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What is an appropropriate response?
Political and philosophical considerations after the attack on the Word Trade Center

War against terror: A Saudi perspective

By Jamal Khashoggi, Deputy Editor in Chief,
Arab News, Djedda, Saudi Arabia
Thursday, October 11, 2001

Americans want unconditional condemnation of the horrible attacks that 
happened in their skies and on their land. They also want total 
cooperation in their fight against terror according to their own 
definition of what terrorism is and exactly who the terrorists are. But 
Saudi Arabia will not give in to such demands.

Saudis tend to link the ugliness of what happened in New York and 
Washington with what has happened and continues to happen in Palestine. It
is time that the United States comes to understand the effect of its 
foreign policy and the consequences of that policy. But unfortunately such
rationalization is still not part of the American reality.

Now some circles in the US are trying to point fingers at Saudi Arabia 
either directly or indirectly. The prime suspect behind the crime was once
a Saudi. Many of the alleged hijackers are said to have held Saudi 
passports. However, here in Saudi Arabia the government does not want the 
world to see Osama Bin Laden as a Saudi or even a dissident. To them he is
simply a criminal, an outlaw, who has had nothing to do with Saudi Arabia 
since 1994.

Bin Laden is the name on everyone's lips the world over. People in lands 
far distant to Saudi Arabia gossip about a youth they met on vacation or 
studied with or trained with. Through reports in the media every possible 
detail of the man's life has been examined, ad nauseam. It seems that 
everyone knew of him but no one knew him well.

But for us in Saudi Arabia that is not the case. For us Osama Bin Laden is
not just a name or a video clip. The people of the west coast city of 
Jeddah especially remember him as a boy at school, a colleague at work, or
the neighbor down the block. They think of the soft-spoken young man that 
they met at a dinner party and who talked with enthusiasm in support of 
Islamic causes. Most people here in the Kingdom are unable to believe that
the quiet, intelligent young man from a good family has now become the most
wanted criminal in the world.

Many in the West do not know that Osama Bin Laden was once a member of a 
prominent, decent Saudi family. It is that family which is now acutely 
aware of the damage that he has inflicted on the nation's reputation in 
general and the family businesses in particular. This has made them feel 
very bitter and angry toward him and his actions. At social gatherings, 
the Binladens speak about Osama with a mixture of fury and disbelief. 
While Osama Bin Laden and his followers claim to have lofty ideals, they 
have forgotten that it is their leader's own words which now point the way
to damnation. In 1998, Osama Bin Laden issued a fatwa, or Islamic ruling, 
in which he stated that it was allowed to kill both American and British 
citizens as well as military personnel from those countries because of 
their support for the state of Israel. Such a fatwa is unprecedented.

Muslims throughout their history never allowed the killing of civilians, 
even in the midst of wars such as the Crusades. There is no respected 
Islamic scholar here in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else in the Muslim world 
who would support such a fatwa. What is even more contradictory to Saudis 
is the realization that with Bin Laden's religious upbringing he should 
know that only the most knowledgeable Islamic scholars have the right to 
issue fatwas. This applies to the most trivial matters as well those of 
greatest consequence. In Islam, the shedding of human blood is on a list 
with six other major sins. All religious rulings with reference to this 
list would be of the most serious nature.

It seems that Bin Laden has become a revolutionary in a world of his own 
imagination. He would not hesitate to break any taboo. How did he come to 
create this fantasyland of terror? In part, it was through the bad 
influence of a radical Egyptian Islamic group called Al-Jihad. This group 
crossed many boundaries of conduct and decency, which had been agreed upon
in the Islamic world. In particular, their willingness to use violence 
against a Muslim government and a Muslim leader came as a shock. The first
Muslim leader victimized by them was Anwar Sadat, whom they assassinated in

Such conduct is antithetical to Islam. All Muslim scholars have stated 
that it is prohibited to use violence against a Muslim leader and 
legitimate government even if that government is unjust. The act of 
removing such a leader would be at the discretion of Islamic scholars and 
local leaders based on principles of law.

It could be said that all our reasoning and justifying are simply excuses 
to distance ourselves from the terror in the United States. Psychologists 
would probably believe that the entire Saudi community is in denial. This 
denial would be extended to include not just Osama Bin Laden, but the 
alleged hijackers as well. Here in Saudi Arabia, people are grasping at 
inaccuracies in the evidence presented by the FBI. In the early days of 
the investigation one of the accused Saudis was found to have been dead 
for a year before the attack. Another was arrested and then released. Five
others were found to be alive and at home with their families. Even though 
the FBI has now revised the list of accused hijackers, the doubts have 
been cast and now conspiracy theories abound.

I see this denial as a strong indicator of this country's revulsion and 
horror in regards to the attacks of Sept. 11. No family in Saudi Arabia 
wants to believe that one of their sons could have been responsible for 
such acts. They see the crimes as completely against all the tenets of 
Islam. A Muslim cannot be happy with the suffering of others. Even if this
suffering is that of Americans who neglected the suffering of Palestinians 
for half-a-century.

The Saudis haven't forgotten that only days before the terrible crimes in 
New York, there was an art exhibition on the streets of that city in 
support of what New Yorkers saw as the plight of the Israelis. We can't 
understand why no one thought of depicting the plight of the Palestinians 
who are in actuality the occupied community. Despite our unhappiness with 
such actions of utter ignorance, Saudis have all expressed deep 
condemnation of the crimes committed on Sept. 11.

This widespread condemnation did not make the Saudi public and the 
government officials agree to give America carte blanche which would have 
allowed it to use Saudi airbases and total Saudi support against the 
Muslims in the area just because the US is angry. True, America eventually
gave assurances that it was only targeting the enemy, which had declared 
war upon it, specifically Osama Bin Laden, Al-Qaeda and the Taleban. While
these assurances were a relief to people, they did not inspire confidence. 
No one in the Middle East believes that the Israeli lobby in Washington 
has given up. Israel still has the Congress on its side, which always echo
the Israeli position.

This makes people in the Middle East mistrustful of the true agenda of the
American government. Of course, the Israelis want America to fight their 
wars against the people of the Middle East who haven't yet accepted Israel
as an occupation force. And they would love to see American planes bombing 
countries such as Syria, Iran, Iraq and Libya. But if allowed to exploit 
the situation, the Israelis would not hesitate to widen the circle to 
include even the friends of the US in the area.

It is obvious that the Saudi public feels that the United States has the 
right to pinpoint and arrest the perpetrators of the crimes on Sept. 11. 
America was attacked. It is suffering and has the right to know who 
carried out this cowardly action against its people and retaliate. But 
peace and security in the United States depends on so much more. 
Washington must start to look at the area with a just perspective. That is
necessary to protect the interests of the American people because now the 
problems of the Middle East have become part of the internal problems of 
the United States.

We can see an opportunity to change these painful events into a way to 
strengthen understanding between not only Saudi Arabia and the US, but the
Muslim world in general and the United States and the West. Saudi Arabia is
the land of the two holy mosques. It is a place right in the center of the 
geography and hearts of those in the Muslim world. It has been a leader in
the area for many years, advocating moderation on both the Islamic and Arab

We have to admit that there is a problem of fanaticism locally. But we are
sure that officials are looking into this problem and plan to tackle it 
with a comprehensive solution that examines its roots while keeping in 
mind the Islamic foundation of the country. Saudi Arabia will continue to 
play a role throughout this crisis and after this crisis as a force of 
moderation for all the Muslims.