14 April 2003
The Kingdom of Incitement
Even with the U.S. winning a lightning victory in Iraq, the question will remain about how to win the overall war on terrorism. The war in Iraq reminds us that the Saudi role in global terrorism still needs to be addressed. The organizational link between Iraq and al Qaeda, identified as Ansar al-Islam by Secretary of State Colin Powell during his address before the U.N. Security Council, was not just a product of Iraqi policy.
This small, militant Kurdish group that has experimented with chemical weapons was created in mid-2001 with assistance from al Qaeda and individuals in Saudi Arabia. Kurdish media reports have claimed that its members profess a strain of Sunni Islam derived from Wahhabism, the austere creed practiced in Saudi Arabia and adopted in its most militant form by the followers of Osama bin Laden.
Reports of Saudi connections to the new wave of global terrorism are ubiquitous. Recently, the New York Times Magazine carried an eye-opening excerpt, translated from French, of the memoirs of the brother of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called "20th" Sept. 11 hijacker, who is now in U.S. custody. In explaining his recruitment to al Qaeda, Moussaoui's brother laid the blame on the religious indoctrination from Wahhabi groups active in Europe.
German law enforcement documents tie the recruitment by al Qaeda of Christian Ganczarski, a Polish convert to Islam, to similar educational institutions in Saudi Arabia, where he has gone into hiding. He is suspected of involvement in the 2002 attack on a Tunisian synagogue that killed 21 people. Hasan Akbar, the U.S. Army sergeant who attacked his fellow soldiers in Kuwait, appears to have been tied to militant Wahhabi institutions in the U.S.
Iraq may be the source of the most dangerous weaponry that could fall into the hands of terrorists, but Saudi Arabia has emerged as one of the key centers of motivation. Brave Saudis have begun to acknowledge the problem: last September, a columnist in the London-based al-Sharq al-Awsat noted that the large number of Saudis involved on Sept. 11 and among the al Qaeda prisoners in Guantanamo Bay is a product of "the culture of violence that has infiltrated religious education" in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudis are the ones who post online many of the sermons that provide incitement to would-be terrorists. The intention might be to spread their message of intolerance globally, but they allow outsiders a rare glimpse of the messages conveyed to Saudi youth over the last few years. The sermons advocate ongoing religious conflict with Christianity and Judaism, described as the camp of blasphemy and polytheism.
The problem goes beyond the mosques. A recent study, by the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace, of 93 Saudi textbooks published in the last four years found that these values of total intolerance are entrenched in the Saudi educational system. Two months after Sept. 11, another brave Saudi columnist admitted: "We all focus on bin Laden and his ilk . . . but we have yet to focus on the more dangerous people, and I mean those who fill our heads with this rhetoric in the schools, the mosques, and the media."
Some of Saudi Arabia's largest religious charities, those under state control, have been suspected of serving as conduits for terrorist financing -- including to al Qaeda. Philippines authorities believed that the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), whose Philippines branch was run by bin Laden's brother-in-law, was funneling funds to the Abu Sayyaf organization. The brother of bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was employed by IIRO in Albania, where he assisted al Qaeda's efforts in the Balkans. Reportedly, detailed minutes of a meeting between bin Laden associates on the stationery of these Saudi welfare agencies, captured in Bosnia, clarifies how organizations like IIRO were to be used by al Qaeda.
Israel found an IIRO payment schedule detailing how $280,000 was to be distributed to 14 different Hamas charities, thereby documenting, for the first time, the pattern of Saudi backing of terrorism. The head of the Canadian branch of IIRO admitted in court that "The Muslim World League, which is the mother of IIRO, is a fully government funded organization. In other words, I work for the government of Saudi Arabia."
By engaging in terrorist financing, Saudi Arabia is violating U.N. Security Council Resolution 1373 that was adopted after Sept. 11 under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter -- the most severe U.N. resolutions reserved for threats to international peace and security. Indeed, all U.N. resolutions on Iraq were adopted under Chapter 7, as well.
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So what is to be done about Saudi Arabia? The kingdom may have been the ideological source for the attacks on America, but it is not the Imperial Japan of 1941. Regime change is not necessary in Saudi Arabia -- but post-war diplomacy must achieve two changes in Saudi behavior if the war on terrorism is to be won. First, pressure must be placed on Riyadh. Saudi Arabia cannot author a new Middle East peace plan while subsidizing suicide attacks. Despite its protests that it no longer is in contact with "suspected groups," the Saudis openly hosted one of the heads of Hamas as late as October 2002 and reassured him of continuing aid.
Second, the incitement of an entire generation of Saudis that delegitimizes other religious groups must come to an end. Writing about the origins of the Bosnian conflict, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Richard Holbrooke noted that the hatred that helped launch the Balkan conflict began as a result of a deliberate policy by Belgrade television that incited the Serbian population against their Muslim neighbors. Diplomats generally deal in international law or arms control agreements, and rarely cope with issues of incitement. After Sept. 11, religious tolerance is not only a fitting subject for interfaith dialogues -- it now must be a part of the new agenda for global security.
Mr. Gold, the author of Hatred's Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia supports the New Global Terrorism (Regnery, 2003), is a former Israeli ambassador to the U.N.