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The Surprising Saudis: Arab News

| 10 Comments

The Saudi-based Arab News is a revealing thermometer of opinion currents in the region. A year ago it was a major source of material from Charles at LGF, with its diatribes from David Duke and other emblems of the Arab world's persecution/hate complex on vivid display. I tangled with their editor myself, and it was pretty clear where they stood: part of the problem, not part of the solution.

What a difference a war makes. Ever since Saddam's fall, the Arab News has been publishing material that wouldn't look out of place in National Review. The recent bombings in Riyadh intensified that new trend. Suddenly, Arab News talking about terrorism, freedom, and Arab delusions in a serious way. If this keeps up Mr. Bradley may actually live up to his claim, risible at the time, that he moved to Saudi Arabia for an opportunity to do a kind of journalism he couldn't do in Britain (um, the really well-paying kind?). Note the conditional 'if', and it's also true that his paper is mostly read by foreigners rather than Saudis. Whether its commitment and influence turn out to be real remains to be seen.

Still, Salon's interview with an Arab News editor is worth the day pass requirement. I suspect this new resolve is about as firm as, well, the Iraqi army's, but every little bit helps. Nor is Arab News alone in finally asking these questions. Self-criticism opposed to delusion and hatred is still a minority voice, but it looks like Osama's people may be starting to revise their horse-handicapping.

Hayba has its privileges. Score one for the Great Neoconservative Domino Theory.

UPDATES: There are positive indications elsewhere too - but is the Arab News' new boldness a sham? Charles Johnson and I exchange views.

#1: It would appear that this trend reaches beyond the Arab media. Interesting, though this could also be a shift to a "buy time, wait the Americans out and hope" strategy instead. (Hat Tip: Instapundit)

#2: Meanwhile, LGF's Charles Johnson responds re: the Arab News...

"I just read it, and I have to tell you that my cynicism about the Arab News and their supposed "change of heart" is utterly without bounds. If you look around a bit more in the same Arab News issues that contain these "mea culpa, we must change, woe is us" articles, you will find the same hatred, the same denials, the same antisemitism.

It's a sham, a charade, a lie, just like Abu Mazen and the "roadmap." They're playing us for fools, making a big show of repentance. The Friday before the Riyadh bombings, the sheikhs were screaming for our deaths in the mosques of Mecca and Medina, and I have no doubt they were doing it last Friday too. The only difference is that they didn't broadcast it on Saudi TV, because they were in ass-covering mode.

Sorry if this sounds harsh, but I just can't do the "oh, maybe there's hope for them after all!" thing any more."

In point of fact, I agree with large portions of Charles' reply. The key test is whether similar articles are still running 6, 12, 18 months from now, and endless cynicism is an appropriate and even wise response to the Saudis. Nor do I expect a complete shift. To use a local example, if the New York Times suddenly hired some conservative columnists, it wouldn't cancel out the presence of Maureen Dowd or Editor Howell Raines' bias but it would still be a change worth noticing.

What I'm looking for here is not an internal revolution, but a wedge. The Muslim world has had a history of intellectual movements asking very similar questions to the ones noted above, going back to the 1600s and picking up special force in the 1800s. While it's important to remember that these movements have not succeeded in fostering much internally-driven reform in Muslim societies, they have made inroads to the extent that outside powers have been perceived as strong in the region and supportive of these views.

The bad news is that those windows have been all too rare. The good news is that we may be in one now. To the extent that reformers can make their views part of the debate and we maintain a policy of "change or else," I believe it represents a real opportunity. Which is why I say that every little bit helps. Publicizing different views and sharp questions makes it that little bit easier to defund the Wahabbis, seperate them from their bases of influence, and so achieve one of the Top 3 aims of this war. It also has potential ripple effects in places like Iran and Iraq.

"Kind words and a gun get you more than just kind words," goes the saying. It's certainly true in this case, and I'd add the addendum that it also gets one more than just a gun will.

#3: The Wall Street Journal Best of the Web points to some more articles, and discusses similar pieces now appearing elsewhere. Sincere or not, this stuff is GREAT debating ammunition for future reference and quotation.

#4: Donald Sensing mirrors my point quite nicely. One more time: hayba has its privileges.

10 Comments

I think the difference may be that it is truly a global society now - you can access material on the net, and there's the tv media. So, news spreads very fast. Plus, the West is no longer occupied in fighting each other as was the case in the period from 1600s to 1800s, so their attention is very much directed towards the Middle East where the action is.

Joe, give us a break. The Saudis have always been sensitive to US public opinion. Back in the 1970s and 1980s they trumpeted their religiosity to the born-again Texans who pumped their oil because it sold. They made analogies between Ibn Saud and cowboys because it sold.

Charles is right and you are wrong.

I don't care how much you and Charles may have in common, if you are taken in one tiny little bit by this then you are mistaken. This is no wedge. It is simply an illusion.

The Muslim world has had a history of intellectual movements asking very similar questions to the ones noted above, going back to the 1600s and picking up special force in the 1800s.
The question is, where are those intellectual movements now?

