Small Wars Journal

The Saudi Fatwa

Saudis Act Aggressively to Denounce Terrorism - David Ignatius, Washington Post opinion.

When terrorists in the Middle East attack innocent civilians, observers in the West often ask a pained question: Where's the outrage in the Muslim world? Why don't Islamic religious authorities speak out more forcefully against the terrorists and their wealthy financiers?

It remains a potent issue: Terrorism has damaged the Islamic world far more than the West, and too many Muslims have been cowed and silent. But a powerful and so far largely unreported denunciation of terrorism emerged last month from Saudi Arabia's top religious leadership, known as the Council of Senior Ulema.

The Saudi fatwa is a tough condemnation of terror and of the underground network that finances it. It has impressed senior U.S. military commanders and intelligence officers, who were surprised when it came out. One sent me a translation of the fatwa, and Saudi officials provided some helpful background...

More at The Washington Post.


Bill C. (not verified)

Thu, 06/17/2010 - 11:58am

COL Jones:

How should (1) the local government and (2) the United States proceed when confronted with instances in which the population is clearly divided along traditional versus modern lines; for example, when one group is pro-slavery (the traditional way of life) and another group is anti-slavery (a modern concept)?

(Attempts at reconciliation having failed and both sides of the population now willing to go to war to preserve/achieve their ends.)

In instances such as these; wherein, the continuation of long-held beliefs, customs and ways of life (for example: slavery) are now, in the eyes of the government -- and in the eyes of a significant portion of the overall population -- deemed not to be in the best interests of the nation and society as a whole, how does the local government (and the United States) proceed?

Realizing that, should the local government and the United States move toward supporting the anti-slavery/pro-modern group, then the pro-slavery/traditional group could honestly cry despotism, could honorably rebel and could send "terrorism" in both directions (toward the local government and toward its supporter, the United States).

Bob's World

Thu, 06/17/2010 - 11:00am


If this were easy we wouldn't be in this mess. Dayuhan asked for how we could improve our situation with the Saudis by changing ourselves rathar than them, and I gave him a proposal. To continue business as usual is the only model that we know for a fact to be tested and failed.

Any approach will have critcs. Certainly the approaches born of the Cold War are gaining less and less favor every day, yet the good Cold Warriors cling to them dogmatically.

As to "who decides", as I have said repeatedly, the populaces of said countries decide. If a large, orgainized popular movement meets these (yet to be defined) criteria to petition the UN for support, then the only perspective that matters has spoken. Such a program targets the "hope" criteria of my model, and by providing a legal vehicle for such populaces may prevent many of them from developing into violent insurgecies, which is there only option today.

Bob's World

Thu, 06/17/2010 - 10:50am


I doubt that Mr Bin Laden's organization could have met the requirements of the UN process I propose. Also, his organization is not Saudi, so would have no standing in that country. Two strikes is one too many.

However, if an organization within Saudi Arabia could meet (these yet to be defined) standards, then yes.

I do not promote or encourage terrorism or violent insurgency; nor to I promote the employment of US resources to suppress the insurgencies of others in a manner that increases the liklihood of terrorist acts being brought against the United States, our citizens, or our interests.

CT-based programs attack symptoms in a manner that makes the problems worse, and increases the threat to the US, IMO.

Ken White (not verified)

Thu, 06/17/2010 - 10:39am

<b>Robert C. Jones:</b><blockquote>"Then announce that all future US COIN aid will be designed to facilitate governmental reforms aimed at providing "Good" (not effective, we are not a charity) Governance; and that such aid will only be provided upon request, but that it is available to friend or foe alike."</blockquote>Who determines whether the government provided (to be provided ?) is "Good?"

While many Americans will have no problem with providing assistance to nominal foes for the betterment of mankind -- if that is your goal -- I suspect many more will object...

Mike Few (not verified)

Thu, 06/17/2010 - 10:33am

Col Jones,

Are you suggesting that we should have supported Osama Bin Laden in the 1990's in his desire to revolt against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?

