James Woolsey, Former Director of the CIA, presented insight into the two subjects that invariably define Saudi Arabia, religion and oil.
“The United States has [had] its own periods of intolerance,” Woolsey stated, pointing to the KKK and the fact that the state of Rhode Island exists because the Puritans of Massachusetts banished one man for his religious beliefs. Those regrettable snippets of history are true for this country but, he said, “its general thrust is of religious liberty.”
Woolsey then spoke about the 1950’s Soviet Union, where he said nobody believed in the credo “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” though it is a basic tenet of the Marxism its leaders professed. What we are dealing with in Saudi Arabia is something new since “we are not used to dealing with religiously-motivated totalitarianism,” he argued. To prevent the false notion that Muslims are inclined to totalitarian regimes, Woolsey pointed out that “Islam has both totalitarian and non-totalitarian traditions.”
Consider Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country which practices, Woolsey says, a “tolerant version of Islam.” It is Saudi Arabia’s particular branch of Islam—Wahhabism—that is, as Woolsey puts it, “massively repressive,” and reminiscent of Ferdinand and Isabella in the Spanish Inquisition. What the Saudis have that Spain did not is oil. And oil means power. “Oil,” proclaimed Woolsey, “gives them the ability to spread Wahhabism.”
Woolsey then asked the audience where they thought that money goes, and who do they think is paying for “boys to aspire to become suicide bombers?” Instead of blaming the Saudi royal family, he told the audience that next time they are about to pump a tank of gas, they should stop and turn the car mirror a bit to look themselves in the eye. He suggested that America can decrease Saudi power by drastically reducing its dependency on oil. Salt used to be the indispensable resource over which wars were fought. Then came refrigeration techniques and now salt as a commodity is rather mundane. He finishes, “we need to turn oil into salt. We need to make oil boring.”
Sarah Carlsruh is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.