American (and Muslim) Complicity in Saudi Theocracy

Here’s the best short commentary I’ve recently seen on our complicity in Saudi tyranny, from the letters section of today’s New York Times:

To the Editor:

What are American “interests” in this region, who determined them, and why have they not been shared with the American people?

We get energy from the Saudis and also used to buy significant amounts of oil from Iran. But we diversified our oil purchasing after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and cut off all Iranian shipments after the Iranian Revolution in 1979. With the current glut of oil on the market, we have never been in a stronger position to press the Saudis for democratic reform. But we don’t.

The only plausible answer is that they continue to buy enormous quantities of American weapons and get support from that lobby. They also continue to invest tens of billions of their petrodollars in Western banks. So despite all our talk about human rights and democracy, it appears that our “interests” are being dictated by the arms industry and Wall Street, both of which have a lock on the White House and Congress.

We the people, who do have an interest in human rights, are left to write letters to the editor and hope that our so-called representatives will hear our voices above the money machine in Washington. Something is very, very wrong with this picture.

VICTOR GOODE

Long Island City, Queens

The writer is a professor at the CUNY School of Law.

Every element of that is right, but there’s one thing he doesn’t mention: no boycott of or blacklist against the Saudi regime can work unless Muslims, especially Sunni Muslims, decide to join in and boycott the hajj and umra pilgrimages to Mecca (and Medina).

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The Criminalization of Curiosity

Here’s another glorious contribution to the “ISIS-is-coming-so-let’s-turn-our-brains-off-in-abject-terror-and-think-of-more-rights-to-violate” literature. This one is by Eric Posner, son of Richard Posner, and evidence for the old saw that some apples fall in close proximity to the trees whence they came.

Eric Posner’s suggestion? Let’s pass a law that criminalizes the act of accessing an ISIS website, on the premise that ISIS’s propaganda has the causal powers of a cognitive virus that incapacitates people’s minds and drags them involuntarily into terrorist acts.

Consider a law that makes it a crime to access websites that glorify, express support for, or provide encouragement for ISIS or support recruitment by ISIS; to distribute links to those websites or videos, images, or text taken from those websites; or to encourage people to access such websites by supplying them with links or instructions. …

The law would provide graduated penalties. After the first violation, a person would receive a warning letter from the government; subsequent violations would result in fines or prison sentences.

But don’t worry: exceptions “could” be made

for people who can show that they have a legitimate interest in viewing ISIS websites. Press credentials, a track record of legitimate public commentary on blogs and elsewhere, academic affiliations, employment in a security agency, and the like would serve as adequate proof (my emphases).

What are the chances that “legitimate” and “the like” can be defined in a non-circular way?

And what about people without press credentials, etc.? What about people just starting out in “public commentary,” and therefore lacking a track record? Or people with a sense of curiosity, idle or otherwise, who would simply like to get a first-hand knowledge of what ISIS is about, rather than relying on “experts” picked by “the likes” of Eric Posner? Do non-credentialed people no longer have rights to free speech, or are rights reserved to a special, arbitrarily defined elite with credentials that demonstrate their worthiness to have them?

The latter, evidently. Any remaining worries can be dispatched by that old jurisprudential stand-by, “the balancing test.”

A simple balancing test would permit laws to target dangerous speech that does not advance public debate.

“A simple balancing test”–so simple that every attempt at applying such a test raises more questions than it answers, even if we arbitrarily decide that all jurisprudence must be conducted on utilitarian-consequentialist assumptions. Apparently, public debate about ISIS is not advanced by citizens’ having first-hand evidence of the nature and content of ISIS propaganda. The only permissible evidence is evidence filtered through people with “a track record of legitimate public commentary” on the subject–where “legitimacy” is presumably defined and decided by “like”-minded people with the same credentials.

