Saudi Time Bomb?
haroun fazul
photo of ghabra
interview: hafeeq ghabra

In the Persian Gulf War, there was no question about the way in which Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states backed the United States in a grand alliance, if you will, to liberate Kuwait. But there doesn't seem to be the same unanimity in this coalition. Why is that?

I think we're talking about two different events. One is on the border of Saudi Arabia, where Kuwait was occupied by an invader, in this case Saddam Hussein; and the second is a war that's not on the borders of Saudi Arabia, not on the borders of many of the Arab countries. If Saudi Arabia was Pakistan, Saudi Arabia would do exactly what Pakistan is doing. I will actually say Saudi Arabia would do much more than what Pakistan is doing. It just happened to be not exactly on their borders, and Arabs -- and in particular, Saudis -- happened to be involved in this war, in the context of looking into what produced this terror, looking into what made certain people behave in a certain way, looking into the charities, looking into what the international community wants, supporting the U.S. And I do believe that the Saudis are supporting the U.S. at the level that they are involved, in terms of Afghanistan not being on their border.

Well, let's take it one step at a time. What role do these charities that you mentioned play in Islamic society, in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia, these societies that you're familiar with?

Charities play many roles that are basically focused on improving the lives of people -- helping the poor, helping those who suffer, starting hospitals, opening schools. They just do what charities do everywhere in the world. I think the challenge now for Islamic charity is that some funds go to their own people, to their own issues, to their own causes.

Was charity misused? What is the percentage? Is it 5 percent? Is it 10 percent? Is it more? This is the issue that's today open for an investigation, and the investigation should be able to tell us, more and more, how some of these charities were used to harm others, rather than to help others. However, much of charity is to help, and that's the issue. That's always the case.

A political scientist and journalist currently serving as information officer at the Kuwaiti embassy in Washington, D.C., he writes regular opinion columns on political affairs for newspapers published in Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Lebanon, and is a frequent commentator on Radio Monte Carlo, popular in the Arab world. He received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Texas at Austin. Here he speaks about the response to Sept. 11 within the Arab world, the role of Wahhabism and Saudi-funded charities in fomenting extremism in the Islamic world, and the need for Americans to understand the political realities within the Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia. This interview was conducted on Oct. 31, 2001.

But when a prominent citizen in Kuwait or the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control declares that there are charities that are simply funnels to these extremists ...

Let me tell you a little bit about Kuwait, for example. Charities exist. They're all over the country. They're like all kinds of charities that you have in America, that you have everywhere in Europe. But in Kuwait, charities expanded, and sometimes, many times, there wasn't the exact control over the transparency, the bookings, the details. So you would have many small charities come out. You will have splinter charities emerge. ...

You have a mosque, and then in front of the mosque there will be a very small canteen ...

Like a food stand.

Exactly, exactly. A very small stand, a very small booth, and they'll be collecting money.

And as a citizen, and I would say many citizens of Kuwait always wondered, where is this going to? Today, the government of Kuwait is closing them all up. All. You're not going to see in the streets of Kuwait, a bus, for instance, that becomes like a stand, somebody comes out, and there are microphones, and they're reminding people of others who are suffering, and then collecting money, and you don't know where the money goes. Now we are very serious into transparency and looking into it.

That's registering charities, basically?

Absolutely. ... Registering, and then accountability and transparency.

I will not exactly jump to [the] conclusion that Wahhabism, as such, has produced bin Laden. Bin Laden was a revolutionary. ... He took a different version of Wahhabism, a street version, a mob version, a radical version... But the allegations are much more serious than that. The allegations that are being made now... There's charities, established charities, involved with prominent people, for instance, in Saudi Arabia, that have been put on the U.S. list as funnels to...

And I think this is where the Saudis now are seeking help from the United States, to coordinate this effort, and to look into it, and to be able to investigate it, and to be part of this.

If you look at it in the wider perspective, it's a wake-up call. It's a wake-up call, that somehow, in the context of religion -- which in our part of the world, and probably in many others, [is] looked upon [as] good, religion is positive, religion helps the young to have good morality. ... And then you get the abuse of religion, and you get some to infiltrate, and some to interpret religion in their own image, in their own passions, in their own thinking. ... And to move ahead with that into charity, into other fields, and to use religion as a political vehicle, and to use charity as a political vehicle, and then it all explodes on Sept. 11 on the world stage in the World Trade Center. And now it's a wake-up call.

