little-told history of the U.S.-Saudi "special relationship" is a
story of blood, oil & violent fundamentalism.]
By Ben Norton
|(Credit: AP/Susan Walsh)|
“Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: stop participating in it.” So advised world-renowned public intellectual Noam Chomsky, one of the most cited thinkers in human history.
The counsel may sound simple and intuitive — that’s because it is. But when it comes to
Arabia ignores it. U.S.
On Jan. 2,
beheaded 47 people across 13 cities. Among the executed was cleric Nimr al-Nimr,
a leader from the country’s Shia religious minority who was arrested for
leading peaceful protests against the regime in 2011-12. Saudi
Sheikh al-Nimr was known throughout the Islamic world for his staunch opposition to sectarianism. The outspoken Saudi dissident firmly insisted that Sunnis and Shias are not enemies, and should unite against the sectarian regimes oppressing them. “The oppressed should unite together against the oppressors, instead of becoming tools in the hands of the oppressors,” he declared.
By executing a dissident who challenged sectarianism, the Saudi monarchy was only further fomenting it.
Human rights organizations condemned the executions. Amnesty International said the Saudi regime is “using the death penalty in the name of counter-terror to settle scores and crush dissidents,” sentencing activists “to death after grossly unfair trials.” Amnesty called this “a monstrous and irreversible injustice.”
Yet atrocities like the mass beheadings are by no means new in
. What is new is the global attention to them. Saudi Arabia
Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, the nephew of the murdered cleric, was arrested at age 17 for attending a peaceful pro-democracy protest in 2012. He was allegedly tortured, before being sentenced to death by beheading and crucifixion.
In recent years, the Saudi monarchy has also arrested at least two other peaceful teenage pro-democracy activists and sentenced them to death.
Furthermore, a Palestinian poet was sentenced to death by
in November for renouncing Islam and
criticizing the royal family. Saudi Arabia
In 2015, the Saudi regime executed 158 people, largely by beheading. On average, approximately half (47 percent) of people executed in
are killed for drug-related offenses, according
to Amnesty International. Every four days, then, on average, the Saudi monarchy
executes someone for drugs — while its own princes are caught with thousands of
pounds of drugs at foreign airports. Saudi Arabia
Journalist Abby Martin devoted an episode of her show “The Empire Files” to exploring the Saudi-U.S. relationship. The episode, aptly titled “Inside Saudi Arabia: Butchery, Slavery & History of Revolt,” displays the brutality of the monarchy in excruciating detail.
“If the Saudi kingdom were an enemy of the
government, we’d be shown these images and
facts every day on the mainstream media,” Martin observes. U.S.
The internal repression and human rights abuses inside
is one thing. Perhaps even more troubling, however,
is the monarchy’s support for violent religious extremism. It is here that
Chomsky’s advice on stopping terrorism becomes so important. By continually
aligning itself with the Saudi regime, the Saudi Arabia is fueling the very fire it is fighting in
the so-called War on Terror. U.S.
“Black Daesh, white Daesh,” Daoud wrote, using the Arabic acronym for
ISIS. “The former slits throats, kills, stones, cuts
off hands, destroys humanity’s common heritage and despises archaeology, women
and non-Muslims. The latter is better dressed and neater but does the same
things. The Islamic State; .” Saudi Arabia
“In its struggle against terrorism, the West wages war on one, but shakes hands with the other,” Daoud continued. “This is a mechanism of denial, and denial has a price: preserving the famous strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia at the risk of forgetting that the kingdom also relies on an alliance with a religious clergy that produces, legitimizes, spreads, preaches and defends Wahhabism, the ultra-puritanical form of Islam that Daesh feeds on.”
Since the November Paris attacks, in which 130 people were massacred in a series of bombings and shootings for which
claimed responsibility, the West has constantly spoken of the importance of
fighting extremism. At the same time, however, the , U.S. , U.K. , and other Western nations have continued
supporting the Saudi regime that fuels such extremism. France
Saudi political dissidents like Turki al-Hamad have constantly argued this point. In a TV interview, al-Hamad insisted the religious extremism propagated by the Saudi monarchy “serves as fuel for
“You can see [in ISIS videos] the volunteers in ripping up their Saudi passports,” al-Hamad
“In order to stop
ISIS, you must first dry up this ideology at the
source. Otherwise you are cutting the grass, but leaving the roots. You have to
take out the roots,” he added.
In the wake of the November 2015
attacks, scholar Yousaf Butt stressed that
“the fountainhead of Islamic extremism that promotes and legitimizes such violence
lies with the fanatical ‘Wahhabi’ strain of Islam centered in Paris .” Saudi Arabia
“If the world wants to tamp down and eliminate such violent extremism, it must confront this primary host and facilitator,” Butt warned.
