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Why America hates the Saudis

04/01/2004

From an American perspective, what's to like about Saudi Arabia or its society, culture, and politics, all thrust into the media spotlight after 9/11? Who will defend the degradation of women and religious minorities? The suppression of dissent? The repressive presence of the morality police in urban centers? The oil-subsidized lifestyle that for too long has extinguished most discernible traces of a work ethic? The sympathy and funds extended to terrorists so long as they went about their wretched business abroad?

There's no getting around it. Among Americans since 9/11, our ally Saudi Arabia has become one of our least favorite places, and its rulers are among our least favorite people. Most American conservatives, in particular, have come out swinging against the House of Saud.

The desert kingdom's image problems among average Americans go back at least to the oil embargoes of the 1970s. (Or even earlier.) After 9/11, with its 15 Saudis among 19 hijackers, the bad blood of the 1970s came rushing back, and then some. The cry of "kick their a*s and take their gas" is again heard in the land.

This is an uncomfortable thought for some Saudis, who would prefer to pretend that ties with the United States are merely perturbed by a "smear campaign" conducted, we are meant to understand, by the non-representative "Jewish media." If only life were that simple.

The polls tell part of the story: in September 2003, 73% of respondents told the Time/CNN poll that the Saudis can't be trusted. Moreover, we may now be seeing something that polls do not measure well: the formation of an enduring new prejudice. When looking at political cartoons, it is increasingly possible to entertain the thought that the superannuated caricature of the "Jewish banker" has been replaced by the "Saudi oil sheikh," whose similarly dark and ugly features seem to go naturally with a new overlay of treachery and violence.

Consider, for example, this offering by liberal political cartoonist and columnist Pat Oliphant. (Click here.) This sinister figure is a far cry from the escapist romantic twaddle of yore, but scarcely marks any kind of improvement.

Saudi Arabia has also become a political football in this most political of seasons. It's bound to play at least a cameo role in the current presidential campaign, as the challenger, John Kerry, starts to figure out that the incumbent, George W. Bush, actually may be vulnerable on his own prized issue of fighting terrorism.

But nowhere is Saudi-bashing more in vogue than among the ideological warriors of the American right. No issue of the Weekly Standard would be complete with it. And that's not all. Author Robert Baer and columnist Ralph Peters agree: let's go grab us some oil fields. Or at least partition the country, leaving the oil in friendlier hands than before.

Stephen Schwartz has developed an especially elaborate conception of the Wahhabi threat that allegedly emanates from the Saudi Kingdom, and written a book that uses the phrase "Saudi/Wahhabi" possibly more often than it has appeared in all previous publications, ever. (What's a Wahhabi? See here.)

Why does the Oily Kingdom merit such fascination on the right? It meets an important need that went unmet for too long. Many on the right continue to dwell in the nostalgic realms of Cold War conservatism. Its Manichean moral universe assured the righteousness of all who, like Ronald Reagan, championed liberation abroad, with non-interference at home. The death of Soviet communism was a genuine tragedy in their lives, even if they would not readily acknowledge this.

The same crowd spent the 1990s aching to rumble with the Chinese over Taiwan. To Newt Gingrich and friends, it must have felt like the bad old days of detente all over again; bring on the 1980s once more! But it was all for naught. The 1980s were the era of the Evil Empire, our so-called "peer competitor." And those balky Chinese kept handing their casting call notices back to the Beijing postman, marked "Return to Sender."

Like the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan or a North Korean missile test, 9/11 came to the thwarted crusaders of the right as a gift from on high, renewing America's global historical mission and thrusting the appeasement camp onto the defensive once more. Not only were the Saudis evil, but unlike the Chinese of the 1990s, they disseminated a totalitarian ideology abroad -- just the thing to present America with its Next Great Challenge after fascism and communism.

This portrayal of Saudi Arabia contains some grains of truth. And it is, of course, absurd. Probably no one has done more to promote this wildly exaggerated view than the abovementioned Stephen Schwartz, who also publishes under the name Suleyman Ahmad al-Kosovi. Once upon a time, it seems, Mr. Schwartz was a Trotskyite Communist who breathed fire at the Stalinists. Now, he is a Sufi Muslim who breathes fire at the Wahhabis.

