The Men Who Sell The World
On January 2, House Saud of Riyadh celebrated the new year by executing 47 people. Their crimes ranged from attending protests, to murder, to terrorism under a noxious totalitarian definition that could mean anything. Among the dozens was the beloved Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, despite international pleas specifically for his clemency. The bodies that the Sauds and their executioners piled up that day were not returned to their families, as the monarchs took the liberty of burying them on their own terms. Wahhabis like the ruling Sauds prefer unmarked, barely noticeable graves and have decided that everyone from their beheading victims to their kings should be buried on the same anti-iconographic customs.
After Nimr and company were executed, tepid voices from European and American governments and NGOs rung out with a now typical level of tepidity when it comes to our feudal allies. Human Rights Watch, fresh after bemoaning the death of ethnic cleansing advocate/militia commander Zahran Alloush in Syria, said the execution of “further stains Saudi Arabia’s troubling human rights record.” US Secretary of State John Kerry was “dismayed.” The State Department at large said “We have previously expressed our concerns about the legal process in Saudi Arabia and have frequently raised these concerns at high levels of the Saudi Government.” Neither David Cameron or Barack Obama said a word themselves.
There’s a long history of world powers supporting awful, totalitarian regimes. But what happens with Saudi Arabia is odd. For one, supposedly impartial NGOs don’t seem to care that intensely when the regime murders protesters. But the criticism we are offered serves them more than a defense in some ways. We attack this kingdom as if it were a modern political entity, which it is not. We speak in terms of bad optics on their “human rights record”, of which they have none. That is not a concept that exists in feudal societies. Instead of the Sauds, we criticize the nation Saudi Arabia, which is ruled by a single political entity with no one else’s say. The tone of Western criticism implies that the family is at all accountable to their people, and that their people are accountable to them. What results is a cultural criticism that supposes an authoritarianism is by default their culture, and it’s pretty goddamn alienating for any dissenting subjects in King Salman’s nation.
Don’t take it from me; friend of mine is a woman in Saudi Arabia, and while due to recent events (http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/03/middleeast/saudi-arabia-executes-dozens-terror/) I will not give you her name or location in the kingdom, told me as much:
“[…]what angers me about some political comics in the west is how they sort of lump oppressors with oppressed, as if its simply the state of dumb rich Gulf Arabs. […]i know it infuriates the fuck out of people here people who lean towards the left, who are a significant but silent amount they do find that political critique that starts out as something that might be in their favour just ends up lumping them with their oppressors as if oppressive monarchies have not existed throughout history, everywhere it makes it seem like it is an Arab thing.”
There’s been many comparisons recently of the Saudi similarity to the Islamic State, particularly in their beheading policies. But it goes deeper — the former Iraqi Ba’ath Party Sunni sectarians in ISIS use techniques they learned maiming and killing people under Saddam Hussein, which of course, he didn’t invent either. It’s not that these methods of terror intrinsically Islamic, Ba’athist, or Saudi; they’re methods you use to scare the shit out of everyone by making an example of someone. Ibn Saud didn’t get a vision in a dream that he should start beheading people in the 1920s because he believed in God so much. It was just a particularly evocative message of fear that his descendants will tell you is a traditional punishment by the same literalist lunatic reading of the Koran that Pam Gellar performs. It works, too. Both parties get to say their methods of isolating society, obliterating dissenters, and performing sickening executions are traditionally Islamic, and those who are looking for a reason to hate Muslims get to point at it and say, “look, that’s what they’re all like.” At this point, both ISIS and the House of Saud turn back towards the people they terrorize and gleefully inform them that this is what the world thinks of them as Muslims under the boots of tyrants.
But don’t take it from me. Take it from the late and former Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud, one of the more rotten hardliners to ever hold the title. Like many, his dedication to religion ended where his convenience began, as he threatened the French government (http://abcnews.go.com/2020/News/story?id=169246&page=1) over the drug trafficking conviction of fellow prince Nayef bin Sultan Al-Shaalan (http://www.sptimes.com/2005/03/19/State/Drug_case_is_a_royal_.shtml) , a crime that would have netted Al-Shaalan a beheading or crucifixion if he were a non-royal convicted in Saudi Arabia instead. Nayef openly said that he wished the kingdom to still follow strict Wahabbist social codes, but not because he was so submissive to God. He correctly stated they keep the levers of power firmly in the Saud family’s hands (http://edoc.bibliothek.uni-halle.de/servlets/MCRFileNodeServlet/HALCoRe_derivate_00003652/Strong%20Foundations.pdf).
With mass executions, dismemberment-based criminal punishments, and half the population at the mercy of the sadistic Religious Police, royals directly tell us “hey, this extreme interpretation is just to keep us in power.” Still, we don’t see this as the dictatorship it is. A key reason for this is that voices coming from inside the country are not the captors, but their wardens. While communications are strictly monitored and any Saudi Arabian citizen risks death talking to outsiders, water carriers of the state have no problem getting voices in western media. Water carriers like this asshole, Nawaf Obaid (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/22/saudi-arabia-isis-us-terrorists-coalition).
