Don't Panic! January 30 2002

Terror tips for the terrified

Fifteen of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, and so is Osama bin Laden. Is Saudi Arabia really a friend of the United States?

If you subscribe to the notion that "a friend in need is a friend indeed," then Saudi Arabia and the United States are great friends and likely will be for a while. They have oil, and we have the money to buy it.

But we do more than simply buy their oil; we protect the Saudi monarchy that sells it to us. Think of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait as the wimpy rich kids we protect from the playground bullies (Iraq and Iran) because we enjoy playing with the rich kids' cool toy (oil). And the Gulf War clearly demonstrated the lengths to which we'll go to protect our toy.

But much of Saudi Arabia's population resents the U.S. for what they see as the hypocrisy of supporting its repressive absolute monarchy for the sake of cheap oil, all the while paying lip service to the importance of democracy. In addition, many among Saudi Arabia's devoutly Muslim populace believe that the presence of our troops in Saudi Arabia spoils the holiness of Mecca and Medina.

To top it all off, oil revenue has plummeted in the past 15 years while the country's population has boomed. The Saudi unemployment rate is estimated to be about 25 percent (it's hard to get official numbers from a secretive monarchy). Meanwhile, the Saudi royal family remains extravagantly and tackily wealthy.

The Saudi regime has balanced these concerns by tolerating anti-American sentiment so long as it's not anti-monarchy in nature — and by supporting jihad overseas. It's estimated that up to 25,000 Saudis (bin Laden included) have fought for ostensibly Muslim causes overseas since 1980. And as a further concession to Muslim conservatives, the country also has banned Pokemon.

Saudi Arabia's methods haven't exactly benefited us. Saudi nationals were involved not only in the 9-11 attacks, but also in 2000's bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, the African embassy bombings in 1998, and two bombings on Saudi soil. Most politicians say that our relationship with Saudi Arabia is strong because of mutual interest or symbiosis. Psychologists have a more accurate name for it: codependence.

E-mail your questions to andisheh@creativeloafing.com.??

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