As much as it is a wake-up call for Americans who are investigating left and right, including charities that may have collected money from America to people like bin Laden, and similar kinds of charity that came from America to these people ... by the same logic, Saudis and Kuwaitis and people of the Gulf, where there is money, where there is a great potential for great charity and great development, are looking into the abuse of a system -- not to destroy the system, but to get into the abuse of it.

You've written about Islam. You've studied Islam as well as playing various roles in government. Isn't it slightly different when the charities are promoting the dominant sectarian form of Islam that dominates in Saudi Arabia? Hasn't that created, in many ways, a fundamentalist, if you will, sea of people -- not just in Saudi Arabia, but all over the Islamic world -- a sea that apparently is very sympathetic to Mr. bin Laden?

You can look at this in maybe two, two different eyes. One eye, there is official Islam.

Official Islam?

Official Islam, the Islam that is very much part of the official life of politics. The sanctioned preachers who speak in the mosques. The ministries of Islamic affairs. Their kind of Islam tends to be more on the normal level, on the acceptable level, on the tolerant level; on the level of taking into consideration that religion needs to be spiritual, religion needs to be religion.

But then you get the unofficial Islam, the Islam of the streets, the Islam of the mob, the Islam of the groups, the Islam of the extremists, the Islam of Al Qaeda. And there you get people who, over time, hijacked the interpretation, and rode their way into structures and rode their way into societies, and rode their way into the entire culture, and rode their way by using issues. The Arab-Israeli conflict. Poverty. Sickness. All kinds of problems in the region. Iraq-Iran War. The Iraq situation after the invasion of Kuwait.

By utilizing these issues, economic issues, political issues, cultural issues, they were able to become a solid, strong movement in the region that is making its voice, its way throughout, and you get all kinds of mixes. Some of this movement has a moderate orientation. But some of this movement has an extremist orientation, and that's in the unofficial part of Islam.

Am I wrong that your neighbors in Saudi Arabia, the government, is an alliance of the House of Saud and the Wahhabi sect? That this, historically and currently, is part of the official government, this sectarian -- if you will, extreme -- form of Islam?

You see, Saudi Arabia is in a unique position, particularly on this issue, and that makes it more unique ... because the government and this particular form of Islam [are] together. However, let's look at the history and how this happened. Saudi Arabia, historically, has been a country never united with each other, never part of one single authority and government. The al-Sauds in the early twentieth century and in the 1920s, and 1930s, through Abdel Aziz ibn Saud, unite Saudi Arabia for the first time in history by using two skills. One, by alliance with the Wahhabis. ... It's not a sect. It's a group of interpreters of religion on a very conservative level, who were able to unite the tribes with Al Saud. And by using his political skills, as Al Saud, to unite Saudis, and to create Saudi Arabia.

This particular alliance went on very well. By the 1940s, there were times when there was conflict between the House of Al Saud and the Wahhabis, when Al Saud himself, Abdel Aziz ibn Saud, confronted them in military confrontation, to bring them to the line that he felt was tolerable. There were fighting going on. At certain times in the 1920s and 1930s, they challenged him. They were tough. They were serious. They had a lot of enthusiasm into religion.

However, the Al Sauds had the ability to control all of that through confrontation and politics, and then brought them into the system. That created official Wahhabism, sanctioned by the government, accepted by the government. And it is an official Wahhabism that didn't do much harm to anybody. On the contrary, it kept Saudi Arabia united; it helps the Islamic world face two trends. One, it was utilized brilliantly to face radical Arab nationalism in the 1950s and 1960s. In the 1950s and 1960s, there was one coup after the other done by young officers in different Arab countries against monarchs, and to bring in religion, because Arab nationalism was bringing secular radical nationalism. It was confronted by the Wahhabi and Islamic kind of nationalism and solidarity.

And then from that, it evolved into quite an interesting weapon to face the Cold War with. ... At the height of the Cold War, you got the whole idea that the Soviets was an atheist empire, and those who belonged to the world of Islam could be with America, because America is a believer empire. It is a God-fearing empire. So are Muslims. ... It was accepted that Americans stand for some sort of a God ... and belief, facing atheism in the Soviet Union. This was an argument you would hear, across the board, and that was the basic strong justification [of] how Saudi Arabia was very close to the United States of America. ...

