Skip

Intruders in the House of Saud, Part I: The Jihadi Who Kept Asking Why
March 7, 2004 1:15 PM   Subscribe

The Jihadi Who Kept Asking Why - An unlikely group of onetime religious jihadists have recently stepped into the midst of the debate on Saudi Arabia's future. They belong to a larger circle of liberals, intellectuals, professors, former Wahhabi scholars, judges and even women who are discussing subjects in the media that were taboo before 9/11 -- questions about terrorism, about Wahhabi discrimination toward Muslims of the Shiite and Sufi sects (whom they consider apostates), about alcohol, about AIDS, about the rights of women to drive and work. The ex-jihadists are fluent in Islam and, more important, in the lingo of the underground terrorists, and they've surfaced from the extremist subculture with a message for the Wahhabi official clerics, the royal family and even their complicit American allies: Wake up. It's you who created us. We are not an aberration.
From The Agonist--where the editorial comment this is an absolutely excellent article and a must read is quite indisputable. From entering Salafiyya in Google comes the fascinating polemic The Salafi Cult. better known as the Khawarij.
posted by y2karl (19 comments total)

 
The former jihadist from Saudi Arabia also noted that you can not impose democracy upon a state or a region without either very slow steps and/or much time and preparation and in some cases because of cultural differences Not At All. This, alas, is what America is at present trying to do.
posted by Postroad at 1:50 PM on March 7, 2004


Excellent article. Unfortunately, due to the Times's inattention to accuracy in matters Arabic, a couple of crucial names have been rendered difficult to research for those who wish to dig deeper. Ibn Taymiyya (not "Taimaya") was the great medieval precursor of all modern radical revivalist movements (much longer life-with-quotes here); Sayyid Qutb (not "Qutub") was the crucial radical thinker of the '50s who legitimized the tactic of takfir, calling other Muslims infidels so you didn't have to respect the Koranic prohibition against killing them (attack on Qutb here). As for the second link, it's invigorating but (as y2karl says) a tendentious polemic; the Kharijites (another overview here) were a very interesting group, the only early Muslims with anything approaching a populist/democratic view (they elected their imams, who could be any member of the community as long as he was considered morally irreproachable).

And, as always when the subject of Saudi Arabia comes up, I'll recommend the novels of Abdelrahman Munif for a great writer's inside view of how the impact of oil and the West changed a simple desert society to what it is now.
posted by languagehat at 2:40 PM on March 7, 2004


in some cases because of cultural differences Not At All

I don't buy that argument, and neither do a lot of other people. It's comes dangerously close to the "what can you expect from the wogs" kind of condescension: the belief that some peoples just aren't capable of governing themselves or their countries. If a culture/country like Japan could become democratic, anyone can.

(Note that I'm not saying the whole Middle East is about to turn democratic overnight. Just that it's wrong to put different expectations of liberty and human rights on some people than on others.)
posted by Asparagirl at 2:43 PM on March 7, 2004


Thanks for the extra info, languagehat.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:07 PM on March 7, 2004


Note that I'm not saying the whole Middle East is about to turn democratic overnight. Just that it's wrong to put different expectations of liberty and human rights on some people than on others.

I think that both you and postroad are a bit off here. Is it wrong to say that "cultural differences" preclude democratization? For my money, yes. But this isn't about different peoples being capable or not capable of becoming democratic, it's about a historic process which is the only way we've ever seen real democracy emerge. The color of your skin or your language are not important to whether or not your nation has a viable civil society. But that doesn't mean that we can happily pronounce that civil society exists everywhere. It does not. The notion that saying so is in some way "anti-Muslim" ought to be defused by simply noting the different levels of democratic achievement among different nations with Muslim majorities: It would seem that the people of Iran--and obviously Turkey--are in better shape than the people of Iraq or Saudi Arabia due to their stronger educational system and (recent, in the case of Iran) influence of relative diversity among political parties and organizations.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 6:18 PM on March 7, 2004


But isn't Postroad's position--that you can't force a society to become Democratic and that it must grow slowly and organically and that some societies/cultures just won't ever take to it--negated by many 20th Century examples, Japan chief among them? In that case, the impetus for change was wholly external and the type of government was wholly alien, but they turned into a first-world very-free country inside of 25 years. And some countries that have had close-to-overnight democratization and flourished didn't even already have a strong anti-previous-leadership underground (i.e. Poland is doing great post-communism, and they had a strong Solidarity movement, but so are the Baltic states, and they didn't).

