Sunday, October 17, 2004

The Battle for Saudi Arabia

Written by As'ad Abukhalil and published by Seven Stories Press.

This is a handy little book about a country that is very important but about which little is known and what is known is poorly understood. The book talks about the history of Wahhabbiyah (the brand of Islam that is the state religion there), the history of the state, the role of oil, domestic and foreign policy, human rights, and so on. Abukhalil's central theme is the fundamental contradiction at the heart of the Saudi regime: the bases of its legitimacy are unquestioning, long-term support by the United States and official adherence to Wahhabbiyah. These two things pull in different directions in at least some respects, and both pulls are becoming stronger in the wake of 9/11.

This is my first detailed introduction to the history of this country so I don't have a lot of background knowledge that would allow me to pick at details. Nonetheless, the fact that it is neither an apology for the Saudi state nor an indulgence in the orientalism that seems to mar so much Western writing on the topic makes it an important piece of background reading for anyone trying to understand that part of the world.

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