May 15, 2003 | The Weekly Standard

Saudi Spinning

By Stephen Schwartz

DENIAL IS A RIVER in Arabia, not Egypt. The proof of this axiom came Friday. In place of a serious assessment of the Saudi kingdom's increasing loss of credibility, deeply aggravated by the bombings in Riyadh this week, the oleaginous Adel al-Jubeir once again held a press conference at the grim, fortress-like Saudi Embassy in Washington, to blame the woes of the desert oil sheiks on . . . American critics of the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

Al-Jubeir began, as always, with the claim that the United States and Saudi Arabia are joined together as targets of the terrorists. He recited the litany of measures taken by the royal authorities to suppress terrorism. According to him and his master, Saudi ambassador Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, banking practices have been reformed. People (never identified, as usual) have been arrested. Arms have been seized. Why, he asked plaintively, do some say we have done nothing? He denounced anonymous “U.S. government” officials who complained of Saudi laxity in dealing with terrorists.

He did not, however, explain why it is that all of these actions failed to prevent yet another massacre from occurring.

In other words, it was business as usual at Chateau Bandar. According to al-Jubeir, the foundation of the Saudi state in the ideology of Wahhabism, the ultra-extremist Islamic dispensation that proclaims jihad against the world, has nothing to do with the mangled corpses lifted from the pavements of Riyadh.

Grotesquely enough, al-Jubeir's smooth, soothing verbiage is echoed by people high in our own government. For them, an al Qaeda connection to the Riyadh bombing is “alleged,” an investigation must be held, leads must be followed up, and FBI teams must journey to the kingdom to try to confirm something every Muslim in the world knows: that Wahhabism is terroristic; that Wahhabism is at the basis of suicide bombings; that al Qaeda embodies Wahhabism above all; and that Wahhabism was born and nurtured in Saudi Arabia. To separate the state ideology of the kingdom from the blood shed in Riyadh would make as much sense as separating the history of the Russian Communist party from the sufferings of prisoners in the Siberian Gulag. Yet this is the position taken by America's leaders.

Is this no more than an echo of the Kissinger age, when Communist Russia was viewed, not as the evil empire, but as a force for stability in the world? Will the philosophy of the U.S. State Department continue to prevail, according to which preservation of the status quo is the only guarantee of security, and change in Saudi Arabia is more risky than standing by while our own people are brutally murdered?

Even more grotesque is the incredible fact that certain Saudi journalists, emboldened by the drama of the situation, have finally written in terms indistinguishable from those that have appeared in places like The Weekly Standard for months. In the daily al-Watan, immediately after the bombings, 'Adel Zaid Al-Tarifi wrote: “Jihad groups find ideological cover in the religious message spread by the mosques and schools . . . Fatwas, for example, that are issued by the leaders of the Jihad stream . . . have inflamed the emotions of many and provided a . . . basis for these acts. . . . During the Afghan and Iraq wars, the Fatwas sent many wretched young men to the hopeless battlefield. . . . The important question is this: What must be done? Many of the pulpits of education, such as the school, the home, and the mosque, need reform today . . . What can be done with people who think that anyone who does not agree with their fundamentalist path deviates from the path of righteousness? These events are not newborn in our society, as some would like to present them.”

Similarly, Raid Qusti wrote in Arab News: “The time of pretending that radicalism does not exist in Saudi Arabia is long past. The time for pretending that we are above errors and could not possibly commit terrorist attacks is no longer with us. It has got to stop. Change must come now. We as a nation cannot afford to leave it to its own slow pace. It's either now or never. It also must cover all aspects of our life–the school, the mosque, the home, the street, the media. . . . How can we expect others to believe that a majority of us are a peace-loving people who denounce extremism and terrorism when some preachers continue to call for the destruction of Jews and Christians, blaming them for all the misery in the Islamic world?”

An editorial in Arab News averred: “For too long we have ignored the truth. We did not want to admit that Saudis were involved in September 11. We can no longer ignore that we have a nest of vipers here, hoping that by doing so they will go away. They will not. They are our problem. . . . The environment that produced such terrorism has to change. The suicide bombers have been encouraged by the venom of anti-Westernism that has seeped through the Middle East's veins. . . . Those who gloat over September 11, those who happily support suicide bombings in Israel and Russia, those who consider non-Muslims less human than Muslims and therefore somehow disposable, all bear part of the responsibility for the Riyadh bombs. . . . We cannot say that suicide bombings in Israel and Russia are acceptable but not in Saudi Arabia. The cult of suicide bombings has to stop. So too has the chattering, malicious, vindictive hate propaganda. It has provided a fertile ground for ignorance and hatred to grow.”

Even many Saudis are finally facing up to the truth about their society. What now? The solution remains simple: Our president must demand that the Saudi government own up to its involvement in terrorism, no matter how high it extends, now. They must arrest, identify, try, and punish the perpetrators. They must cease supporting extremism, internally and externally, now.

And in the mean time, sending Prince Bandar and his valet al-Jubeir packing, as personae non grata, might not be a bad start.

Stephen Schwartz is director of the Islam and Democracy Program at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, DC, and author of “The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa'ud From Tradition to Terror.”