Posner forgets that the legislators who are tasked with drafting his crackpot law will need access to the banned sites in order to know which sites to ban. But legislators are not on his exception list. Neither are their staffs. Neither for that matter are jurists, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, or juries. The whole idea that law involves an orderly, principled process  seems not to figure in his calculations.

How his law is to be written, enforced, or judged is therefore left a mystery. One possibility is that criminal defendants will be arrested or tried by journalists, academics, or bloggers. Another, I suppose, is that the relevant legal processes will take place by telepathy. A third possibility is that “we” dispense with legal procedures and trials altogether, criminalize access to any site that fits an “ISIS-relevant algorithm,” monitor Internet access at will, arrest anyone who accesses a banned site, and treat access to a banned site as a strict liability offense so as to simplify the process of conviction. It sounds like a reductio, but with a proposal like this, a reductio is just another entailment alongside all the others.

If you think I’m reading Posner uncharitably on the grounds that his weasel phrase “and the like” was intended to cover bloggers and law enforcement officers (legislators, judges, prosecutors, juries…), ask yourself how you would feel if someone demanded to search your home on the basis of his or her affiliation with a blog or online publication, be it BHL, Notes on Liberty, Talking Points Memo, Daily Nous, Slate, or even Policy of Truth. If you asked what the hell they were doing, it wouldn’t help for them to invoke their “likeness” to law enforcement officers. But then it won’t do to invoke the “likeness” of law enforcement officers (etc.) to bloggers while claiming that a reference to the latter ought implicitly to be construed as a reference to the former.

There is, by the way, no reason why academics or bloggers should be less susceptible to seduction by ISIS than anyone else, unless you stipulate in ad hoc fashion that the academics and bloggers who will have access are restricted precisely to those least susceptible to influence-by-ISIS. In that case, you’d probably want to restrict my access before you restricted most other people’s. If ISIS targets bored and angry people of vaguely Muslim sensibilities, beware of the vaguely Muslim academic who has spent time in Palestine, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia; has suggested that Locke’s Second Treatise can be given a Hamas-friendly reading; and who still has piles of grading to do after everyone else at the university has left for break.

Many able commentators have knocked down this or that feature of Posner’s argument on moral, constitutional, legal, and logistical grounds. I would simply point out that the argument relies on metaphors that would need to be cashed out in literal terms for the argument to get off the ground. At a minimum, we would need some empirical evidence for the claim that ISIS websites have the causal powers of a virus, that the virus in question incapacitates otherwise non-culpable minds, and that in doing so, it drags these helpless innocents into sinister terrorist or terrorist-abetting actions they couldn’t otherwise have committed. I’m afraid I don’t really believe any of that, and don’t see any reason to believe it, either.

What I find more plausible is the hypothesis that terrorism and the wars supposedly waged on it have so weakened the critical powers of our commentariat that they fear, possibly with justification, that they lack the capacity to refute what ISIS has to say. Unable to refute the propaganda, and unable to conceive its appeal to those to whom it has appeal, they feel impotent to contribute to a war effort that they have, on the basis of little more than rhetorical self-mesmerization, turned into a categorical imperative for all of us. But they feel the pressing need to do something. So day by day they produce what they like to think of as novel proposals for eliminating this or that right in the futile hope that the fewer rights we have, the more security we’ll enjoy. As for the task of offering a justification for the war “we’re in,” or the hysteria, rights violations, or state-worship it seems to necessitate, don’t hold your breath for an answer, or even an attempt at one. They’re AWOL on all that.

Eight years ago, I wrote a very critical review of Richard Posner’s book, Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency. Several years later, on re-reading the review, I almost wondered whether I’d been too rude or harsh about things. I ended it with this thought:

Posner is right to say that the Constitution is not a ‘suicide pact.’ I wonder, however, whether that phrase might not accurately describe the jurisprudence he defends in his book.

I thought long and hard before I committed those sentences to print. Was I being too snide? Too clever by half? Was I exaggerating?

