Printed in in big, bold letters, the Times Online’s headline reads: “Saudi Arabia is hub of world terror“.
Perhaps that’s why King Abdullah recently received a less-than-warm greeting in when he arrived in Britain for a state visit, the first such in two decades. Evidently not all the English were happy to see him:
Beyond the gates of the Palace, however, the growing outcry continued. Protesters calling for the reopening of a corruption inquiry into a multibillion-dollar arms deal for Typhoon fighters from the UK jeered the Saudi King as the Government rolled out the red carpet to greet him. Scores of protesters shouted “murderers”, “torturers”, and “shame on you” at King Abdullah as he passed by in a gilded horse-drawn coach.
Previously the king had made harsh comments about Britain’s leadership and intelligence services, saying they’d failed to act on Saudi-supplied intelligence that might have prevented certain acts of terrorism:
Speaking through an interpreter, the Saudi monarch said he believed most countries were not taking the issue seriously, “including, unfortunately, Great Britain”.
“We have sent information to Great Britain before the terrorist attacks in Britain but unfortunately no action was taken. And it may have been able to maybe avert the tragedy.”
However, an investigation by the British parliament found no evidence that such intelligence was provided.
The Times says:
As a key ally of the West, the king had every reason to expect a warm welcome [in Britain].
Yet wealthy Saudis remain the chief financiers of worldwide terror networks. “If I could somehow snap my fingers and cut off the funding from one country, it would be Saudi Arabia,” said Stuart Levey, the US Treasury official in charge of tracking terror financing.
Extremist clerics provide a stream of recruits to some of the world’s nastiest trouble spots.
An analysis by NBC News suggested that the Saudis make up 55% of foreign fighters in Iraq. They are also among the most uncompromising and militant.
Half the foreign fighters held by the US at Camp Cropper near Baghdad are Saudis. They are kept in yellow jumpsuits in a separate, windowless compound after they attempted to impose sharia on the other detainees and preached an extreme form of Wahhabist Islam.
In recent months, Saudi religious scholars have caused consternation in Iraq and Iran by issuing fatwas calling for the destruction of the great Shi’ite shrines in Najaf and Karbala in Iraq, some of which have already been bombed. And while prominent members of the ruling al-Saud dynasty regularly express their abhorrence of terrorism, leading figures within the kingdom who advocate extremism are tolerated.
Sheikh Saleh al-Luhaidan, the chief justice, who oversees terrorist trials, was recorded on tape in a mosque in 2004, encouraging young men to fight in Iraq. “Entering Iraq has become risky now,” he cautioned. “It requires avoiding those evil satellites and those drone aircraft, which own every corner of the skies over Iraq. If someone knows that he is capable of entering Iraq in order to join the fight, and if his intention is to raise up the word of God, then he is free to do so.”
One reason for dissatisfaction with the Saudi’s handling of what could, and perhaps should, be called their terrorist-producing tendencies, is the MSNBC number quoted above. The Saudi government is unable or unwilling to keep its citizens from throwing gasoline on the fire in Iraq.
According to Levey, not one person identified by America or the United Nations as a terrorist financier has been prosecuted by Saudi authorities. A fortnight ago exasperated US Treasury officials named three Saudi citizens as terrorist financiers. “In order to deter other would-be donors, it is important to hold these terrorists publicly accountable,” Levey said.
Saudi Arabia seems to be akin to Pakistan in their failure to control Islamic extremism. Both countries are ruled by what seem to be strong central governments that keep a firm grip on the reigns of power. But both also have significant numbers of dangerous radical elements who operate quite outside of government control.
Whereas Pervez Musharraf is confronting his critics directly by effectively declaring martial law in Pakistan – an act that can only lead to even more negative repercussions in the long run – the Saudis may be playing a longer game.
From the American perspective – and seemingly from the British one as well, if King Abdullah’s greeting in London is any indication – the Saudi response to the fact that its citizens so likely to become terrorists has been unacceptable to this point.
But what can the U.S. and Britain do about the problem? At this point, not much.
Arlen Specter, the Republican senator for Pennsylvania, introduced the Saudi Arabia Accountability Act 10 days ago, calling for strong encouragement of the Saudi government to “end its support for institutions that fund, train, incite, encourage or in any other way aid and abet terrorism”.
The act, however, is expected to die when it reaches the Senate foreign relations committee: the Bush administration is counting on Saudi Arabia to help stabilise Iraq, curtail Iran’s nuclear and regional ambitions and give a push to the Israeli and Palestinian peace process at a conference due to be held this month in Annapolis, Maryland.
“Do we really want to take on the Saudis at the moment?” asks Bronson. “We’ve got enough problems as it is.”
Too true. We depend on Saudi oil to keep our industrial and commercial base moving, to say nothing of the military. As a supplier, King Abdullah wants to keep his customers happy; however, that desire will not extend to risking his family’s leadership of his country.
Nor should we want him to do so. The west is utterly dependent on Saudi oil and it is imperative that the country be governed by an economic moderate. Yet considering that the Saudi king is 82 years old, it’s obvious that this is an unstable relationship. If the tectonic plates that govern slip the result could be a world-wide catastrophe.
That’s why western nations must work hard to achieve our desired long-term end-game – energy independence. To do this we could simply give up on modern industry, commerce, and life. There are those who would have us do exactly that.
That is not acceptable. We must become energy-independent without compromising our economic or military capabilities by continuing to invest in research and development of viable alternative energy sources of all kinds, neither homing in on a seemingly easy solution such as ethanol nor giving up on more difficult technologies like nuclear fission/fusion.
Conserving energy and reducing pollutants are also excellent goals, ones we should all strive for. But neither reducing energy consumption or pollutants by fractions of percents is a solution to the greater problem facing civilization as we know it. The way to stable energy sources is to move ahead by continuing to advance technologically rather than surrendering and regressing into the past.
We must not give up on the ethos of business and scientific advancement that allowed – and continues to allow – the modern world to exist. Rather, we must move forward along that path and develop the means to free ourselves from the chains that bind us in relationships with a most unsavory set of partners.
That end-game is decades in the future. In the interim the west will simply have to accept certain aspects of “friendly” Islamic nations and deal with them as they exist. This includes continuing a relationship with King Abdullah and his progeny, whether they are able to control their citizens’ terroristic tendencies or not.