Saudi Arabia: Partner for Peace?

Posted: Jun 12, 2003 12:00 AM

At the Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal Mosque in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, the Imam reminded congregants of “the rewards that God grants them for acts of goodness, kindness, and charity” and called on them “to focus on helping their fellow human beings, particularly those who suffer from poverty or who are sick.”  That was the description provided by an observer who attended the recent service in Al Khobar, which was contained in a cable sent from the U.S. consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia—and obtained exclusively by this columnist. 

  The Imam’s peaceful and high-minded rhetoric notwithstanding, he then called for the death of “the Jews”—albeit in a relatively poetic fashion, asking for “God to purify Jerusalem from the footprint of the Jews.”  Based on the May 14 cable’s descriptions of other services across Saudi Arabia—which were observed after the May 7 discovery of a weapons cache in Riyadh, but before the May 12 bombings—the Imam was not alone.

  As part of ongoing efforts to keep abreast of the “Saudi street,” the State Department had its employees inside the kingdom attend mosque services and report to Washington the findings.  The summaries provided are shocking, though hardly surprising.  In the country that sent us 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers, State Department officials five different mosques—most of which had strong ties to the government—throughout the kingdom.  According to one State Department official familiar with the contents of the cable, the mosques all have sizeable congregations and were selected because they constitute a representative cross-section of “approved” Saudi mosques.  (Most mosques that do not adhere to fairly rigid standards of Wahhabism, a fundamentalist and Saudi-based strand of Islam, do not operate openly.)

  In all of the mosques covered in the cable—which was marked “sensitive, but unclassified”—the Imams said the sort of things people would expect to hear in a normal house of worship.  The Imams alternatively spoke of “charity,” helping others, following “advice” provided by religion, “mercy,” and “justice.”  But the sermons also contained comments that definitely would not be found in normal faith services.  Two of the five mosque services called for the “destruction” of Americans, and four of the five called for the “death” or “destruction” of “the Jews.”  On the latter count, the fifth sermon didn’t not call for the death of “the Jews,” but rather had a more generic prayer for God “to destroy… the enemies of Islam.”  Judging by the other four sermons, “the Jews” would be considered a subset of “the enemies of Islam.”

  At the Al-Hessy Mosque in the capital of Riyadh, for example, the Imam talked of the pursuit of a “happy and peaceful life” and “asked God to maintain the dignity of Islam and Muslims.”  But he was not done.  He then “asked for the destruction of the Jews and Americans,” though as if to try and soften the summation somewhat, the cable continues, “something he does not call for on a regular basis.”  For whatever reason, though, the imam’s audience perked up.  “The relatively inattentive congregation showed more interest when the Shaykh asked for the destruction of the Jews and Americans.”

  Although the Al-Hessy Mosque is not funded directly by King Fahd, it is apparently close to the Saudi government, as officials from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs were in attendance.  After the service, the government employees were standing outside—on the heels of the Imam’s call for the “destruction” of Americans—collecting money for Muslims in Iraq.  Support for Iraq was even more explicit at the Saudi government-funded and controlled Grand Mosque in Mecca.  The Imam there prayed for God to help “Iraq score victory,” though on the plus side, he apparently did not explicitly ask God to bring death to Americans.

  Various Saudi officials, including the Foreign Minister, have told the international press that violently anti-Semitic and anti-American sermons were a thing of the past.  The State Department has played along with that deception—the internal memo notwithstanding—trying to keep the Saudis as a strong ally and a partner for Middle East peace.  At least when the House of Saud lies, it is protecting its own people.  If only the same could be said of State.