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Oil And Snake Oil
or more than a year, Saudi Arabia's rulers
have been insisting that their country is
not to be blamed for Osama bin Laden
and 9-11 or, indeed, any of the manifes-
tations of militant, terror-approving Islam. Just
last week, their U.S. spokesman presented a report
on all the supposedly significant steps that the
monarchy is taking to crack down on terrorists
and their finances.
It would be nice to be able to take the Saudi
protestations of innocence at face value, but that
would be like accepting Saddam Hussein's word
that he doesn't have and isn't developing any
weapons of mass destruction. America should not
believe that the House of Saud is
America's close friend and ally in oppos-
ing terrorism and encouraging reform in
the Arab world's medievalism.
The fact is that Saudi Arabia is in a denial of
reality that gets deeper and deeper — and ulti-
mately more difficult to-end. The kingdom —
what an archaic word in the 21st century! — is
somewhat reminiscent of the pre-Reformation
Holy Roman Empire, stitched together out of an
amalgam of inherited wealth and title married to a
religion strict for the vassals and accommodating
for the monarchy. It is a recipe for failure in the
Ion.-b term and trouble in the short.
After World War II, Saudi Arabia could have
used the vast wealth from its oil sales to the U.S.
and Europe to give its citizens a secular education.
It could have built a diverse, forward-looking
commercial base that would have made it the
Instead, the money went to support a lavish
lifestyle for kings and princes, who dole out chari-
ty to pacify the underclass and to build a network
of mosques and madrasses (instruction centers)
that teach a particularly exclusionist variety of
Islam. It was almost bound to breed a bin Laden
and the 15 Saudi hijackers of 9-11, hating their
own rulers as much as the Western world.
Rather than facing up to its
responsibility for promulgating
terror, Saudi Arabia insists on its
innocence. Earlier this month, for
example, its interior minister said
Jews were the instigators of 9-11,
arranging the tragedy so that
Islam would be blamed.
Alternatively — and with no sense
that one official position contra-
dicts the other — it argues that
bin Laden chose 15 Saudis for the
operation because he wants to
make the kingdom look bad.
Saudis, like Adel al-
Jubeir, the spokesman
who delivered the king-
dom's appraisal of its progress
against terrorism, say the nation is
modernizing as fast as it can and
caution that a rush to democracy
could lead to a takeover by an even
more strict Islamic regime; a
Taliban for the Arabian peninsula.
They could be right, but they
don't have to be.
Saudi Arabia could learn from
the experiences of Afghanistan
and Iran and, while the oil money
is still flowing, implement
changes that over the next decade
or two would allow a democracy
with citizens learning that there is
more to the world than memorizing Koran.
The nation could start by ending the repression of
women and by getting the mutawwa, the religious
police, off the streets. Or it could just announce that
it recognizes Israel's right to exist, unconditionally,
instead of flogging its meaningless proposal for grant-
ing recognition only in return for a Palestinian state
that would perpetually jeopardize that existence.
America is on the right track in its current
refusal to accept the snake oil that Saudi Arabia is
trying to sell us about doing the best it can.
It's a tragedy that it took 9-11 to make us con-
front the kingdom's mistaken path. But now that
we can see it clearly, we need to maintain the pres-
sure for meaningful change, for the sake of the
Arabs as well as for the rest of the world. ❑
approval to install a 6-foOt-tall menorah as part
of the holiday display in the park. The multicul-
tural display said a lot about how far Birmingham
has .come in ridding itself of the anti-Semitism
that was once an undercurrent there.
Today, tolerance is encouraged, not just
Notably, a creche recreates the nativity
scene and is at the core of the religious aspect of
Christmas. A menorah, in contrast, is a symbol
that commemorates the miracle of light that fol-
lowed Judah Maccabee's military triumph over
oppression when Syrian-Greeks defiled the Temple
Further, the menorah in Shain Park was spon-
sored by a private group, not like the nativity scene
in the 1980s, which was sponsored by the city. So
the constitutional mandate against government
involvement in religion was not compromised this
time. The menorah met all city standards, including
public safety and appropriateness in design.
Chanukah is an ancient holiday that celebrates the
Jewish struggle for religious freedom. By seeing the
light regarding Rabbi Polter's request for a menorah
alongside the Santa house in Shain Park, the city
turned the focus on diversity, not exclusion, when it
comes to the makeup of a secular community. -
The holiday itself is a tribute to the willpower of
practicing Jews to fend off full assimilation into an
appealing, dominant culture. It celebrates our resolve
as a people to sustain our religious identity through
the generations, no matter how high the hurdles. El
Lights Of Diversity
he lit menorah that brightened the night in
Birmingham's Shain Park during Chanukah
was a welcome sight in an ethnically rich
city. The first outdoor menorah in the city's
community square also reinforced the
responsibility of government to fairly permit
holiday displays in public parks.
Until now, the park displayed a Santa
house, a Christmas tree and strings of lights during
the holiday season. A creche has not been shown
since 1986, when a federal court ruled against a
strictly Christian display.
This year, Rabbi Yochanan Polter of the
Birmingham Bloomfield Chai Center earned city
Related story: page 36