On the American right, history can, does, and will repeat itself. Woe betide the country that becomes America's chosen foil.

Analyst

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000239.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Analyst @ 10:57 AM CST [Link]

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Replies: 22 comments

In my view you misinterpret a religious crusade for the right of peoples to have their own life in the way they like it ! I am not astonished when I see a kid eating out a Hamburger while the other prefering a Sweet . The metaphore is simple you see yourself in the mirror while speaking to it oh Iam beautiful , like the witch Queen in the snow white Story . ie : Arab peolple have their morals , their way , their tradition and religion which do not emanate from the American way of life , which can be confortable to have but unethical to propagate in such a demeaning way for human dignity .
As a person whose roots will and remain in the old continent we have values that unfortunately were not communicated or inherited by you our descendants and that like a noisy and patty kid want to paint our faces with your ice cream . Good Luck !!! I will be in heaven if you need me

Posted by Mr Badr @ 04/01/2004 11:06 AM CST

Is this a joke? Americans hate Saudis? And they feel that they should not trust them? The States are not allied with Saudi Arabia, they are allied with an Dictator (lots of you don't know that), so don't say ur allied with the Saudis.

Just pointing something out, so y'all know: Those 15 Saudi hijackers who was in the plane don't hate American Democraty or American freedom, they hate Dictatorship, and those who support Dictator regims and are allied with the Saudi Dictator Regim ---> THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA...

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Posted by Ken @ 04/01/2004 09:34 PM CST

No I don't like the Saudis, after the 9/11 terrorism. It is clear they fund terrorism.
The saddest thing about the Saudis is that they could have used their oil money to educate the Middle East and make it a center of learning, (as in the golden age of Islam). Instead they've used it to fund terrorism and narrow-minded religion. What a terrible waste of the intelligent young minds in the Middle East.

Posted by Old North State @ 04/02/2004 02:08 AM CST

Nicely written. Thanks for listing most of the ways the the House of Saud has allowed (encouraged?) the US to become the reason its citizens are not happy with their lot.
I'll grant you there are a lot of reasons not to like the Saudis. But, frankly, it's a little lame to suggest that we get tired of having our noses bashed just because we need to hate someone and strike.
The questions here are what is the House of Saud going to do to clean up its act and how much time do they have to do it......

Posted by rael @ 04/02/2004 03:49 AM CST

to all muslims who support extremists, terrorism, and death...i doubt that heaven is where you are headed.

Posted by j.gonzales @ 04/05/2004 02:56 AM CST

i think u have wrong preception of saudis and muslim. all of you a just blin enough not to know about history. the jews are prophet killer and also do not beleive oter race and religion and don't respect other religion. is good that thr nazi managed to kill many of them or else the world will go hay wire.Some jews ore ok but zionist are bad people as they think of themselves. No other race and religion is respected from them. That is why during abraham, moses, christ and even mohamad consdered the bani israel(the people of isreal are bad and not believing in god) that's why they(isralis) never like the prophet and that's why they are been chased out of Palastine. Now they are strong they want all the land belong to them plus the stupidity of America to follow the likings of jews and made stupid foreign policy and this is a mistake. if these goes on the world will not achieved peace if the jews don't change the negative attitude killing innocent people and the jews will continue to suffer in the long run. be nice to human as this is the right teaching of christianity and islam. i don't know about bani israel. this world is not meant for jews only but for other human kind. plse bear this in mind

Posted by fd @ 04/05/2004 11:05 AM CST

To fd:
Typical middle eastern response. Instead of examining the evidence against the Saudis, start blaming 'some' other people.
No one is criticizing all moslems but apparently many moslems cannot take any criticism at all and certainly have no capability for self-criticism, like yourself.

