For years the Saudi royal family has played a dangerous double game, leading lavishly westernized lives of luxury, enriched by oil revenues and protected by American military muscle, while ruling over a strictly Islamic regime centuries behind the times, in which anti-American and anti-Western attitudes were bred and exported.
As the country gradually became a more fertile ground for political and religious fanatics, ala Osama Bin Laden and the majority of 9/11 hijackers, the kingdom attempted to keep the danger at bay by buying the zealots off.
By bankrolling anti-Western movements, leaders and institutions worldwide, including schools whose curricula include hatred of Americans, Jews and other “infidels,” the Saudis obviously intended to placate radical elements internally, while directing the radicals’ increasingly violent energies elsewhere.
And the United States, while it stumped for freedom and democratic virtues elsewhere in the world, was inclined to turn a blind eye to the increasingly volatile situation, for fear that American criticisms would undercut our access to Saudi oil fields.
But the day of reckoning, in which these contradictory realities no longer can or will coexist, has arrived in Saudi Arabia. Terrorists formerly content to target outsiders and infidels have of late been targeting Saudi citizens as well, in a campaign aimed at toppling a regime vital to so many Western economies.
“It’s quite clear to me that al-Qaida wants to take down the royal family and the government of Saudi Arabia,” Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said in the wake of Sunday’s bombing of a housing complex in Riyadh, which left several dozen dead, including some children, and 120 injured.
Though horrific, the series of bombings seem finally to have awakened many Saudis to the fact that terrorism is not just an American problem, but a Saudi problem, too. The bombings have prompted a crackdown by Saudi security forces on suspected terror cells inside the kingdom and a new willingness to cooperate with American intelligence and security officials in countering the terror threat — a level of cooperation too often lacking in the past.
The attacks come at a pivotal moment, as the Saudis are moving fitfully toward oft-promised democratic reforms and U.S. forces have begun leaving the nation for other bases in the region. This escalation suggests that bin Laden and al-Qaida are less interested in expelling the American infidels from Islamic holy places than in toppling a regime vital to Western industrial and economic survival.
Religion, it seems, is merely the veil disguising a much larger al-Qaida agenda.
The bombings are also a reminder that al-Qaida and those espousing similar hatred are still at large and able to impose punishing attacks on innocents around the globe. Hopefully, these tragedies will not only lead to a new level of Saudi cooperation in rooting out bin Laden and al-Qaida, but also a major re-thinking within the Saudi royal family about its own role in freeing this terrible genie from its bottle.