Looking a gift horse in the mouth?
August 30, 2002 5:55 AM   Subscribe

Looking a gift horse in the mouth? Saudi Arabia is considering giving a million-dollar racehorse to the families of the September 11 victims. Patronizing gesture or genuine humanitarianism? Did the Saudi's really pay off al-Qaida to the tune of $200 million to leave them alone? Are we preparing to invade the wrong country?
posted by norm29 (16 comments total)
Saudi Arabia is offering the victims a horse named 'War Emblem?'

Yeeah, that was well thought out.
posted by KnitWit at 6:25 AM on August 30, 2002

watch out! the minute we turn our backs, 500 arabs will jump out of the horse!
posted by LuxFX at 7:05 AM on August 30, 2002

Are we preparing to invade the wrong country?

Well, yeah.
posted by mikrophon at 7:25 AM on August 30, 2002

There really are pro-American Saudis; probably even a majority of the elite. Provisos include, for the elite, no interference with their Wahhabist culture, and for the Princes specifically, no interference with their legitimacy; even ol' chummy Bandar himself. But the fact is they've reached a point where their problems are becoming our problems, and they have to start thinking of how to fix them before that happens, rather than spending lots of our money to buy our goodwill back. To some extent, this reflects part of their own culture -- as with the Islamic law that a murder can be repaid with N camels. From their point of view it might be a perfectly reasonable way of restoring good relations. They may also be looking at the lawsuit, and the government payments, in much the same way -- as a dollar value exchange for a wrong. They miss the basis for the victims arguing an entitlement to government compensation, or for a punitive court judgement, as Western, or certainly American, processes. Money given over in these circumstances, for us, is not a salve, but a moral balance of sorts. We don't want to shake hands after the settlement, even though we've agreed to it. But to the Saudis, that kind of socialization, with drinks, hugs, picnics in the desert, is a business thing. To us, it's worse than the hotel clerk who calls us by our first name.
posted by dhartung at 7:32 AM on August 30, 2002

Money given over in these circumstances, for us, is not a salve, but a moral balance of sorts. We don't want to shake hands after the settlement, even though we've agreed to it.

That's a good insight into cultural differences, dhartung. My Korean wife has assured me that in her country, a wealthy person can avoid jail for an offense like vehicular manslaughter by paying off the victim's family. She doesn't quite get it that in the US you could end up paying and still go to jail. Obviously Korea isn't Saudi Arabia, but this helps me understand her viewpoint a little better.
posted by norm29 at 7:44 AM on August 30, 2002

i don't understand why the saudis are so concerned about their image in the states.
posted by sikander at 8:27 AM on August 30, 2002

What Dhartung is missing from his post is that the choice of punishment in Islam is up the families of the victims, not the perpetrators. For example if I were to murder you in cold blood and was found guilty of the crime in an Islamic court of law, your family would most likely seek the death penalty. If I ran you over in my car by accident, and was found guilty, you might seek instead blood money. It is the choice of the relatives after a guilty verdict in a murder case to accept money, death, or forgiveness.

This is a crucial element that both Dan and the Saudis are missing in this case-- I have a feeling that most Americans are not willing to accept money for these crimes, 100 trillion dollar lawsuits aside.
posted by cell divide at 8:45 AM on August 30, 2002

Not deliberately trying to sound like an asshole but doing it anyway... but given the huge, in some cases multi-million dollar payouts most of the families of 9/11 victims are recieving, who cares about a friggin' horse?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:25 AM on August 30, 2002

Cell Divide, thanks for the clarification. Dhartung's example may show a proclivity toward extravagant gestures, which you could argue is an Arab cultural trait, but I don't see much in it beyond that. I highly doubt the Saudis would say the horse is blood money, since that would imply guilt. Also, enough with the camels, jeez. Blood money can be paid in cash.
posted by BinGregory at 9:34 AM on August 30, 2002

Oops. I meant to say "the racehorse may show...".
posted by BinGregory at 9:36 AM on August 30, 2002

gorsh -- 2500+ victims, one racehorse...that's only a few ounces of meat each...
posted by Vidiot at 10:40 AM on August 30, 2002

"According to the New York Post, the lawyers claim that they have transcripts from French intelligence sources of a meeting in 1998 between top Saudi princes and officials from al-Qaida, Pakistan and the Taliban during which payments were discussed."

It seems like much is riding on the authenticity of this transcript which we keep hearing about. I wish we the public knew more about it and how credible it is.

"But I could find no direct denial by the U.S. government of the charges made in the 9-11 lawsuit... It would be nice to hear a clear statement from President Bush that he has seen no information linking the Saudis to al-Qaida. A spokesman for the National Security Council, in response to my question about Saudi involvement replied: 'As much as this is part of a pleading in a legal case, we can't comment on it.' I don't think Americans will accept answers like that when it comes to terrorism."

Judging by Bush's approval ratings for his handling of the "war on terrorism," it looks like most Americans will indeed accept answers like that. Why they accept them is incomprehensible to me.
posted by homunculus at 2:27 PM on August 30, 2002

cell: Was it necessary to make it seem like I'm clueless because you didn't like my emphasis? Huh? The point you felt was "crucial" and "missing" isn't even something I'd disagree with, so it's not like we're arguing across the aisle here.

The Saudis are tone-deaf to the crassness of this gesture, just as Talal was tone-deaf to the crassness of thinking his Ground Zero donation entitled him to make a political lecture. One way or another, there's a cultural divide here. Maybe they're just rich idiots. But I suspect there's something about the Arab way of managing social friction, and whether it's the small matter of the racehorse and the victims, or the larger context of their relationship to the US, it's important to them that we be seen happy together and perhaps literally hugging each other. They don't see that we perceive a false front, a sleazy salesman's friendship. Or maybe they do, and they're experiencing the frustration of realizing that 75 years of doing business haven't translated into fast friendship.
posted by dhartung at 3:14 PM on August 30, 2002

Those are good questions, dhartung, with the small gripe that I wince to think all of Arab culture is being judged by the example of the House of Saud - and I'm not even Arab. But anyway, to your point: They've been running one of the most corrupt regimes on earth with total endorsement from the US. Obviously they want to keep relations on good terms. But if it's a marriage of convenience, why not just keep it businesslike? Who are they trying to impress? Maybe their own people? If I was a discontent Saudi citizen, I would give up all hope after seeing that picture of Bush and Faisal shaking hands. Not the glamorous one, the one where Faisal's got that evil emperor look and Bush looks totally cowed. Sorry, all I could find is the pretty one just now. Anybody have the ugly one?
posted by BinGregory at 4:24 PM on August 30, 2002

um, maybe I should add, I wasn't trying to blow the PC whistle on your statement, I'm just saying Saudis are well known for having very bad manners, and are rude and condescending even to other Arabs. Just ask the Palesitinians there. Or the Sri Lankans. Or the Indonesians. Or anyone else hapless enough to go there as a domestic servant. Talk about social friction! So what passes for good taste or tact in Saudi isn't necessarily indicative of mores in the rest of the Arab world. That's all.
posted by BinGregory at 5:47 PM on August 30, 2002

Alas, the thread has grown cold. But for the record, here is that Faisal-Bush handshake. I don't remember where I got it; dug it out of my temp file. So apologies for the self-link.
posted by BinGregory at 7:24 AM on September 3, 2002

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