Analysis: Is Saudi a terrorist nation?

By CLAUDE SALHANI   |   June 14, 2002 at 1:40 PM   |   0 comments

WASHINGTON, June 14 (UPI) -- Is Saudi Arabia a country that supports terrorism, or is the recent crop of Saudi terrorists -- such as those who partook in the horrific Sept. 11 attacks -- the result of decades of religious, cultural and social repression?

A comparison may be drawn between them and Eastern Europe's long reign of communism, when Marxist authorities accepted sexual promiscuity as the sole safety release-valve for a population otherwise oppressed. Prevented from engaging in free speech, fair elections and other forms of democratic practices, sex and pornography offered a safe alternative.

Similarly, in Saudi Arabia, religion became the only legal avenue allowed to people banned from enjoying the pleasures of everyday social and political life.

Since the kingdom's founding in 1902 by Abdel Aziz ibn Saud, the desert country has existed under a strict Wahabi religious code of Shariah, or Islamic law, where the mutawa, the religious police, enjoy an overwhelming free hand and were allowed to enforce traditions and regulations as they see fit.

Accordingly, the mutawa banned just about everything that is taken for granted in the Western world, and even in many other Islamic nations. From pop music to long hair, to Western dress for women, all forms of individual expression became taboo and severely punishable. Unmarried women and single men are prohibited to mix. Women are not even allowed to socialize with males to whom they are not directly related.

Although women in Saudi Arabia make up half the population, they are not allowed to vote. Nor are they allowed to drive cars. They are excluded from certain professions and they are required to be shrouded in long, black abayas whenever they appear in public. Saudi women cannot apply for identity cards, receive medical treatment or leave the country without consent from their closest male relative. In many areas of the country, women cannot even leave their homes without being escorted by a male relative. Penalties for failing to acquiesce to the rules and regulations imposed by the mutawa can result in severe punishment that could include imprisonment, and even death by stoning or beheading.

In a country where alcohol is banned, as are cinemas, nightclubs, cafes and other forms of amusements that allow young people to mingle, there is no space permitted for the young to spend their built-up energy -- an energy that simply had to explode sometime, somewhere.

The only avenue left to many young Saudi men, especially those with an education, and some leisure time on their hands, was quite naturally, religion. And this is where the Saudi experiment seemed to have backfired. They calculated -- wrongly -- that through their tough restrictive religious rules, they could continue to shape, mold and direct the thinking and actions of their youth.

"They are a monarchy without elected representative institutions or political parties. We embrace religious freedom. They rule through religious police. Economically, diplomatically and socially, the Saudi Arabian government has long promoted policies that challenge American beliefs and undermine the basic human rights of their own people," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., at a hearing on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

All religions, except Islam, are banned in Saudi Arabia, and, according to a recent House hearing, there were examples where American officials have acquiesced to the Saudi demand that there be no formal public practice of Christianity. The most spectacular case was just over 10 years ago, during the Persian Gulf War, when President George Bush -- the father of the current president -- was told by the Saudis he could not say grace before a Thanksgiving meal he was to have with the American troops preparing for the war with Iraq. A war that was to protect Saudi Arabia from Iraq. So the president went to international waters and had a Thanksgiving meal aboard a ship of the U.S. fleet.

Recent events have proved Saudi Arabia's theocratic thinking to be erroneously dangerous. Today, the kingdom faces one of the gravest crisis since its founding, as more young men continue to graduate from schools and universities with little prospect of meaningful jobs or the possibility to have any say in the running of their country.

In light of the recent terror activities involving Saudi nationals, questions are beginning to be raised in the United States if Saudi Arabia remains a friendly nation, as its leaders wish it to be seen, or, as some policymakers in Congress have recently voiced, that the desert kingdom is not entirely behaving as an ally should.

Of the 19 hijackers that flew into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, 17 were Saudi citizens, as is, of course, terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, a model product of the above described culture. For months, the Saudi government refused to even admit their nationals were involved in one of the most hideous crimes ever committed on American soil.

"If Saudi Arabia had been a more open society all along, the terrorism that now seems to emanate from there would have dissipated over the years," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., a member of the House Committee on International Relations.

"In a free society, people have many different avenues to approach their frustrations, they don't turn to religious fanaticism. In Saudi Arabia that is about all the avenues they left for people to deal with their frustrations," Rohrabacher told United Press International.

Rohrabacher, as others on Capitol Hill, believe that a great deal of terrorism taking place in the world today can be traced back to Saudi Arabia. "That those in power in Saudi Arabia could stop it but aren't stopping it is a matter of concern," went on Rohrabacher. "They should be held accountable for not taking steps necessary to prevent their citizens from involvement in terrorist activity. I think that there is a certain degree of accountability there, but I am not so sure that those in power in Saudi Arabia have the ability to get that job done," added the congressman.

The U.S. State Department is far more diplomatic. The United States is "satisfied with the level of cooperation regarding the international campaign against terrorism," Greg Sullivan, a spokesman for the department, told UPI.

"Saudis have been very cooperative with us on the issue of financing for international terrorism, and on the issue of tracking down those with connections with al Qaida. We have a very good relationship with them in that regard and cooperation has been good over the past few months," said Sullivan.

He refused, however, to comment on the issue of whether Saudi culture had anything to do with promoting terrorism.

"I don't like to make sweeping comments regarding an entire nation," he said.

But Rohrabacher feels it's hard to be sensitive to such a process "when 3,000 people were killed in New York in front of our eyes and most of the people flying the airplanes into the building were Saudis.

"It's also hard if something would happen, if some dirty bomb goes off, if some bomb goes off, if we end up losing tens of thousands of other people by some horrendous terrorist attack, and that's very conceivable. Then we end up tracing that back to some rich Saudi kook like bin Laden. That would not have been possible if it were not for a billionaire who is part of Saudi society," he said.

Rohrabacher believes that it is clear that the Saudis were "deeply involved with the creation of the Taliban," which led to the expansion of terrorism. "It is clear," said Rohrabacher, "that had Saudi Arabia been different in these last 40 years, been a more open society, and dealt with this problem a long time ago, the attack that happened in New York would not have happened."

"We need to take a timeout and take a hard look, a good, hard look at our relationship with Saudi Arabia. We need their cooperation. But at what price?" asked Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., during a recent House hearing on government reform and the fate of U.S. citizens held in Saudi Arabia.

Washington lawmakers admit there are a few issues of contention between Muslims and the West, especially with the United States regarding Israel.

Says Rohrabacher: "But that is not what is causing this terrorism. This terrorism is not just a response to Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. It is a response to religious fanaticism that sees the West, especially the United States, as the root of all evil. That is what is causing terrorism."

The terror attacks of Sept. 11, we were told over and again, acted as a wake-up call to the country, and to many of our allies around the world. The call alerted us to the fact that many aspects of life as we knew it, had to change. Since then, we have become more security conscience, more aware of the dangers of terrorism -- in all its forms -- and, more importantly, more aware of the causes of this terrorism that has been looming over us.

Likewise, Saudi Arabia's leaders must also awake to the fact that drastic change is needed in their country. They cannot continue to live in the same modern world of instant Internet communications, e-mail and satellite television, and yet hide their heads in the sand, hoping to keep their nation stranded in a time that is gone by.

While Saudi's ruling family may balk at seeing MTV programs pop up on their television screens tomorrow, the alternative would be simple to frightful to imagine.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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