"It's all here-Islam, the family tree, a sea of oil and money to match, palace intrigue...This is high drama and an epic tale."
Though Saudi Arabia sits on one of the richest oil deposits in the world, it also produced fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers. In this immensely important book, journalist Robert Lacey draws on years of access to every circle of Saudi society giving readers the fullest portrait yet of a land straddling the worlds of medievalism and modernity. Moving from the bloody seizure of Mecca's Grand Mosque in 1979, through the Persian Gulf War, to the delicate U.S.-Saudi relations in a post 9/11 world, Inside the Kingdom brings recent history to vivid life and offers a powerful story of a country learning how not to be at war with itself.
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Robert Lacey is the author of twenty books, including Majesty, The Year 1000, and the New York Times bestseller The Kingdom. he live sin Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.From The Washington Post:
From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com Reviewed by Rachel Bronson The fall of 2009 marks the 30th anniversary of three events that rocked the greater Middle East. In November and December 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, U.S. hostages were taken in Iran, and extremists seized the Grand Mosque of Mecca. Political and religious extremism set in, and the United States was drawn more deeply into the region. The reverberations of that watershed year are still felt today in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Thus, the timing of Robert Lacey's "Inside the Kingdom" -- probing as it does the events of 1979 and their impact on Saudi Arabia and the world -- could not be better. Lacey begins the book with Juhayman Al-Otaybi and his followers seizing the Grand Mosque and argues that Juhayman represents a Saudi Arabian tradition of violent religious extremism that resurfaces almost every generation. In the past, Saudi leaders contained or eliminated the most extreme elements. In 1929, for example, when religiously fanatical Bedouin warriors threatened to attack British-backed Iraqi Shiites, King Abdul Aziz, the founder of the modern Saudi Arabia, crushed them at the Battle of Sibila. Later, in the mid-1960s, despite vehement religious opposition by some of his subjects, King Faisal introduced television and education for girls. But after the mosque attack and the other events of 1979, the Saudi leadership did not suppress local extremists. Rather, it espoused an austere religious viewpoint of its own for political gains. The tactic allowed the Saudis to recruit fighters for the battle against the Soviets in Afghanistan, a war defined by the Saudi leadership as a religious cause. The tactic also helped the Saudis counter Shiite Iran's growing popularity across the Sunni Muslim world. And it allowed the leadership to outflank those who seized the Grand Mosque by appropriating their cause. By the 1980s, radical Saudi clerics largely dictated the domestic agenda, and "no prince would have dared stand up . . . to contradict the say-so of a religious figure." This, according to Lacey, set the context for the violence of the next two decades. The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and subsequent events have caused the Saudi leadership to take another look at the more extreme and violent elements in its society. "September 11 had shown what happened when religion got out of hand," Lacey writes. This reassessment continued with the accession of King Abdullah to the throne in 2005. Widely regarded as deeply pious, Abdullah has little sympathy for the most extreme and austere religious interpretations. Lacey quotes Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, a key figure in Abdullah's fight against extremists -- and who himself has been a target of their violence -- as saying: "We are building a national consensus that extremism is wrong. . . . Whoever wins society will win this war." Lacey does a good job of encapsulating Saudi domestic history over the past 30 years, although he largely ignores the international context that allowed violence and extremism to spread and prosper. The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, regional struggles between Arab states and, later, the Iran-Iraq War made religious extremism useful to many actors, not just the Saudi leadership, a point that is lost in this primarily domestic chronicle. "Inside the Kingdom" tells an important story but one that can be found in other accounts. There is little that is new here. Perhaps most disappointing is that, while acknowledging that "at the end of a book, people expect some prognosis for the future," Lacey prefers to end with a "messy human story" that shows the "muddle of tradition and progress that makes up the Kingdom today." Yet few other writers are as well-positioned as Lacey to give a prognosis. He has been watching the kingdom for 30 tumultuous years and has become a trusted source. He could have, indeed should have, been bolder in offering counsel on how to understand and approach the kingdom today. Still, the time is right to consider the impact of those seminal events and the geopolitical struggle they unleashed. The rest of the world has a keen interest in the outcome of Saudi Arabia's domestic struggles and in seeing that the pragmatists prevail over the zealots. In reminding us of this, "Inside the Kingdom" makes an important contribution. email@example.com
Copyright 2009, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.
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