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It seems that Mohammed bin Salman is about to admit that the journalist Jamal Kashoggi has been murdered, but he has no idea who did the deed or why. Some think he’ll say a “rogue element” did it, but if so it had nothing to do with him. If such an admission comes, what will we, the West, do about it? Nothing comes to mind, l mean doing nothing. If overwhelming evidence points to you as a murderer, and the police arrive with questions, would “I know nothing about it” have the cops thanking you and going on their way? No. Call it the Russian gambit, and it only works if you’re the absolute despotic ruler of a country. When a Putin or a bin Salman are asked if they committed a crime, they deny it. Does anyone ever say, “Yep, it was me, I’m the one”? It seems laughable when the media report these denials as if they might even be true. Last month MBS was threatening Canada with punishment for criticizing what’s risibly termed his “human rights record” – a broken record if ever there was one. Our critique was not only justified, it was absolutely essential to clarifying Canada’s position vis a vis international law. Now MBS is quite clearly the man who ordered a murder on sovereign territory of someone whose crime was… what? Criticizing MBS, and doing it reasonably and justifiably. If we attempt sanctions or some other punishment for this barbarous and illegal act, says MBS, he’ll punish us back and harder. Am I missing something here?

 

It’s been a while since any head of state asserted his right to do whatever he feels like doing, since absolutist monarchies pretty much died out in 1793, when Louis XVI went to the guillotine. Even North Korea seems to know those days are gone now. So the kingdom of al-Sa’ud stands alone, one man at the helm and doing whatever he wants to do with no opposition at all. I explained a few blogs back how Saudi Arabia functions, its royal princelings and princesses in the thousands, it’s religion a travesty supposedly based on Islam, its reins of power now in one man’s hands – one man who exemplifies the cliché of absolute power corrupting absolutely. But let’s be clear about this religion of theirs. Wahhabism has as much to do with Islam as Mormonism does with Christianity, and its central doctrines are ones of hatred and intolerance, vehemently towards “infidels” of course, but also towards all sects of Islam with the exception of Sunnis, who are nominal patrons. The lucrative control of Islamic holy sites, Mecca and Medina, is in Saudi hands, meaning the Shia, Ismailis, Sufis and many others cannot make the prescribed Haj pilgrimage under Wahhabi law. This law also condones mistreatment of non-believers, particularly us infidels, who can be robbed, cheated, defrauded, lied to, and abused in numerous other ways with impunity and the sanction of the Wahhabi faith, if you can call it that. So MBS has no spiritual qualms about lying to most of the world, although I doubt if the fate of his soul is something he gives much thought at all to. So here we have this barbaric throw-back to a medieval sensibility acting as if it’s a superpower, waging a unjust and brutal war in its back yard, treating women as chattels, beheading homosexuals, imprisoning anyone for any reason, with no rule of law worth the name, and now assassinating critics on foreign soil for reasons so flimsy they’re not even mentioned anymore. This is not some impoverished cess pit in the lower third of the Third World either. It is per capita one of the richest nations on earth, although these riches are controlled by around a millionth of one percent of the population. But to keep the hoi polloi docile the amenities and infrastructures are good, a hospital on every block, the cities clean and virtually brand new. There are really no rural areas to worry about since the rest of the country is basically a beach. Besides the total lack of any rights, there’s not much to complain about – unless you’re female.

 

Here’s a story I heard from a horse next to the horse’s mouth. One of the Saudi princesses, one of the thousands, went to study at the American University in Cairo. She found the slums and poverty of Egypt intoxicating, “so real” she said “after the sterility of my homeland”. Real life was appealing, as it can be. At university she met and fell in love with a westerner, a tall blond American boy. She told her family she intended to marry him and live in the US. The family blew up, ordering her home. She knew enough not to return, because she knew what happened to girls like her. But her brother, who she was close to, persuaded her to meet him in Cairo and discuss the situation amicably. She went to the meeting, where she was kidnapped and flown back to Riyadh in a private jet. She was locked in a special room on the roof of her family house. There were no windows, and she was forbidden any visitors and all conversation. Food was shoved in through a slot in the door. She’s been in that room now for fifteen years. Her food is still taken in, so she’s alive. But those aware of the situation believe she is now completely insane. This is Saudi Arabia. This is the place we are wondering how to punish for a state-sanctioned murder on foreign soil. And Donald Trump found MBS thoroughly convincing when he denied all knowledge of malfeasance. What exactly is going on between the US and Saudi Arabia?

