Push the Princes
by Stephen Schwartz
Yesterday's brutal murder of Paul Johnson was just the latest atrocity by terrorist Wahhabis — extremist acolytes of the hate cult that's rooted in the heart of the Saudi state. And the lessons are simple:
* Terrorism terrorizes. Extremely vile terrorism that literally goes for the throat terrorizes most of all. Bombs go off and are forgotten in a week. The horrible deaths of Daniel Pearl, Nick Berg, and Paul M. Johnson, Jr. stick in our minds.
* Beheading is low-cost, and flatters the Wahhabis' belief that they are imitating the Prophet Muhammad, who lived in the age of knives and swords, not firearms and bombs.
The Saudi experiment in creating a "reactionary utopia" — in forcing millions of people to pretend that they are living in the seventh, rather than the 21st century — is less than 300 years old. But it has always been backed up by the sword that appears on the Saudi flag, and by public beheadings.
* When foreigners are beheaded, no jihadist needs to sacrifice his or her life. And not all jihadists love death more than life — many need the movement to push them into martyrdom. That is shown by the narratives left by some who have survived, as well as by defectors.
But those are technical lessons. What are the political lessons for Americans from this martyrdom of one of our own?
First, the terror will continue. With the Coalition poised to hand over power in Iraq, the terrorists (and the Saudis) are terrified by the prospect of a successful, Shia-majority state on its way to democracy in the heart of the Arab world.
Wahhabis — the Saudi rulers and the terrorists — hate Shia Muslims more than they hate Jews and Christians. The Saudi royals are worried about their own restive Shia minority — who form the majority in the Eastern Province, where the oil is.
The Saudi hardliners who created al Qaeda did so to advance their scheme to take over the global Muslim community. But 9/11 — 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis — turned the world against Saudi Arabia, and brought a swell of demand for liberal reform.
And the Saudi royals are more afraid of democratic dissenters than of the terrorists. Exiled liberal Saudis — the only ones who can speak freely — believe the Saudi hardliners brought al Qaeda back into the kingdom as a warning to forward-looking Saudi subjects, and to external critics: If you try to force change in Saudi Arabia, you will get something worse.
We cannot accept this blackmail — and the fear of something worse must not paralyze us.
Saudi Arabia has the largest middle class in the Arab world, with many families owning satellite dishes and computers — but women can't drive. Can you imagine a bigger obstacle to a middle-class lifestyle?
Ordinary, sane, normal Saudi subjects are heartily sick of Wahhabism. Saudi Arabia is now surrounded by a crescent of Arab and Muslim states that may not be very much like America, but they are normal enough that women can drive and people are not whipped in the streets for missing prayer times. Every Saudi subject looks at Kuwait, Qatar and Dubai and wonders when his country will catch up with the world.
In addition, something worse may not be conceivable, because the friends of al Qaeda already hold power in the kingdom. Al Qaeda & Co. have never directly targeted the Saudi rulers — they target the credibility of the Saudi state, but they cut the throats of American technicians and Filipino domestic servants.
Thousands of Saudi princes and princesses roam the world, spending and partying. Not one has ever been attacked. When bin Laden rants, he rails against us, but calls on his Saudi followers to send petitions, not bombs, to the palaces.
Meanwhile, Saudi financiers of al Qaeda walk the kingdom's streets with impunity. The Saudis promise action against the terrorists but drag their heels, or worse, allow the terrorists to escape.
Three years after 9/11, they still claim to be shutting down the terror-funding charities — but the charities reorganize and keep operating their business as usual, and the schools continue indoctrinating children in hatred of other religions, and the Wahhabi imams preach the glory of jihad and martyrdom every Friday at the mosques — and every day on TV. Saudis continue to go to Fallujah to fight the Coalition.
The Council on Foreign Relations' Independent Task Force on Terrorist Financing released a report this week that confirmed all these facts and more. And Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive states in the world, where terrorism is only possible because a section of the state apparatus favors it.
The kidnappings and murders will certainly continue, and it is immoral of us to ask our citizens, or foreigners of any description, to risk a brutal death just to keep Saudi helicopters flying or Saudi palaces clean. All foreigners in the kingdom should consider whether they want to put themselves on the line.
The oil is no longer a meaningful pretext. A temporary rise in oil prices is a small sacrifice compared with the horrors inflicted by al Qaeda, from the '90s bombings in East Africa to the lonely death of Paul Johnson.
President Bush should present non-negotiable demands to the Saudis:
* Arrest and try the financiers of al Qaeda.
* Cut the links between the Saudi state and the Wahhabi ideology, and stop the campaign to spread Wahhabism around the world.
* Accept the need to make Saudi Arabia a normal country, through educational and other reforms.Quiet diplomacy and pressure behind the scenes has not worked since 9/11, and it won't work now. It's way past time to get tough with the desert rats who rule the Saudi kingdom.