By AMIR TAHERI
June 22, 2004 — HOURS after Paul Johnson’s decapitated body was shown Friday in Riyadh, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz announced that government forces had killed the man responsible for the murder, Abdul-Aziz al-Mouqrin, and two of his accomplices.
“This crime was committed by a handful of deviants,” the prince said. A few deviants? Hardly.
The tragedy that struck Johnson is the product of a culture of hatred, arrogance and cruelty built over decades by the Saudi society.
To be sure, this does not mean that all Saudis think or would, if given the opportunity, behave as the killers did. But there is no escaping the fact that they do bear part of the responsibility, if only by providing the socio-cultural topos in which terrorism thrives.
Until recently, Saudi textbooks taught schoolchildren to regard non-Muslims as sub-humans who did not deserve the same respect due to “true believers,” that is to say the followers of the officially approved Hanbali brand of Islam.
For decades, Saudi society has been obsessed with what could only be described as religious exhibitionism.
The nouveaux riches have tried to secure a place in the next world by building mosques, some 4,000 in Riyadh alone, and by contributing to so-called “Islamic causes.”
What can only be described as a “religion industry” employs more muftis, preachers, teachers, enforcers, muezzins and theologians than the oil industry that produces 80 percent of the nation’s income. Saudi universities churn out more “religious scholars” each year than doctors and engineers.
The state has spent an estimated $100 billion on “Islamic” causes since the mid ’70s. No doubt part of the money went to humanitarian causes and the financing of development projects in the poorer Muslim countries. But there is also no doubt that vast sums of money were funneled to radical organizations that believe they have a mission to conquer the world for Islam through terrorism and war.
Today, the Saudi authorities insist that no more government money is going to terrorist groups. This may be true. After all, the Saudi rulers now realize that the ultimate aim of the monster they helped create is to devour them. But what about wealthy Saudi individuals who, either to buy personal protection or because they wish the ruling family to be overthrown, continue to fund the terrorists?
The problem goes beyond textbooks and ready money for terror. The average Saudi citizen is subjected to systematic Islamist brainwashing.
Let us just cite one example, immediately relevant to Johnson’s murder.
The group that beheaded Johnson calls itself “The Fallujah Brigade,” named after the Iraqi city which was the scene of a brief insurgency a few weeks ago.
The Arab media, especially the satellite TV channels, presented the Fallujah insurgency as “one of the greatest battles the Arabs have ever waged against the Crusaders,” as an editorial in the daily Al-Arab claimed.
The fact that the Arabs had hardly played a role in the historic Crusades (which were largely fought by Turks, Kurds and the Mamelukes) did not prevent the propagandists from exaggerating the “Epic of Fallujah” far beyond an understandable degree of hype.
Dominated by pan-Arabists and Islamists, the Arab media claimed that the United States had deployed “all its military might” to conquer Fallujah and had failed. The “heroes of Fallujah” fought like lions and, supported by non-combatants, including women and children (who died in thousands), succeeded in winning “a spectacular victory,” thus “saving Arab honor.”
More than a dozen Arab poets have already committed odes and sonnets to commemorate Fallujah as “the Arab Stalingrad.” One Syrian composer is working on an opera about “the heroes of Fallujah,” while a couple of Egyptian hacks are breaking their typewriters to produce scripts for a film and a TV series on this latest of imaginary Arab victories.
The phrase “the Fallujah butchery” has been hammered into the Arab consciousness to justify an almost pathological hatred of the United States as a power responsible for “many thousands of civilian deaths.”
The beheading of Paul Johnson, therefore, is presented as an act of revenge for deaths that, in fact, never happened.
What is interesting is that the satellite channels that peddled those lies are all owned by Arab governments (including the Saudi one) or individuals related to the ruling families.
The average Arab, including the average Saudi, was never allowed to know what actually happened in Fallujah. The few who tried to offer an accurate account were relieved of their positions or denied a chance to offer their take.
One account that never found an echo in the Arab satellite TV was provided by the Red Crescent (the equivalent of the Red Cross) of the United Arab Emirates whose representatives were present in Fallujah (where the group has a hospital) throughout the insurgency.
Here is part of the UAE Red Crescent’s version as related by Muhammad Salim al-Harthi from Abu Dhabi:
“The Arab media have wildly exaggerated what happened at Fallujah. The fighting concerned only a few districts [of the town]. There never was any fighting on a big scale. There certainly was no clash involving thousands of the town’s inhabitants. The number of those who died did not exceed 270, almost all fighters, not civilians. The resistance (i.e. the insurgency) was made up of former [Iraqi army] officers with a small number of [non-Iraq] Arabs representing Salafist [i.e. radical Islamist] groups.”
Why would the Arab states allow their media to build a deadly myth to foment hatred and incite violence? They hope that by diverting hatred from themselves to the United States, they might escape being targeted by the terrorists.
That, of course, is a forlorn hope. Those who beheaded Johnson would, when the time comes, also behead the Arab ruling elites, including those who’ve turned the Arab media into a myth-making machine.
Paul Johnson was killed by lies spread by Arab elites. He was killed by those who wrote those textbooks and those who taught them for decades.
He was killed by the sheiks who finance Arab television, and by the anchormen and women who, with tones of false emotion in their voices, told all those lies about Fallujah — just as they have been telling lies about other conflicts involving the Arabs for decades.
He was killed by the over 1,500 Arab lawyers who have volunteered to defend Saddam Hussein but were nowhere to be seen when he was engaged in genocide against the Iraqi people.
Johnson was killed by the wealthy Arabs who continue to finance the terror organizations.
To say that killing Johnson was wrong would mean accepting that he, though not a Muslim, was a full human being with an equal right to live. And that is the huge historic, indeed doctrinal, leap that Islam must take before it can contain and defeat the terrorists who are trying to change it beyond recognition.
The U.S. ambassador in Riyadh, James Oberwetter, has called on the Saudi government to “bring Paul Johnson’s murderers to account.” The ambassador may not know it, but his demand involves a whole culture and millions of its human products, who must be brought to account if they are to be ultimately rescued from the inferno of lies, hatred and terror that is wrecking their lives as well.