1792. But he came late on the scene. Well, Wahhabis were defintely aggravating in Hologram, but that was a movie, as well as a nice piece of American diplomacy, if you ask me. It is so complex, this part of the world, once known as the Near East. But at least its nations are to a larger extent independent, and only to a minor, residual extent, still linked to colonial patronage. In the end, they might prove smarter than Europeans, who twice nearly destroyed the world.

Sunset on the Red Sea

The Indifference of Nature to Political Mayhem.
The Indifference of Nature to Political Mayhem. | Source

Magical Worlds

About the religious police, observers contend that it is not hard to get arrested for witchcraft, among other offenses, such as smoking a cigarette, or, more commonly, for women, not covering up. It seems impossible to live in the desert kingdom, yet our disdain comes from another country, without a dress code. North Korea also keeps a tight lid on what its population can learn about the outside world. Yet we have quite a few here who think it is a waste of time to watch or listen to the news. Doing so, they aver, is negative, counter-productive, and, in the final analysis, harmful. Thankfully, American citizens have many choices, especially as regards cable television. But in Saudi Arabia, choices are minimal. Leaders are also hard to figure. During the initial wars of independence, following the rejection of partition, and then in 1967, Saudi Arabia played only a minimal role. At first, under Ibn Saud, who died in 1953, it disregarded the presence of Israelis, concentrating animosity on what it considered the imperial powers, much farther away. Then, with the ascension of King Faisal (1964) to the throne, it began to fall in line with the Palestinian movement, while maintaining an inseverable attachment to Wahhabism and the Ulama, its uncompromising partners in all its political positions.

Saudi Arabia is interesting and located right in the middle of the maelstrom. Yet, its deeds and misdeeds probably do not hold a key to either understanding or solving the problems of the Middle East. America's new policy of caution and laxity, combined with Russia's half-measures, as well as the conspicuous absence of China, indicate that much will have to be done (or undone) by the actual participants. They cannot wait much longer for outside help. Already, Lebanon has served as a warning how a country can implode and never recover. Syria and Iraq are also in various states of ruin. Both Iran and Israel are wildcards. Will they bomb one another? Terror groups themselves are aging. Hamas, Hezbollah, and a number of defunct Palestinian groups are not as threatening as once before -- though an interval in the midst of war can hardly be mistaken for peace. Perhaps it is a good thing to cling to a religion, however outdated, or out of sync with reality. All religions seem ridiculous to outsiders. Secular, scientific, humanitarian societies are also in the running. So much remains to be seen.

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