Saudis Have an Odd Way of Being Allies
Los Angeles Daily News, November 11, 2001
Did you know that Rudy Giuliani is a "Jewish … homosexual governor" whose actions since Sept. 11 only confirm the "collapse of American democratic theory"?
Or that the American people suffer from "total censorship" of news from abroad? Or that "Zionism … controls most, if not all, of the U.S. media"?
These insane, racist accusations come straight from the top newspaper columnists of Saudi Arabia, the country President George W. Bush has spent the last seven weeks calling "a good friend" to the United States.
It's time to make new friends.
Saudi Arabia spawned Osama bin Laden and an estimated 15 of the 19 hijackers of civilian airliners on Sept. 11, and has provided the bulk of bin Laden's financing, according to several reports. Yet instead of contrition, Saudi princes lecture Giuliani on the evils of U.S. foreign policy, while the Saudi press continues its campaign of outrageous, defamatory lies.
Those lies are made all the worse by the fact that the House of Saud bankrolls all the major media in the country, hires and fires all editors, and outlaws all criticism of the government (punishable by up to a year in prison, according to Human Rights Watch).
Freedom House, which monitors media restrictions around the globe, concluded in its most recent report that Saudi Arabia has the least free press of any country on the planet, except for Iraq, North Korea, Burma, Afghanistan and Cuba. In the report, the Saudi royal family scored maximum negative points for "laws and restrictions on media content," and "political influence on media content."
So when Al-Riyadh columnist Abd Al-Wahed Al-Hamid writes: "If democracy means a governor who is a homosexual in a city in which dance clubs, prostitution, homosexuality, and stripping proliferate, the U.S. can keep its democracy" you can reasonably conclude that the House of Saud have vetted and approved the sentiment.
What's Saudi Arabia's version of democracy, then?
In providing political rights and civil liberties to its citizens, the country comes dead last tied with such non-friendly states as Afghanistan and Libya, according to Freedom House.
Saudi Arabia has no elections, women are treated only slightly better than their Afghan sisters, religious police harass the population, and defendants have no right to a lawyer. Transvestites are lashed and sentenced to five-year prison terms, thieves get their hands sawed off, and convicted sodomites are beheaded on Fridays.
Human Rights Watch's summary: "Freedom of expression and association were nonexistent rights, political parties and independent local media were not permitted, and even peaceful anti-government activities remained virtually unthinkable."
Meanwhile, the regime continues to be the world's primary exporter of Wahabbism, among the most militant and fundamentalist strains of Islam, from which the al-Qaidas and Islamic jihads of the world replenish their ranks of suicide bombers.
So if they don't share our democratic values, at least the Saudis are helpful friends in a pinch, right?
Since Sept. 11, the House of Saud has stonewalled background checks on suspected terrorists, resisted freezing assets of organizations linked to bin Laden, blocked (at least publicly) the use of local U.S. military bases as staging grounds, and even failed to participate in a U.S. Customs database tracking system of incoming airline passengers.
Behind the scenes, certainly, there has probably been a higher level of cooperation, but the royal family has been allowed to play both sides for far too long.
You can't oppress your citizens, teach them that their misery is the fault of Yankee infidels, and then expect the usual tens of billions in aid and weaponry from the United States.
For too long, Washington has played realpolitik with Riyadh, guaranteeing decades of security without receiving much in return beyond relatively stable supply from the world's largest oil field.
The much-vaunted "stability" of having a known "friend" on the Arabian peninsula went out the window when 5,000 people were pulverized in lower Manhattan, mostly at the hand of Saudi nationals.
Forcing democratic change upon Saudi Arabia is no longer simply a matter of moral credibility, it's an act of self-defense. There is a huge generation of ill-educated, mostly unemployed Saudis - half the population is under 30 - who seethe with anti-U.S. hatred programmed by schools, mosques and newspapers.
We should demand, for starters, that our "friends" liberalize the press, announce a process toward free elections, establish a transparent and humane judiciary, lift educational restrictions on women, rewrite the textbooks that preach hatred toward Jews and Christians, and stop buying off the opposition with subsidies to terrorist organizations.
If the House of Saud doesn't agree, then maybe it's time to build a new house.
Matt Welch lives in Los Angeles and is a frequent contributor to the Daily News.