Sunday, June 20, 2004

Where It All Went South 

At the behest of Zemblan patriot K.Z., an excerpt from Craig Unger's House of Bush, House of Saud (not, alas, online):
By this time [the start of the first Gulf War] a battle-hardened thirty-three-year-old, bin Laden tolde [defense Minister Prince] Sultan that the kingdom did not have to allow American infidels on Saudi soil to fight Saddam's troops. Fresh from driving the Soviets out of Afghanistan, Osama was ready to take on another superpower. Armed with maps and a detailed ten-page plan, he asserted that his family's construction and engineering equipment could be used to quickly build fortifications. Thanks in part to U.S. support for the Afghanistan campaign, bin Laden already had a global network of Islamic warriors ready to bolster Saudi forces. If the Islamic forces could defeat a true superpower like the Soviet Union, he argued, they could certainly take on Saddam Hussein . . . .

"We [will] fight him with faith," bin Laden replied. He said he could lead the fight himself and promised to put together one hundred thousand former warriors from the Afghanistan war. Still devoted to the House of Saud, bin Laden warned the royals that if they allowed U.S. soldiers near the holy mosques of Medina and Mecca, militant Islamists, not just in Saudi Arabia but throughout the entire Muslim world, would not overlook "Riyadh's transgressions of the sacred principles of Islam." In its search for military security, he said, the royal family risked losing its religious legitimacy.

According to one report, for reasons that are unclear, bin Laden left his meeting with Prince Sultan thinking that the House of Saud agreed with him and was going to accept his offer. But soon, he received the news that would transform his life: King Fahd was going to allow U.S. forces into the kingdom.

To bin Laden, this development was a "heartbreaking calamity." For decades, the secretive House of Saud had maintained its two different realities. In the West, it proudly paraded its alliance with the United States as evidence of its security and the Saudi entry into the modern world. But within Saudi Arabia, the House of Saud had downplayed any ties to the United States so as not to provoke militant Islamists. Now, however, the double marriage between the two mortal enemies was out in the open. When King Fahd asked the senior Islamic clerics who oversaw the Saudi judiciary to endorse the idea of allowing U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, at first they refused. Allowing American soldiers on sacred Saudi soil was so abhorrent that it called into question the very legitimacy of the House of Saud as the custodian of Islam. Throughout all of Saudi Arabia, Islamists could talk of nothing else but the schism between the royal family and the ulema.

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