A lucid exploration of profound divisions in Saudi society, many of which are of immediate concern to the West.
Dismissing an American editor’s characterization of his subjects as a “bunch of camel jockeys,” Arabia expert Lacey (Great Tales from English History, Volume 3, 2006, etc.) accords great respect to the House of Saud, which knitted three distinct nations into modern Saudi Arabia. Yet, the author speculates, without Saud’s rise, “the horrors of 9/11 would never have been inflicted on the United States, since Osama Bin Laden’s poisonous hostility to the west was a brew that only Saudi Arabia could have concocted.” Lacey patiently explains the rise of Wahhabist orthodoxy and its puritanical view of the world, in which so slight an infraction as enjoying music would earn a Muslim a spot in the inferno. That orthodoxy, ultimately, underlies the jihadist aspirations of bin Laden and al-Qaeda, who want ensure that such infractions are properly punished on Earth. The Saudi royal family—of whom bin Laden is a distant cousin—does not go uncriticized by the Wahhabist mullahs. Provocatively, Lacey explores the Sunni-Shia split in Saudi society, noting that the despised Shia minority was quick to come to the nation’s defense during the Gulf War, even as the Wahhabists decried the presence of American troops on Saudi soil and encouraged resistance. The author also describes the assassination of Shia saint Ali as “one of the earliest victims of Islamic terrorism”—a statement that should cause a stir in Riyadh. What should win him respect there, however, is his evenhanded treatment of Saudi efforts to introduce modernizing reforms and to curb homegrown terrorism in the wake of 9/11, including the rehabilitation of jihadists released from Guantánamo. Lacey concludes by noting that Saudi Arabia, once believed to be a steadfast ally of the West, has been forging links with new partners—especially China—that will change geopolitics in the years to come.
A culturally sensitive portrayal of a troubled—and potentially troublesome—region.