2002 December 01 Sunday
The Problem Of Saudi Money And Wahhabism

Jim Hoagland argues that the Saudis have got to stop the practice of paying what is essentially protection money to the most extremist Islamist factions:

America's war on terrorism and the disappearance of abundant petrodollar surpluses bring the Saudi rulers to a traumatic moment of choice. To survive in the 21st century, they must actively help put the extortionists and terrorists out of business rather than fund and shield them.

The biggest change must come at home: The House of Saud must end the Faustian bargain it originally made with the country's extremist Wahhabist sect, which was given significant sway over the kingdom's social, economic and political life in return for supporting the monarchy. Wahhabi clerics have used Islamic charity as a cover to promote terrorism and hatred in the Middle East and Central Asia. The Saudi monarchy must disown and de-legitimize the extremists or remain mired in a disappearing world.

Claude Salhani points to the increasing pressure on the Saudis to cut off the financial flows that are helping terrorists and to spread Wahhabi Islam.

Amid the continuing anti-Saudi frenzy gripping those inside the Washington Beltway, the Princess Haifa affair is certainly blown out of all proportions -- after all, it is quite obvious she would never finance the Sept. 11 hijackers -- this is simply not in her lifestyle. Still, Saudi Arabia must come to grips with reality and conduct a deeper audit of its finances and eradicate certain money trails or face the consequences.

A National Security Council task force is recommending an action plan to the president designed to force Saudi Arabia to crack down on terrorist financiers within 90 days or face unilateral U.S. action.

Jeff Gerth and Judith Miller make the argument that I think explains the Bush Administration's position: Administration can't afford to offend a nation it needs in case of war. Then they go on to report just how much a problem Saudi money is for the US:

Outside experts have been more critical. A report sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations last month said Saudi Arabia was the largest source of financing for al-Qaida, and blamed both the U.S. and Saudi governments for not being tough enough.

Matthew Levitt, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former terrorism analyst for the FBI, said Saudi officials and state-paid religious leaders sat on the boards of charities the American government suspected of supporting terrorism.

Once the US military removes Saddam's regime from power the Bush Administration will be in a much stronger position from which to pressure the Saudis. That is an argument for deposing Saddam sooner rather than later.

Still, people who believe that if we would just pressure the Saudis to stop funding terrorism that the size of the threat would be greatly diminished are not appreciating all the dimensions of the problem. For the US and the West the problem is not just that the Saudi regime is paying money directly to terrorists to buy protection for themselves. If intelligence reports are to be believed there are wealthy private Saudi citizens who are willingly and eagerly supporting terrorists. But even if both sources of support could be cut off the Saudis would still be generating threats for us in part because the Saudis are raising their own children to believe things that make them feel hostility toward us. But that is not the worst of it. They are also financing the spread of their version of Islam and in the process helping to radicalize Muslims all around the world. Our biggest problem is that people are being taught to believe the sorts of ideas that make them want to become terrorists in the first place.

Saudi money funds Islam in America:

Saudi Arabian donations have helped finance more than 1,700 mosques, Islamic centers and schools around the world. The kingdom has fully or partially financed Islamic centers in Los Angeles; San Francisco; Fresno; Chicago; New York; Washington; Tucson; Raleigh, N.C.; and Toledo, Ohio.

Even if all the Saudi money that flows into terrorism and into Islamic evangelism was cut off (and that is very unlikely to happen) we'd still be faced with the continued spread of the more fundamentalist varieties of Islam. Saudi Arabia is not the only source of funding for that spread. Also, money is not the only reason for its spread. Technology is lowering the cost of transportation and communications and thereby allowing the Islam of the Middle East to more easily spread into other areas. At the same time, the threat of Westernism and modernization is causing similar reactions in many Moslem countries.

Our problem is that we are not just fighting terrorists and their financial supporters. We are also fighting a religious ideology. There are few signs of a political willingness to do battle with that.

You can read more about the CFR report on Saudi terror funding here.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 December 01 08:49 PM  Axis Of Evil

Hasnain Imam said at June 6, 2003 6:24 AM:

Now you are realising it. But when Britain backed the Saudis to overthrow the Sherrif of Mecca and the Turkish rule they backed the wrong horse. The problem with western foreign policy has always been shortsighted gains. At one time blueyed boy Saddam was given the key to Detroit and then supplied with chemical weapons which he could use against Iran. Now those weapons have expired on the shelves and how many have been supplied to the great Saudi allies?
Don't start crying when the monster turns up at your doorstep. Stop creating monsters. Its oaky to have a foreign policy based on the principles of THINE KINGDOM COME THINE WILL BE DONE ON EARTH, but it is bad to give slogans of Crusades, threatening other countries, using Dollar power as a weapon. USA should realise it has invited terrorism to its doorstep by lying and attacking a country.The disc plays both ways you bomb my house I bomb yours. Think over my comments. Realistic Eh? Hasnain

Joe Average said at March 27, 2006 6:16 AM:

What he said.
Totally agree, except you got over half the US population not knowing that half those countries even exist. And they are the ones voting, so what do you expect?

JAMES SASSE said at July 5, 2009 4:36 PM:


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