June 17, 2003 | New York Post

Perfidious PR Push


The Saudi regime is desperately trying to convince us that it is fighting terrorism. Over the weekend, it arrested and killed some nonentities in Mecca and announced with great fanfare that it had prevented a major attack.

But for the Saudis, busting and blowing away a few minor players, then presenting such actions as a big-time police operation, is old news.

The kingdom's PR push aims to convince us otherwise. But consider two press conferences held last Thursday: The one in Washington was just irritating, but the one in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, was alarming.

In Washington, the oleaginous Adel al-Jubeir announced that the May 12 terror bombings in Riyadh were “a turning point for Saudi Arabia.” For Americans, the turning point came earlier, on 9/11 – when 15 out of 19 terrorists held Saudi citizenship. It is not encouraging to hear al-Jubeir tell us that the Saudis only woke up 21 months later, when the blood started flowing on their doorstep.

Al-Jubeir unveiled the usual sparse buffet of Saudi claims and promises:

* More than 1,000 individuals in the kingdom have been questioned as terror suspects, with 300 arrested, and 100 awaiting trial.

But no names were released, no charges described, no dates for trials announced.


* Three clerics who preached hatred and intolerance have been arrested. And hundreds of imams who preached intolerance have been removed, while 1,000 were suspended and referred to re-education programs.

Presumably the other tens of thousands of state-paid imams who support Wahhabism (the hate-cult that that masquerades as a fundamentalist branch of Islam), and who still preach hatred and intolerance, have heeded the call to calm their rhetoric temporarily. But the arrested trio were only the three most publicly defiant in acclaiming suicide actions against U.S. troops in Iraq.

The rest of al-Jubeir's spin-spiel was less than compelling:

* promises of controls on how charities will operate abroad – an admission they were complicit in terrorism;

* a review of the school curriculum – which the whole world knows is based on extremist incitement;

* claims of heightened cooperation with foreign law enforcement.

Just another irritating recitation of customary evasions, half-truths and lies. In questioning by reporters, al-Jubeir admitted that Saudi continues to promote Hamas.

Meanwhile, in Riyadh, James Zogby (who is even slicker than al-Jubeir) appeared as representative of his Arab American Institute (AAI), in a joint presentation with Saleh al-Wohaiby, secretary of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY, an official arm of the Saudi government).

They announced that AAI and WAMY will “take up the cases of some 13,000 Arabs and Muslims, some of whom have been targeted by the U.S. government for possible deportation.”

What does this mean?

Until 9/11, Zogby was everyone's favorite Arab-American advocate. He was the soul of moderation on Israel, favoring Arab recognition of the Jewish state. He is a Christian, and admitted knowing nothing about Islam.

But after 9/11, Zogby suddenly came out of the closet as a ferocious supporter of the Saudis and Wahhabism, and a vicious apologist for extremism. He went on all the TV talk shows, and his new repertoire included the ridiculous charge that no Westerner knew anything about Wahhabism – which he dismissed as a “scare word.”

When Princess Haifa, wife of Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar, was revealed to have given cash to terrorists, Zogby demanded that the Western media “show respect” for her.

More recently, he denounced the Iraq intervention as a product of “childish” fantasies of democracy in the Arab world.

What is WAMY? Simply, the Saudi equivalent of the Hitler Youth: a hate-mongering, ultraextremist group preaching, among other niceties, that Shia Muslims are not real Muslims, but products of a Jewish conspiracy. It is under continuing investigation for involvement in al Qaeda funding.

For Zogby to stand up alongside the bigots and agitators of WAMY, is, simply, unacceptable if he wants his AAI to continue to enjoy respect among ordinary, decent Americans. Even the American Communist Party never held a press conference in Moscow to announce that their Soviet counterparts were backing them to undermine the American legal system.

Zogby should break with WAMY and denounce Wahhabism. If he won't, the Justice Department should order AAI to register as a foreign agent. His involvement with a foreign government in interfering with American law should be investigated as a subversive action.

And that's what made the Riyadh event alarming rather than just another irritating package of stale goods from Saudi Arabia.

Stephen Schwartz is director of the Islam and Democracy Program at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C.