And [Abdel Aziz ibn Saud] was the first to bring the Americans to the region, in the 1930s and 1940s, particularly in the 1940s. He brought them in to excavate for oil, and the relationship continued. If you look at the history of the relationship, it was a history of an alliance, a lot of mutual work, and investment, and cooperation throughout the Cold War. It climaxed in the 1980s, when Saudi Arabia and America funded and supported the mujahedeen on the basis of religion, facing atheism in Afghanistan coming from the Soviet Union, and that continued.

So this grew, and went ahead. But ... a new trend was in the making in the Arab world at the street level that has nothing to do, exactly, with the official understanding of Islam. This new trend is a trend that started to take shape and to fill in the vacuum left by a retreating Arab nationalist movement after the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, when Arab nationalism was defeated in war. ...

That date was the beginning of the retreating Arab nationalism. There was a big vacuum in the region to be slowly filled by Islamic fundamentalism, a rising force with stricter interpretations -- people who were in Egypt in jails who were freed at one point and started playing their role, and then spread throughout the region with a more conservative and a more radical -- and more important here, militant.

So Saudi Wahhabism was not militant, and was open to the West to do business, to be with the West in the Cold War. But radical Islam, militant Islam, was more anti-Western, and was militant, and willing to use violence as a means to achieve.

But there also appears to be this internationalization of Wahhabism that has played into this same fundamentalist, extremist trend. The schools throughout Pakistan and elsewhere in the Islamic world have become recruiting grounds for Al Qaeda and other organizations.

... Maybe this is to be investigated. Maybe this is to be seen in the context of the wake-up call that we all received on Sept. 11. I will not exactly jump to [the] conclusion that Wahhabism, as such, has produced bin Laden. Bin Laden was a revolutionary. ... He is a revolutionary radicalized by whatever radicalized him -- by events, by experiences, by his personality -- and found that it is to Islam that he will make his message. ...

He took a different "ride" with Wahhabism, a different version of Wahhabism, a street version, a mob version, a radical version, a militant version. Wahhabism wasn't like that. Wahhabism was controlled, was politically part of the establishment, was a convenient relationship. And if you today look at all ... these clerics in Saudi Arabia, all these sheiks, all these imams who came up with fatwas immediately after the World Trade Center, one after the other, with verdicts, with clear-cut positions condemning bin Laden, condemning his version, condemning his interpretation, and saying nobody in the world of Islam has the right to declare jihad on anybody. Jihad is defensive war. Jihad is misunderstood, and jihad is something which is defensive war to be declared by states, by governments ... by the nation, and not by individuals who declare whatever they want to declare.

So there is a rift here, and we need to recognize that rift between Wahhabism as we know it ... in the traditional sense -- historical Wahhabism, political Wahhabism, as it is today in the context of the House of Saud -- and then street Wahhabism. ...

So in your estimation, over the years, how powerful has this street fundamentalism, if you will, this street extremism, become?

I think that has become very powerful ... and has become a strong lobby inside every society, a strong force inside every society. Interpreting religion in a certain way, mixing politics with Islam in such a way that is unbelievable, that makes ... anybody who wants to do politics in the region look over their shoulders, whether this will come under fire from militant Islam, radical Islam, or not. And even if they don't do anything that is wrong, they always come under fire, and then they end up, somehow, having to compromise over something.

This is where you get in certain places all these confrontations and attacks on intellectuals. We've had Naguib Mahfouz being hit ... one of the best Nobel Prize winners of Arabic literature ... hit by a knife, just a few weeks or months after he got the Nobel Prize because of a story he wrote 20-30 years ago, where there are sections that could have a certain interpretation that doesn't fit with militant Islam, or a certain group in militant Islam.

So we had this trend now. It has reached its climax. It has reached its climax on Sept. 11, because the wake-up call is now calling for everybody ... to look what is it that has contributed to all of that in the Arab and Islamic world. And to say this is the time we look into the charities, where the politics ends and where the politics begins, where the charity begins and where the charity ends, and make a quiet division and a quiet divide.

