The Battle for Saudi Arabia: Royalty, Fundamentalism, and Global Power
by As'ad AbuKhalil
New York: Seven Stories Press, 2004. 248 pp. $9.95.
Reviewed by Stephen Schwartz
Center on Islamic Pluralism
Middle East Quarterly
AbuKhalil, a representative of the American academic Left and a Lebanese-born academic who teaches at California State University/Stanislaus, attempts in this small volume to explain to his ideological constituency such matters as the history of Wahhabism, the relationship of the Saudi state to Al-Qaeda, the current crisis of the Saudi kingdom, and the resulting challenges to regional and global peace and order.
This commission could not have been a plum assignment. The oppression, corruption, and extremism of the Saudi monarchy are by now so notorious that to make the case that the United States and neoconservatives are prone to unjust interfering with the Riyadh rulers requires a real talent. It means detailing grotesque inhumanities but blaming them all on the United States and Israel, as well as on colonial rulers past and the fantastical specter of "Orientalism."
AbuKhalil does not disappoint. He derides Western authors (this one included), who have exposed the bloody past of Wahhabi Islam, as "Orientalists" (a flattering description, in my view). He recapitulates the Wahhabi historical time line but adds nothing to what is already known, except for occasional flings into the typical Western academic idiom, aimed at softening or explaining away Wahhabi extremism. Thus, the main Wahhabi-Saudi theologian in the second half of the twentieth century, Ibn Baz, "may not have been as principled in his hostility to Jews and Christians as his earlier edicts may have led us to believe." To identify the anti-Jewish and anti-Christian bigotry of Ibn Baz with a "principled" position might seem sycophantic but it fits the prevailing ethos on American campuses.
The author presents himself as the revealer of authentic Saudi reality, but his portrait of the country differs from that described by the most acute critics of the kingdom only in its ideological vocabulary. After enumerating the usual atrocities and undeniable instabilities, AbuKhalil has no solution to offer aside from condemning, yes, Washington neoconservatives for provoking "fanatical and radical forces" in Iraq, and thereby threatening the Saudi state.
The litany is tediously familiar: America was wrong to enable Saudi tyranny, just as it is wrong to try to end it. The Battle for Saudi Arabia is not of use to those hoping to learn about Saudi Arabia. Its only value is to provide insight into current leftist intellectual gymnastics.
Related Topics: Saudi Arabia | Stephen Schwartz | Winter 2006 MEQ
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