Confronting Saudi Arabia's sponsorship of radical Islam

From The Deseret News

By Dan Liljenquist

A couple of months ago I toured the National September 11 Museum built underneath the World Trade Center Memorial Plaza. It was a painful yet cathartic experience, bringing back all of the horror and sorrow I personally felt that day, while sharpening my awareness of the utter devastation those 19 terrorists inflicted on the families of the thousands who died. The museum stands as a witness to the world of the evils of radical Islam, and America’s resiliency and determination to overcome it. It is well worth the visit.

The 9/11 terror attacks are once again in the news, and once again Saudi Arabia’s role in the attacks is being fiercely debated. Fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were Saudi Arabian citizens, some with more than just passing ties to government officials. How much did the Saudis know about the plot beforehand? Were Saudi royalty and government officials complicit in the attacks? Why did several wealthy, well-connected Saudis suddenly flee the United States in the weeks leading up to the hijackings? These unanswered questions have been left to fester for over 14 years. The bereaved family members of 9/11 victims deserve answers, and it just might be that the only way to get to the bottom of Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the terror attacks is through the U.S. federal courts.

Prince Sultan bin Salman, center, talks to an official while he visits the Saudi Arabia stand at the ArabianTravel Market exhibition in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Tuesday. 

Prince Sultan bin Salman, center, talks to an official while he visits the Saudi Arabia stand at the ArabianTravel Market exhibition in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Tuesday. 

A bipartisan bill sponsored by Sens. Chuck Shumer and John Cornyn is progressing through Congress that revokes the legal immunity typically given to foreign nations when such nations are found culpable for terror attacks that kill Americans on U.S. soil. While I am not yet persuaded that this bill is good public policy (it could be, but I am concerned that should other nations pursue a similar approach, every U.S. drone strike could be deemed an act of “terror” subject to civil litigation), I am fully supportive of reopening investigations into Saudi Arabia’s possible involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks.

If the Saudis want the United States as an ally going forward, they must satisfactorily address the lingering questions about their involvement in Sept. 11. And if they are in any way complicit, they must come clean. Only then can we begin to put 9/11 behind us.

But the Saudis must also confront their ongoing support of radical Islam, specifically Wahhabism, if they expect Congress and the American people to believe that they are truly with us in the war against terror. Wahhabism is the fundamentalist, ultraconservative branch of Sunni Islam that calls for the unity of all Islam under sharia law and the expansion of Wahhabism through jihad.

For generations, the House of Saud and the Wahhabi sect have been inseparable, their fortunes rising together. Wahhabism is the official, state-sponsored form of Sunni Islam in Saudi Arabia. Beginning in the 1970s and continuing until today, fueled by unprecedented oil wealth, the Saudis exported Wahhabism to the world, pouring tens of billions of dollars into the effort.

The Wahhabi tradition led directly to the radicalization of tens of thousands of Sunni Muslims, including Osama Bin Laden, which later led to the formation of al-Qaida and the Sept. 11 attacks. Wahhabism’s most recent warping has come at the hands of the Islamic State. According to Princeton professor Bernard Haykel, Wahhabism is the Islamic State’s “closest religious cognate.”

Today, the House of Saud is under siege by the same extremist elements it helps foster and promote. It cannot continue to claim to fight terrorism while nurturing the same radical religious movement that is inspiring the next generation of terrorists. If Saudis want the U.S. as an ally, they cannot continue with business as usual.

Dan Liljenquist is a former Republican state senator from Utah and former U.S. Senate candidate. He is nationally recognized for work on entitlement reform.


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