We look into politics and we see where is it the politics of God and the politics of human beings. We look into movements and we look into all kinds of blackmail that could come with this, and seek a way that can bring about a better region in terms of its issues and the way it handles its politics.

Are we to be concerned, though, that the power of the street fundamentalism, the sympathy with bin Laden, is reflected, for instance, in a recent letter that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia says he sent to [our president] George Bush? He said, "A time comes when peoples and nations part. We are at a crossroads. It is time for the United States and Saudi Arabia to look at their separate interests. Those governments that don't feel the pulse of their people and respond to it will suffer the same fate as the Shah of Iran." Is that a message to us, that the power of the street has become so great, that our ally, for instance, your neighbor, Saudi Arabia, may be headed in a new direction?

Not exactly, not exactly. It may be a message that has come in a certain context, in a certain conversation. But as I look, just yesterday the Saudis were part of a GCC meeting, that is, the Gulf Cooperation Council, that has Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain ... Qatar ... the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Six regional countries, and it was ministers of Interior and their decisions regarding charities, and looking into issues -- and this is Interior ministers -- and security, and all the issues that are related to terrorism, and condemning terrorism, and getting into the fight of terrorism, is very, very serious.

You look at the statement, and therefore you find it different. This may reflect the mood of the moment, two days or three days or five days ago. This may reflect the communication at the height of a media attack on Saudi Arabia ...

This came in August, prior to Sept. 11, to the president...

Isn't this in the last few days?

It's been reported in the last few days. ...

Oh. ...

... But apparently the letter ... was sent in August.

Then I have a different comment on it. ... That makes it totally different. One, I mean August and July was the height of Arab anger over the Arab-Israeli conflict, and it was the height of attempts by several countries in the region, and that includes Saudi Arabia, to get the president of the United States to make a decision regarding renewal of the peace process, and stopping the violence. There was a call, a very serious call. I have never seen such a call coming from the Arab world at that level of desperation, a feeling that the Arab world is slipping out from the hands of everybody and governments, and there is street anger. And it's very much motivated for many reasons; but yet the Arab-Israeli [conflict] was the symbol of the entire situation.

So to see him say that would be very normal for August, because that was the height of it. Actually, there was the whole talk about a visit that he didn't want to make to Washington, because he didn't feel there was anything coming in the pipeline between the presidents and the issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and therefore he was under tremendous pressure. ... Then he waits until recently ... and he says it again. And here I would say it comes at the height of this kind of media confrontation. It seems to me that the Saudis took the media very, very serious. I mean, it was attack after attack, and it was lots of articles, all through the media and...

Saying what?

Saying all kinds of things about Saudi Arabia not cooperating, not doing the right thing, not being with the United States; saying all kinds of things that everybody was reading over the last month. Yet the Saudis realize, I know, that they are cooperating, that they are doing a lot of things, that they are helping in requests, that President Bush thanked them. Just a few days ago, Dick Cheney talked positively about them.

So they feel that they get a different communication between government, the government of the U.S. with Saudi Arabia, and then the media and the press, written and communicated through TV. That probably created such a reaction. ... It created a reaction in Saudi Arabia. So writers and newspapers, and op-eds in newspapers, et cetera, started lashing back at American media. And you get a conflict.

So here you have leaders who may have to explain certain things, who are also looking into the wake-up call that they feel. They are in the middle of it, who are also going through a certain mood at the height of what is a big misunderstanding that is taking place between the two countries, something that fits exactly with the line of what bin Laden wanted to do. He picked up 15 or 16, or 12 or 14, Saudi guys to do this particular attack on America.

And in order to guarantee -- I mean, look at it, there were Saudis and Egyptians -- to guarantee that the Americans, at some level, whether through the media, whether through people, whether through feelings, whether through emotions, will just stop trusting ... the two governments, that he would like them to stop trusting and dealing with in order for him, and for Mr. al-Zawahiri, the other guy who worked with him. ... in order for them to jump and take over, in order for them to create the perfect revolutionary situation for an onslaught on these two governments. ... Once that happens, then it won't be Afghanistan. If that happens, then it will be a much bigger threat, and a much more serious problem that will confront all of us.

