Saudi Arabia is much on my mind these days. And with the rise of the so-called ISIS, inheritor of Al Quaida, Saudi Arabia is also the subject of much more reporting than usual. That, at least, is good. We need to understand that Saudi wealth to the tune of an estimated $100 billion (yes, billion) has gone to countries from Africa to South-East Asia in the last couple of decades to spread the doctrine of hatred and intolerance espoused by the Saudi off-shoot of Islam – Whahabbism. We need to know that Saudi clerics or their trainees are active in 2,000 madrases (religious schools), 210 Islamic centers, 1,500 mosques and 202 colleges funded by an estimated annual $3 billion in Saudi government funds (in addition to unknown billions in private funds), and that moderate Islam in the targeted countries is struggling to survive this tsunami.
Most commentators conclude with a prescription for the U.S. to put pressure on Saudi Arabia to cut off the gushing money pipeline. None that I have read make it clear that the Saudi government (read the unpopular Saudi royal family) is totally dependent on the support of the Whahabbi clerics for its continued existence. It has been so since the birth of the country. In return for their support, the coffers are open, and it is unlikely the family will close them no matter what the U.S. demands.
Something else missing from what I read is an description of what it is like to be young and male in Saudi Arabia, of other factors pushing young men into the arms of terrorists.
Thus, I am republishing this early post. Clicking on Saudi Arabia in the list of categories to your right will get you six more posts on The Kingdom. For an excellent film and a girl’s-eye view, I highly recommend Wadjda. For books dealing with issues of love and life, Girls of Riyadh and In the Land of Invisible Women.
I’ve mentioned security precautions several times in these posts. Some explanation is in order.
Al Quaida originated among disaffected Whahabbi extremists in Saudi Arabia, its primary goal the overthrow of the Saud family, considered corrupt and unimaginably heretical for allowing U.S. troops into The Kingdom during the Iraq war. Terrorist attacks within The Kingdom peaked in 2004 with a rash of bombings, killings and deadly attacks on foreign housing compounds. In one such, gangs roamed the compound knocking on doors. Non-Muslims answering the knock had their throats slit.
In December 2004, our Consulate General in Jeddah was attacked.
The Consulate is in a 30 acre walled compound in the heart of the city. Busy streets surround it. A vehicle from a parking lot across the street rammed a Consulate car entering through the security gates. Once in, they put 50 rounds into the Consulate vehicle. Miraculously, the American woman diplomat passenger and the driver were unharmed. They managed to get to the nearby motor pool building where mechanics and drivers hid her in a tool storage bin. One of our security guards saved many lives that day by wounding the leader of the gang. Leaderless, the others dispersed randomly throughout the compound looking for Americans. Fortunately, all of them were inside buildings with heavy security doors. It took Saudi police nearly an hour to respond. At the end of the incident, five or our locally engaged staff were dead.
Where does such hatred come from?
While there is no short answer to such a question, a look at the family life and prospects of young Saudi males may give some clues. I had assumed that families would be extremely close in this society where 75% of the population is under 25, but while I was there a survey in the English language Riyadh daily revealed that the majority of the interviewed parents of 300 affluent students attending public and private schools do not know what grade their child is in. The article said that mothers of these students spend a lot of time shopping and evenings going to women’s parties. Dad also likes to shop and get together with buddies to smoke water pipes and watch DVDs. The article went on to say that parents know little about where their children go or what they do.
What’s life like for young Saudi males? Any contact with the opposite sex, let along dating, is forbidden – no outlet there. Schools focus on Koranic studies with little preparation for employment – true at university level and even at the two prestigious technical universities. Employers find it difficult to hire the skills they need and even more difficult to find employees with a strong work ethic. The government, the major employer, fills positions but pays salaries whether the employee works standard hours or not.
So what does the average young Saudi male have to look forward to – undereducated, with little prospect of meaningful employment and no contact with the opposite sex – until an arranged marriage.
There IS one group that is extremely interested in young Saudi men – the radical Whahabbi clerics. They have little trouble recruiting from this vast pool of bored, disaffected, testosterone laden young males, and they do so energetically. Their message – hate the infidel and eliminate corrupting Western influence, and corrupt Westerners, from Saudi society.
Next – Everyday Life in The Kingdom