It seems the deciding factor isn't always the support for Democracy within a society, but rather the strength of the current dictator or non-democratic system. Once dictators are shown to be wobbly or are being challenged and the populace has some small measure of personal security, I would argue the opposite of Postroad's point: that Democratic movements will (and do) pop up like weeds to fill the vacuum, and are embraced even if their supporters are often from outside the native culture (i.e. ex-pats, the U.S. military, whatever).

The former jihadist from Saudi Arabia may say that democratization must proceed slowly as people get used to the idea, blah blah blah. But I think the real determining factor in speed of democratization is the level of oppression: once dictators like Saddam Hussein are gone, there's really no innate reason that Iraq can't become the next Turkey--or better yet, the next Japan. To say that Democracy and the Arab world just can't mix for religious or cultural or whatever reasons is flat-out wrong: they haven't mixed that much yet, but you could just as easily make the point that a traditionally merchant society would take to capitalism over Ba'ath-style socialism like a duck to water. Perhaps I'm overestimating Democracy's appeal, but I think not.
posted by Asparagirl at 7:00 PM on March 7, 2004


Asparagirl, maybe the Saudi Arabians want a theocracy. Possible, right? Democracy is an infectious meme, and to us Americans it almost seems like an axiom of being, but I'm not sure it's universally desired. It was a long time between Athens and Philadelphia.
posted by lbergstr at 7:33 PM on March 7, 2004


thanks! reminded me of a journal article a little while back about a university of tennessee student's indoctrination into the muslim brotherhood and his subsequent "deprogramming experience." also "brothers" are ikhwan :D
posted by kliuless at 9:28 PM on March 7, 2004


But isn't Postroad's position--that you can't force a society to become Democratic and that it must grow slowly and organically and that some societies/cultures just won't ever take to it--negated by many 20th Century examples, Japan chief among them?

Get real. You are comparing not apples and oranges but apples and bacteria. Democracy in the Middle East--or anywhere--is not a just add water proposition.

From So You Want To Build A Democracy:

We hear constantly these days that the United States will build a city on a hill in Iraq, a constitutional democracy whose example will change the Middle East. We built democracies in West Germany and Japan after World War II, and that, people say, proves we can do it in Iraq. But the differences between Iraq and Germany or Japan are far too great to make them credible models for this task.

Both Germany and Japan had had important experiences with democratic institutions within memory of their postwar populations. The Weimar Republic's parliament, the Reichstag, governed Germany after World War I until Hitler seized control in 1933.

Japan developed a strong democratic movement in the late 19th century. It created a parliament with a house of representatives whose members after 1925 were elected by universal manhood suffrage and who eventually formed Japan's cabinets, much as in the United Kingdom, for example. The Japanese military usurped the parliament's role in the mid-1930s.

Although these democratic institutions were too fragile to resist the militarism that swept much of the world in the 1930s, we were not introducing new concepts of government in those defeated nations.

Iraq is a different matter. That country has seen incessant military takeovers, assassinations, political executions, and factional and ethnic rebellions since the mid-1930s. No one there can remember an extended period of guaranteed human rights, freedom of expression or the rule of law so essential to modern democratic institutions.

Both Germany and Japan had literate, talented, industrially and technologically competent populations, a huge help in building a modern democratic society. Iraq does not have them to nearly the same degree, although its population is relatively advanced for the region.

Both the German and Japanese populations were far more homogeneous than Iraq's, which has profound religious and ethnic divisions. And in the case of Germany, the people had close cultural, religious and historical ties with Americans, which eased the post-war relationship. Iraqis certainly do not.

Germany and Japan were devastated by prolonged total war, in a way we assume Iraq will not be, making them more prone to accept the Allies' democratic program. The Japanese emperor, who still had enormous prestige, even called for cooperation with the victors. Saddam Hussein, if he survives, is unlikely to follow that example.

Those who believe democracy-building in Iraq is a feasible U.S. war aim should remember that in Germany and Japan the process was not a quick one. Forming the new governments involved Allied administrators for a decade in Germany, work admittedly hindered by the Cold War, and for seven years in Japan. American officials today talk of a one- or possibly two-year commitment in Iraq.


Saudi Arabia, as a cursory read of the article linked in this post, has no, none, zero, zip, nada acquaintance with any of the above mentioned history of democratic institutions in pre-World War II Germany or Japan. It is a feudal monarchy a long, long ways from where Japan was before the the 20th Century. When King Ibn Saud met Franklin Roosevelt in World War II, he was accompanied by a retinue of slaves--an institution that was not abolished, on paper if not in fact, until a royal decree by King Faisal in 1962, for Christ's sake.

