The rage and the violence in Saudi Arabia
Date: Wednesday, May 14 @ 10:08:03 UTC
Topic: Saudi Arabia

By John Paul Jones,

(Saudi Arabia) I concluded "The Blue Highways of Saudi Arabia" last February with a sense of foreboding, and quoted the famous remark by the former British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, on the eve of World War I. The rage and the violence has been unleashed again, and dangerously spins in its unpredictable ways.

The first indication passed, and the gravity of the events remained disguised. I was asleep; my wife was downstairs and thought someone was trying to enter the front door. But no one was there. It was only at 3:30 am, awaken by a friend's phone call, that we realized that the shaken door was the result of the explosion at the Al Hamra compound, some 8 km away. Cell phones primarily, supplemented by the television, the Internet, and later in the morning, colleagues at work, helped us piece together what happened.

Four upscale housing compounds, which cater to westerners but have other nationalities as well, had been attacked by gunmen driving explosive laden cars. They managed to get the cars into three of the compounds before exploding them. As Donald Rumsfeld is fond of saying, it's a preliminary report, and some of the details are sure to change. At the Jedawal compound, the gunmen fought their way through the back gate, apparently blowing up one car to take out the anti-car bomb protection. The second car entered, but turned right, towards the compound workers housing, and was detonated there. My son's friend, who lived on the left side, was spared. The compound is large, at least a square kilometer, and other friends, living in the center, lost all the windows in their villa, and had awoken thinking that someone had thrown a grenade in their villa. Alert guards at the Vinnel compound apparently stopped the cars from entering. At Al Hamra, there was a major shoot-out, and the explosion of more than one car. Among the casualties was the son of the Deputy Governor of Riyadh. There was also major damage to the British school.

And the "why." As one of my hirsute Saudi colleagues said a few days ago after a weapons cache, but apparently not the only one, was discovered: "What do 'these people' want anyhow"? One of their main gripes had been eliminated since the United States had agreed to withdraw U.S. troops from the Kingdom. The rage is deeply visceral, seems to be on autopilot, and has been building for a long time. With a backdrop of a country that has gone through one of the most rapid economic and social developmental periods in history, there will be those individuals left out, or those suffering from "Future Shock," to use a phrase popularized about thirty years ago. At one time, these kinds of individuals were quite useful, particularly to the U.S. government, who gave them the tools and skills to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, skills and tools they obviously still have.

Paul Harris, in his recent article "Human, almost human," so rightly points out what westerners mean by "they." It is also of utmost importance to remember that it is also "us," the "us" of Columbine, Jonestown, Oklahoma City, a mother in Tyler, Texas, and the mailer of anthrax, to name only a few. Clearly, the Riyadh compound attacks were terrorist acts by any reasonable definition of the word, but it is a word that I can no longer use. In any society, there will be evil or sick men who can dupe the nave and ignorant into doing "God's work."

As I write these words, I still am not sure whether or not a western friend or acquaintance will show up in the casualty figures. But I do know that I have given my residency papers to the unarmed Pakistani guards at each of the four compounds on more than one occasion, and they always handled the modest entry procedures with courtesy and a smile. At least two of the compounds were guarded by "Red beret" Saudi soldiers. I don't see it in the news, but I know these people are in the casualty figures -- people in the wrong place at the wrong time -- the unintended consequences.

That sense of foreboding is still with me. The talk of even "tougher measures" comes so readily. We still seem far away from that state of mutual exhaustion that France and Germany finally reached some 58 years ago when they decided there had to be another way.

[John Paul Jones grew up in Middle America during the Eisenhower years. In the '60s, he received a special governmental invitation to tour South East Asia as a Medical Corpsman. He believes that one war in a lifetime is one too many, as others who missed that earlier war are eagerly pursuing another. In the late '70s, he took his mind off his domestic problems and sought a foreign adventure. In the desert of Saudi Arabia, he found solace, as well as a wife, and has lived there for 20 years. Their two children grew up in the tranquility of the King Fahd years in Saudi Arabia. He has a day job in hospital administration. He now considers it unlikely that he will hike all of the Appalachian Trail in this lifetime, but he still hopes to read all of William Faulkner. He lives in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.]

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