Monday, January 10, 2005

Al Qaeda and the Saudis 

Stephen Schwartz, always an interesting voice, presents a controversial perspective on the relationship between bin Laden and the Saudi establishment:
"Of all the media myths about Islamist extremism prevalent in the West, none is hardier than the claim that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida seek to overthrow the Saudi monarchy. This cliché is repeated time after time by network and cable television anchors, newspaper reporters, columnists and other pundits, and government experts on all sides. It is, of course, also assiduously purveyed by the Saudis themselves through their diplomatic representatives and spin experts, who never tire of telling Americans they are targets of the same enemy, and on the same side as America, in the war on terror.

"Yet the history of al-Qaida inside Saudi Arabia is filled with unanswered questions and bizarre ambiguities."
One day, the full history of the war on terror will be written and it will make a fascinating reading. Hopefully we're not all dead by then.

Then again, being a voracious reader of World War Two and Cold War histories, it's interesting to note how much of it, even after decades of continuous reassessment and access to secret archives, is pretty much what people have thought at the time anyway, or at least strongly suspected. It reminds me of an anecdote about Robert Conquest, the preeminent historian of Stalinist purges who was a few years ago asked by his publisher to bring out an updated edition of his classic "The Great Terror". When the publisher asked him, in light of all the revelations and previously unavailable documents coming out of the former Soviet Union following its collapse, if the title of the book should be changed, Conquest is said to have replied "Yes, it should be called 'I told you so, you f***ing idiots'."


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