It's all very well to build democratic castles in the air as happened somewhile back in a post by Uncle Fes, where everyone blathered on about the benefits this details free democracy would have for the Middle East while totally ignoring the nuts and bolts specifics and considerations involved in creating one. If democracy is so easy to install, then where are the just add water democracies of Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor and Cambodia? Hmm?
posted by y2karl at 9:33 PM on March 7, 2004


Telling The Truth, Facing the Whip -- the Op-Ed in the NYT referred to in their article. It would have been nice for them to a) link to their own online version, and b) remove it from the paid archive, but they didn't take that step.

Also, they breezed over the assistance given by French GIGN commandos in breaking the Mecca mosque seige, an aspect surely not forgotten by militants.

If there were girls in our high school, I never would have joined those groups. : : All You Need Is Love.

languagehat, is it truly inattention, or is the NYT thick with an (apparenlty minority) alternate philosophy of transliteration?

The thing I love about articles like this is the consternation and confusion it must engender at ... that other forum.

y2karl, be careful that you do not oversimplify, yourself. To suggest that we must build democratic institutions in Iraq, and the Middle East generally, is not merely a facile truism or code for the war wuz raht. It is, many would believe, a human and moral necessity. That it isn't easy doesn't make it any less necessary. I believe you do support, generally, the idea of democracy in the backwaters you cite.
posted by dhartung at 10:34 PM on March 7, 2004


that's kind of the point of 'illiberal democracy' isn't it? that "people will define democracy by what it has become: A system — open and accessible in theory — but ruled in reality by organized or rich or fanatical minorities." (echoed by amy chua)

also anne applebaum wrote (perhaps prematurely!) about the end of democracy promotion, that it lacked nuance and even a basic understanding of the preconditions for democracy (like someone should write the mystery of democracy :) nevermind consistency!

(and yeah, scarlett johannsen should tell zakaria that evelyn waugh was a man :)
posted by kliuless at 10:53 PM on March 7, 2004


That it isn't easy doesn't make it any less necessary.

And I believe you do agree, dhartung, specifically, that the history of democracy in Japan is not the apt comparison to the task involved.
Hence, the Get real.

And in what Arab nation, were the franchise to be extended tomorrow, would the foreign policy thereof not harden against Israel?

Note, too, that Israel is a democracy where the democratically authorized expulsion of the Palestinian population from the Occupied Territories is not yet an inconceivable proposition... And where would be the human and moral necessity embodied by democracy then? Be careful you do not oversimplify either.
posted by y2karl at 10:57 PM on March 7, 2004


Maybe if their newspapers were free and critical thought was encouraged and militant anti-Israeli terrorism wasn't encouraged, the "popular" positions of many Arabs regarding Israel would change, hmm?

Maybe the hostility towards Israel that is inarguably feeding the conflict would not persist if people weren't reading "mainstream newspaper" articles about Jews using the blood of Palestinian babies.

Maybe leaders of the region foster hatred of Israel because it is an easy way to obscure and explain the struggles of the individual Arab being oppressed by his own government throughout the region.
posted by techgnollogic at 11:31 PM on March 7, 2004


I disagree that Arab democracies would 'harden' against Israel. Given a voice and a bit of time, people would prefer to deal with the genuine problem of Israel with the legitmacy of democracy, open society, and the freedom to discuss different tactics. It may be 'harder' in one sense, but would those moves be military? Highly unlikely-- they would manifest themselves in the legitimate international instutions where undemocratic Arab states currently have little legitimacy. While diplomatic and economic games can be ugly as well, and in one sense could be considered 'harder', I would trade that for the current status-quo of actual or implied support for terror groups and a populace unable to discuss real solutions.

While I agree with Techgnollogic that undemocratic Arab rulers use Israel as a way to ignore the genuine (and more important, in many ways) problems of their own countries, I utterly reject the notion that Arabs dislike Israel because of blood libels published in the local rag. Despite the many virtues of 2004 Israel, you still must always remember that its creation was a legacy of imperialism, and that its treatment of the Palestinians has been abominable by any standard. It is the defining local issue of the region in the past 50 years, but at the same time one which is undeniably moving towards its end. Resumption of military hostilies between Israel and the rest of the Arab world are highly unlikely, and the last 'enemy' standing in the way of regional peace (or at least calm) is a largely unarmed, disorganized and poor quasi-state with few institutions, comparatively minimal outside financial support, and a corrupt and ineffectual leadership. I believe that dhartung has it right when he says that encouraging, or bringing or permitting democracy is a moral responsibility, but that when democracy is achieved, it will strengthen the Arab coutries position when negotiating a just settlement with Israel.
posted by cell divide at 11:42 PM on March 7, 2004


languagehat, is it truly inattention, or is the NYT thick with an (apparenlty minority) alternate philosophy of transliteration?