Re-reading the review now, however, I’m really glad I wrote what I did, how I did. Virtually every move in Eric Posner’s article is one originally made in Richard Posner’s book; the son has simply recycled the father’s adhocrocratic prescriptions and given them a contemporary twist for the current mood.

It occurs to me with a bit of middle aged weariness that this particular malady–apocalyptic rhetoric about the unprecedented danger we face from terrorism, followed by a regrettably unavoidable proposal for more rights violations–is fated to pop up at semi-predictable intervals of our public life, like outbreaks of the measles virus or the re-emergence of the cicadas. I guess that fact implies in turn that some of us are fated to respond over and over again to such proposals in what often seems to others like a histrionic way, like a pedantic version of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra engaged in a finger-wagging version of the eternal recurrence.

Well so be it. It is, I’ll admit, boring to read or even write the nth sounding of the alarm over threats to free speech. I can testify from personal experience, however, that there is one thing more boring still–life under a regime of censorship. It’s a bore to sound the alarm, but it’s more boring not to be able to. A “simple balancing test” suggests which bore is preferable to the other.

Postscript, December 29, 2015: I found Eric Posner’s arguments so ridiculous that I almost wondered whether I over-reacted in writing about them at all. No sooner do I have this thought than along comes an article in The New York Times devoted not just to Posner’s Slate piece, but to variants on the theme expressed, among others, by Cass Sunstein and Jeremy Waldron.

Sunstein’s views are laid out in this short piece at Bloomberg View. The first thing to say is that it’s not on the same topic as Posner’s. Posner wanted to criminalize access to ISIS-glorifying websites, even by people who may have no sympathy for ISIS at all. Sunstein is (much more reasonably) discussing the limits on the endorsement of potentially violent activities by those endorsing it.

In particular, he questions the “clear and present danger” test, suggesting that it’s worth asking whether the test is “ripe for reconsideration.” He ends up with this formulation:

If (and only if) people are explicitly inciting violence, perhaps their speech doesn’t deserve protection when (and only when) it produces a genuine risk to public safety, whether imminent or not.

I don’t have a strong objection to that formulation, but it’s a long way from Posner’s view, and it’s also a long way from being clear enough to be susceptible of a response. What it needs and lacks is an account of what it is for a speech act to “produce a genuine risk to public safety”–a tall order.

A speech act can in some sense “produce a genuine risk to public safety” without inciting anything. If what I say fills a large number of people with rage, you might say (misleadingly) that my assertion that p “produced” the rage that (say) led to a riot, whether or not I incited it in the sense of explicitly calling for it. But from a different perspective, the speech act didn’t “produce” anything except speech. The crowd considered the sound and acted on it, and each individual in the crowd produced the riot. In one sense, then, “produce X” means “raise the probability that X will happen.” In another sense, “produce X” means “intentionally bring X about, or try to bring it about.” It’s not clear which one Sunstein means. If he means the latter, I can agree with him, but not if he means the former.

On the latter interpretation, the suggestion I would make would be to regulate incitement by analogy with assault and/or conspiracy. If I incite violence, my act should be legally actionable just in case it credibly calls for violence against some particular victim, the victim credibly fears a threat on the basis of this call, and the threatened act would violate the criminal code (=violate rights).  Celebrating a murder wouldn’t do it, even if you called in the midst of the celebration for more killing. Neither would this shit, vile as it is. (The correct way of handling something like the preceding would be for the guardians of the mosque to deny the speaker the right to speak in the it, i.e., to throw him out, not to arrest him.) I think it’s obvious that we don’t want to say that an Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Theo van Gogh, or Salman Rushdie et. al. should be held responsible for the overwrought reactions people have had to their work, even if the work in question is thought to “incite” (i.e., elicit) violence by its “inflammatory” or “incendiary” style.

