Monday, November 19, 2007 11/19/07-Saudi Arabia and Extremism

In today's excerpt--Osama bin Laden and the depravity of the ruling Saudis, circa 1989. As scholars have pointed out, religious extremism and fundamentalism never exist except in the presence of their opposite numbers. And in oil-rich Saudi Arabia, the corruption and debauchery of the ruling family required that a bargain be struck with the extremists in the form of support for the muttawa:

"Inevitably, bin Laden's fame [as a pious Muslim] cast an unwelcome light on the behavior of the Saudi royal family, led by King Faud, who was known for his boozing and carousing in the ports of the French Riviera, where he docked his 482-foot yacht, the $100 million Abdul Aziz. The ship featured two swimming pools, a ballroom, a gym, a theater, a portable garden, a hospital with an intensive-care unit and two operating rooms, and four American Stinger missiles. The king also liked to fly to London in his $150 million 747 jet, equipped with its own fountain. He lost millions in the casinos on these incursions. One night, upset with the curfew imposed by British gaming laws, he hired his own blackjack and roulette dealers so that he could gamble in his hotel suite all night long. Other Saudi princes enthusiastically followed his example, notably King Faud's son Mohammed, who accepted more than $1 billion in bribes, according to British court documents, which he spent on 'whores, pornography; fleets of more than 100 high-performance cars; palaces in Cannes and Geneva; and such luxuries as powerboats, chartered jets, ski-chalets, and jewelry.'

"Oil prices collapsed in the mid-1980s, sending the Saudi economy into a deficit, but the royal family continued taking massive personal 'loans' from the country's banks, which they rarely repaid. ... 'Al Saud' became a byword for corruption, hypocrisy, and insatiable greed.

"The attack on the Grand Mosque ten years before [by religious insurgents], however, had awakened the royal family to the lively prospect of revolution. The lesson the family drew from that gory standoff was that it could protect itself against religious extremists only by empowering them. Consequently, the muttawa, government subsidized religious vigilantes, became an overwhelming presence in the Kingdom, roaming through the shopping malls and restaurants, chasing men into the mosques at prayer time and ensuring that women were properly cloaked--even a strand of hair poking out from under a hijab could rate a flogging with the swagger sticks these men carried. In their quest to stamp out sinfulness and heresy, they even broke into private homes and businesses; and they waged war on the proliferating satellite dishes, often shooting them with government-issued weapons from government-issued Chevrolet Suburbans. Officially known as representatives of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, the muttawa would become the models for the Taliban in Afghanistan."

Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower, Knopf, Copyright 2006 by Lawrence Wright, pp. 146- 147.


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