Dead, destroyed, killed by their fellow Muslims and burned as heretics.

Islam isn't like Christianity or Judaism. One of the ways it differs is not that it is extremely resistant to any kind or reform, but that, by placing all emphasis on pleasing an uncaring God (rather than an angry but just God, or a loving God), any religious figure can reverse any reform, no matter how much it improves their quality of living, simply by announcing that it is displeasing to Allah.

There is no height of intellectual achievement, no pinnacle of civilization, that Islam is not capable of backsliding from, right back into another dark age of terror and violence. We could make them richer and more civilized than the US, with equality for women, an enormous middle class of merchants and researchers, and a true democratic government, but the second the Judeo-Christian cultures let them free to pursue their own destiny, they would slaughter the heretics of the middle class, lock the women in their homes, and return political control to the mullahs.

No introspective or philosophical tradition has ever been able to change this, and I doubt any will be able to now.

Tatterdemalian,

Once upon a time, simply switching the relevant religion to "Catholic" would have made your entire post equally true.

"...any religious figure can reverse any reform, no matter how much it improves their quality of living, simply by announcing that it is displeasing to Allah."

So, what happened? Bluntly, Christianity as a political force got its teeth kicked in, repeatedly. Starting with the serious extremists, and then moving up the chain. If many of today's Christian clerics and their "kinder, gentler" approach sound like pre-emtive surrender is their standard M.O., well, there are good reasons for that.

Left to their own devices, no, I don't believe Arab Islam can reform itself from its supremacist leanings and hatred of both the Other and modernity. The kick from the inside isn't strong enough. What's new here is a strong outside push from outsiders in the region, driven not just by a sense of supremacy (which can be placated or diverted) but by a perception of a direct security threat. Outside kicks, reinforcing ferment inside, and openly attacking political Islam both intellectually and militarily... yes, that combination has a chance.

Especially now, when I see Islamism as vulnerable. Remember what's going on in Iran and other places... what seems like small sparks are falling in a pretty dry environment. I am heartened by every little thing, because conditions are changing in ways that could make those little things add up in interesting ways soon. Everyone has their tipping point.

Beyond a certain point, therefore, I don't care if the reasons for publishing are cynical (though it's important to acknowledge that and keep it in mind, so we don't relax). If the Arab News and others are still so afraid of the USA that 18 months from now they're still running these kinds of articles regularly, I'll be happy.

One, it does help lay the groundwork intellectually for a broader movement that may well become anti-clerical as well as anti-fundamentalist (there are signs of this in Iran), and it emboldens those who do share those views.

Two, it's a thermometer that says to me the war is going well and people see America's preferences as "the stronger horse."

Momentum matters.

Ah, Joe, now you are talking!!

Just don't expect me to believe that there has been any sincere change of heart due to a couple of well-placed editorials in the Arab Noose.

For now, I'll keep my powder dry and my suspicions at the ready, because I am sure that the only reason they put those editorials there (in English) was PR.

That said, I read something in the NY Times which was truly heartening.

It was in the first article about the recent terror attack on the "foreign compound" (which their spokesman Adel Jubair calls a "gated community"--he's so clever!); that 70% of the residents are Saudis who take the opp'ty to live in these "gated communities" in order to get away from the restrictions of living in Saudi Arabia.

In these compounds Saudi couples can walk around together, Saudi women don't have to wear the abaya, Saudi men can wear shorts. The number of these compounds is growing. The number of Saudis living in them is growing.

In other words, Saudi Arabia is rotting away from within.

Now, I call that grounds for optimism.

Oooh, good catch Diana.

The key test is whether similar articles are still running 6, 12, 18 months from now

No. The key test is, will the Saudi stop funding terrorism, both directly and indirectly? This includes funding to organizations like CAIR, and funding from Muslim "charities".

Talk is cheap. The test is actions.

Thanks, Joe. I don't think that enough has been made of this, and indeed the focus of the article wasn't on it. But it's there.

Here's the URL:

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/16/international/middleeast/16RIYA.html

Scroll down to where it begins:

"It was only in recent years that Saudis started living in compounds, long a preserve of Westerners..."

Take it from a professional pessimist, this is GOOD NEWS.

Strange my finding this page. I was looking for editorial once written and displayed at a site named The Winds. One certainty here is the remark about regardless the changes made, the religious elements of the Islam world would returned its society again to the past. Nice view, rather truthful, but it would be best remembered what Hitler once said, "that it made no difference if the older generation approved of him and the Nazi form of socialism, for he (Hitler) was set to change the minds of youth." I believe it is there that is the means of change. When the minds of youth are captured, there is no returning to the past. It has happened in Western and Eastern World, and is presently happening in the Middle Eastern World. It may take a couple hundred years, but it will happen. Hitler lost the war, but the changes he made are still felt and in place. Once stout religious America has changed, and there is no going back. We should all hope and strive to make the system one which looks upon human life as precious, as well, the world in which we must live.

I just can't shut my pie hole.

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