My point is who are we to determine who is just- the populace or government. In most cases, we do not have enough information to make a deliberate decision.

Using the same logic, should the Russians have assisted the civil rights movement in the US back in the 1960's? We were certainly not practicing good governance during that time.

This could be a slippery slope.

Bob's World

Thu, 06/17/2010 - 10:08am


To start with the US could simply begin with this 3-step process:

a. Recognize the US policy of the right and duty of populaces everywhere to rise up in insurgency when faced with what they perceive to be despotism. (As codified in our Declaration of Independence)

b. Recognize that such insurgency is not a failure of populaces, but rather a failure of their respective governances. (i.e., we won't help you beat up on your own populace for daring to complain illegally when you have denied them any effective legal means to do so).

c. Withold any and all aid (training, funding, equipment, etc) to foreign powers that is likely to be employed domestically to counter such insurgent organizations under the guise of "counterterrorism."

Then announce that all future US COIN aid will be designed to facilitate governmental reforms aimed at providing "Good" (not effective, we are not a charity) Governance; and that such aid will only be provided upon request, but that it is available to friend or foe alike. Also that we will accept petitions for such aid from populace groups orgainized within certain parameters and recognized by the UN; as well as from standing governments.

Bill C. (not verified)

Thu, 06/17/2010 - 9:34am

Consider current international affairs through the lense of a conflict between:

A. Those nations (and population groups within nations) who -- focusing on the BENEFITS associated with globalization/modernization -- DO wish to see the world (and/or their society) transformed along these lines -- and --

B. Those nations (and population groups within nations) who -- reflecting on the LIABILITIES associated with globalization/modernization -- DO NOT wish to see the world (and/or their society) transformed in this manner.

The conviction-level of both groups appears to be similar.

Both groups appear to be willing to "wage war" to achieve their ends.

In this endeavor, the vanguard of Group "A" has announced that the principal weapons it will use will be "Development," "Diplomacy" and "Defense" (supposedly in that order).

The vanguard of Group "B" has indicated that its principal weapon will be "terrorism."

When viewed from this perspective, how do we see the Saudi's issuance of this Fatwa?

a. Does it ultimately serve the best interests of the pro-modernizers -- or --

b. Does it best serve the interests of those who are opposed to modernization?


Thu, 06/17/2010 - 12:43am

Or perhaps a better question...

How specifically do you believe that we are helping the Saudis, and what help do you think we should reduce in order to "help them more by helping them less"?

Perhaps you might enlighten the blind... what specific changes do you propose for the US-Saudi relationship?

Bob's World

Wed, 06/16/2010 - 2:54pm

Never one to argue for putting more on the plate, merely for putting the right thing on the plate.

Bin Laden is no insurgent. Yes he wants to take the Saudi Royals down a notch; yes he wants to purge the Middle East of over Western controls; but he is conducting his own UW campaign and has no populace. He does, however, have broad support across many demographics in many countries experiencing conditions of Poor Governance. And yes, this is particularly true in Saudi Arabia.

Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. Current COIN efforts in Afghanistan (not the original mission there) have very little to do with securing us from what led to the 9/11 attacks. We need to be waging less war as a whole in the Middle East and reshaping our critical political/policy relations there instead.

Iran is the most pro-American populace in the ME; we need to stop poking that nest. It's not the enemey.

Arguably it is our relationships with Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Yemen that are most probematic and overdue for reform. Change ourself, not others. Once we change ourself, those populaces will quit feeling like they have to change us themselves. Disempower Bin Laden by becoming the country we already see ourselves as, and not being the country that others see us as.

D. has a blind eye to the Saudi-US relation. Many do. Many more have a blind eye to the US-Israel relation. Both are damaging to us, and ironically, to those contries as well. We will help them more by helping them less; and in the process help ourself as well.

Have to agree with Miguel here. Al Qaeda isn't fighting for anyone's freedom, least of all Saudi Arabia's, and their effort to raise an insurgency in the KSA fell pretty flat. Saudis were happy to fund AQ when they were far away shooting at infidels, when they brought the jihad home it was a different story. They certainly don't speak for the Saudi populace, and neither do we.

