Madawi Al-Rasheed: Saudi Arabia helped create a network of terrorism to achieve political aims, and while it does come back to bite them at times, they promote a similar ideology and continue to these alliances
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.
We’re continuing our discussion about U.S.-Saudi relations, and we’re going to dig in in this segment into the Saudi relationship with al-Qaeda type forces, extreme Islamists.
And now joining us again from London is Madawi Al-Rasheed. She’s a visiting professor at the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her recent publications include A History of Saudi Arabia and A Most Masculine State.
Thanks for joining us again, Madawi.
MADAWI AL-RASHEED, MIDDLE EAST CENTRE, LSE: Thank you.
JAY: So I mentioned in an earlier segment that the joint congressional committee investigating 9/11 had found that the Saudi government was responsible for financing and facilitating the 9/11 attacks. And I interviewed Senator Bob Graham, who was cochair of that congressional investigating committee, and I asked him why he thought the Saudis had done this, and his answer was that bin Laden had told the Saudi king or the Saudi royal regime that he had 10,000 fighters that he could send to Saudi Arabia to try to develop an uprising against the Saudi royal family if they didn’t help him launch these attacks. I don’t know if Bob knows that for sure or not, Bob Graham, I don’t know whether it’s true or not true in terms of their motivation, but it is a kind of reflection of this very complicated relationship, where on the one hand, bin Laden’s force, you know, when he was alive, certainly seemed to make the Saudi regime his main enemy, other than perhaps Shia. He talked about the way the Saudis’ royal family had sold out to the Americans and such. On the other hand, there’s all kinds of evidence that the Saudis have worked with these forces in Afghanistan and in many other places. So what is the nature of this relationship?
AL-RASHEED: It is a very complex relationship. To begin with, Saudi Arabia wanted to use Islamism in its fight against any external threat that may have an internal impact. I’ll give you one example. In the 1950s and ’60s, Saudi Arabia saw the threat to its regime coming from the leftist movement in the Arab world, and also from Arab nationalism, and it used Islamism as a counter-force to actually destroy these two movements. And therefore it sponsored Islamic education, it sponsored Islamic opinions that depict these movements as atheism. And also, during the Cold War, it enlisted its ideology on behalf of the West in order to fight battles elsewhere, such as, for example, in Afghanistan. And therefore the Saudi-Wahhabi dimension of all this al-Qaeda is extremely important, although the Saudi regime tries to distance itself from this kind of radicalism.
JAY: I think it’s important to note that Eisenhower is quoted as saying that we will use–we being the United States–use the Saudis and their role in defending Mecca to help promote Wahhabism and the Saudi power to fight Nasserism, nationalism, and socialism. I may not have the quote exact, but I’m pretty close. And, of course, we know how much the CIA worked directly with the Saudis in Afghanistan. In fact, bin Laden gets to Afghanistan in a deal between the Saudis and the Americans.
AL-RASHEED: Yes, absolutely. This was part of the Cold War strategy, and Saudi Arabia deployed its ideology and support, and also funds, in order to fight wars elsewhere.
But the problem for Saudi Arabia is when this ideology came back to haunt the country itself. But it is almost like having a battle with your own ideology. And therefore it’s very difficult for the Saudis to get rid of this kind of menace. And they haven’t learned lessons from 9/11.
So if you look at what is going on in Syria now, they have–the Saudis have created armed rebels who are actually almost working on behalf of the Saudis in Syria, so that the Syrian revolution was derailed and lost its democratic slogans, and now it’s–became a sectarian war between different groups, Shia and the Sunnis. And with Saudi intervention, we find that the rebels who were promoted were called the Islamic Front. And we have seen how this was unfolding in Syria.
Until recently, Saudi Arabia allowed its own young men to travel to Syria, or if it didn’t allow them, it kept a blind eye. And only recently, just a week before Obama’s visit, Saudi Arabia introduced this new antiterrorism law which says that anybody who goes to Syria and come back will face 20 years in prison.
