Book review--Inside the kingdom ( written by myself )

Discussion in 'International Politics' started by ashdoc, May 7, 2011.

  1. ashdoc

    ashdoc Senior Member Senior Member

    Jul 21, 2010
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    Saudi Arabia in the shadow of 9/11

    With this book Robert Lacey returns again to the land he has written about in a bygone , much gentler era . That era was when the US-Saudi special relationship was in full flower , with the Saudis satisfying America's endless hunger for more and more oil , and themselves enjoying an endless windfall of petrodollars .

    '' Inside the kingdom '' is thus a sequel to his earlier book '' The kingdom '' , written in 1980--over thirty years ago--and the geopolitical tectonic plates have changed dramatically since then.....

    ........For Saudi Arabia sent what Lacey calls '' 15 flying Saudis ''( out of 19 terrorists ) crashing into the twin towers of New York city to change our world forever.....
    That they were sent not by the Saudi govt , but by a crazy Saudi billionaire called Osama Bin Laden does not completely exempt the Saudi Govt from the charge of fomenting terrorism , for--as Lacey effectively brings out in this book--the Saudi govt was responsible for creating the system which produced crazies like Osama and his minions .

    What a change from 1980 !! In the earlier book '' The kingdom '' ,Lacey was kindler , gentler to the Saudis--trying to present their primitive tribal society , with its draconian laws , in a much better light than possible......
    How draconian are the rules that govern that kingdom is seen from the fact that inspite of presenting the kingdom in a good light , that book was banned in Saudi Arabia......

    Yet there is no denying that Lacey did try--for example , the fact that Saudi Arabians , inspite of having all the petro-dollars did not know the technology to drill and refine the oil and had to depend on the westerners for everything was dismissed by him by saying '' Is the king ashamed of the fact that he cannot make clothes ?? That his tailor is the one on whom he has to depend on for making clothes ??.... No , for the king is king , and the tailor is too lowly , inspite of his skills . If this tailor doesn't do the job , somebody else will !! ''.....what an analogy !!

    The reason why the book was banned ?? Lacey had written about the differences between the princes who rule the land--something that the Saudis could hardly afford to allow to come out in the open , as they have to present a united front before their people--an all important fact in an absolute monarchy....

    Result of the book being banned--the book became a success in other parts of the arab world !!.....and presumably Lacey earned a lot of money.....
    No wonder in this book , Lacey wonders if there will be a ban on this book too.....
    Banned books sell fast.....

    So how was Saudi Arabia responsible for the system which produced crazies ?? The answer goes back to 1978.....
    At that time , the Saudi govt was slowly opening up the kingdom . Women were being allowed to get higher education , got jobs , and even fashion shows were being held .

    But the change was too much for a crazy called Juhayman and his bunch of fanatics , and they attacked and took control of the grand mosque of mecca . It was only after a fight which resulted in many lives lost that the soldiers were able to take back the mosque .
    And around the same time the Iranian revolution happened.....
    Fundamentalists took control in Iran , and Saudis wondered if the same would happen in Arabia......

    All this led the Saudi govt to seek a closer relationship with the ulema ( the religious scholars ) , so that they would not revolt against the kingdom . The ulema agreed to support the kingdom--but for a price . Whatever modernity the kingdom had achieved was to be scaled back. No fashion shows , women to be in complete purdah , above all the students in schools , colleges and universities to be forced to learn a total fundamentalist strain of thought--one which spewed total hatred on anything non-muslim , especially America , and taught students to hate secularism ,openly calling for the destruction of those states which espouse secularism , and also jews and christians . Religious classes became mandatory , and classes which taught science , maths etc were greatly reduced .

    Not only did this produce religious fanatics , but also people who were unable to get any jobs in the real world , as their education did not give them the skills . Such frustrated people easily turn towards fundamentalism......

    Once the ulema gained control , anybody and everybody who espoused secularism was under the scanner . One Saudi chemistry teacher who openly opposed to new laws was first warned by being told by his colleagues that they were very worried about the thoughts in his mind--next , when he refused to stop lecturing about his views , he was threatened with removal from job and arrest by the religious police.

    As the insidious effects of the new teaching began to permeate , other incidents occurred . One female teacher who dared talk of women's rights was spat upon by her female students ( yes female !! ) for deviating them from religion . Another female who wrote a ' secular ' piece in a newspaper was arrested , put in solitary confinement for two months ,until she recanted her thoughts .

    Yes ,Lacey says that control over females is the foremost thought of the Saudi govt , for it is a tribal society , and the cohesion of a tribal society depends on keeping women in tight leash .

    .......And to do that are specially appointed religious police ( muttawa ) who not only rap any female walking on the street with a hard cane if they feel she is exposing too much of her body , but arrest for adultery , any female who is walking with a male who is not her relative--or cannot produce papers proving that he is her relative . Besides that , all shopkeepers have to close their shops five times for namaz , or risk being arrested . Belief in god is not according to the will of the people , but it is enforced by the govt......

