Saudi terror watch

Posted: May 19, 2003 12:00 AM

With the grace and speed of a child’s toy top, Saudi Arabia’s top public relations “spinner,” Adel al-Jubeir, has been whirling across the airwaves and newsprint of the American media ever since the Kingdom experienced last week’s wave of murderous, terrorist bombings.  Mr. al-Jubeir’s ubiquitousness (notably, in place of Prince Bandar, the equally charming, but less-Western and more controversial Saudi Ambassador) is evidence of how much trouble the Saudis now know they are in.  His mission:  to ensure that American audiences see Saudi Arabia as a fellow-victim of radical Islamic (or Islamist) terrorism -- not as its most important source.

Toward this end, the man whose day-job makes him the foreign policy advisor to Crown Prince Abdullah, employed his many impressive linguistic and other skills (in particular, an unaccented and idiomatic command of the English language, a magician’s gift for dissimulation and verbal prestidigitation, even choking-up theatrically at one point).  And he largely got away with it.  Until, that is, he made the mistake of appearing Sunday with Tim Russert on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Mr. Russert has earned a reputation for thorough and tough, but fair, cross-examinations of his guests.  In al-Jubeir’s case, he used lengthy questions to put before the public hard facts about such conduct as: Saudi calls for holy war (jihad) from state-sponsored Wahhabi clerics; virulently anti-Western incitement widely disseminated via such means as Saudi government-controlled media and 8th grade textbooks; comments by the Saudi Interior Minister that suggest sympathy for Islamist terrorists and hostility to U.S. efforts to bring them to justice; and funding by Saudi-based and -controlled “charities” that supports suicide bombers and their families. 

Before it was over, even as accomplished an artful-dodger as Mr. al-Jubeir was reduced to declaring that reports of such activities in Saudi Arabia were “overblown,” characterizing this sort of behavior as “wrong” and promising that it would be stopped in the future.

Let us earnestly hope so.  But since Mr. al-Jubeir (and, to an even greater degree, other less-skilled Saudi spokesmen) seem unable fully to acknowledge the extent of Saudi complicity in terror at home, and since in any event it is difficult for Americans to monitor exactly what is happening in the closed and secretive Kingdom, there are several other things the Saudi royals, their clerics, companies and other agents could do in this country that would be both helpful -- and relatively transparent:

1)  Stop their organized efforts to recruit convicted felons in the U.S. prison system as cannon-fodder for the Wahhabist jihad.

2)  Stop certifying and placing Wahhabi chaplains in the U.S. military -- enabling them to convert service personnel (perhaps including Sergeant Asan Akbar, who allegedly “fragged” his commanding officers just before the 101st Airborne’s “jump-off” into Iraq) to a murderously hostile view of this country and its foreign policy purposes.

3)  Stop trying -- through, for example, the underwriting of by some estimates 80% of the mortgages of American mosques -- to dominate the Muslim community in this country and to make it an instrument for transforming this nation into an intolerantly Islamist one.

4) Stop Wahhabi-funded and -orchestrated  indoctrination and recruitment efforts on more than 500 college campuses around the United States.

5) Stop funding organizations in this country that purport to be “mainstream” Muslim- and Arab-American groups but that, in fact, express sympathy for Wahhabist and other terrorist groups and work to advance their agenda in this country and around the world.  Their political- influence operations -- aimed at the White House, the Congress, the media and law enforcement -- arguably pose an even greater long-term danger than the homicidal attacks they excuse and otherwise enable.

Of course, when challenged, such organizations usually seek to justify their activities with the contention that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”  For years, the Saudis have made a similar excuse for the foregoing activities -- claiming that they did not amount to support for terror, just legitimate efforts to proselytize on behalf of their state religion, the Wahhabi sect of Islam.

This, then, will fulfill the many, sweeping promises Mr. al-Jubeir is making.  Will they truly renounce terror and end official and officially-sanctioned support or it -- even if that means abandoning the central organizing principle and justification for Wahhabism: the subordination to its discipline, by force if necessary, of all other Muslims and non-Muslims alike?  Anything less from the Saudis will be tantamount to them remaining, as President Bush has put it, “with the terrorists” and condemn them to being treated accordingly.