Why, though, will the Saudis not give us more access in terms of the investigation? ... When we asked [the Saudi Ambassador,] Prince Bandar, "What about money in Saudi Arabia going to all this?" And he says, "Oh, well, we don't have any money that's gone there, and when we trace it, it goes to Europe or to the United States and disappears." And then we turn around and see a Saudi charity with substantial people on the board in Saudi Arabia named as a financial conduit to bin Laden, it contradicts itself. It makes it look as if the government is hiding something.

Or it may [be] that the government is also looking into it, and still in a state of shock, in a state of surprise, that this is what all of it turned to, and is reorienting itself. But to reorient takes ... much more time than the heat of the moment, and the decision required, and what U.S. media was looking for is an immediate response. ...

They have named the 15 people. At first, we didn't know where these people necessarily were from. They were carrying Saudi identification. But the Saudi government has admitted 15 of them are [Saudi] citizens.

That's right. But it has also asked for cooperation on the charities, and is also asking for a team from the United States on the charities, and is also doing other things in the oil sector as well to help maintain prices at a level that doesn't hurt U.S. efforts. So they're doing things. Their work in the Gulf Cooperation Council is part of doing things. They're ... cooperating with other Gulf countries on security issues regarding terrorism. ...

Maybe they're not doing it at the speed America wants. Maybe they're not doing it at the height America wants. But this is to be done in political channels; this is to be done between two governments. Saudis have their sensibilities about sovereignty, about what they do and what they don't do, but that also needs consensus on their side. I think channels have always existed between the two governments. ... These channels will get to the right result ... if they are done in the right way. ...

Just look at it in that context, not in a context of moving to the other side. Saudi Arabia cut contacts with the Taliban. Why did they cut the contact with the Taliban and stop recognizing the Taliban government just after the Sept. 11 attack? ...

How much of a threat is this street fundamentalism, this radicalism that bin Laden appears to be the hero of, at least for today? How much of a threat is it to the Gulf region?

If left unchecked, it will definitely be a threat, because it will just grow and grow and grow until it takes over. And it does it in different ways, by infiltrating, by impacting systems, by lobbying, by financial institutions, by the ability to just focus on certain religious issues that are dear to people and society, and get away with politics via the vehicle of religion and Islam and God.

However, Sept. 11 is a wake-up call to every leader in the region, to every government in the region, and to every institution that wants to survive into the twenty-first century, and to every intellectual. And I think it's a wake-up call to many Islamists -- to many who have worked on the borderline, and on the crossroads between religion and politics in the Arab world -- to start seeing what is it they have said and done, at least some elements of them who are on the moderate side, on the pragmatic side, on the rational side. What is it that they can do to change, to have a different approach to life and politics, and to religion? And what is it that they can do to stop at least this fear that has now befallen people's hearts everywhere, from this ability to mix too much politics with too much religion?

There isn't, to some extent, some sympathy for bin Laden, and Sept. 11? ...

Yes, there is sympathy. There is sympathy to bin Laden at the grassroots level in many places in the Arab and Islamic world. I do realize that. Actually, if you watch Al Jazeera and you watch some other networks, particularly Al Jazeera, you will get a feel for that sympathy.

However, let me classify this sympathy as the sympathy before the crash, the sympathy before it all really ends. It's a sympathy that is short term, that reminds me of the sympathy Saddam Hussein got in 1991 by large masses of people; and then everything crashed. This is all going to be a big, big crash. Then the question is, when the dust settles, what do we pick from that crash, and how do we communicate with each other? What do we learn from it? And then there will be a vacuum. There'll be a big vacuum and people will have lots of questions. Who will fill that vacuum?

The crash is what? His death?

The crash will be the end of the Taliban regime, the end of the Al Qaeda movement, and the alertness in the Arab world to this kind of militarism, this kind of militancy, and this kind of terrorism. Lots of things will be mixed with it, and as the Arab world moves now, looking into this, investigating. A lot is going on in Saudi Arabia, in Kuwait, in Qatar, in Bahrain. Lots is going on in Egypt. Everywhere they feel the heat of it, and they're investigating. They're taking decisions. They're putting through laws. All of that is going to get to a point where this balloon is going to suffer from a big puncture, and it's a retreat.

If 1967 was the first sign, the first event in a retreating Arab nationalist radical movement --

Because the Israelis decisively defeated the Arab army?