    And the terror of the religious police is everywhere to ensure that . As they walk on the street , they look like a posse of long-bearded Juhaymans--the crazy who took control of the mecca mosque .

    And how are the craziest of the fundamentalists made ??--well some of them have to be bred from childhood . A former fundamentalist tells Lacey that since his childhood he was told stories as to how when he died he would go to either heaven or hell , and where he went would be determined by what he had done against the infidels . His keepers used to make him sleep in a freshly dug grave , and imagine that he had just died and was being buried . And how the fires of hell were waiting for him when he woke up , if he had not hated the infidels . He used to have nightmares of hell after this......

    Another target of the muttawa are the shias , who populate the oil-rich eastern province , and are actually the rightful owners of the oil that it contains . They are regularly trampled upon , and Iran , which is a shia power , takes advantage of their disaffection to try foment trouble . So far due to the fear of the para-military forces ,the shia have kept quiet . Also , they are given jobs in ARAMCO , the Saudi oil company , and this allows them to survive , though their financial condition is not as good as the sunnis .

    Sometimes the muttawa go crazy themselves , as in case of the girls' school which caught fire . They refused to let the fire brigade inside , saying that the men in the fire brigade had no right to touch girls , as they were not their relatives , and let the girls burn--15 died .

    Lacey has said in an interview that the govt would like to ship off the fundamentalists to some other part of the globe , if possible . But given their numbers , just how much of the population will that mean ??

    It was after 9/11 that some changes in the school and college curriculum ware made in favour of non-religious topics , but will that compensate for the damage done to minds ??

    Lacey says that 9/11 was done by deliberately using Saudi suicide-bombers by Osama , as he wanted to create a rift between the US and Saudi Arabia , his homeland . If so ,he has partly succeeded , for Saudi students , who earlier could easily get a visa into the United States , now find it very difficult to do so ,thus sowing bitterness in their minds .

    No such bitterness is seen in the minds of many Saudis towards Lacey , and indeed he seems to be on talking terms with high and mighty on one hand , and humble and humbler Saudis on the other , as they open their hearts to him . That is the result of years of staying in Saudi Arabia and making friendships with people . To be honest , Lacey makes a honest attempt to give us a ' human face ' to this mysterious land . The very fact that secular people are arrested is an indication of the fact that they do exist , and their tribe is growing , according to Lacey . When Saudis do go out on foreign vacations ( and all Saudis do , considering their petrodollars ), Saudis behave more freely , with their women being unveiled .

    Lacey's conclusion is that the Saud dynasty is our best bet for stability in future ,whatever be its shortcomings , for collapse of it will bring total anarchy to our oil supplies--if it falls , we may as well be ready to travel to our destinations in bullockcart . Unlike in India ,the Saudi monarchy openly takes bribes in defence deals , as seen from what happened in the Al-Yamamah deal for Tornado fighter jets . Such are the perks of royalty......

    One must say many thanks to Robert Lacey for opening up the Saudi land to us by this book--a land I may say is most important , as our economy depends on the oil it supplies , and thus makes it an indispensible nation .

    Verdict--fascinating .
    parijataka and A.V. like this.
  3. ashdoc

    ashdoc Senior Member Senior Member

    Jul 21, 2010
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    here's a more critical view of saudi arabia by literary review--

    Most people probably have a dark mental picture of Saudi Arabia. It might include the segregation and seclusion of women; public beheadings; fanatical and ignorant Wahhabi clerics; the majority of the 9/11 hijackers; and Osama bin Laden, the most notorious Saudi of all time. We are reminded of the grimness every time we see the brave BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardner on the news, paralysed from the waist down after narrowly surviving a cold-blooded murder attempt by jihadis in Riyadh in June 2004. The Saudis are unpopular in many poor countries like Ethiopia, where they imagine they can simply rent the local women like 4x4s or camels. In Europe and the US, at least outside a narrow society of arms dealers, thoroughbred enthusiasts and oil men, their 'Louis-Farouk' vulgarity was once mocked and resented; nowadays every Saudi is viewed as a potential terrorist. My own perceptions of the place have been shaped by two brothers-in-law who worked there for three years in the 1980s. A colleague of theirs had a nervous breakdown, from which he has never recovered, after being sodomised in a police station following a minor traffic altercation with one of the locals, who had greater wasta (or 'pull') than a foreigner.