An interesting thing is, yes, we may keep a blind eye on those people going, but we’re going to arrest them when they come back. But there was no effort that was obvious to me that they will make sure they will not go there to fight–.
JAY: Well, it may be that they’re going to make them stay there and fight, with a law like that.
AL-RASHEED: I think the best thing that Saudi regime can hope for is for them to go and die there.
JAY: That’s sort of what I was saying.
There seems to have been a change from the days when the Saudis seemed to be very concerned about attacks on their regime in Saudi Arabia from al-Qaeda forces. There seems to have been a kind of accommodation in some way that now, in fact, it seems that the al-Qaeda type forces are almost, like, part of the way the Saudis wage asymmetrical warfare and use them in leverage. I mean, the most obvious place is in Syria, but you see it in Iraq. But then you see these threats–you know, I talked about 9/11, but we know about Bandar’s threat, Prince Bandar’s threat to Tony Blair when there was an inquiry into the bribery scandal based on Saudis buying several billion dollars of weapons, and apparently Bandar got a billion-dollar bribe, and Bandar says to Blair, you’d better stop this inquiry or I can’t promise there won’t be another 7/7 (when the buses blew up in London). And more recently, apparently, Bandar threatened Putin and said, you know, we control the Chechen terrorists. It seems like it’s a lever of power in their hands.
AL-RASHEED: Yes, absolutely. And we have seen since 2008 there were no terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia. They managed to push al-Qaeda to Yemen, basically. They haven’t destroyed it. They haven’t, you know, removed it. They simply had forced it to migrate to Yemen. And a lot of Saudis have left Saudi Arabia to go there.
But the interesting thing is it has been used as a sort of a pressure on foreign governments, meaning that, you know, you do as we want you to do or we will not cooperate with you in terms of intelligence cooperation, or we would actually–you know, they wouldn’t put it so directly, but, you know, it is a subtle hint that when the Serious Fraud Office in Britain wanted to open up the Al-Yamamah weapons deal and the corruption that was involved with BAE Systems, the Saudis immediately announced that if this serious fraud investigation goes ahead, they will cease to cooperate with Britain on intelligence, meaning that we will not be able to help you catch the terrorist, basically. And it is interesting that they may have had quite a close relationship, they know them so well, but they hold information about them that they’re only going to release to those other intelligence services that cooperate with the Saudis, and also in governments that are supposedly friendly governments.
JAY: Right. And the Saudis–one of the intelligence agencies the Saudis cooperate a lot with is the Pakistani ISI, and the Pakistani ISI seems to play the same game: you know, collaborate to some extent with the West in antiterrorist operations; on the other hand, there’s lots of evidence the ISI has all kinds of relationship with the Taliban and al-Qaeda type forces. In fact, journalists that have reported on this have been assassinated by the ISI, including one that worked with us.
AL-RASHEED: Yes. I mean, it is the al-Qaeda monster, it’s the monster that was created at a particular historical moment and began to haunt all those contributing forces that made it happen and allowed it to flourish throughout the last three decades. And the Saudis had deployed the same strategy in Syria now, whereby individuals can go and join these rebels. They kept a blind eye for a long time. But then now, when international pressure is mounting, because they see how these rebels are really not an alternative to Bashar al-Assad, Saudis introduced this new terrorism law in order to deal with the situation. But whether it will actually work, I have my doubts.
JAY: And I guess the Americans have been so part of this policy of working with extreme Islamists that they can’t say or don’t want to say much about it.
AL-RASHEED: Yes. I mean, it is a well-known fact now. You know, the archives will be open and declassified information will be available, and future historians will probably write incredible books with concrete evidence. Now we get the information from leaked documents or from journalists who are actually in the field at the time and can report on us where the weapons to so-called rebels are coming from and who is sponsoring them.
JAY: Okay. In the next segment of our interview, we’re going to discuss why Saudi Arabia considers Iran such a mortal enemy. Please join us with Madawi Al-Rasheed on The Real News Network.