Saturday, December 19, 2009

Some words from Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal

The New York Times published an article about an interview a Times reporter did with Saudi Arabia's foreign minister Saud al-Faisal. I think the Times is worse with this than any other press source but just printing the entire interview would have been much more interesting and informative. The Times, especially when reporting the Middle East, has a strong insistence on giving a high ratio of its reporters thoughts to the interview subject's words.

Here is what got through, much of it is paraphrased so that the reporter Michael Slackman stands between the reader and Faisal. One interesting example is where Iran's nuclear program is "suspicious". Suspicious is in quotes, but the rest of the idea is paraphrased. Why not quote his entire statement on Iran? Certainly because Slackman's paraphrase with one word quoted to lend the statement authenticity fits Slackman's view on Iran's nuclear program more closely than Faisal's original words. But we'll never know what Faisal's original words were.

The Saudis are disappointing, even to the point of being repulsive, but I guess they are understandable. It is an example of colonial-era indirect rule that began long before oil was discovered. But this type of rule was thrown off in almost all of the rest of the world. Indians removed from power the subordinate "kings" of the British Raj, Egypt threw off its king, though the US has successfully emplaced a replacement. The colonial kings of Iraq, Libya and many Muslim countries have been removed. China's pro colonialist monarchy was removed. Saudi Arabia allowed indirect colonial rule of their country to pass from Great Britain to the United States, along with Jordan and many of the Gulf dictatorships.

It is a disgrace, the people of Saudi Arabia pay for this failing, in large and small ways they do so along with the people of Palestine and nearly every non-Jewish person in the region. But people do not reject the material benefits patrons such as Britain and the US are able to offer their subjects without a strong ideological reason. People under colonial rule do not organize and sacrifice to repulse such rule without believing in a greater historical project.

Islam, by itself, at least as understood in Saudi Arabia and the gulf states is not contradictory to colonialism. That is to be expected as when the British indirectly colonized Arabia, they had to take Islam into account. But indirect colonialism, I mean the arrangement reached between the British and their dependent puppet Egyptian King, and other similar examples throughout the world before WWII. Saudi Islam and indirect colonialism have over the last century grown together and today are mutually reinforcing.

Communism, for all of its failings and with the disclaimer that I am not a communist, developed as an ideology in the presence of and to some degree in opposition to colonialism. A community that has a large amount of ideological influence from communism is far more willing and able to organize effective responses to colonial rule than one that has less post-colonial ideological influence.

There is also post-colonial political Islam. It is not just political Islam because the Saudis are doing politics - they are making women wear veils and not allowing them to drive and they are banning alcohol so visitors who want to drink have to concoct homemade fermentation projects. The Saudis have a pre-colonialist or a co-colonialist form of political Islam. Al Qaeda, Iran, Hezbollah and others in the region espouse different and sometimes rival post-colonialist ideologies of political Islam. Like communism, these post- or anti-colonialist ideologies inherently contradict direct or indirect foreign rule in opposition to the priorities of the local ruled population.

Here are Slackman's paraphrases and quotations of Al-Faisal's words. It seems like he gave an interview Iran's Shah or another puppet ruler could have given fifty or a hundred years ago. He seems too ideologically naive to even realize how subordinate he sounds.
And yet, he said that after all those years, his legacy might be defined more by profound disappointment than by success. His generation of Arab leaders failed, he said, to produce a Palestinian state.

“We have not yet seen moments of joy in all that time,” the prince said in a recent interview in his office here in the Saudi capital. “We have seen only moments of crisis; we have seen only moments of conflict, and how can you have any pleasure in anything that happens when you have people like the Palestinians living as they are?”

“Peace until now has been like holding water or sand in your hand,” the prince said. “You see the amount of water, you think you can hold something in your hand, but it falls away. Sand is the same thing. So unless there is something to hold in your hand and to point to as a success and as an achievement, then you have done nothing.”

He said that Lebanon could never be truly sovereign as long as the Shiite militia Hezbollah “owns more arms than the military force of the country.”

He said that Iran should never be allowed to have nuclear weapons, and that he was “suspicious” of Iranian claims to be pursuing a peaceful nuclear program. He said Israel also should be pressed to give up its nuclear arsenal.

“The danger of this is that there has never ever been a weapon that has been brought in this region but that has not been used,” he said.

The burning crisis, he said, has ruined Palestinian lives and left the region staggering from crisis to crisis.

“The absolute backing of the United States to Israel has had the effect that rather than making Israel safe for making peace, it has made Israel see the option of living in the area without the acceptance of the people of the area,” he said, “and this has led to many years of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”
It is possible to be sad for Faisal. His worldview leaves him unable to even contemplate Saudi Arabia being an independent player able to impact the situation in Palestine except through expressing profound disappointment to a US newspaper.

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