Terrorism: November 10, 2003


The terrorist bombing of a residential compound in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh on November 8th,  appears to be another al Qaeda operation. Three cars, full of gunmen and explosives, were involved. The terrorists shot their way past the guards and detonated of the cars in the middle of the housing area. Some 200 housing units (mainly apartments) were in the compound, and most of the residents were non-Saudi Arabs (mostly Lebanese), plus some Saudis and Westerners. At least 17 died, and over a hundred were wounded.

Saudi Arabia has some six million foreign workers (including 35,000 Americans and 30,000 British.) For over a decade, Saudi Arabia has been trying to get Saudis to obtain the skills for the professional level jobs, or the willingness to do the low end jobs. There has been some success, but the fact that six million foreign workers are still there indicates that a lot more effort is needed. The high unemployment rate (25 percent) in Saudi Arabia, and the large number of foreign workers, has caused resentment. But too many Saudis will either not obtain the skills, or get their hands dirty with the laborer jobs, to replace most of those six million foreigners. The oil money has been flowing for half a century now, but much it has been wasted on  consumer goods, corruption, or was simply stolen by members of the huge royal family. Not enough went for education and investment. Other nations, like South Korea, that never had oil, and were more poverty stricken than Saudi Arabia in the 1950s, now far surpass the Saudis in economic muscle and educational achievement. Where Saudi Arabia has made a major educational investment is in religious schools. These mainly teach the Holy Koran (preferably memorized) and the need for the entire world to be converted to Islam by any means available. The funding of religious schools was a typically short sighted Saudi policy. It bought peace with the many Islamic conservatives in the kingdom. But long term it guaranteed that several generations of Saudi men (women were not wanted in these  schools) would be unemployable for anything except al Qaeda or teaching in a religious school. Neither of those occupations do much for the economic well being of Saudi Arabia. As long as religious schools kept their militant Islam indoors, and as long as the Islamic radicals set off their bombs outside the kingdom, most Saudis were willing to look the other way and go on as if no problems existed. Young Saudis who wanted to mix terrorism and religion had to do it outside Saudi Arabia, and thousands did just that. 

Driven out of Egypt, Sudan and Afghanistan, the zealous Saudi religious students have come home. And here they seek what their fellow Saudi, Osama bin Laden, has long called for; the overthrow of the House of Saud. The crimes of the Sauds are not corruption and inept rule. No, the Saudi family is guilty of not being Islamic enough. It's not enough that no other religion may built a house of worship in the kingdom, that foreign women are strongly encouraged to cover up and that hundreds of other rules and regulation make it clear to any outsider that this is the most Islamic state one could ever imagine. For the radical Islamic crowd, too much ain't enough. What the Taliban were doing in Afghanistan met with the approval of Saudi Islamic radicals, even though the Afghans were seen as ignorant hill people, and dirt poor as well. The Saudi radicals did not comprehend that most Afghans wanted no part of radical Islam. While some Saudi al Qaeda are still up in the hills along the Pakistani border, the majority have gone home, and brought their murderous mentality with them. 

As a result, we have two terror bombings in seven months. The Saudi government has arrested over 600 al Qaeda suspects, shot dead several dozen others and told the radical clergy that they can either play by the rules, or suffer (in prison or on the executioners block). The al Qaeda attacks have been against the homes of wealthy Saudis and foreigners. This shows an appreciation for the way Saudi politics works. While there is no voting, or much polling, it's widely understood that a lot of Saudis have become rich via corrupt practices, and that many of the highly paid foreigners (especially the Arab ones), look down on Saudis as a bunch of Bedouin Bumpkins, and join in the corrupt practices that have wasted so much of the oil wealth.

But if the al Qaeda fanatics listened carefully, they would also hear general disdain, and disgust, for the radical terrorism. Being a conservative Moslem is one thing, killing women and children, and fellow Moslems as well, is not acceptable behavior. But the Islamic radicals failed to understand this in Egypt, Afghanistan and elsewhere. As a result, popular support dried up, and too many Moslems simply pointed out who the radicals were, and soon the radicals were gone.

After half a century, there is a large (but still minority) educated class in Saudi Arabia. They don't care for the aristocracy, but prefer princes to terrorists. An even larger segment of the population (a majority) have responded to several generations of schmoozing and respect for tribal, clan and religious customs by the Saudi family. The Sauds may be thieves, but they are respectful, generous and, most of all, our thieves. If a vote were held tomorrow, the Saud family would no longer run the country, but there would be a lot of Sauds elected to legislative and local posts. It's a big family, they're not all bad and they have more friends than the al Qaeda crowd.

But it's a war that's going on in Saudi Arabia, not a popularity contest. And by killing several dozen Arabs (including children) and wounding over a hundred, al Qaeda has not scored any points in their favor. The war may not be over, but al Qaeda isn't doing much to win.


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