Published: 30 October 2007
In what world do these people live? True, there’ll be no public executions outside Buckingham Palace when His Royal Highness rides in stately formation down The Mall. We gave up capital punishment about half a century ago. There won’t even be a backhander â€“ or will there? â€“ which is the Saudi way of doing business. But for King Abdullah to tell the world, as he did in a BBC interview yesterday, that Britain is not doing enough to counter “terrorism”, and that most countries are not taking it as seriously as his country is, is really pushing it. Weren’t most of the 11 September 2001 hijackers from â€“ er â€“ Saudi Arabia? Is this the land that is really going to teach us lessons?
The sheer implausibility of the claim that Saudi intelligence could have prevented the ondon bombings if only the British Government had taken it seriously, seems to have passed the Saudi monarch by. “We have sent information to Great Britain before the terrorist attacks in Britain but unfortunately no action was taken. And it may have been able to maybe avert the tragedy,” he told the BBC. This claim is frankly incredible.
The sad, awful truth is that we fete these people, we fawn on them, we supply them with fighter jets, whisky and whores. No, of course, there will be no visas for this reporter because Saudi Arabia is no democracy. Yet how many times have we been encouraged to think otherwise about a state that will not even allow its women to drive? Kim Howells, the Foreign Office minister, was telling us again yesterday that we should work more closely with the Saudis, because we “share values” with them. And what values precisely would they be, I might ask?
Saudi Arabia is a state which bankrolled â€“ a definite no-no this for discussion today â€“ Saddam’s legions as they invaded Iran in 1980 (with our Western encouragement, let it be added). And which said nothing â€“ a total and natural silence â€“ when Saddam swamped the Iranians with gas. The Iraqi war communiquÃ© made no bones about it. “The waves of insects are attacking the eastern gates of the Arab nation. But we have the pesticides to wipe them out.”
Did the Saudi royal family protest? Was there any sympathy for those upon whom the pesticides would be used? No. The then Keeper of the Two Holy Places was perfectly happy to allow gas to be used because he was paying for it â€“ components were supplied, of course, by the US â€“ while the Iranians died in hell. And we Brits are supposed to be not keeping up with our Saudi friends when they are “cracking down on terrorism”.
Like the Saudis were so brilliant in cracking down on terror in 1979 when hundreds of gunmen poured into the Great Mosque at Mecca, an event so mishandled by a certain commander of the Saudi National Guard called Prince Abdullah that they had to call in toughs from a French intervention force. And it was a former National Guard officer who led the siege.
Saudi Arabia’s role in the 9/11 attacks has still not been fully explored. Senior members of the royal family expressed the shock and horror expected of them, but no attempt was made to examine the nature of Wahhabism, the state religion, and its inherent contempt for all representation of human activity or death. It was Saudi Muslim legal iconoclasm which led directly to the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban, Saudi Arabia’s friends. And only weeks after Kamal Salibi, a Lebanese history professor, suggested in the late 1990s that once-Jewish villages in what is now Saudi Arabia might have been locations in the Bible, the Saudis sent bulldozers to destroy the ancient buildings there.
In the name of Islam, Saudi organisations have destroyed hundreds of historic structures in Mecca and Medina and UN officials have condemned the destruction of Ottoman buildings in Bosnia by a Saudi aid agency, which decided they were “idolatrous”. Were the twin towers in New York another piece of architecture which Wahhabis wanted to destroy?
Nine years ago a Saudi student at Harvard produced a remarkable thesis which argued that US forces had suffered casualties in bombing attacks in Saudi Arabia because American intelligence did not understand Wahhabism and had underestimated the extent of hostility to the US presence in the kingdom. Nawaf Obaid even quoted a Saudi National Guard officer as saying “the more visible the Americans became, the darker I saw the future of the country”. The problem is that Wahhabi puritanism meant that Saudi Arabia would always throw up men who believe they had been chosen to “cleanse” their society from corruption, yet Abdul Wahhab also preached that royal rulers should not be overthrown. Thus the Saudis were unable to confront the duality, that protection-and-threat that Wahhabism represented for them.
Prince Bandar, formerly Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington, once characterised his country’s religion as part of a “timeless culture” while a former British ambassador advised Westerners in Saudi Arabia to “adapt” and “to act with the grain of Saudi traditions and culture”.
Amnesty International has appealed for hundreds of men â€“ and occasionally women â€“ to be spared the Saudi executioner’s blade. They have all been beheaded, often after torture and grossly unfair trials. Women are shot.
The ritual of chopping off heads was graphically described by an Irish witness to a triple execution in Jeddah in 1997. “Standing to the left of the first prisoner, and a little behind him, the executioner focused on his quarry … I watched as the sword was being drawn back with the right hand. A one-handed back swing of a golf club came to mind … the down-swing begins … the blade met the neck and cut through it like … a heavy cleaver cutting through a melon … a crisp moist smack. The head fell and rolled a little. The torso slumped neatly. I see now why they tied wrists to feet … the brain had no time to tell the heart to stop, and the final beat bumped a gush of blood out of the headless torso on to the plinth.”
And you can bet they won’t be talking about this at Buckingham Palace today