The Saudi Hate Machine
In October, at a counter-terrorism conference hosted by the Royal United Services Institute in London, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to Great Britain, announced that Saudi security forces had recently "re-educated" 3,500 radical preachers.
While Al-Faisal's claim was impressive, he failed to address the specifics of this apparently sweeping program, leaving one to wonder whether the Kingdom's two most notorious clerics, Safar Al-Hawali and Salman Al-‘Auda, were targeted. Known as the "Awakening Sheikhs" due to their powerful influence on young Arab Muslims, Al-Hawali and Al-‘Auda have spent over a decade preaching death to America and forging relationships with members of Al-Qaeda. Their fatwas (religious decrees), which reflect the Saudis' totalitarian Wahhabi ideology at its most extreme, have served as inspirations to Osama bin Laden and several of the 9/11 hijackers. But the Sheikhs' influence isn't limited to the Arabian Peninsula. Thanks in large part to the Internet, as well as the distribution of their writings and sermons at Islamic conferences, the Awakening Sheikhs are revered amongst Islamists worldwide-including in the United States.
Al-Hawali presently serves as secretary general of the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign, a militant, anti-American entity established last April by more than 225 radical figures from across the Islamic world as a response to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. One of the founders of the campaign was Al-Hawali's fellow Awakening Sheikh, Salman Al-‘Auda. The group's initial statement condemned, "the Zionists and the American administration led by right-wing extremists, that are working to expand their control over nations and peoples, loot their resources, destroy their will, and to change their educational curricula and social system."
Such rhetoric is commonplace for Al-Hawali-his numerous writings display a fixation with what he views as the inevitable downfall of the West. In one of his earlier works, Kissinger's Promise, Al-Hawali, much like today's anti-U.S. conspiracy theorists, framed American involvement in the Middle East as a ploy to control the region's oil resources. More recently, his 2001 book, The Day of Wrath, analyzed Biblical prophecy from an Islamist perspective. In Al-Hawali's version of end-time events, Christians and Jews will be decisively defeated in the year 2012, with Islam ruling supreme. Similarly, in an "Open Letter to President Bush," dated October 15, 2001, Al-Hawali expressed delight at the events of 9/11, which he viewed as a precursor to the coming apocalyptic Holy War between Islam and the West:
In the midst of…continuous confusion and frustration, the events of the 11th of September occurred. I will not conceal from you that a tremendous wave of joy accompanied the shock that was felt by the Muslim in the street...America will eventually pay for its enormities, because Muslims will never forget the wrongs they have suffered…Mr. President, if you destroy every country on your list of terrorists, will that be the end or only the beginning?
While the 53-year-old Al-Hawali channels his extremism largely through his writings, Al-‘Auda, 48, who, interestingly enough, was described in a 2001 New York Times profile as "courageous," and "a voice for the disempowered," has focused his energies primarily on preaching. In August 2002, Al-‘Auda was detained and deported from Jordan prior to delivering a scheduled speech there. Jordanian authorities were apparently fearful that Al'Auda would incite the country's Islamic fundamentalists. Judging by Al-‘Auda's background, the Jordanians were on the right track.
Al-‘Auda and Al-Hawali-both products of the Saudis' Wahhabist higher education system-rose to prominence during the 1991 Gulf War, as they delivered a succession of rousing oratories and fatwas skewering the U.S., Israel, and, especially, the Saudi Royal Family for its allowing American troops to set foot on Saudi soil. Audio cassettes of the two Sheikhs' fiery sermons were circulated throughout Saudi Arabia and served as inspiration for two documents seminal to the cause of dissident Saudi Islamists. The "Letter of Demands" and "Memorandum for Advice," presented to King Fahd in 1991 and 1992, respectively, called for the strict enforcement of Islamic law within the Kingdom (apparently, current Saudi practices like public beheadings are insufficient). Many of the documents' radical fundamentalist signatories were interrogated and jailed, and Al-Hawali and Al-‘Auda both received warnings to cease from criticizing the Saudi regime. They refused, and were ultimately thrown into prison in November 1994. Their arrest prompted a massive protest in Al-‘Auda's home city of Buraydah in central Saudi Arabia, a notable development indeed considering the country's virtual absence of civil disobedience.
The Saudi Royal Family, despite a continuing stream of anti-Western vitriol from the two Sheikhs, has given them a wide berth since their release from prison in 1999. And after experiencing deadly terrorist attacks in Riyadh twice in the last six months, it is unlikely that the House of Saud will further inflame the murderous passions of Al-Qaeda by incarcerating two of the organization's key spiritual advisors. "For the moment, [the Saudi Royals] are not going to arrest people among popular Saudi scholars," says moderate cleric Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi, Imam of the Italian Islamic Community. "They will try to maintain the situation as it is."