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a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Who smuggled al Harbi to bin Laden?

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 21st December 2001

or The good cop/bad cop games theocracies can play

Via Ken Layne: ABC News commissioned a full translation of the Bin Laden video, revealing that Khalid al Harbi says he was smuggled into Afghanistan by Saudi Arabia’s religious police. A subsequent Washington Post account, again via Layne, differs on this important detail, stating that it was Iranian religious police who did the smuggling. After the first report, Ken Layne commented:

So, let’s get this straight: A Saudi millionaire from one of Saudi Arabia’s richest families plotted a massive attack on the United States using 15 Saudi citizens as hijackers, and this attack was praised by members of the Saudi Arabian government’s religious council while Saudi officials smuggled a fanatic Saudi cleric into Afghanistan to give praise to the Saudi who led the attack. The Saudis hustle the bin Laden family out of the United States within hours of the attacks — and with the White House’s help — and refuse to cooperate in the investigation of the 15 Saudi hijackers. Meanwhile, Saudi royalty runs loose in the United States, breaking the law and claiming diplomatic immunity whenever they’re caught.

Folks, Saudi Arabia attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. It doesn’t matter whether the command came from that bloated hog King Fahd or the fanatic religious leadership he can’t control. What is obvious to everyone except the Bush Administration is that our ally, Saudi Arabia, harbored, supported and created the terrorists who launched a war against the United States 100 days ago.

However, there is the “sting” angle I mentioned a few days ago — so take your pick:

1) the Saudi religious police were doing U.S. bidding to get the weasel Al Harbi and his HandyCam to Bin Laden. (I doubt the Iranian religious police would.)

2) the Saudi or Iranian religious police were doing their own nasty pro-Bin Laden business, and we were lucky to get the videotape.

Someone in Washington, D.C. knows, and I think the American people should know, too. I’m getting a little bit sick of the mantra about “protecting our sources”; we need the information to know just where we stand with Saudi Arabia. Even if it’s door number 1 above, Layne outlines very well why Saudi Arabia has a long, long way to go before I consider them an ally in any important sense. Al Harbi presumably wasn’t hallucinating about the prominent, non-fringe clerics who supported the 9/11 attacks. If it’s door number 2, and it was Saudis, then we have a very serious problem with Saudi Arabia (as if we didn’t know that already), and my most important reason for not going to war with Iraq does not apply: they are harboring, aiding, and abetting 9/11 attackers, before and after the attacks.

Final thought about the convenience/inconvenience of uncontrollable religious clergy: both Iran and Egypt are very similar in this respect. “Yes, but what do Khameini/Al Azhar University leadership say?” should be the constant question whenever “moderate” voices from these countries are mentioned.

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Update, 10:45pm: Justin Slotman (“Insolvent Republic of Blogistan”) points out this MSNBC article, which pins down the religious police involved as ““jalad alhayaa” (meaning, the article says, Saudi “religious police”) … So there you go.” Although those words may just mean “religious police,” perhaps still leaving it a matter of context and guesswork whether Al Harbi meant Iranians or Saudis.

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We seem to have Yemen’s undivided attention now

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 18th December 2001

That’s nice: Yemen said to attack al-Qaida areas

It was the first time that Yemen has resorted to military action against supporters of bin Laden.

Welcome aboard, fellow infidels. Maybe Arafat is taking notes.

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Ivory tower watch

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 13th December 2001

From The New Republic: Franklin Foer reports on the Middle East Studies Association’s annual meeting in mid-November:

September 11 may have dramatically altered the global order, but it hasn’t altered MESA’s worldview. In San Francisco, presenter after presenter referred to “so-called terrorism” or “terrorism in quotation marks.”

As Foer notes, this matters; these guys could have been producing “the scholarship on Islam and the Arab world that deepens our understanding of the terrorists.” But obviously not if they don’t think there are any.

Sidebar:

MESA turn-ons: Edward Said. His book Orientalism is “almost Koranic in its prestige.”

MESA turn-offs: Martin Kramer, editor of Middle East Quarterly, not surprisingly, for his book Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America.