In many cases, it seems to me that the dangers Sunstein mentions can be averted by assiduous enforcement of weapons laws, and also by demanding that political protest be regulated so that it’s confined to a specific place and time. If people want to gather in a park, with a permit that confines them to the park for a certain amount of time, and call for the overthrow of the U.S. government–or the mass slaughter of Jews, Muslims, or atheist philosophers–while they’re there during that time, that’s fine. But if they call for those things as they leave the park en masse with a view to enact the overthrow, that’s a different story. And a demonstration with weapons is another story as well. (It’s a tremendous irony that critics of Islam object to the face-concealing features of the hijab, but show up at armed protests against Muslims wearing masks.)

It’s also not clear from Sunstein’s account what counts as a genuine risk to public safety, or even what’s meant by “public safety” in a day and age when college students demands “safe spaces” from ordinary political speech. But that said, Sunstein’s view are light-years away from Posner’s.

Waldron’s views are more obviously objectionable than Sunstein’s (and apparently laid out in his 2012 book, The Harm in Hate Speech).

“I argued, in the adjacent area of hate speech, that the clear and present danger test is inadequate,” Mr. Waldron said in an interview. “You can poison the atmosphere without an immediate danger, but sometimes, waiting for an imminent danger is waiting too long.”

Well, you can “poison the atmosphere” simply by committing the fallacy of poisoning the well–or by committing almost any ad hominem fallacy. Would Waldron want to say that the commission of ad hominem fallacies should be illegal? I have trouble believing that the preceding quotation expresses Waldron’s considered view, but taking it at face value, as stated in the Times, I find it ridiculous. If “poisoning the atmosphere” were enough to trigger legal action, virtually the whole Republican presidential slate would have to be put under arrest, followed by whole college campuses.

I agree with Posner, Sunstein, and Waldron on one thing: legal thinking on incitement is a mess and could use some rethinking, though not I suspect in the direction they seem to want to take things.

The Saudi-Israeli Double Standard

When the Israelis did exactly this in Gaza last year, there was plenty of indignation to be heard in and around the academy, despite the fact that the Israeli military action took place during the middle of the summer:

The Saudi escalation over the last few days had drawn sharp criticism from human rights groups as well as the United Nations. Saudi officials told residents of Saada on Friday to leave the area and declared the entire province a military zone.

In a statement on Saturday, Johannes van der Klaauw, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator, said the threats against Saada had “put countless civilians at risk.”

“The indiscriminate bombing of populated areas, with or without prior warning, is a contravention of international humanitarian law,” he added.

Mr. Saleh’s residence in Sana sits in a densely populated area, and near large shopping malls. Several airstrikes hit his compound overnight and early Sunday, slightly injuring a grandson and a brother-in-law of Mr. Saleh’s and two other people, according to people close to the former president who asked not to be named to discuss what happened.

For some reason, when the Saudis do the same thing–bomb indiscriminately within a declared military zone–there’s less comment, at least from the academy (though note the comment of the United Nations, which contradicts the usual pro-Israeli propaganda that Israel is the only country singled out for criticism by the UN). The usual explanation for the scrutiny of Israeli military actions is that as Americans (or Europeans) we’re complicitous in what the Israelis do, given the degree of military and economic support we provide them. But exactly the same thing applies to the Saudis. The degree of support may differ, but the difference makes little difference.

It won’t be easy for the US to distance itself from the Saudis, given our addiction to their oil, and our delusion that their absolute-totalitarian monarchy guarantees regional stability. I doubt we’ll hear anything useful from the academic departments in this country and elsewhere that are funded by Saudi sources. But it’s time to contemplate the idea of some equivalent of Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions from Saudi Arabia, which deserves it more than Israel does. The idea seems to have been contemplated here and there, but not in any sustained way.

So far, the best idea I’ve heard comes from my father:

I won’t do hajj in Saudi Arabia until they turn Mecca and Medina over to a responsible private entity that knows how to engage in crowd control, like the Disney Corporation. I don’t intend to give the Saudi kings my money for any reason, much less in the name of God.

