Thursday, August 26, 2010

A P.S. about Rudy Giuliani, Alwaleed Bin Talal, and 9/11

This follows up my previous post, More crudely hypocritical propaganda from Fox News - Who is Alwaleed Bin Talal? ... to which I had appended this afterthought:
P.P.S. By the way, back in 2001 Rudy Giuliani was right to refuse to accept Bin Talal's money after 9/11.
A few people have e-mailed asking why I think so. I suppose I should explain ....

=> First, here's a brief account of what happened, from the article I linked to (dated October 12, 2001):
A Saudi prince who gave the city a relief check for $10 million, then said U.S. policies were partly to blame for the World Trade Center attack, received a stinging rebuke from the mayor and a rejection of his donation.

During his visit to the wreckage Thursday, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal called the Sept. 11 terrorist attack "a tremendous crime" and said the suspected mastermind, Osama bin Laden, "does not belong to Islam."

"We are here to tell America and to tell New York that Saudi Arabia is with the United States wholeheartedly," he said.

But in a written statement handed out by his publicist, the prince said: "At times like this one, we must address some of the issues that led to such a criminal attack. I believe the government of the United States of America should re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause."

Giuliani, who had attended a memorial service with Alwaleed and accepted his $10-million offer to help victims' families, had a harsh response when he learned about the statement.

"There is no moral equivalent for this attack," Giuliani said. "The people who did it lost any right to ask for justification when they slaughtered 5,000, 6,000 innocent people. Not only are those statements wrong, they're part of the problem."

Sunny Mindel, the mayor's communications director, told The Associated Press: "We are not going to accept the check — period."

The prince, an outspoken member of the Saudi royal family, is a major investor in American companies and was No. 6 on Forbes magazine's 2001 list of the world's richest men, with a worth of $20 billion. [....]
=> I sympathize with the spirit of Giuliani's response to Bin Talal. But I would reframe it a bit, and also take it further.

Under the circumstances, what Bin Talal said in that written statement was tasteless and offensive. And what made it especially offensive was that it was also dishonest and self-serving.

Contrary to persistent claims and insinuations by the Anti-Israel Lobby, Bin Laden's main complaint against the US did not involve US support for Israel. Instead, it had to do with Saudi Arabia--specifically, with Bin Laden's outrage at the presence of infidel US troops in the holy territory of Saudi Arabia. Thus his key 1996 fatwa was titled: "Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places".

Sure, this fatwa also mentions Palestine (along with "massacres" of Muslims in Iraq, Lebanon, Tajikistan, Burma, Kashmir, Assam, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Chechnya, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and elsewhere "that send shivers in the body and shake the conscience"), and it portrays Islam as under assault from "Zionist-Crusader alliance". However:
The latest and the greatest of these aggressions incurred by the Muslims since the death of the Prophet (ALLAH'S BLESSING AND SALUTATIONS ON HIM) is the occupation of the land of the two Holy Places [....] by the armies of the American Crusaders and their allies.
All of you will recall that in the real world US troops were first stationed in Saudi Arabia in 1991, with a formal request from the Saudi government, in order to help protect the Saudi regime against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. (After Saddam Hussein was overthrown in 2003, US troops were withdrawn from Saudi Arabia.)

In other words, the aspect of US policy in the Middle East that most directly provoked Bin Laden's assault on America, or at least served as his most important pretext, was US support for the Saudi elite--including none other than Alwaleed Bin Talal.

This same Saudi elite, which has depended on a protective US military umbrella ever since the days of Nasser, has of course spent billions of dollars over the years promoting Islamist extremism and jihadist ideologies all over the world. And let's not forget where three-quarters of the 9/11 hijackers actually came from. (You guessed it: Saudi Arabia.)

It's not surprising that Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal might have wanted to change the subject. More generally, it's a pervasive feature of public discourse across the Arab world to use an obsessive focus on Israel and "Zionism" as a distraction from facing up honestly to the very real problems and dilemmas of Arab societies themselves. So in this case Bin Talal was probably just doing what came naturally. But given the circumstances, he was displaying an exceptional degree of blatant chutzpah.

=> I'm certainly not an unqualified admirer of Rudy Giuliani. Even as Mayor of New York, his record was hardly without flaws, to say the least--though I'm inclined to agree with Jim Sleeper that there is at least a plausible argument to be made that, on balance and considering the available alternatives, Giuliani may well have been the right man for the job at that particular historical moment. Whatever one thinks about that, there's no question that since 2001 Giuliani has increasingly and fairly consistently acted like a jerk, and in the process has cynically abandoned or repudiated many of the key positions he held before and during his time as Mayor (e.g., his strong sympathy for and defense of immigrants), so it's no longer possible to take him seriously. Nevertheless, one should give him his due. When Rudy threw Bin Talal's money back in his face in 2001, his action was appropriate and admirable.

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub