Nearly three hundred years ago, the representatives of a new Islamic sect – the Wahhabists – imposed themselves upon the Holy City of Mecca. Unwillingly, they were invited to debate with the leading scholars of Islam, where they proved themselves to be lacking in understanding. The leaders of the city pronounced them unbelievers, for their disgraceful actions in condemning others as non-believers without any evidence, and banished them from the city.
They refused to heed the words of warning. Years later, working in an uneasy alliance with the House of Saud, the Wahhabists returned to Mecca, shattering years of history and destroying the remains of the core of debate, of intellect, that had lit the fuse of Islam. Since then, Islamic thought has declined into madness, falling ever further into an abyss that can only result in destruction.
There is a moral in that, somewhere.
The eyes of the Saudi Minister of Defence flickered nervously back and forth across the room, his long beard matted with sweat. Only a few days ago, Iraqi forces had marched across the border into Kuwait, and no one knew if Saudi Arabia was the next target. The Minister of Defence knew, perhaps more than anyone else in King Fahd’s councils, just how weak Saudi Arabia really was. The battle-hardened veterans of Iraq’s Republican Guard would roll over the Saudi Army and reach Riyadh before they could be stopped – if they could be stopped.
He lifted his eyes and focused on the dark eyes of the man facing him. There was an intensity, a commitment, in the man’s eyes that scared him; the Minister of Defence possessed little faith himself. A lifetime of extreme luxury, a post that came more through family connections than any competence, all had contributed to his state of mind. The man he faced had built his company into a force to be reckoned with; his force of Afghanistan freedom fighters the private and unvoiced terror of the Middle East. The Minister of Defence found it hard to meet his eyes; he was grimly certain that the man was laughing at him behind his grave face.
“The situation is dire,” he agreed, neutrally. His visitor’s lips didn’t twitch into a smile. The Minister of Defence silently damned his own weakness. “In fact…”
“And time is running out,” his visitor snapped. “It won’t be long before they come into the holy land and take the holy cities from the stewardship of your family.”
The Minister of Defence winced. The contempt that lurked under the fine words had shown itself, just for a moment, just long enough to chill him. Had he the ability to smite his guest and all of his works, he would have purged him from Saudi society, but it was politically impossible. All of the interlocking power bases would join forces against the central core of the House of Saud…and Saudi dominance would come crashing down.
“His Majesty has given thought to activating our treaty with the Americans,” the Minister of Defence said finally. It was true; the King had been talking to President Bush almost since the first units had rolled across the border. “With American help, we can defend the holy city.”
“You will ask infidel men to defend the holy cities?” His visitor demanded. The Minister of Defence decided not to point out that some of them would be women. “Allah will deliver us all into the hands of Saddam Hussian.”
The Minister of Defence allowed some of his own helpless anger to show. “An interesting charge, particularly since you had some support from Saddam,” he snapped. “Do you have a better option?”
His visitor dropped a folder, ten pages of handwritten notes, in front of the Minister of Defence. “We defend the holy cities ourselves,” he said, his voice shifting to sudden earnestness. He was charismatic, unfortunately; his talks had been known to influence people who were the inevitable losers in Saudi society. He gave them someone to blame – mainly the Royal Family. “We have the forces and we have the men – my entire organisation would be at your disposal, committed to this great jihad against the Iraqis.”
His voice became softer. “Say the word and my companies will start building defence lines along the border,” he said. “My men will fly into Saudi Arabia, move up to the defence lines and reinforce the army and the National Guard. One trained man, experienced in the caldron of Afghanistan, a survivor of the Great War against the Russian unbelievers, would be worth dozens of the Iraqis! How will they stand against the thousands of men, their hearts fired with faith and determination to die in the defence of the Holy Cities?”
The Minister of Defence lifted a single eyebrow. “I can raise four thousand men now, from Saudi Arabia itself,” his visitor said. “In a week, I can have six thousand holy warriors flying in from Afghanistan, where they will take the role of training the young men of Saudi and exposing them to the full rigours of Islam and holy war against the infidel. Such an army could do anything.”
The decision had been made. The Minister of Defence knew exactly what that army could do; it would be unstoppable if it decided to overthrow the House of Saud. Saudi popularity was bought with money, but no one had any doubt at all as to how loved they actually were – half of their military problems were caused by trying to coup-proof the entire state. Given half a chance…
“Such a decision is not made quickly,” the Minister of Defence stalled. “There must be consultations, decisions; the King must pray to Allah for guidance…”
“The next time that that man prays will be the first time,” his visitor sneered.
The Minister of Defence ignored the comment. “I expect that the King will make whatever decision he feels is best for the situation,” he said, already knowing what the decision would be. “You would be informed, naturally, of what is decided.”
His visitor bowed and left the room. The Minister of Defence watched him go, feeling calm only when the door had firmly closed behind him, knowing exactly what would happen. There were no way that they could allow a ten-thousand-man army, composed of people who had been brought up to believe that the House of Saud was a corrupt entity that had systematically betrayed Islam – to say nothing of the man who led them, whose dreams of power would finally lead him into a struggle with the House of Saud for dominance. He didn’t play by the rules…
The Minister of Defence picked up his phone and started to dial a number. Within a week, American troops would begin to arrive in Saudi Arabia; they would guarantee the regime against its enemies. All of its enemies. As long as the alliance with America held, people with ambitions of their own for the Saudi oil money – and, at bottom, the Minister of Defence believed that it was all money – would be held firmly in check. The alliance would hold.
The Minister of Defence smiled. What could break the alliance?