Nawaf’s Guardian bio tells us “Nawaf Obaid is a senior fellow at King Faisal centre for research and Islamic studies in Saudi Arabia and a visiting fellow at the Belfer Centre at Harvard’s Kennedy school of government. He has been a senior communications officer to the Saudi government.”
Obaid’s career history tells us he was the Special Advisor for Strategic Communications to Prince Turki al-Faisal from 2004–2007 (http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/experts/2699/nawaf_obaid.html), when Faisal was the Saudi ambassador to the United Kingdom. If Turki al-Faisal sounds familiar, you may remember him as the late 1970s, when he was the head of the General Intelligence Directorate. You can thank him for his role in producing the Taliban, the Haqqani network, and any number of similarly-minded business associates from Central Asia, the Northern Caucuses, to Syria (http://www.dod.gov/pubs/foi/Reading_Room/Joint_Staff/13-F-0117_DOC_02-course-materials-perspectives-on-Islam_and_Islamic_radicalism.pdf). To make a long story short, Turki helped craft the Saudi policy of funding extremist groups aligned in Wahhabi beliefs but also in proximity to regional enemies to House Saud. File this one under “don’t take my word for it, take theirs” as well: in 2012, former Saudi ambassador to the US Prince Bandar bin-Sultan personally told Vladimir Putin that the royals controlled most of the terrorist groups in Dagestan and Chechnya, and that it would be a real shame if one of them set off a bomb at the Sochi Olympics just because Putin wouldn’t back down from his support of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
Bandar and Turki and a pair of bloodthirsty creeps, but Nawaf is in some ways worse. He’s the waterboy, the little PR lackey who the billionaire princes threw some fees to in order to spit shine their names in front of their friends. He speaks the antiseptic US NatSec wonk language his bosses want him to, and gets to enjoy the legitimacy of western publications and Ivy League universities in turn. The US and UK are historically complicit with the crimes of the Sauds, but our institutions are complicit in helping them appear legitimate.
Even worse, this moron isn’t even good at his job. His latest, the hysterically-titled “Only Saudi Arabia can defeat ISIS” (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/22/saudi-arabia-isis-us-terrorists-coalition) is great. He starts out on a high note declaring Saudi Arabia is the leader of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, which ought to be news to the Ikwahn in Egypt the Sauds sold down the river, the Houthis in Yemen, the Shia of Lebanon, the Sunnis they publicly flog for blogging, and pretty much everyone who lives in Iran. After this, he claims that ISIS is not a Sunni Wahhabi group, but Kharijites who reject both Ali and Abu Bakr. Finally, he castigates the world for not listening when his bosses tried to “galvanize the moderate opposition” in Syria in 2011. “Moderate” is a funny way to describe Zahran Alloush, the Saudi backed rebel leader who called for a genocide of all Alawites. Go ahead, read it for yourself. I doubt Nawaf is too concerned about upping freelancer rates based off clicks. It’s just one repulsive laugh after the other. Just like his pieces on The Telegraph and CNN, they’re the same dumb talking points the Sauds have been vomiting out for the past five years.
The Sauds have a far deeper PR network than dumbass Obaid. The Intercept reported on the PR blitz they put on since the execution of Nimr al-Nimr and the subsequent storming of their Tehran Embassy (https://theintercept.com/2016/01/04/saudi-pr-machine/). There was a long line of odious experts ready to claim Nimr was a violent clod, that Saudi Arabia helps keep the region safe, and my personal favorite in the Gestapo-esque “this is an internal affair.” Of course, this ignores the whole reason for the execution: he wasn’t a sectarian. He opposed the Shia-aligned Bashar al-Assad in Syria just as fervently as he opposed the Sauds and similar Sunni tyrants in Qatar and Bahrain. That’s the scariest thing to people like the Sauds, an opposition divorced of theological or sectarian concerns. Opposition to just their acts escapes any spin, identity-based impositions on would-be supporters, or gestures to the rest of the world that this is in fact a uniquely Muslim disagreement. Nimr lost his head for those exact reasons.
Opponents of the regime are not afforded any of the same media voices in the US and UK, but being born without a claim to the world’s second largest oil reserves will do that to you. To be a woman, Shia, an opponent of the regime, or just someone who values human life in any way in Saudi Arabia is to be driven insane. The House of Saud is a looming specter of death at all moments. They’ve even given you their name. You’re a Saudi, doomed to carry the name of the family that could kill you at any moment as your national identity. When western media outlets let the Sauds and their toadie representatives act as though they are anything but totalitarian despots with their platforms, it erases the lives of the citizens who oppose them.