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The Arrival of the King of Saud

They came in their hundreds. Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah is in Britain to pay a visit on Her Majesty, and he ain't travelling incognito. The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques showed up at Heathrow yesterday in five – count ‘em, five – jumbo jets, with an entourage of 400 assorted princelings, aides and factotums in tow (all male, naturally), and 84 limousines were on hand to whisk the royal visitors to a variety of top London hotels; Buckingham Palace doesn't have space for them all. This is clearly not a man who gives a shit about his carbon footprint.

His visit is not without controversy. Even before he left home, Abdullah gave an interview to the BBC in which he claimed – and you're going to like this – that Britain was "not doing enough to fight terrorism". As soon as he arrived, human rights protesters were out on the streets, protesting against the brutal treatment meted out to criminals, homosexuals, and women who fall foul of the strict religious laws of the repressive kingdom. The negative press coverage was hardly ameliorated by a risible statement this morning from Foreign Office minister Kim Howells, who opined to general hilarity that the two states could "unite around their shared values", whatever the hell they may be.

The protesters who greeted King Abdullah today wouldn't stand a chance, though, even if they weren't outnumbered four to one by the monarch's retinue. British trade with Saudi Arabia is worth a very great deal of money; we send billions of pounds' worth of commercial exports to the Kingdom, not least in arms. Last year, a long-running probe into corruption charges surrounding a massive defence contract for 72 Typhoon Eurofighters was abruptly cancelled on the orders of Tony Blair, after diplomatic pressure from the Saudis. And then of course there is the small matter of 25% of the world's known oil reserves. Even more crucially, Saudi Arabia is a powerful ally in a region where those are few or far between. He may be a bastard, as the old saying goes, but at least he's our bastard.

But is he? It was [perhaps] unfortunate timing that his visit coincided with the publication a major report by a British think tank, Policy Exchange (pdf here), on the prevalence of extremist hate literature in Britain's mosques, which concluded that much of it came directly from the Kingdom. The malign influence of Saudi petrodollars in spreading the particularly intolerant strain of Islam known as Wahhabism is a well-documented phenomenon, but even so, this report makes sobering reading. Researchers despatched to a wide sample of mosques in the UK found literature in 25% that they assessed as ‘radical' and ‘extremist' in nature. These were not just small underground radical bookshops run by obscure sects, but large community mosques and education centres funded by Saudi initiatives and, in some cases, officially opened by members of the British Royal Family.

Here, for example, is an excerpt from a textbook for High School Grade 1 pupils (11 year-old boys) at the King Fahd Academy in London, titled Al-Hadith wa'l-thaqafa al-Islamiyya [Prophetic Tradition and Islamic Culture]. The name may not be familiar, but the gist will be: 

Protocols of the Elders of Zion:

It is a secret document which is thought to come out of ‘the conference of Bal.' It was revealed in the nineteenth century. The Jews tried to deny its existence, but there is a great deal of evidence which proves its existence and the fact that its source was indeed the Elders of Zion. We can summarise the content of the protocols with these points:

1 To shake the foundation of the current world society and its system of governing, in order to allow Zionism to exclusively rule the world.

2 The destruction of Nationalism and religions, especially the Christian nations. 

3 To work towards increasing the corruption of the current governing European regimes, for Zionism believes in their corruption and elimination.

4 Controlling of media, propaganda, and newspaper venues. Using gold to instigate instabilities. Tempting the masses with physical pleasures and spreading pornography.

The indisputable evidence of the truth of the existence of these Protocols and their contents of the hell-raising Jewish plans is: the fact that a lot of the schemes, conspiracies, and instigations found in it have been implemented. Although it was written in the nineteenth century, it will become clear to anyone who reads it the extent of how many of its articles have been implemented.

I repeat for emphasis that this is a textbook used in a flagship London academy which operates under the direction of the Saudi embassy, teaches around 1000 pupils including the children of Arab diplomats, and has in its time been visited by the Prince of Wales, Baroness Thatcher and her successor John Major, as well as Abdullah himself and his late half-brother, King Fahd, after whom the school was named.

The report contains scores of similar examples, from texts on the stoning of ‘adulterers and sodomisers', through injunctions against mixing with Christians, to a charming volume called "Women who deserve to go to Hell" that I might just pick up myself. And time after time, the books were clearly of Saudi Arabian origin; stamped with Saudi imprimaturs, or marked "not for sale" because they had been distributed free of charge by the Kingdom and its agents. As the report's conclusion states (p169), "The shadow of Saudi Arabia falls heavily across these pages".

This isn't solely a British problem; a particular problem in the US is the radicalisation of young Muslims in prisons, by groups such as the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, which distribute radical pamphlets and Wahhabi translations of the Koran inside US jails, as described in The Weekly Standard last year by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, who once worked for Al-Haramain (and is, among other things, the only Jew I've ever met who converted twice; first to Islam and then to Christianity). The Saudis use their oil wealth to proselytise on a vast, global scale.

It's been estimated by a leading writer on the Wahhabi sect that the House of Saud has spent some $70 billion on Islamist missionary work since 1979. But if it's difficult to control such immense sums of money, it's impossible to control the consequences of spreading such radical teachings to mosques, schools and madrassahs around the world. Many of the extremists that their seed money helped to nurture now believe that the Saudi royals are corrupt and decadent (hard to disagree with that, of course); we may see them as intolerant, brutal reactionaries, but to radical Islamists, it seems, Saudi ultrafundamentalism doesn't go far enough. Hence Osama bin Laden's stated aim of overthrowing the dynasty and the 2003 bomb campaign in that country; and hence the Saudi royals' newfound concern in fighting terrorism. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap; or at least so it says in my holy book.

We walk a fine line when we treat with dictators, human rights abusers and intolerant regimes, whether theocratic or not. It is clearly unrealistic to expect Britain and the US to suddenly cut all ties with Saudi Arabia, and the consequences of such a move might potentially be disastrous. And it's a fantasy to imagine that the fall of the House of Saud would lead to a cuddly liberal democracy springing up in the Arabian peninsula; after the brief flurry of starry-eyed idealism that saw neoconservatives proclaiming that the Arabs were ready for democracy, the State Department seems to have looked at the gains made by Islamists in countries like Egypt, Sudan and Palestine where they have been able to contest national elections, and come to the conclusion that Arabs may or may not be ready for democracy, but we are probably not prepared for its results.

But, as realistic as I am, I'm glad that I am not the only one who watches us sign ever more lucrative contracts with these people and grow ever more dependent on their oil, and watches our politicians bow and scrape and promise tough talk on human rights that everybody knows is insincere bullshit… and wonders if there really is no alternative to simply gritting our teeth and sucking it up, let alone putting Her Majesty (pbuh) through all this for the sake of a few fighter planes. We put up with it because we believe the benefits outweigh the costs, but it seems to me that we ask for – and get – very little in return, except a massive global program of state-exported bigotry and intolerance that now threatens our own way of life in the most direct way imaginable.

"There needs now", concludes the Policy Exchange report, "to be a proper audit of the costs and benefits of the Saudi-UK relationship." I'll second that.

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