Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Sisyphistic Myth(s) regarding the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

The difficulty in thinking about (or trying to write about) the role of Saudi Arabia in the “post 9/11” world lies in trying to sort out what is “true” from what are almost-universally-accepted “urban myths” about the Kingdom.

First a word about the “post 9/11” world. We all know the common wisdom about 9/11. George W. Bush told us then and reminded us on the fifth anniversary of the horror: “For America, 9/11 was more than a tragedy—it changed the way we look at the world.”

DON’T anyone say I’m belittling the unspeakable tragedy of 9/11 for its immediate victims (from the families of those who died to the entire city of New York, to…) or the hideous monstrosity of anyone’s using civilian as targets in war or warlike operations (whether it’s “shock and awe” in Baghdad, pillaging towns in Darfur, indiscriminate bombing in Lebanon, imprisoning two million people in Gaza, or blowing up the London tube).

But for once, I agree with George W. Bush. 9/11 did not change the world. It “changed the way we look at the world.” 9/11 changed only our perception. Gwynne Dyer, a London-based independent journalist (I read her commentary online at Vancouver’s Straight.com. I must ask them if gays are not supposed to read their stuff) said it more succinctly than I could on the fifth anniversay of 9/11:

Five years since 9/11 and we are still being told that the world has changed forever. But the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, was a low-probability event that could just as easily not have happened. The often careless and sometimes incompetent hijackers might have been caught before boarding those planes, and there were not 10 other plots of similar magnitude stacked up behind them. Would the world really be all that different now if there had been no 9/11?

There would have been no invasion of Afghanistan, and probably no second term for President George W. Bush, whose main political asset for the past five years has been his claim to be leading the United States in a Global War on Terror. Deprived of the opportunity to posture as a heroic war leader in the mould of Winston Churchill or Franklin D. Roosevelt, Bush would have had great difficulty in persuading the American public that his first-term achievements merited a second kick at the can.

Would Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and company have succeeded in invading Iraq anyway? That was high on their agenda from the moment they took office, but without the 9/11 attacks eight months later, they would have had great difficulty in persuading the American public that invading Iraq “a country on the other side of the world that posed no threat to the United States” was a good idea. Whereas after 9/11, it was easy to sell the project to geographically challenged Americans: maybe no Iraqis were involved in 9/11, but they're all Arabs, aren't they….

The principal way 9/11 changed the way we look at the world is that we got ourselves organized into a “committee of the whole” to find someone to blame for all of our troubles, and we let Dick Cheney and company set the rules for the proceedings, present all of the evidence, and make all the decisions.

And, of course, much of the evidence was centered on Saudi Arabia (never mind that the Kingdom has for decades been one of the lynchpins of American policy in the Middle East). The dreaded “oil royals” (I didn’t make up that slur, by the way) of the Arabian Peninsula were convenient scapegoats. After all, ten of the perpetrators of 9/11 were Saudi Arabians (right!). The Kingdom is one of those “Islamic” nations—not just in name, but in the reality of its polity, and we all know that is, by definition, evil. And, at the apex of our hatred is our jealousy of their wealth—they have to answer to no one because they have achieved the goal of our materialistic capitalism, and they’re not even capitalists (how could they be? they're not Christians)!

So the common wisdom and the urban myths about Saudi Arabia became a body of belief about the evils of the country as centered in the huge and hugely conspiratorial royal family—their financial (and probably spiritual/political) support of Osama bin Laden; their worse than autocratic mind-body-and-spirit control of their people; their exporting around the world—and practicing with an iron fist in their own country, even over foreigners who dare to visit or work there—a dangerous Muslim “fundamentalism” called (because no one understands it) “Wahabbism;” their determination to undermine the American economy by controlling the price of oil and buying up huge hunks of our property; and so on and on. Even that great liberal Michael Moore helped perpetuate the myths.

We all know the myths (sigh).

If 9/11 changed the way we look at the world, it’s high time we disbanded the “committee of the whole,” sent the myth-makers packing, and tried to understand the truth(s) about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia—perhaps as a prelude to understanding the rest of the world.