Talisman Gate

Thursday, November 18, 2004

The Saudi First Amendment

Copyright 2004 The New York Sun, One SL, LLC
All Rights Reserved
The New York Sun

November 18, 2004 Thursday


LENGTH: 1433 words

HEADLINE: The Saudi First Amendment

BYLINE: Nibras Kazimi


If the Saudis had an equivalent for the 'freedom of speech' bit in the Bill of Rights, it would stipulate that all free speech is prohibited, unless it calls for jihad against the United States.

On Friday, November 5,26 leading Wahhabi clerics in Saudi Arabia issued an open declaration in the form of a religious promulgation, inciting the Iraqi people to fight the American forces. They state that the religious justifications for participating in a jihad are self-evident, and that it does not require an overall leadership to coordinate the efforts. They implore Iraqis not to inform on the insurgents or participate in the government's efforts to quell the terrorists. In this decree, the Saudi clerics beseech the Iraqis not to get embroiled in sectarian Shia/Sunni or Arab/Kurdish conflicts and to focus their wrath against the Americans and "the Jews who are infiltrating into Iraq." They call upon all Muslims to support the anti-American insurgency, and to provide alms and charity for "victorious" towns like Fallujah. Four of its 10 paragraphs read like a political memorandum to Abu Musaab Al-Zarqawi, imploring the guerrillas to project a civilized and civilian-friendly demeanor that would come in handy when administering the country once victory over the "occupiers" was achieved.

This is a very important document that highlights a turning point in how Al Qaeda, and the Wahhabi-Salafist alliance it represents, perceives the unfolding events in Iraq. Zarqawi was a punk and a flunky in the Who's Who of Worldwide Jihad. He was deemed so marginal that the Jordanians released him from prison in a now controversial move back in 1999. But Zarqawi, assisted with a little pre-liberation help from Saddam Hussein's secret police and postliberation American blundering, managed to turn Iraq into a success story for terrorism. Last winter, he apparently wrote a 17-page letter to Osama bin Laden describing the challenges of conducting holy war in a land populated by heathen Shias and laidback Sufi Sunnis. He was petitioning Al Qaeda to adopt his movement and take him seriously, which happened last month when he changed the name of his outfit to "Al-Qaeda in the Land of the Twin Rivers."

These latest religious edicts emanating from Saudi Arabia and Zarqawi's pledge of allegiance to Mr. bin Laden mark a dramatic shift in policy for the Wahhabi-Salafist alliance. Just a year ago, a Saudi medical doctor traveled to Iraq to scout possibilities for jihad, and he penned his observations is a 20-page pamphlet entitled "The Iraq We Hoped For...And the Road to Jerusalem." The author, Dr. Saud bin Hassan Mukhtar, laments the absence of Saudi money, preachers, and fighters from a scene exceptionally ripe for armed struggle against the Americans. Even Al Qaeda's theme song, which I use for my MP3-powered cellular ring tone as a constant reminder of its menace, maps out world-wide jihad in Egypt, Syria, the Arabian Peninsula, India, Palestine, and Lebanon - but not in Iraq. But all the evidence indicates that Iraq is now the new Afghanistan as far as Al Qaeda is concerned.

And guess who signed the Saudi religious edict? Well, among the 26 names who all signed as "Sheikh and PhD" are Safar bin Abdel-Rahman Al-Hawali, 54, and Salman bin Fahed Al-Audah, 49.The activities and influence of these two as the ideological mentors of Mr. bin Laden and Al Qaeda have been well reported by the Western press. Both were arrested back in 1994 because they grew too hostile for the comfort level of the Saudi royals and were pardoned and released five years later by Crown Prince Abdullah. Mr. Al-Hawali has recently been useful to the royal family in acting as an intermediary with the terrorists on the government's own most wanted list to arrange their surrender.