 

The United States of Amnesia no doubt forgets now that the only airplane allowed to fly after the Twin Towers fell on 9-11-01 was the one taking members of the Saudi Royal family out of America. Why them and no one else? Well, the Saudi ambassador in those days, Prince Bandar, was to so close to the Bush family that he was affectionately known as “Bandar Bush” – and of course the Bush family business is oil. There’s another factor too: most of the 9/11 terrorist hijackers were Saudis (the rest were Egyptians), something never properly explained, researched or really even pursued. Instead, Afghanistan was bombed, and then Iraq was invaded. The fog of war conceals most irritating details. It does not, however, occlude the fact that funding for al Qaeda and Islamic State, along with other violent factions, comes principally from the Wahhabi clerics, who share Saudi wealth with the princes. It’s an hereditary clan, like the Mafia. Fast forward to now, and what do we find going on? Well, Trump’s son-in-law, the ubiquitous Jered Kushner, is said to have close ties with MBS, who himself is reported to have said, “Trump’s family is in my pocket”. Breaking with tradition, the first state visit Trump made as president was, not to reliable allies like Canada or the UK, but to, yes, Saudi Arabia. Why? What was discussed? We don’t know. But Jered Kushner is not a government employee, so his close ties must be about private business, no? The president burbles on about this $110 billion deal that’s in jeopardy, apparently, if the US imposes sanctions on Saudi Arabia. Oh, the jobs in danger, the GDP tanking, the sheer horror of losing any deal! But $110 billion is a pittance compared with the Saudi trillions invested in US corporations (they’ve got a pile in Canada too), especially aerospace and the arms mega-business. There’s been a lot of Saudi-US chatter over the past few days, and I imagine it’s about these invested trillions. MBS makes a few hundred million daily, so a few billion isn’t even worth his while. The question is this: Are the Saudis threatening to pull out their trillions and invest them in China or, God forbid, Russia? Or are the Americans threatening to confiscate Saudi assets wherever they’re to be found? This long and mysteriously chummy relationship can only be about money, money mainly in the form of oil. The combo of oil and money leads us inexorably to the venerable old Military-Industrial complex, which lives entirely on oil and money. The Trump family, individually and collectively, are heavily invested in this hydra-headed monster churning out death in a myriad of forms, and consequently needing many small wars running all the time to keep the supply-line busy. The Saudis obviously have a spanner somehow poised to be thrown into these works; otherwise who’d care what happened to them?

 

As I said last time, seizing Saudi assets would be an appropriate and deservedly painful punishment, because a punishment there surely has to be? The kingdom would make an amusing theme park, Despotworld or Tyrantland. But the situation is not really amusing enough for satire. Instead I will leave you with some wise words from one of the few wise men left in America:

“Let me finally return to Dwight Macdonald and the responsibility of intellectuals. Macdonald quotes an interview with a death-camp paymaster who burst into tears when told that the Russians would hang him. “Why should they? What have I done?” he asked. Macdonald concludes: “Only those who are willing to resist authority themselves when it conflicts too intolerably with their personal moral code, only they have the right to condemn the death-camp paymaster.” The question, “What have I done?” is one that we may well ask ourselves, as we read each day of fresh atrocities in Vietnam—as we create, or mouth, or tolerate the deceptions that will be used to justify the next defense of freedom.

— Noam  Chomsky, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals” (1967).

The beat goes on and on and on, so where are those intellectuals willing and able to take responsibility for this latest abomination? What is it that is all it takes for evil to succeed?

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