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Thanks for the MEMRIs

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 7th December 2001

(We’ll all have fun headlining this one.) Via Dan Hartung’s Lake Effect blog, from Online Journalism Review: Tim Cavanaugh’s Making a MEMRI (subtitled “Site doesn’t travel very far to cherry-pick offensive comments”). As Charles Johnson (better known as Little Green Footballs) remarks, it’s hard to tell exactly what Cavanaugh thinks about MEMRI. On the one hand:

That MEMRI has a bias against Arab societies can hardly be disputed. […]

On the other:

But that’s the catch. Just how unrepresentative are the comments the Middle East Media Research Institute highlights? Anybody who has spent any time in the Middle East, or even stayed alert to Arab politics, knows that MEMRI doesn’t need to travel very far to cherry-pick offensive comments. Indeed, after listening to enough college professors who believe Jews blew up the World Trade Center, priests who say the Holocaust never happened, business executives who tell you McDonalds donates all its Saturday profits to suppressing the Palestinians, burghers who contend that the CIA assassinated Bashir Gemayel, and college students who argue that a rabbinical cabal is suppressing the message of Pat Buchanan, you begin to recognize MEMRI’s picks not as extreme outliers but as very common Middle Eastern sentiments, the very air of political discourse in the Arab world.

Notice that now it’s “doesn’t need to travel very far.” So if it’s the truth, is it still a bias? Go see for yourself. I did one day last month, listing all of that day’s articles under the heading “Read ’em and weep”. I’d say that both on that day and since then, there has been an effort to present “reasonable Arab viewpoint” articles as well as the “I love anthrax” ones. The other thing here is that I doubt that anyone will ever agree on a way of fairly representing any country’s press by sampling articles from its newspapers and online publications. Yet it’s worth doing. So cut MEMRI some slack; better yet, go read it.

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The real roots of terror

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 5th December 2001

In The Atlantic Unbound, Jack Beatty writes:

Egypt exports the terrorists the repression produces, but not before its state-dominated media has taught them to blame the misery and backwardness of Arab nations on the U.S. The terrorists then attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. We are not a wicked nation but, as long as we subsidize this fated cycle, we are a stupid one. […]

Instead of taking the war on terror to Iraq, we need to take it to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, terror’s source. We need to reach beyond these autocratic regimes to their peoples.

Any one who’s read Matt Welch, Ken Layne, Glenn Reynolds, Thomas Friedman, Mark Steyn or any of a number of other writers will be familiar with most of the arguments Beatty makes. But Beatty restates the case well. And read on to see who (dare I say characteristically?) sees only faith based thinking — Wahhabite, in this case — where most of us would merely see intolerance and hatemongering. That’s a blind spot we can’t afford any more.

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Would you step into this room, Your Royal Highness

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 27th November 2001

New York Times: U.S. Pressures Foreign Airlines Over Manifests

The U.S. is insisting everyone provide passenger manifests in advance for foreign arrival flights, or passengers will be put through “extremely rigorous, lengthy searches.” Saudi reactions:

Saudi Arabian Airlines and the Saudi Embassy declined to comment on the new requirement. A spokesman for the Saudi Embassy said last month that his country was not in any hurry to sign up for the passenger information system.

“At this time,” the spokesman said, “hundreds of Saudi citizens are being detained and questioned with regard to the hijackings. A lot of them are innocent people. That number would probably quadruple if we shared advance information on air passengers with the United States.”

They’ll probably be in a bit more of a hurry after some Saudi prince gets “extremely rigorously” searched for the first time in his life. As for “a lot” of questioned Saudi citizens being innocent people, that would seem to admittedly leave “some” of them who aren’t. At least 15 on September 11, for example. Not that I’d care if four times as many Saudi citizens get questioned, but might this not lead to fewer, better targeted questions, rather than more? Whether or not that’s the case: no one’s forcing Saudis to fly to the U.S.

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(edited 10:30am)

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Saudis trying to help *their* rats escape sinking ship

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 25th November 2001

Der Spiegel reports Saudis wollen angeblich ihre “Gotteskrieger” zurückholen (Saudis reportedly want to bring back their “holy warriors”), according to the Egyptian Arab daily Al-Hayat.

The government in Riyadh is already in communication with the “relevant capitals,” to save the lives of Saudi citizens fighting on the side of the Taliban. This also went for Saudi men trapped in Kunduz by the Northern Alliance, who could possibly become prisoners of war soon. They would be interrogated and put on trial in Saudi Arabia.

With about as much information shared with the U.S. as after the Khobar Towers bombing: none. It’s as if the Saudis have something to hide… What is the U.S. government’s position on this? On similar actions by the Pakistanis? I’ve read that General Franks doesn’t want us holding prisoners: why not?