But, it is highly hypocritical of Al-Hawali in particular, as a signatory to the "open call to the Iraqi people," to counsel the insurgents to refrain from antagonizing the Shia. Right after the liberation of Iraq, the Shias of Saudi Arabia were emboldened enough to petition the Saudi Crown Prince for greater political and economic participation, and it fell to Al-Hawali to author a vitriolic Wahhabi establishmentarian response as to why such reforms are not feasible because, simply put, the Shias are heathens and effectively must be exterminated, should one go by the Wahhabi book.

The attitude of the Saudi government is to enshrine the status quo at home, and send the troublemakers abroad. It is a dangerous double game that has been going on for two decades, but this time around, it is claiming both American and Iraqi lives.

To be fair, the Saudis have nudged the segments of the Wahhabi establishment that are still loyal to them into issuing several counter arguments against jihad. However, these arguments don't make the case that fighting the Americans is a bad idea since they are de facto allies and protectors of the oil-rich kingdom. Instead, they say that jihad is a bad idea at this time because America is too strong and vigilant and the battle is doomed to failure at this point. For their internal charm campaign during the just-ended holy month of Ramadan, the Saudis unleashed the inspector-general of the Ministry of Justice, Sheikh Abdel-Muhsin bin Nassir Al-'Ubaikan, on the Saudi-owned Arab press and satellite channels. He did a good job and made a good case against present-day jihad, as is the case with the after-thought fatwa issued by Saudi Arabia's top cleric instructing the Saudi youth against heading off to fight in Iraq.

Yes, the Saudis can point and say to the Americans, "we are doing something." But is it enough? President Bush should call his former guest at the Crawford ranch, Prince Abdullah, and ask him: Why are Mr. Al-Hawali and Mr. Al-Audah free to speak and incite against America in Iraq?

In academia, it is put forward that the founder of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (Prince Abdullah's father) switched his allegiances from British imperialism to American capitalism by preferentially offering oil concessions in return for American protection against the British-friendly and Saudi-hostile Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq.

Now that America is trying to establish a friendly democracy in Iraq, Mr. Bush should ask Prince Abdullah if the deal still stands. A positive Saudi response would offer bloodthirsty loudmouths like Messrs. Al-Hawali and Al-Audah another stint in jail.


It seems that I have to mourn yet another friend who was murdered by the forces of evil in Iraq. Wadhah Hassan Abdel-Amir Abu Deggeh, better known by his nom de guerre Sa'adoun, was gunned down in his car along with two bodyguards on a road near Khalis last Saturday. He was a member of the Political Bureau of the Iraqi Communist Party, and a parliamentarian in Iraq's National Assembly. He was also my friend and one of the best Iraqis I've met. Born in the early 1960s among the dispossessed of southern Iraq and built like a wrestler but shaped like a teddy-bear, he joined the ICP when he was in his late teens and fought in the Ansar Brigades against Saddam's totalitarian dictatorship in the Kurdish mountains. There, he married his Kurdish wife and learn to speak fluent Kurdish. In 1991,he swooped down from his mountain hideout - still called 'Sa'adoun's Mountain'- and liberated the Kurdish city of Shaqlawa.

It may seem odd to American ears, but the communists - oppressors elsewhere - in Iraq were allies against Saddam.

During the early 1990s,and in his capacity as head of the intelligence arm of the ICP, Sa'adoun moved into the very heart of Saddam's dictatorship in Baghdad to organize resistance to the tyrant. I stumbled upon his state security file that read, page after page, as a testimony to his bravery, humanity, and defiance. The secret police terrorized his father and brother into imploring Sa'adoun to hand himself over, but he responded in a letter I found in his file denouncing the type of evil that would use one's family as hostages.

Sa'adoun, do you remember our last meeting two months ago? You were counseling against an open confrontation with the Baathists permeating every level of the current government, and I asked you if the time for confrontation will come when they push you back to the mountains. I am sure one of their lookouts at a road block sent word that you were traveling on that highway to your death. You told me, "don't worry" as I fretted over your personal security and your dismissal of the flashy trappings of bodyguards and armored vehicles. I can't believe that we lost someone like you: What a terrible loss for me and for Iraq's future.