    The royal biographer Robert Lacey published The Kingdom in 1981. This was immediately banned in Saudi Arabia, after Lacey refused to emend passages dealing with the 1964 forced abdication of King Saud in favour of the prime minister and regent Faisal. The author says he did not return there for a quarter century, finally relenting so as to live in Saudi for the three years it took to research this beautifully written and thought-provoking update of his earlier book. It does not give one the slightest desire to visit the kingdom, but it does make the place less monochromatic than many Westerners probably imagine it, chiefly by some deft telling of individual Saudi stories and the insertion of some good Saudi jokes. The only minor criticism is that the helot army of foreigners who, with the exception of the industrious eastern Shias, do the hard graft in the kingdom, scarcely get a mention, except when the occasional Afghan is beheaded pour encourager les autres (Filipinos and Pakistanis).

    Three themes are especially well handled. Lacey has a very good feel for the Anglo-Saxon aetheling structure of the ramified ruling dynasty, whereby the most competent, rather than the most senior, prince generally gets to the top, nowadays the octogenarian King Abdullah. Blood kinship is everything, and the princes are obsessed with their status, jostling to ensure that they are in precisely the right place in any line-up. Some of these men have nearly bankrupted a country in which there is no clear distinction between them as public and private individuals. If they want to travel they can bump every passenger off the jets of the national carrier. When in London or Monte Carlo they will hand out hundreds of mobile phones to their entourages, with the Saudi exchequer picking up the huge bills for calls home. Others are more austere, ordering retrenchment and sacking useless ministers appointed only by virtue of nepotism. Abdullah seems a relatively modest fellow, who travels by coach and likes a game of boules (which he always wins). He spends his days watching what his subjects are viewing on banks of TVs tuned to each channel, turning up the sound to note what is being said on discussion or phone-in programmes, while more technologically with-it flunkeys monitor the Internet. Like earlier reforming Saudi monarchs, he allows hope to spring eternal regarding such issues as women driving cars (custom, rather than law, forbids this) or limited consultative democracy, but little or nothing ever results. There is much talk of reform, but nothing of much substance seems to result from it.

    Saudi Arabia is the product of a deal between the Saud dynasty and the Wahhabi clergy, until a decade ago epitomised by the blind Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bin Baz, the senior religious leader. He denied that American astronauts had landed on the moon, although he had to change his tune when a Saudi went along for the ride, but he still havered over whether the Earth was flat. Lacey is good on the pretensions of the clergy, who have their own cane-wielding religious police, which before 9/11 threatened to get out of control until the dynasty reminded them that they 'were not among those who govern'. Saudi Arabia is not like republican Iran, where the Shia ayatollahs ultimately rule, and so long as the Sauds survive, things are likely to stay that way. Although Lacey avoids the subject, this makes the dynasty responsible for the flood of clerical anti-Semitic propaganda, for who else pays the clerics' salaries and bankrolls the huge infrastructure of Wahhabism?

    If the dynasty seems to have strengthened its grip on the clerics, it has also belatedly woken up to the local threat of the 'Angry Faces' it otherwise encouraged in Afghanistan. The ubiquitous Mabahith secret police and the army have killed a large number of Saudi jihadists, while the radicalised small fry are put through a deprogramming regime at the end of which they get a car, a wife, a TV and fridge, which seems to make them smiley. Although he does not pursue the matter at any length, Lacey has suggestive things to say about how sexual frustration and chronic unemployment may have contributed to the large number of Saudi holy warriors. Unfortunately he allows himself to be diverted into the byway (so to speak) of why lesbianism is rampant in the kingdom. Women spend a lot of time alone together, while men are bullies and brutes, naturally the products of over-indulgent mothers.

    Lacey is also informative about why the US-Saudi relationship is not so special any longer, after the heyday of the First Gulf War and Prince Bandar's capers with Bush Snr, Powell and Schwarzkopf. Nowadays, Saudi Arabia buys most of its weaponry from China and Russia, or Britain, rather than the US. The kingdom ranks alongside Venezuela as a supplier of oil to the US, which gets most of its oil from Canada and Mexico. Fed up with the US combination of brusque treatment of its nationals and constant talk of human rights, the Saudis have embraced Hu Jintao and Putin, the leading lights of a new axis of sovereign autocracies. They also seem on the verge of an Egyptian-style cold peace with Israel, so great is their joint fear of Iran, with informal offers to switch off their radars should IDF fighter bombers choose that route to drop their JDAMs on Natanz and other targets. Saudi enthusiasm for the Palestinians palled after Arafat urged Saddam to go from Kuwait into the kingdom, though unlike Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian President, no Saudi prince ever pursued the PLO leader down a corridor shouting 'you jackal'. The limits of Saudi leverage are illustrated with Lacey's interesting material on their difficulty in persuading Mullah Omar in Afghanistan to relinquish bin Laden, even though they were bankrolling the Taliban via the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency.

    On many levels Robert Lacey has written a highly accomplished book which should go into the bags of anyone who has to travel to the kingdom. It still did not make me want to go there.

    Literary Review - Michael Burleigh on Inside the Kingdom by Robert Lacey
    A.V. likes this.

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