I’ve been glad to see the extremely light U.S. casualties so far, but here is where we’re paying a price. By not having our own substantial ground forces attacking Kunduz, we have no leverage at all in determining what happens there: we can’t prevent massacres, we can’t prevent escapes, we lose access to people who could answer a lot of important questions: who do they know in the U.S., for example. I can understand that we don’t want to give the Taliban a rallying cause (“Americans are occupying us”) or a concentrated target to shoot at/gas/suicide bomb, but at this point I think we could risk that. American troops might be killed in greater numbers than we’ve seen to date, but we’d be able to take custody of (or kill) some very, very bad people we might never get our hands on again.

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In fairness

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 14th November 2001

Saudi Grand Mufti Condemns Terrorist Acts in U.S. (9/15/2001):

“Firstly: the recent developments in the United States including hijacking planes, terrorizing innocent people and shedding blood, constitute a form of injustice that cannot be tolerated by Islam, which views them as gross crimes and sinful acts.

“Secondly: any Muslim who is aware of the teachings of his religion and who adheres to the directives of the Holy Qur’an and the sunnah (the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad) will never involve himself in such acts, because they will invoke the anger of God Almighty and lead to harm and corruption on earth.

“Thirdly: it is the duty of the Muslim ulema (religious scholars) to make facts clear in this respect, and to clarify that Islam never accepts such acts.

“Fourthly: the media which try to defame Islam and Muslims in order to rally against them the feelings of various nations, should immediately stop this unacceptable and unjustifiable practice, since all reasonable and just people know that such biased accusations have nothing to do with Islam.”

Three out of four ain’t bad, and the fourth depends on what you mean by “defaming Islam and Muslims.” I’m definitely not for wholesale bigotry against an entire part of the world, but it’s fair game to point out tenets of the Mufti’s own Wahhabite beliefs, or what some Muslims like Bin Laden and the Taliban believe.

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How to lie really effectively

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 14th November 2001

Just take out a four page spread in the Washington Post (yesterday, 11/13/2001), called “Twenty Years of Change – and Continuity”, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the reign of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. More pictures follow inside (one with George Bush, Sr., and one with Margaret Thatcher).

The thing is, King Fahd is technically king, and may have been a great guy (although I doubt it), but it doesn’t matter now: he had a serious stroke in 1995 and turned over day-to-day affairs to Crown Prince Abdullah, who is now 75 himself. His Royal Highness Abdullah is a tougher sell for even the best PR agency, as quotes like this indicate:

“The ferocious campaign by the western media against the kingdom is only an expression of its hatred toward the Islamic system” (Washington Post, 11/5/2001)

“… relations between the [United States and Saudi Arabia are] at a crossroads… Saudi Arabia [will] be forced to review its ties with the United States if the US [is] not ready to move ahead with finding a successful solution to the Middle East conflict” (letter to President Bush,as related by Prince Turki Al-Faisal to the Middle East Broadcasting Company on November 8; reported in Al-Ahram Weekly, 15-21 November, “Nosedive in Saudi-US ties“)

You can see that making a four page spread with that kind of material was unappealing, so they went with old King Fahd instead. Most readers probably just skimmed the article titles (“thrust for learning,””quiet diplomat”), looked at the photos, and came away thinking that that Saudi Arabia king is an OK pal of ours, and will surely keep things to rights over there, what with everything going on and all. Hats off to PR agency Qorvis, Burson-Marsteller, or whoever it was, and the Saudis! You might even call it chutzpah.

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Note: thanks very much to Ray E. for the Al Ahram URL!

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Say, that’s a good idea, hadn’t heard about it

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 13th November 2001

Via Matt Welch, this article: ArabNews: Seeds of hate

The last thing that is needed, however, is the suggestion from one US congressman to freeze Saudi assets in the US.

Thanks for the tip, ArabNews! I like the idea, at least until we see some evidence of the Saudis actually doing squat about Al Qaeda money rattling around the Arabian peninsula.

Also, notice how two murders in Canada, then a grand total of four in the U.S., are seamlessly transformed into an editorial about supposed widespread unjustified anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States. Yes, four is four too many. No, even these crimes and “hate-filled looks” are not evidence of “unabated attacks on Muslims across the West.”

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