All Writings
August 3, 2003

Politicizing The War On Terrorism

For every Al Qaeda terrorist captured or killed, scores are being groomed to take over. According to people who read the 28 pages deleted from the publication of the Congressional report on 9/11, they stated, "There is compelling evidence that a foreign government provided direct support through officials and agents of that government to some of the September 11 hijackers." What emerged from the ensuing debate between Congressional leaders and members of the administration, the Saudi government's reaction, and the coverage of the U.S. media was that Saudi Arabia was the foreign government in question. It is noteworthy that the bipartisan report nowhere links Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, to 9/11 or to Al Qaeda. But apparently this in no way has impeded the administration's relentless campaign to link them, while simultaneously ignoring the fact that future generations of terrorists continue to be bred.

Every high-ranking administration official, including Mr. Bush, has insisted on the existence of a direct link between Al Qaeda and Iraq. From the start, they all read from the same page, claiming that Saddam Hussein had joined forces with terrorist groups, and as such constituted a threat to the United States that was impossible to ignore. None of these officials, however, produced a shred of evidence to support their contention. Rather, they resorted to disingenuous arguments to prop up their baseless case against Mr. Hussein. Throughout they also all remained mute about Saudi Arabia's past and present role in supporting terrorist groups. The Democratic Senator from Florida, Bob Graham, the co-chairman of the Congressional committee that issued the report, minced no words about the government's strategy: "The administration was trying to protect a foreign government . . . and prevent the public from having a fuller account of the role played by other countries."

Many Saudis are still living in denial about the role so many of their fellow citizens played in the events of 9/11. Yet in all fairness to the Saudi government, it has made some effort to redeem itself in the past few months, by combating terrorism and cooperating with our intelligence agencies. Still, the Saudis have a long way to go before they can be cleared of any culpability in supporting the growth of terrorism both in the past and the present.

Here is what we know at this point: Saudi citizens have been funneling hundreds of millions of dollars, some of this with and some without government knowledge, to charitable organizations that help finance terrorist groups. It is also true that although the Saudi government has lately been demanding greater accountability from charitable organizations, hundreds of millions of dollars are still being funneled to them by many wealthy Saudis. Some of these Saudis support such organizations because of what they stand for; others give them money to buy protection. Either way their money pouring into the treasury of these groups helps replenish the "soil" from which the terrorists of the future will spring.

In addition, the Saudi government finances thousands of Madrasat (religious schools) in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia itself, and other Arab and Muslim countries. In these schools millions of young boys study the Koran exclusively, with a special focus on the Saudi branch of Wahabism. And in these schools, local mullahs and teachers often pervert and distort some of the Koranic teaching, lacing it with poisonous anti-American and anti-Semitic propaganda. When these students graduate, they know nothing but this brand of Koranic law and hatred for America and the Jews. In short, they are perfect candidates for future recruitment by al Qaeda or other terrorist groups. Besides these organizations and schools, Saudi financial support of Islamic institutions, for example in Pakistan, strengthen the religious parties seeking Islamization of the state–hardly a cause for optimism in our war on terrorism.

In Saudi Arabia itself, the situation is worsening. Tens of thousands of graduates have no job offers; because of their schools' emphasis on religious studies, they are ill-equipped to enter the job market in the first place. The gap between the have and the have nots is deepening, creating a growing social schism. Increasingly, the anger and resentment of the masses are directed against the royal family and its protector, the United States. In fact, most of the young — both the well-to-do and the poor — share a hatred of America for helping to keep a government in power that leaves them without hope for a better future. Try as it may to wage a relentless campaign against its own home-grown terrorists–Al Qaeda affiliated or otherwise–the Saudi government will fail, because its not willing to introduce social and political reforms, albeit gradual, to give their young people some hope. It is from this vast pool of disaffected young people that the highjackers of 9/11 came. As long as these dismal conditions persist, thousands more will only continue to be recruited to the terrorist cause.

Finally, notwithstanding the growing cooperation between U.S. intelligence agencies and their Saudi counterpart, there is an almost visceral resistence by the Saudis to cooperate fully and comprehensively with us. For one thing, any assistance is seen by many of them to be contrary to the Saudi national interest. As long as the Saudis remain protective of their sources of information and choose to prevent us from penetrating certain social and political barriers, our war on terrorism will be seriously hampered. And so the Saudis will still play a significant role in creating and supporting the growth of future generations of terrorists far beyond their borders. Thus, even if we succeed in the near future in eliminating every terrorist and in eradicating every terrorist cell, unless we deal with the real source of terrorism, for every Al Qaeda terrorist captured or killed, thousands more will spring up to replace him.

In this scenario, Saudi Arabia remains, wittingly and unwittingly, the main culprit. For its part, the administration is playing politics with the war on terrorism, by shielding the Saudis from public criticism and accountability while trying to focus public attention on Iraq and the hunt for Saddam Hussein. The notion the government is trying to sell is that somehow his capture or death will bring an end all to international terrorism. Its preoccupation with Iraq is also preventing the administration from effectively pursuing many Al Qaeda operatives. And the fixation on Iraq is gobbling up the financial resources that could be used to support other countries willing to assist us in the war against terrorism.