Arab armies, at the time, said they will be able to flourish and do well and liberate the land ... and help the Palestinians. That was the height of radical Arab nationalism. The beginning of that retreat was 1967. Well, if 1967 was the beginning of that retreat, then I would say the beginning of the retreat for militant Islam is going to be Sept. 11, 2001. ...

So you don't see this as their first big victory on the national stage?

This is the beginning of their defeat. This is the beginning of the end. This is the worst mistake that bin Laden has done. He's engaged America at the highest level, at the level not only of American soldiers, but at the level of American people. And he's engaged with them, the entire world, and scared everybody across nations and cultures, including in the world of Islam. And that's it. That's going to turn the tide totally in a different direction.

So the world that we have known before is not going to be the same again, and America ... is clearly going to play a significant role in shaping the world that is going to come. Many in the Middle East and many in the Arab world would like to be part of that world; they're looking forward in that context to be part of that world. They understand that world to be a better world, at least in terms of getting the issues done, getting life into a more normal [condition], rather than radical militant, and then getting business and getting education and getting a decent life in terms of day-to-day engagements, rather than the opposite.

Fascinating, because you know, currently in the United States, while there's a lot of anger, there's also a lot of helplessness. Anthrax. We seem to be bogging down in Afghanistan. No quick victory. We're told not to expect one but we're definitely not getting one. And you're saying despite that, what he did on Sept. 11 is going to guarantee his destruction and a change in what happens in the future?

Yes. It will guarantee the end, the retreat -- the retreat to a cave, let's say -- of militant Islam as we have known it before Sept. 11. It will not be the same for militant Islam afterwards.

Let me ask you a couple of questions here about apparent financial flows from both within Kuwait, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia, and possibly other places in the Islamic world to Al Qaeda, apparently from wealthy people. Is that protection money?

I can't exactly judge.

I asked Prince Bandar about this. You know, [there's] a longstanding -- some would say rumor, some would say it's got some basis in fact -- that, for instance, the Saudis would pay money to various organizations or people, [and say] "Just leave us alone."

I would say that, and particularly with Saudi Arabia and bin Laden -- why pay? While Saudi Arabia did strip bin Laden [of] his citizenship, while Saudi Arabia has him as a wanted figure...

Semi-wanted. They had a chance to get him in 1996 on his way out of the Sudan. ...

Maybe they didn't want him dead or alive, in the kingdom, but at least ...

They were ambivalent, let's put it that way.

They didn't want him. He was a figure that posed a danger to Saudi Arabia. But at the same time, probably, you get different people involved in charities that may have gone to him. But that's not on the legal sides. That's not on the official side. It's like telling you that you have all this beautiful entertainment in Las Vegas, and it's even family entertainment. But there has been quite a group of people, and some of them respectable people, that have been involved with the Mafia over there, and would you investigate that? Well, you may want to investigate that. Then you may discover that a couple of them are people you know and respect, and you're not sure what to make of it, and maybe then you will investigate. Then there'll be rules and laws.

But that takes time as you go by confronting the Mafia. We know that presidents have been assassinated in that context, or leaders have been shot, or ministers have lost their lives. It's not an easy challenge to deal with people who are willing to die every day and are willing to take your life and the lives of others, and use militancy and power and politics and money and every dirty trick in the book to get at you. You just want to do it. You want to control things in such a way that they don't harm you and harm your society, but at the same time you're going to do it in a very careful way. ...

We will do an interview on FRONTLINE three years from now ... and it's going to be a different world. It will be a different world; it will be a better world. This is engaging everybody, and those who are not engaged are going to lose out.

So it isn't so much what President Bush said, "Are you with us or against us?" It's really [that] people are with us? They just have to get there at their own speed?

Absolutely. And President Bush is right. I mean, are you with us or against us? That's fine. But even President Bush has explained and said, "Well, there are different levels. There'll be times that they're exactly with us on every point, but there'll be other things we need to work with." That's why you have a foreign minister. That's why you have a secretary of state -- his name is Colin Powell -- and his duty is to go ahead and work out these things in order to be all on the same level.

But if someone comes and says, "I'm giving you 70 percent or 80 percent or 90 percent, and I can't do this, because if I do that, I will lose the 70 percent I'm giving you. I will lose my power base. I will be embarrassed." It's the same problem. Americans have all kinds of lobbies to worry about when issues come. Look at the guns lobby. How does an American president deal with that? ... The American president has to ... when there's congressional elections, and when there is presidential elections, he better take this into consideration.