Posted by Old North State @ 04/05/2004 06:55 PM CST

The real problem with the middle east and the west, in my view is jealousy! Look at what the U.S. has done in 200 years, I am so thankful that i was not born there! Jealousy is a powerful emotion, it eats away at you wanting what others have, you look down at the way we live, but yet you secretly crave this life style. You look down at Sex and pornography, but yet when you die as a "marter" there will be countless virgins waiting for you... for what? I ask you, sex is bad remember? we can say and do what we want pretty much what we want, as long as it does not hurt others, if we want to waste our lives and be bums we can, if we want to educate ourselves to the highest, we can to improve our lives and our famlies. but yet the jealousy of the middle east that eats away at them wanting what we have, living as we live and prosper, that is part of the problem, take care of your own backyard, improve the lives of your people, educate all not just some. The last thing we wanted was another war, but as you have found out after 9/11 you wont get away with it.

Posted by A Proud free thinking WOMAN of the United States of America!! @ 04/05/2004 09:33 PM CST

I find it sad that so many can take such a long and complicated relationship between us and the Middle East and make it sound so simple. There are volumes written on this subject. I was taught (in my religious upbringing) that we should'nt hate anyone and trying to love and accept one another is what our primary goal here on Earth is. I pray for peace and prosperity for all mankind!

Posted by kathymarie @ 04/06/2004 02:43 AM CST

people should stop sterptyping against saudis.

Posted by me @ 04/12/2004 07:46 PM CST

It is unfortunate that the great nation of the United States of America has mingled amongst some of the world's most unjust elite. I am but one human being that on the day of judgement holds no one's hand and takes no one's sins but my own. I am an American and I have no hate for Saudi Arabia. Hate evil. Hate lies. Hate any thing that does not unite but divides. Saudi Arabia is a beautiful country with many rich cultural traditions. It's filled with faithful people. It is a country filled with youth, filled with families, filled with people who very much, like most Americans, want to live their lives in peace. It's amazing how people react to life these days! Every day living has become another day to be hateful of the wrong things. Americans today so often fail to grasp the bigger picture. The United States of America is no super power. We are just another country, that in the blink of an eye can be destroyed and dessolated by hurricanes, tornados, volcanoes, earthquakes, floods, and plagues. People these days spend so much time and energy waisting time. Americans do not hate the Saudis. Americans don't even know the Saudis. What America knows about the Saudis is what the media is willing to share. Not all countries in this world try to live freely. The United States of America has been practicing freedom for quite some time, other countries are still struggling. It is not our God given right, nor our duty to enforce our ideals of freedom upon any other country! It is our duty and our right to root out the evils that exist within our own country and to work on making our neighborhoods, our societies, places we can go out freely and enjoy our freedom without having to fear that hatred of human life will get us shot, murdered, raped, and abused. The Saudis can leave their cars running when they go inside the grocery store or not have to fear about walking to the local gas station at 3:30 am. There is much the Saudis can open our eyes too, and as an American there is much I would like to share too.

Posted by Frances @ 04/15/2004 08:02 PM CST

I never met any Saudi's until I went to college. There were a large number of Saudi's at the University I attended. At first I was excited to meet them because I am generally happy to meet people from other countries.

I disliked everyone of them I met. Most of my bad feelings about Saudi's come from that period, not 9/11. All I know are the males. The girls wouldn't even talk to American guys (or American girls for that matter). They were arrogant and treated Americans like second class citizens in their own country. They would talk about how depraved American culture was, then when you went to their house it was full of alcohol and porn. They would critisize your culture and religion mercilessly, but become offended if you had the slightest critisism of them. The other exchange students where eager to interact with Americans, but not the Saudi's. Most behaved as if they were to good to socialize with Americans. This is not an anti-muslim thing. The Indonesian students were muslims and many of them were very nice.

I will give them credit for one thing. Whenever I travel to a foriegn contry, I remember how they acted and make a real effort not to be like that.

Posted by winston @ 04/20/2004 01:23 AM CST

I was in Saudi arabia, and when I was once walking in the street I bumped in to a fat completely covered ARAB WOMEN. it was unintentional, but she spat in my face. i spat back and and Arab man with a belt tried to beat me up. i ran off but these are not isolated cases. The Arabs are an uncivilized people who would do away with all other religions if they had the chance. Arabs only care for other Arabs

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