Postscript, May 16, 2015: Some interesting and relevant material I’ve encountered, since writing this post.

(1) “Israel Says Hezbollah Positions Put Lebanese at Risk” (New York Times, May 13):

Effectively, the Israelis are warning that in the event of another conflict with Hezbollah, many Lebanese civilians will probably be killed, and that it should not be considered Israel’s fault.

“The civilians are living in a military compound,” a senior Israeli military official said at military headquarters in Tel Aviv, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing delicate intelligence matters.

The situation mirrors the one that the Saudis are confronting in Yemen (discussed in the original post).

(2) “Israeli Demolition Plan for Bedouin Village Sparks Outcry” (New York Times, May 14):

After years of legal battles, Israel’s Supreme Court last week cleared the way for the government to uproot the nearly 60-year-old Bedouin Arab village of Umm al-Hiran, a dusty hill of ramshackle dwellings without proper electricity or water hookups, and in its place build “Hiran,” a new community seemingly catering to Jews that is expected to feature a hotel and country club.

NB: Umm al Hiran is in Israel proper, not in the Occupied Territories.

At first glance, the Israeli action here seems similar to urban renewal elsewhere (see Matt Faherty’s description of urban renewal in Dharavi, Mumbai, or Martin Anderson’s account of the American version). But scholars like Oren Yiftachel and Maha Samman have argued that the Israeli version involves a systematic form of planning-based “ethnocracy.” Arguably, it resembles our own placement of Native Americans on reservations.

Actions like this, I take it, explain the hostility to Lockean-type conceptions of property on the part of Palestinian political theorists and activists I’ve met: if from an Israeli perspective the Bedouins are “wasting” their holdings, they lose their entitlement to them (cf. Locke’s Second Treatise, para. 31.7-15). Put another way, Bedouin property seems to be regarded as “blighted” in a way that justifies urban renewal with an offer of compensation (cf. Berman vs. Parker [1954]). (Richard Epstein’s discussion of urban renewal is worth consulting in this context: Takings, pp. 178-80).

(3) “Campus Debates on Israel Drive a Wedge Between Jews and Minorities” (New York Times, May 10): a much discussed piece on tensions arising from the successes of BDS on American college campuses. Here are the letters responding to it. Here’s the Public Editor’s discussion. A broader view of the divestment issue. Divestment is voted down at Princeton.

(4) The controversy over Ayelet Shaked, Israel’s Justice Minister-designate, and apparently, a fan of Ayn Rand: Criticism from Ha’aretz. A profile from The New York Times. Electronic Intifada, with a translation of her incendiary Facebook post (later taken down). I don’t know Hebrew, and can’t vouch for the accuracy of the translation; its accuracy has been disputed (by Shaked). [Just to clarify: she didn’t write the post; she re-posted it, with evident approval of its claims.]

(5) Back to the Saudis: The Saudis are unhappy that we aren’t willing to go to war with Iran to defend their kingdom. Meanwhile, the Pakistanis, while assuring the Saudis of their support in principle, have voted not to send troops to defend them against the Houthis. Meanwhile, the Saudis inform us that they expect better of Pakistan. Frankly, I hadn’t expected so much. The (imperfect) text of the Pakistani resolution. For once, I’m proud of Pakistan.

Postscript, May 30, 2015: It turns out that there is a boycott against the United Arab Emirates–or more precisely, against the Guggenheim in the UAE–led by an organization called the Gulf Labor Artist Coalition. This boycott doesn’t seem much different in goal or rationale from the academic-cultural boycotts of Israel that are so bitterly condemned as evidence of anti-Semitism. It certainly contradicts the claim that Israel is unique in being “singled out” for boycott.