What about the Israeli lobby? What about the Irish lobby? What about all kinds of lobbies that are part of the foundations of American democracy, and are legitimate and normal? But you have to take consideration. Same level in the Middle East. We have to take consideration. We cannot ignore or we will be doing bad politics, shooting ourselves in the foot, and the next day we won't be around to be your allies and you will have bin Laden in Saudi Arabia and Ayman al-Zawahiri in Egypt.

And Saddam Hussein?

Well, that's another issue. That's a very, very other issue, serious issue.

No, but bin Laden raises the issue. He says you're starving the people of Iraq and you're bombing this country, an Arab country, and the Kuwaitis, your client states in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are going along with it. Rise up, the street, against them.

So we have to deal with this issue. In a way, this issue of Iraq and Saddam Hussein did contribute to the radicalization in the region. It's as serious, as important as other issues. America came to the liberation of Kuwait and liberated Kuwait, and there is a big reservoir of respect and affinity for America in Kuwait. But Saddam stayed in power. And so did the sanctions, with all the suffering that they have caused the Iraqi people. The Iraqi people today are living under the double fear and the double misery and iron fist of both Saddam Hussein and the sanctions regime.

So the logic says one of them has to go. But if sanctions go and Saddam is empowered, and his radical revolutionary nihilistic message comes across, rolling in the region, then that's another formula for another set of wars and confrontations, and radicalization, and if Saddam goes, maybe the sanctions can go. The question, [where] will Saddam go, or what will happen? Where will all of this war take us? That will remain with us as a serious question to be discussed and to be talked about.

Obviously, you're in Washington. You've read the press and the commentaries. It's almost as though the menu has been set up: Take care of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, then Saddam. Will that disrupt your world -- going after Saddam?

It depends how you go after Saddam. It depends how much politics you do in order to go after Saddam. It depends how much proof you're able to bring in terms of what Saddam has done in relationship to Sept. 11, to Al Qaeda, and anthrax, if there is proof. It depends on a lot of politics. It depends on going after Saddam to just punish Saddam and leave him in power, or to do something that goes beyond that. It depends. Is it part of a regional vision that you will develop and work with others ... or not?

You've read the commentary -- invade Basra and the oilfields. Take the oilfields, put the Iraqi National Congress people in charge, and let them lead a revolt against Saddam.

This doesn't happen in just a minute's speed. It doesn't work like that. It's going to need building a coalition. It's going to need building an understanding. It's going to need quite a focus. It's going to need what you do do in the aftermath. It's going to need to look into what happens with the millions of refugees that will come out of this situation. It's going to need a lot of things. It's going to need even the intelligence information and the actual assessment of the situation, and what Saddam will do, his capabilities, his rationalization, or irrationalism, at the heat of the moment. All risk has to be calculated. Yet it's not something that now people will be able to look into in detail. It's something that will evolve over time.

Let's go back to the beginning of our talk. ... You were saying that there were, if you will, stalls or kiosks or whatever in front of the mosques and they were collecting money. And this is how money gets into the system of some of the charities, at least the smaller charities. How does that mechanically get to terrorists, or to fundamentalists, to the street?

This is all assumptions. ... But how does it get there? I think they learned their lesson from the Mafia very well. It's how the Mafia does its work.


Money-laundering. I am sure. That's the only way that they will be able to do it, and someone carries the money, puts it, and someone else ... has a bank account, does it somewhere else. People manage a form of corruption that [is] similar to what the Mafia has been able to [do] across the world.

And the network of madrassas [religious schools] that have been created throughout the Islamic world, primarily by Saudi money from these various charities -- is that good, bad? Does that feed this fundamentalism of the street?

Let me put it in this context. Now the madrassas that you are talking about are mostly in Pakistan, and the madrassa idea comes from a particular context, for children who have no schools whatsoever, and there isn't enough funding to bring about a full curriculum to these children, a full educational system. ...