Well, you might say that about "Qutub," which is a reasonable attempt at representing the slight vowel sound heard between the t and b (cf the standard spelling Fatah for what is more accurately written Fath -- but there of course you have to avoid the "th" confusion as well). But "Taimaya" is just wrong, and gets only 22 Google hits (far fewer than most misspellings).

I note with sadness but no surprise that Postroad has successfully derailed what might have been a good thread about change in Saudi Arabia to take #524 of Why the Arabs Aren't Ready for Democracy.
posted by languagehat at 8:34 AM on March 8, 2004


Maybe if their newspapers were free and critical thought was encouraged and militant anti-Israeli terrorism wasn't encouraged, the "popular" positions of many Arabs regarding Israel would change, hmm?

Oh, it's so simple. Voila! Israel friendly democracies pop up all over the Mideast like mushrooms after a rain after pro-Israeli viewpoints abound in the newly freed Arab press--echoing the courageous, decades long no-holds-barred discussion of the Armenian Genocide in Turkish media or the grand national self-examination of World War II war crimes in the Japanese press which grappled with things like the atrocities of the Rape of Nanking--I mean, remember how the Japanese populace overwhelmingly demanded the truth be put in their children's schoolbooks so that it may never happen again?

Yeah, that's the ticket--just add water.

There are other reasons to be wary of the administration's plan. Democracy, impatiently imposed, can lead to unintended consequences. If the Palestinians were able to choose a leader in truly free elections, might they not opt for the head of Hamas? If free elections were soon held in Saudi Arabia, would Crown Prince Abdullah, a reformer, prevail over Osama bin Laden or another militant Islamic leader? If not genuinely accepted and reinforced by traditions of constitutionalism, democracy can degenerate into plebiscites that only add legitimacy to extremism and authoritarianism.

The Wrong Way to Sell Democracy to the Arab World by Zbigniew Brzezsinki

Another difficulty in taking Mr Bush's November speech at face value is that truly free elections in the Middle East, if held tomorrow or at any time in the near future, would be disastrous for the US. They would produce governments far more ill-disposed towards Washington than the present regimes and more inclined towards Islamic extremism.

That, basically, is the current problem in Iraq. The US would like to see a democracy but doesn't want the wrong people to get into power.
*

*And it looks like the cat's about already out of that bag, don't it?

Voting for the wrong side - George Bush's professed support for democracy in the Middle East ignores the reality of what this would entail

Democracy, especially with guarantee of human rights, certainly would benefit the lives of citizens of Arab countries.

However, as noted above, when the mass expulsion of Palestinians is a freely discussed proposition in the free press of democratic Israel, not mention seriously considered in certain political circles thereof, why should a just add water instantly free press would make any difference in the foreign policies of any nascent Arab democracies towards the state of Israel?

That is, without the help of forced re-education camps, Diebolt voting machines or mass telepathic mind control, anyway...
posted by y2karl at 10:17 AM on March 8, 2004


you're an idiot.
posted by techgnollogic at 10:43 AM on March 8, 2004


When King Ibn Saud met Franklin Roosevelt in World War II, he was accompanied by a retinue of slaves--an institution that was not abolished, on paper if not in fact, until a royal decree by King Faisal in 1962, for Christ's sake.

i agree with techgnollogic. your an idiot karl and cannot even discuss a matter without derailing your own thread with some hambone rhetoric like

Oh, it's so simple. Voila! Israel friendly democracies pop up all over the Mideast like mushrooms after a rain after pro-Israeli viewpoints abound in the newly freed Arab press--echoing the courageous, decades long no-holds-barred discussion of the Armenian Genocide in Turkish media or the grand national self-examination of World War II war crimes in the Japanese press which grappled with things like the atrocities of the Rape of Nanking--I mean, remember how the Japanese populace overwhelmingly demanded the truth be put in their children's schoolbooks so that it may never happen again?

I had some good ancillary links and comments concerning the brotherhood and more goodies to add the Dharts Grand mosque siege and the politics of that era, but why waste it here.

Karl, Your country, our country did not free its slaves until 1865. the Saud have been in control more or less for about a hundred years. When they freed their slaves many just stayed with there old "masters" and shared in the reparations.
i do not remember reparations for american slaves.
posted by clavdivs at 6:27 PM on March 8, 2004


Ah, more from the gutless wonder with no email.
posted by y2karl at 7:19 PM on March 8, 2004


« Older Dear Penthouse, I never thought this kind of thing...   |   Johnny was a.. republican?? Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post