Falling out of love with Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has bought Islam. For over 200 years, the al-Saud family has promoted fundamentalist Wahhabi theology, mostly through warfare inside the Arabian Peninsula; but in the last 50 years it has instead been able to continue this project by using oil money to pay for a worldwide revolution in Sunni Islam.

Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reacts upon his arrival at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, June 24, 2015. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo

The strategy of building mosques and organizing fundamentalist indoctrination masquerading as education in country after country, and paying the salaries and expenses of the most extreme kinds of clergy to staff this infrastructure, has paid off handsomely. The Saudi-led Al Qaeda has faded away to be replaced by an even more extreme fundamentalist group, the Islamic State, whose beliefs are exactly those promoted by the Saudis. Fundamentalist Wahhabi or Salafist doctrines have been established as the mainstream version of Sunni theology. In Western countries over the same period, Islamic immigrant populations have become not more democratic and modern, but more intolerant and backwards, in many cases adopting the Saudi dress code for women and looking forward to the introduction of public beheadings and stonings. This is directly the result of Saudi Arabia’s estimated one hundred billion dollar investment in its remote control jihad.

But there is another side to Saudi Arabia: for it is simultaneously the country of Aramco – the Arab American Oil Company. The twentieth century was the century of oil, and by becoming an eager customer for British, American, French and Canadian weapons, Saudi Arabia became a structural part of the the post-WWII economic order. This business-like approach made Saudi Arabia such an important customer, and then such an important investor in Wall Street and the City of London, that its activities as the world’s leading promoter of Islamic revolution were simply ignored – as if this was just some quaint local superstition. Even when a group of Saudi terrorists flew aeroplanes into American targets on 9/11, the idea of any blame attaching to the Saudi leadership was quickly pushed aside in favour of the much more convenient fiction that it was Saddam Hussein’s fault – resulting in the global catastrophe of the Iraq war.

Last month the Washington Post investigated Saudi Arabia’s ‘vast network’ of lobbying and public relations activities in the United States. In America, it is not necessary to earn respect: one can simply buy it. The Washington Post reveals that the Saudi Government pays millions of dollars per month to Republican and Democratic lobbyists, fixers and public relations experts to make sure that the Kingdom’s activities are never questioned. However, the mere fact that the Washington Post is conducting this investigation is proof that the long American love affair with Saudi Arabia, that started when Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave King Abdulazziz his spare wheelchair on their first meeting in February 1945, is on the rocks.

The reason for it is clear enough. The invention of fracking means that the United States has become a net oil exporter and they don’t need Saudi Arabia’s oil any more. So despite the lobbying and the PR efforts, negative stories including the word ‘Saudi’ are cropping up more and more frequently.

The richest Arab country using its American aircraft to bomb the poorest Arab country (its neighbour, Yemen) for months on end is a depressing spectacle, but apparently nobody cares. It is the stories bordering on celebrity gossip that get people’s attention. The Saudi Prince Abdul Mohsen bin Walid bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud getting caught at Beirut Airport last yearwith two tonnes of amphetamines in his private jet – apparently to help Islamic State gunmen stay sharp while killing and raping their way to glory. Nothing seems to have happened to him, but it made a splash: as did the story of another Saudi prince, Majed bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who hired a California mansion for a wild party that included not just drink and drugs, but the young prince beating up women and threatening to kill them, having sex with a male servant in front of his guests, and shouting ‘I am a prince and I do what I want.’ He is right, apparently. The story surfaced because the owner of the mansion was seeking compensation for damage to the building; but his majesty had laughed off the accusations of the brutalized women and flown safely on to the next event in his busy social calendar. Also free of prosecution is the Saudi housewife who punished her Indian maidservant for registering an accusation of torture with the police by cutting her right arm off. Under American pressure, Saudi Arabia outlawed slavery in 1962, at which time there were officially 300,000 slaves in the Kingdom, but it is clear that it is still both tolerated and widely practised: as is male homosexuality, even if the predominantly homosexual way of life of Saudi men has to coexist with an insane legal system that is currently seeking to institute public execution as a punishment for homosexual behaviour.

But something seems to be changing. Last year a group of families of 9/11 victims attempted to sue Saudi Arabia in a New York court, but US District Judge George Daniels dismissed the case on the grounds that such a prosecution would violate the sovereignty of a foreign country. The matter was taken up at a political level, and this week the United States Senate has passed a bill, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) that will in theory make it possible for Americans to prosecute individual members of the Saudi Royal Family or government for their involvement in 9/11. Obama has said he will not sign it, but it is getting a lot of attention. Classified documents have just been released under Freedom of Information orders showing that some of the 9/11 hijackers were receiving money and support, including help to get into flying school, from named Saudi officials, some of whom were questioned soon after the events and, as the files published by the Guardian in London this week reveal, show all the signs of guilt. The Saudi government is so scared of this narrative emerging into the American mainstream that they have threatened to withdraw all the money they have lodged in America (750 billion dollars) if the JASTA bill is enacted.

But even this is a smokescreen. Sponsoring terrorists, bombing Yemen… these things are certainly bad. But the main point, the one that nobody ever talks about, is the fact that the al-Saud billions are being used for theological ends. The Kingdom’s official role in Islam is Defender of the Holy Places, but that title, held for centuries by the Ottoman Empire, gives no authority to decide religious questions. All over the world we see the effects of using money as an alternative method.

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