Saudi Friends?

Posted: Jul 12, 2002 12:00 AM
Here are two stories of Saudi-U.S. relations. Read them and judge who in this relationship is behaving as if it has the whip hand. As William McGurn reports in The Wall Street Journal, Monica Stowers, an American, married a young Saudi man she had met at the University of Dallas in the early 1980s. They had two children. When both children were still infants, the couple moved to Saudi Arabia. There, as McGurn writes, Stowers was in for a "nasty shock." Her husband was already married and had other children by his first wife. This may be perfectly legal in the desert kingdom (it is) and pretty standard for wealthy Saudi men (ditto), but it's a bit sticky for Americans. In fact, under American law -- and the marriage was performed in the United States, so American law would govern -- this marriage was a nullity. We don't permit bigamy. In many states, it's a crime. Stowers said she wanted to return home to the United States, but her husband said he would not permit the children to leave. In Saudi Arabia, women cannot travel without the consent of a father or husband. Stowers protested, but a Saudi court awarded custody to the father. The grounds? Easy -- the mother was a Christian. Though the father tried to convince Rasheed and Amjad that his first wife was their mother, Rasheed explained to his little sister that their mother was American and very much wanted them back. For the next several years, Stowers met with a stiff arm from the U.S. State Department. "We must respect Saudi law," she was told by consular officials. In 1990, Stowers returned to Saudi Arabia. Rasheed was able to meet her at the airport. Together, they picked up Amjad at school and fled to the American embassy in Riyadh. But instead of offering sanctuary and assistance, embassy officials told Stowers coldly that the building was "not a hotel." Stowers, three American passports in her hand, was asked to leave. When she protested, Marine guards were called to escort her and the children out. Stowers was arrested by the Saudis and did prison time. Both of her children, meanwhile, were sodomized by an older half-brother, and Amjad was married off when she turned 12. She ran away and was later divorced. Amjad, an American citizen, now lives with her mother and brother in Saudi Arabia. While members of her father's family come and go freely to the United States, she cannot leave Saudi Arabia. In Orlando, Fla., a Saudi princess, Buniah al-Saud (King Fahd is her uncle), shoved her Indonesian maid down a flight of stairs. The maid was seriously injured and took her story to the police. She alleged that this episode was not the first time she had been violently treated and revealed that she worked as a virtual slave. (Amnesty International reports that 19,000 domestics in Saudi Arabia fled the homes that employed them last year -- usually due to violence and sexual abuse.) One might have thought that this time, American officials would adhere to American law. No. Princess Buniah al-Saud was permitted to return to Saudi Arabia even while felony charges were pending. She was later allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge, file a letter of regret with the judge and pay a $1,000 fine. Meanwhile, Ismiyati Soryono, the maid, returned to Indonesia to attend her mother's funeral. When she presented her subpoena from the Florida court to testify against Princess Buniah to the consular officer in Jakarta, she was told that it made no difference. She would not be granted a visa to enter the United States because she might overstay. Princess Buniah, needless to say, is free to come and go from the United States as she likes. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11 were Saudi. Osama bin Laden is Saudi. Saudi money finances the madrasas in Pakistan and mosques around the globe, including in the United States, that preach belligerent, America-hating, anti-Semitic Wahhabi Islam. American citizens in Saudi Arabia are held as prisoners. And Saudi Arabia declines to cooperate in the war on terrorism. We are, we keep hearing, the most powerful nation in the history of the globe. Why, then, are we permitting ourselves to be so abused by a primitive, cruel, uncivilized gang who happened to have the good luck to plant their tents over an oil field?