I just happened to read about this boycott in an Op-Ed in yesterday’s New York Times, and haven’t had the chance to study it. I’m curious as to whether the author of the the Op-Ed can be construed as supporting or calling for a boycott himself. He doesn’t quite come out explicitly in favor of the Gulf Labor Artist boycott, but he certainly supports its aims. He also seems informally to be censuring NYU, the Guggenheim, and the Louvre; does that amount to a call for a boycott until they change their policies? I’m not sure.

The question is relevant in virtue of the stance taken by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), which holds–puzzlingly, in my view–that there is a fundamental difference in kind between the sort of censure that the AAUP makes of institutions that fail to satisfy its strictures on academic freedom, and boycotts of the sort recommended by BDS and (I take it) the Gulf Labor Artist Coalition.

Martha Nussbaum has (to my mind unconvincingly) tried to flesh out the argument in a 2007 article in Dissent, “Against Academic Boycotts.” “Censure,” she claims (by contrast with boycotts), “does nothing to diminish the academic freedom or access of individuals: professors teaching at censured universities are actually helped in their attempt to secure their rights, and in the case of government-directed censure, academics and citizens generally are not affected at all.”

Contrary to Nussbaum, I don’t see how either censure or boycotts violate anyone’s freedom. In claiming that boycotts violate freedom, she seems to be presupposing a rather idiosyncratic conception of freedom; I’d be curious to know which one she has in mind, who has defended it, and where. Both censure and boycotts can diminish access, depending on the (highly contingent) consequences that arise from them.

Again, contrary to Nussbaum, if censure damages an institution’s reputation (which seems to be its purpose), the damage might affect enrollments, which might in turn affect whether or not the institution stays open. Having your institution closed certainly affects an individual’s “access” to the job that they had there.

Once again, contrary to Nussbaum, professors teaching at censured universities are not helped in securing their rights if they think that the censure was unjustified and if the censure damages the reputation of the institution. In that case, rights aside, they’ve been dealt with unjustly and/or harmed.

Finally, in the case of government-directed censure, the censure takes place in the name of every citizen. Some citizens may reject the basis of censure, and are certainly affected by a government that wrongheadedly directs censure in their name. So the case of government-directed censure turns on the justifiedness of the censure. When Narendra Modi was barred from entering the U.S., it seems obvious that the people who invited him here to speak were affected by the ban: they couldn’t hear him speak (at least in person). Likewise in the case of Tariq Ramadan: Notre Dame invited him to teach, but its expectations were adversely affected by his not being allowed into the country. I regarded (and regard) the Modi ban as justified and the Ramadan ban as unjustified, but in both cases, it seems obvious that citizens were affected by them.

In any case, I hope to blog on this and related issues sometime this summer.

“King Abdullah–he dead.”

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia died last Friday. He’s to be succeeded by the new king, Salman. Like all Saudi monarchs, Abdullah was a despicable, repressive reactionary. Like all Saudi monarchs, Salman’s accession to the throne promises to be a classic case of “meet the new king, same as the old king.”

Here’s a link to Human Rights Watch’s page on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. Here is Amnesty’s. Here is the State Department’s 2013 Human Rights Report on Saudi Arabia. Here’s more. Here’s an article on the Raif Badawi case. Let’s never forget this case, by the way. Together, what the two preceding articles show is that Saudi Arabia is a country where people get flogged for defending human rights, but where government officials go unpunished when they deliberately cause mass death. The late Pakistani journalist Tashbih Sayyid, editor of Pakistan Today, put the point to me in this way: “Muslims complain so loudly about the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem and the West Bank. What about the Saudi occupation of Mecca and Medina?” It sounds like a joke, but it really isn’t one. He might well have added: What about the Saudi occupation of the Arabian peninsula?

Here’s an article on Saudi Arabia’s criticizing Norway’s human rights record. This criticism comes from a country where it’s illegal for women to drive. Of course, to be fair, Saudi Arabia is making progress. It abolished slavery in 1962.

