Information Warfare: August 22, 2002


One of the more diligent and long term practitioners of Information War has been Saudi Arabia. The Saudis decided from the beginning (after the kingdom was founded in the 1920s), that they would have to deal with an "outside world" that was very, very different from what was going on in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi family founded a kingdom based on the conservative practice of Islam and taking care of the holiest shrines in Islam. When the oil came along after World War II, the Saudis realized they needed powerful friends to keep less friendly foreigners from coming in and taking the oil away. The Saudis hooked up with the United States, based on the idea that America was powerful, already rich, far away and not prone to overseas conquest. Americans were also willing to compromise, especially when it didn't cost them a lot of money. A lot of Americans went to work in Saudi Arabia in the following half century, and largely got along just fine. Americans lived in their own self-contained compounds, and played by Saudi rules when they went outside their compounds. The Americans, and millions of other expatriates, who went to work in Saudi Arabia, would freely discuss what they saw in Saudi Arabia (women operated under severe restrictions, thieves had hands cut off, murders were publicly beheaded, Etc.) But it didn't matter, because the Saudis cleverly managed their foreign image in such away that the international media never came down hard on the Saudis. And even when journalists have tried to, their ignorance caused them to invent things that were odd even by Saudi standards. A recent series of newspaper  articles appearing in Britain, featured the idea that non-Saudi bootleggers were being used by the Saudis as an excuse to deny that there was any Islamic terrorism going on in the kingdom. Non-Arabs in the kingdom know that the illegal alcohol trade does exist and many Westerners (especially Brits) operate it. When the bootleggers are caught, they will often exclaim that they have been tortured. These claims are invariably false. Like everything else in Saudi Arabia, dealing with bootlegging is a balancing act between the many foreigners, and Saudis, that like to drink, and the Islamic conservatives that consider booze sinful. The Sauds conquered Arabia and established the kingdom with the help of Islamic fundamentalists. Although the Sauds have had to crack down on the conservatives with violence several times in the past (killing hundreds of fanatics each time), they cannot afford to be constantly at war with the Islamic fundamentalists. So, like everything else in Saudi Arabia, there is compromise. The fundamentalists are allowed to hunt for the bootleggers, If they catch them, and they happen to be foreigners, the culprits are punished much less severely than locals (no Westerners have been executed since World War II, although lots of foreigners from less powerful nations have, literally, gotten the axe for murder, rape and drug dealing). The Sauds know enough about Western culture to realize that they can behead Nigerians for capital crimes, but have to handle Westerners a bit more gently. The Saud family spend millions of dollars each year on foreign public relations firms, lobbyists and image consultants. That fact that little is heard about this very successful Information War campaign is a testimony to its success. 


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