In the past few decades, the Saudi regime has spent an estimated $100 billionexporting its extremist interpretation of Islam worldwide. It infuses its fundamentalist ideology in the ostensible charity work it performs, often targeting poor Muslim communities in countries like
or places like refugee camps, where
uneducated, indigent, oppressed people are more susceptible to it. Pakistan
Whether elements within
support Saudi Arabia ISIS is contested. Even if does not directly support or fund Saudi Arabia ISIS, however, gives legitimacy to the extremist ideology Saudi Arabia ISIS preaches.
What is not contested, on the other hand, is that Saudi elites in the business community and even segments of the royal family support extremist groups like al-Qaida.
government cables leaked by WikiLeaks admit
“donors in U.S.
constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups
“It has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from
as a strategic priority,” wrote former
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a leaked 2009 cable. Saudi Arabia
Supporters of the Saudi monarchy resist comparisons to
ISIS. The regime itselfthreatened to sue social
media users who compared it to ISIS. Apologists point out that ISIS and are enemies. This is indeed true. But this
is not necessarily because they are ideologically different (they are similar) but
rather because they threaten each other’s power. Saudi Arabia
There can only be one autocrat in an autocratic system;
ISIS’ self-proclaimed Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
refuses to kowtow to present Saudi King Salman, and vice-versa. After all, the
Saudi absolute monarch partially justifies his rule through claiming that it
has been blessed and ordained by God, and if ISIS’ caliph insists the same, they can’t both be
Some American politicians have criticized the U.S.-Saudi relationship for these very reasons. Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham has been perhaps the most outspoken critic. Graham has called extremist groups like
ISIS and al-Qaeda “a product of Saudi ideals, Saudi
money and Saudi organizational support.”
Sen. Graham served on the Senate Intelligence Committee for a decade, and chaired the committee during and after the 9/11 attacks. He condemned the illegal U.S. invasion of Iraq, which he deemed a “distraction” from the U.S.’s real problems, and has warned that Saudi Arabia may have played a role in the 9/11 attacks that left almost 3,000 Americans dead.
This is not in any way to suggest that there was a conspiracy, and that the
government was involved in the attacks; such
a notion is preposterous, and can be refuted with even rudimentary knowledge
about the U.S. Middle East and a basic understanding of history. There
was no “inside job”; the conspiracy theory is absurd. Rather, critics like Sen.
Graham have suggested that the government sees its close relationship to U.S. as so critical that it may have downplayed
potential Saudi involvement in the attacks. Saudi Arabia
Of the 19 Sept. 11 attackers, 15 were citizens of
. Zacarias Moussaoui, a convicted 9/11
plotter, confessed in sworn testimony to Saudi Arabia authorities that members of the Saudi royal
family funded al-Qaeda before the attacks. The Saudi government strongly denies
The 2002 joint House-Senate report on the Sept. 11 attacks has 28 pages on al-Qaeda’s “specific sources of foreign support,” but this section is classified, leading Graham and others to suggest it may contain information about potential Saudi involvement. The 9/11 Commission insisted in its 2004 report, however, that it “found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” al-Qaeda.
Sen. Graham has nevertheless insisted that the possibility that elements of the Saudi royal family supported the 9/11 attackers should not be ruled out. In his 2004 book “Intelligence Matters: The
CIA, the FBI, , and the Failure of America’s War on Terror,”
Graham further argued these points, from his background within the Saudi Arabia government. U.S.
The independent, non-partisan Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania has detailed the allegations and possible evidence — or lack thereof — of Saudi ties to the 9/11 attacks on its website FactCheck.org.
Whatever its role, what is clear is that
’s support for violent extremist groups is
well documented. Such support continues to this very day. In Saudi Arabia , the Saudi monarchy has backed al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s
Syrian affiliate. The Syria government has bombed al-Nusra, but its ally
is funding it. Saudi
Yet despite its brutality and support for extremism, the
considers the Saudi monarchy a “close ally.”
The State Department calls U.S. “a strong partner in regional security and
counterterrorism efforts, providing military, diplomatic, and financial
cooperation.” It stated in September 2015 it “welcomed” the appointment of Saudi Arabia to the head of a U.N. human rights panel. “We’re
close allies,” the State Department remarked. Saudi Arabia
In order to understand where this intimate relationship came from, and why it is so important to the
, it is important to look back at history. U.S.
A history of “precious jewels”
The U.S.-Saudi relationship has its origins in the early 20th century. It was at this time that
was discovered to have what were believed to be the world’s largest oil
reserves. The largest oil reserves are now known to actually be in Saudi
Arabia , but Venezuela has the second-largest. And when Saudi Arabia is combined with neighboring Saudi Arabia Gulf states , Kuwait , and the Qatar , it is by far the most oil-dense region of
the planet. United Arab Emirates
Ben Norton is a politics staff writer at Salon. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.
Ben Norton is a politics staff writer at Salon. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.