The principle behind [the madrassas] is good, because you have millions of illiterate young children who will never have the opportunity to get into a normal school, and they will become illiterate adults. What the madrassas would do, the incipient idea ... is you get them into some sort of understanding and reading, and some memorization of the Koran. It has been the method throughout the Islamic world for 1,400 years, that you become literate -- that's the traditional way -- by reading and memorizing the Koran. That used to be the traditional method. So if you can find here few people with simple, simple donations, and open hundreds of these madrassas, then you will be able to get a generation that is literate. ... So this was the minimal, at least, that was done in that context.

Now you tell me. Some people [have] taken this and given a certain version. That's another issue to be investigated with the wake-up call that we've had on Sept. 11. You tell me that these schools may produce other results than intended. Definitely, we need to look into this now, and maybe change that whole approach. Maybe that whole approach has to be questioned.

Maybe we need to think what is it in the Koran that they need to read and see and memorize in the beginning, since Islam and the Koran came in stages, and came over more than 20 years. And so ... what is it that's out of context that's being taught to them? That's another issue. So awareness here becomes important.

But the reports are that usually they're also taught anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism, anti-Western values, if you will.

So this comes, I would say, from the street situation. This comes from the atmosphere of these places.

And apparently from the dominant Wahhabi Saudi influence in these schools, because that's where the money comes from.

But the dominant Saudi Wahhabi is not anti-American. At least the Saudi, the Al Sauds, are not anti-American. They cannot be anti-American. So now you tell me the Wahhabis who are allied with Al Saud, that some of them [have] gone anti-American? Possibly. But all of them? No. The establishment is not anti-American, and we have to be looking into these fine distinctions between al-Wahhabi and another, between street Wahhabism and official Wahhabism. ...

Well, you say there are these different forms of Wahhabism. We went to the Comoros Islands [off of East Africa], very poor, barely a government. ... And it's where Haroun Fazul, one of the Nairobi bombers who escaped, who is now one of those wanted worldwide by the FBI. We looked at his background. When he became 18 years old ... the imams that he had contact with were complaining, when we were there, about the Wahhabis who had come to influence their form of Islam. In fact, they felt they had influenced Haroun Fazul. And when he graduated from high school, he received a scholarship in Pakistan at a strict Islamic school, just about the time that the Russians were retreating from Afghanistan, and he becomes a member of Al Qaeda. And the argument is, this is going on over and over again throughout the Islamic world. This is the influence of the Saudi money into education, of a strict -- you say it's not the official Wahhabism -- but [this is] what people in the communities are saying is going on. It sounds like the creation of a dangerous ideology in the region at a grassroots level, paid for by Saudi charities.

This particular ideology that now we are talking about was the ideology that protected Saudi Arabia and much of the region from communism. It's the ideology that prevented the Arabs from becoming communist. It's the ideology that made the Saudis stand up with America in the Cold War. It is the ideology that helped face the Soviet Union during the Cold War. You tell me now that this ideology has not exactly served its goals, probably, at least after the Cold War, that it is outliving its usefulness, that ...

... Creating a nightmare in our midst.

And this ideology has gone beyond what the ideology used to be, and that there are people who have given it a different body, a different spirit, a different feel, and therefore have used it for different purposes. That's possibly true.

Then this is part of the wake-up call, again, for Saudi Arabia, for the Gulf, for the world of Islam, as much as for Americans. It's to look at what is it that has taken these things into a different dimension. Maybe now it is being presented at a more radical level than it was ten years ago, or fifteen years ago. It's different times, it's different atmospheres, and because of that, you see different approaches.

But this is not sanctioned by the House of Saud. This is not sanctioned by the government of Saudi Arabia. This is part of the surprise, actually, that the government of Saudi Arabia is receiving today, part of the shock that they are equally receiving, and it is part of what they're going to do ... in the coming stage to deal with all of these misuses of our religion.

So we have to have patience?

Definitely. Didn't President Bush in his famous speech say that this is going to be long? Didn't he say that a lot of this is going to be also fought on ideological and spiritual and intellectual levels? Didn't he, in a way, put this kind of radicalism with totalitarianism, with fascism and Nazism and all of that?

So it's going to take time. There are many people on your side in this context in the entire region. People of intellectual capabilities, people of secular capabilities, people of Islamic capabilities. ... People who are part of the structures of the region, in governments and outside governments. But it's going to take time for them to make their mark, for them to make their interpretations, to look at it differently, to see what you exactly see right now. It's going to take time.

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