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Saudi officials have denounced their American critics, claiming there is an organized campaign to denigrate the kingdom—with some darkly hinting that it is U.S. friends of Israel behind the criticism. They dismiss as ill-informed and malicious the charges that Saudis finance much of the world's Islamist terror or that the Saudi system encourages bigotry and hatred of the West. For instance, Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan has described Dore Gold, the author of one critical book, as "simply hatred's scribe [who] has carried on a campaign of lies and unsubstantiated accusations." At the same time, it is a stretch to accept as unbiased those who plead the Saudi case, given how they nearly all have lucrative business dealings with the kingdom.

In this charged atmosphere, it is interesting to see how European analysts view Saudi Arabia. Consider the French, who can hardly be accused of pro-American political bias as regards the Middle East. Marchand's Arabie Saoudite is a serious book from a major publisher. The author is the deputy chief editor of Figaro, which is a highbrow Paris newspaper that has overtaken Le Monde to become the most influential newspaper in France. And his criticism of the Saudis is harsher than that of Stephen Schwartz or Dore Gold.

He covers the gamut: politics, the royal family, society, economy, and foreign affairs. His evidence is extensive and his conclusions damning, namely, the Saudi system breeds intolerance and extremism. He shows how the Saudi government finances the destruction of any Islamic history—be it institutions or historical monuments—which clash with their narrow-minded view of what Islam should be. He demonstrates the deep grip of extremist nonsense in the kingdom. For instance, a large proportion of the Westernized elite believe that the September 11, 2001 attacks were part of an anti-Saudi, anti-Muslim plot. He worries that the small islands of reason—the enlightened elements of the middle class, supported tentatively by some farseeing members of the ruling family—are being submerged in the sea of fanaticism.

Now if only the French and other European governments were to listen to such analysis and draw from it the obvious and sensible conclusion that the Saudi rulers must be pressed to liberalize at home and stop financing extremism abroad.