I don’t agree with defenders of Israel who insist that the movement to divest from Israel is “anti-Semitic,” but I do think there is a double standard in the way activists think about and deal with Israel by contrast with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has all the features that members of BDS find objectionable in Israel. Like Israel, Saudi Arabia is guilty of systematic human rights abuses. Like Israel, Saudi Arabia gets massive and systematic U.S. support. Like Israel, Saudi Arabia exerts enormous influence over the U.S. government. The difference is just that Saudi Arabia is a lot worse than Israel on every relevant dimension.

Unfortunately, there is no BDS-like movement to push back on Saudi policy in the way that there is in the Israeli case. There really ought to be: an anti-Saudi BDS would probably command more widespread popular support than does BDS against Israel. (Apparently, the Hillel organization at U Cal Riverside promoted an anti-Saudi divestment policy at one time, but I can’t seem to find it.) At a bare minimum, the time has come to start questioning the corrupting role of Saudi money in American universities. This phenomenon deserves scrutiny and challenge as well.

Though it’s now a bit dated, and I have some disagreements with it, I would highly recommend the late Said K. Aburish’s The Rise, Corruption, and Coming Fall of the House of Saud (Bloomsbury, 1995) as relief from the (cautious) accolades that are now being showered on Abdullah. A choice excerpt:

Like a rotting carcass, the House of Saud is beginning to decompose. This reality is ignored by its members and, except for perfunctory and infrequent mentions of their human rights record, by their friends. As usual, the people who have precipitated the decay are the last to admit their inability to halt it. In the case of the House of Saud’s Western friends, the creeping awareness that a crisis is approaching is balanced by a selfish desire in the governments concerned to conceal it and in the process shirk responsibility for it. (p. 303)

I would just add the proviso that the “selfish desire” flouts our actual interests. Though I don’t agree with the letter of his proposals, as long as we find ourselves involved with the Saudis, I have to agree with the spirit of this passage:

Enforcing these measures is a tall order. Above all, it calls for massive interference in Saudi internal affairs. But this is not as novel as it sounds: the West is already telling Saddam Hussein how to behave towards Shias and Kurds and it tells Egypt and other countries how to manage their financial affairs. In addition, it is totally manageable, for the House of Saud cannot survive without help. Furthermore, it cannot punish the West by withholding its oil because that would hasten the financial crisis and expedite the royal family’s demise. Last but not least, taking a chance with a corrective programme is a better long-term defence of the supply of oil than the present policy of securing it through a regime which threatens to self-destruct, and the prospect of having to fight the Arab and Muslim worlds for it. (p. 314).

The book opens with this dedication:

In memory of my friend Saud Ibrahim Al Muammer, who was tortured to death by the House of Saud, and of my mother, who mourned him as much as I did.

That one sentence conveys the bare essence of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. As an allegory, so does the trailer below for the film “Syriana.”

We ought to be able and willing to assert the truth out loud: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has no right to exist. If any regime should be “erased from the pages of time,” Saudi Arabia is it. It’s good news that the King is dead. It will be better news when the Kingdom follows him.

Postscript: More multi-media dancing on the monarch’s grave:

And more!

Postscript 2, February 6, 2015: I guess this article proves that Saudi malfeasance can elicit the attention of our legislators and government, but only if packaged within an implausible conspiracy theory that links the Saudis to 9/11. Memo to our political representatives: it doesn’t take a conspiracy theory to prove that the Saudi regime is repressive, and that our support for the Saudis is abetting that repression. (President Obama may not have gone to Paris after the Charlie Hebdo affair, but he made sure to to go Riyadh after Salman’s accession to the throne.) The work of Said Aburish and Robert Baer (among others) has been out there for decades, but doesn’t seem to have gotten commensurate attention or changed anything–not our gas-guzzling habits, not our support for the Saudis, and not our wide-eyed amazement when people from the regime complain about our baleful influence on it. I’d like to think that if we can get exercised about the implausible, the patently obvious should have its day.