Dore Gold is a former Israeli ambassador to the U.N. He is the author of Hatred's Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism (Regnery Publishing, 2003). His previous publications include: American Military Strategy in the Middle East: The Implications of the US Regional Command Structure (CENTCOM) For Israel (Ministry of Defense Publications, 1993), Israel as an American Non-NATO Ally: Parameters of Defense and Industrial Cooperation (Westview Press, 1992), and Arms Control in the Middle East (Westview Press, 1990). Mr. Gold, Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations, 1997-99, spoke to the Middle East Forum in New York on April 4, 2003.
The events of September 11th raised a question for the American people: "Why do they hate us?" Specifically, why did nineteen, mostly Saudi men, led by a Saudi fanatic, collide commercial airplanes into the Pentagon and World Trade Center? In search of possible answers, scholars have gravitated towards two schools of thought. One blames American policies and "arrogance," while the other examines forces within Saudi Arabia that serve as an incubator of religious extremism. The latter is definitely the more credible explanation.
A Brief History
The roots of the Saudi-Wahhabi state are found in eighteenth century Arabia. In 1744, a covenant was drawn up between the Al Saud clan and Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of a militant interpretation of Islam commonly known as Wahhabism. In exchange for protection, the Wahhabis provided the Al-Saud clan with religious legitimacy. At its core, Wahhabism is centered on the complete rejection of foreign influences, opposition to modern interpretations of the Koran, and contempt for non-Wahhabi Muslims, who are considered mushrikun (Arabic, polytheistists). Indeed, in the early years of the expansionist Saudi-Wahhabi state, non-Wahhabi Muslims were treated with extreme brutality. In 1802, Wahhabi militants launched a raid on the holy Shiite city of Karbala in southern Iraq, slaughtering over 4,000 worshipers.
A Deliberate Choice
Today, the Saudi-Wahhabi alliance is still reflected in the political structures of power. Certain ministries are run by the political appointees of the royal family and others fall under the authority of the Wahhabi clerics. However, this theocratic state by itself is not predisposed to committing acts of violence. Saudi Arabia is a center for religious extremism and hatred because a deliberate choice was made to pursue this course of action. Beginning in the 1960s, Islamists from around the Arab world found safe harbor and employment in Saudi Arabia. These included bin Laden's teacher, the Palestinian preacher Abdullah Azzam; they were given effective control of the educational establishment, cultivating the environment of fanaticism from which Osama bin Laden and his associates emerged.
In the early 1980s, the Saudis began exporting Wahhabism across the globe, especially Central Asia. Azzam personally went to Pakistan with the support of the Muslim World League (MWL), a massive Saudi-funded enterprise that poses as a charity. Azzam was aided by a branch of the MWL known as the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), which laid the foundations for the Afghan resistance fighting occupying Soviet forces.
After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the jihadists turned their attention to the West. Christians and Jews are also seen as practitioners of polytheism by Wahhabists demanding nothing short of holy war. IIRO offices were rapidly opened up across the world, stretching from the Philippines to Bosnia, to provide spiritual and financial support to terrorists. During its Operation Defensive Shield campaign against the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure in April 2002, Israel uncovered IIRO documents conclusively proving Saudi financial connections to the terrorist group Hamas. One released document indicated allocations totaling $280,000 for Hamas-affiliated "charities." Canada has initiated legal proceedings against the chief of a local IIRO branch, who astonishingly proclaimed that he was an agent of Saudi Arabia (ostensibly to secure diplomatic immunity). Even the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has written to Prince Salman (a brother of King Fahd and the governor of Riyadh), complaining about Saudi money given to the Islamic Society, a Hamas organization that, by its own admission, is preparing the next generation of suicide bombers.
Saudi Arabia's official complicity in terror is undeniable. The government has and continues to finance international terrorism, even after September 11th. It exports not only its ideologically intolerant brand of Wahhabi Islam but also tens of millions of dollars to incite, foment, and inspire political violence. The U.S. can and must combat this source of terrorism. America's expanded military presence and greater political influence following the war in Iraq give it more leverage than ever to influence the kingdom.
This summary account was written by Zachary Constantino, a research assistant at the Middle East Forum.