Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Mad Max

Is the Saudi Royal House truly at war with Islamic militants? Well, there's lots of smoke:

More than 15 raids have uncovered a network of Islamic extremists, arms and sophisticated equipment all over Saudi Arabia, indicating sleeper cells authorities say they were unaware of before May 12 suicide bombings in the Saudi capital prompted the crackdown. ... A day earlier, Saudi police arrested 10 militants who allegedly belonged to a terrorist cell planning to attack a British target. British Airways suspended flights to the kingdom Wednesday after Britain's Department for Transport said it received "credible intelligence of a serious threat" to British aviation interests. Last month, police found underground arsenals at farms in central and eastern Saudi Arabia, and cars and trucks ready for use as bombs. They have also discovered dozens of fake passports, surveillance equipment and donation boxes. ...

And there's a body of opinion alleging that the Saudi Royal House has woken up to the threat.

"The extremists had infiltrated and developed sleeper cells in Saudi Arabia to an extent that neither society nor the authorities were aware of. I believe they were still in the process of getting organized and setting themselves up when they were first raided by police" in May, said Mishari al-Thaidi, an expert on militants and a journalist with the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat newspaper. ... Sulaiman al-Hattlan, a research associate at Harvard University's Center for Middle Eastern Studies, says the extremists' strength is the result of years of mobilizing, organizing and raising money on the pretext of helping embattled Muslims in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya. ... Journalist Mansour Al-Nogaidan says the extremists have been forming cells and growing in strength for years, right under the nose of the authorities, who looked the other way or believed Saudi Arabia would not be targeted.

But, as Ralph Peters has often argued, the Islamic threat is largely the consequence of the House of Saud and other despotic Middle Eastern repressive regimes. Of all the Arab countries, only one -- Iraq -- is moving in the direction of constitutional democracy. The rest remain police states and the opiate of the oppressed remains radical Islam. What we are witnessing in Saudi Arabia is more akin to the crackdown on the Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt  after its involvement in the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, more than genuine conversion away from the ideals of the jihad.

Even Mansour Al-Nogaidan acknowledges that the Kingdom's violent reaction was precipitated by the targeting of domestic installations rather than a rejection of principle. Had the Islamists confined their mayhem to infidels living abroad, say in the Twin Towers in New York, there would have been no cause for alarm. There may be certain quarters in the State Department who will view the Saudi crackdown on Islamists as a good thing. Saudi Arabia as Egypt. Manageable. But anyone who takes the long view must understand that neither Egypt nor the corrupt Arab world is really manageable, except for the duration of a diplomatic cocktail party.

Here is the real challenge facing the architects of the war on terror. There is a whole class of countries, namely: Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia -- to name some -- which are not overt enemy states, but whose oppressive natures provide a natural breeding ground for Islamism. To a certain extent, countries which have descended into anarchy or near-anarchy, such as African nations, and the Philippines will become functionally indistinguishable from oppressive regimes like Saudi Arabia, insofar as they generate the raw material for terrorism and transnational lawlessness.

In the end, the War on Terror cannot be separated from the larger question of the implosion of the Third World, as countries  born in the post-colonial era following the Second World War, and nurtured by Marxism and elitist mumbo-jumbo, reach the end of their trajectories. Their world is not so much post-colonial as the post-Armageddon universe of Mad Max. Some will escape their blasted shores to make a new life; others will seek to cross the oceans only to pillage.