Building on bin Laden’s Saudi ties, and the fact that so many involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks were from Saudi Arabia, many have tried to explain the roots of such Muslim extremism in mistakes Americas have made, or to explain Muslim aggression on America’s allies. Such explanations come from lily-livered liberals who can’t help but always blame America and Israel for all the woes in the world.
The following is mostly about one brand of Muslim extremism. I added a few parenthetical notes to expand that theme.
What I present below is virtually unchanged from what Dore Gold, Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations wrote in 2003 in “Hatred’s Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism.”
One of the common failings among analyses of modern terrorism, even those that try to ascertain the motivating forces behind terror operations, is that the focus is myopic. They look for recent events to explain the attacks on the United States, refusing to seek deeper historical reasons. They believe that some action on the part of the victim drove the perpetrator to act. As a result, commentators have come up with a number of misguided notions as to what is behind the new global terrorism.
Some thingk that the rage underpinning the September 11 attacks–as well as the bombings of the USS Cole, the U.S. embassies in East Africa, and more–must be tied to something in the recent history between the United States and Saudi Arabia [and the United States and Iran, and other Muslim countries]. But when Muhammad ibn Abdul Hahhab began articulating his unique version of Sunni Islam, the United States of America did not even exist [same holds true for the ultra-aggressive Shiites]. Nor was Wahhabi violence ever a reaction to imperialist intruders. The first eruption of Wahhabi expansionism, in fact, predated European colonialism. Even the second major eruption of militant Wahhabism, which created the modern Saudi Arabian kingdom, did not come against a background of any serious colonial legacy; indeed, while Egypt had been under British military occupation and Syria and Iraq were League of Nations mandates administered by France and Britain, Saudi Arabia was never a colony or mandated territory.
And when American oil companies penetrated Saudi Arabia, they did not come with the full imperial packaging that the British brought to other oil producers in the Middle East; they did not rely on an invasive American military presence or large fleets nearby to gain their oil rights. When Standard Oil of California first struck oil in Saudi Arabia in 1938, isolationist America had not military presence in the Middle East whatsoever. There was no gunship diplomacy to exploit the economic resources of Saudi Arabia. America sought only freedom of access for its overseas corporations uder the doctrine of the “open door”; it saw no need for a corresponding American empire.
Years later, in the 1970s, the United States did not use its military superiority to confront the Arab oil-producing countries as they unilaterally increased the price of oil and nationalized the American oil interests in Libya and Iraq. In Saudi Arabia, American oil companies quietly held “participation”: talks that gradually increased Saudi ownership in ARAMCO until the oil group became fully Saudi-owened. Although the Americas meddled in Iranian politics in the early 1950s, after Western oil interests were nationalized, their response to Saudi Arabia’s oil moves in the 1970s was only to arrange for the “recycling” of petrodollars back into American banks and industry. Americans believed in interdependence, not imperialism.
During the Cold War, it might have been tempting to hold on to bases in Saudi Arabia for the containment of the Soviet Union, but the United States let go of its Dhahran air base in 1962. American forces came back to Saudi Arabia only when the Saudi kingdom was under a direct military threat–from Egypt in the 1960s, from Iran in the 1980s, and from Iraq in the 1990s. As much as hard-line Wahhabi clerics– and bin Laden and his follwers–came to denounce the American presence in Saudi Arabia, the United States was consistently a reluctant military partner, not an imperialist intruder. There was no arrogance of American power, as detractors of the United States try to assert. The blame for the hatred hebind September 11 is not at America’s doorstep. Rather, as has been seen, Saudi Arabia’s own internal development accounts for how such hatred was spawned.
In late 2002, Sheikh Muhammad bin Abdul Rahman al-Arifi, the imam of the mosque of King Fahd Defense Academy, offered the sort of incendiary rhetoric that has become common among Muslim clerics. Envisioning the subjugation of Europe, he wrote, “We will control the land of the Vatican; we will control Rome and introduce Islam in it. Yest, the Christians, who carve crosses on the breasts of the Muslims in Kosovo–and before then in Bosnia, and before then in many places in the world–will pay us Jiziya [poll tax paid by non-Muslims under Muslim rule], in humiliation, or they will convert to Islam.” Of course anyone recalling the history of the 1990s would immediately protest that NATO went to war in Bosnia and Kosovo to defend Muslims from Serb armies. Again, the United States and its European allies did nothing to merit this kind of rage from a Muslim cleric.
Others link the hatred toward America to the Arab-Israel issue. But trying to argue that al-Qaeda was motivated to strike at the West because of frustration over the Palestinian cause is simply not plausible. The Arab veterans of Afghanistan, many of whom were part of Osama bin Laden’s networks, began striking outside of the Middle East–in the United States and Western Europe–in 1993-94, precisely when the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO were being signed and initially implemented. Israel dismantled its military government over the Palestinians and replaced it with the Palestinian Authority, led by Yasser Arafat. In any case, al-Qaeda’s stated grievances against the West are far broader than the Arab-Israeli issue; chiefly they include the fall of the Ottoman caliphate, the American military presence in the Arabian peninsula, U.S. policy toward Iraq, and only then the question of Jerusalem and the Palestinians.
Saudi Arabs undeniably have had strong feelings about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict all these years. In practice, however, the Saudi state had only a peripheral military role in most Arab-Israeli wars. Saudi leaders from King Ibn Saud to King Faisal made clear in private conversations with U.S. officials that the primary threats that concerned them emanated from their Arab rivals–the Hashemites and later Nasser–and not from Israel. Iltimately, what really captured the imagination of young Saudis to rejuvenate the idea of jihad and volunteer to put themselves in real danger was not the Palestinian cause but the war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. The same motivation was noticeable in the 1990s when Saudis became the largest national contingent of the al-Qaeda network. The war against the West became much more of a rallying cry for Saudi volunteerism than the struggle against Israel alone. Indeed, the religious incitement fed to Saudi youth over the years by Saudi Arabia’s educational system and by many preachers in Saudi mosques has focused as much on the Christian world as on the Jewish people, and in recent years the Hindus of India have become a target as well.