The notion that "reform" in a Saudi context needs to be political is a peculiarly American construct, and I'm not sure how much relevance it has to the Kingdom. I suspect that most Saudis are quite content to see the royal family stay in power as long as they bring home the... well, not bacon, but whatever. During the 90s oil glut the combination of economic stress and the continued US military presence generated substantial dissent. Since that time enormous quantities of money have flowed in, and the royals were smart enough to pour a great deal of it into the domestic economy. The impact on domestic dissent was immediate and very noticeable. Payoffs do work, and I suspect that they have a rather better handle on what the populace expects of them than we do.

In any event, we can think what we will of the Saudi royals, but there's absolutely nothing we can do to change the situation. They aren't threatened by any domestic insurgency; they don't need our help to maintain control. They don't need financial aid, far from it. We could stop selling them weapons, but there are lots of places to buy those. We could threaten not to help them in the unlikely event of an Iranian attack, but it's a hollow threat and they know it: no matter what we think of the Saudi royals, we are not going to let Iran take over the oil. We just don't have leverage. All we can reasonably do is deal with the government in power on a peer-to-peer basis, without getting too close and without generating pointless conflict. Absolutely nobody in the Kingdom wants us messing in domestic policy anyway, even those who want change. Any pressure we apply will be seen as self-interested meddling, and only strengthens our enemies.

Our problems in Iraq and Afghanistan are more than enough for now, last thing we need is to put more on our plate by trying to change anyone else.

Miguel Angel Guardia (not verified)

Mon, 06/14/2010 - 1:07pm

COL Jones stated: "...but that when looked at objectively their cause is just and the actions understandable. We have far more incommon with the Saudi fighters that waged the attackes of 9/11 and streamed through Syria into Iraq, etc, than we do with the Saudi Royals..."

I believe we have nothing in common with either.

1. The terrorists are not "freedom fighters." They are not seeking to free their people in any nation that is involved in GWOT. They are simply wishing to become the new regime(s), and an even more repressive one at that, all under the facade of religion. As for the populace, most do not have a frame of reference to even take a side. A fish does not know it is all wet if it has never been out of water. What the populace does see however is a foreign invader. This is a frame of reference that even the most unsophisticated of populations can rally against. Hence one of my reasons why OIF and OEF should have been styled as severe punitive expeditions, followed by a quick exit of our forces, or the carving out of a redoubt where we could stand guard in case of further misbehavior (which I said from the very beginning as these war unfolded).

2. As for the Saudi royals, agreed, we have nothing in common with them either. Let's keep history in mind here that prior to the discovery of oil by Americans like Steineke and DeGoyler, distinguishing between a royal Saud and your run-of-the-mill Bedouin was nothing, because there was no distinction. It is Western progressivism that allowed them to become enriched under some doctrine of "fairness" and the fear of being labeled colonialist/imperialist, and this is the same Western progressivism that wants to treat GWOT as a civic action, i.e., "hearts & minds" rather than an outright military action to eliminate an enemy. The nice guy approach always gets us in trouble results in failure. In any case, the dynamics in KSA are vastly different from Iraq or Afghanistan IMO.

Bob's World

Mon, 06/14/2010 - 12:19pm


I'm no Saudi "expert", my focus is on the nature of insurgency and how to best address it in general. Each society is unique with unique pespectives, structures, issues, etc.

Like most insurgent movements there are some who want to overthrow the Saudis all together. The Saud family has been waging aggressive COIN since they consolidated their authority over this region, and would not argue that point. The majority of Saudis I suspect merely want reforms, and no, the Saudis are not moving quickly enough. I believe that Saudi Arabia will end up some day with a form of governance that looks much like what exists in Britain.

My advice to the King would be to skip the part where there is a violent insurgency and he ends up beheaded by a Saudi Oliver Cromwell, and profit instead from the experience of others, and leap several stages of evolution. To also sit down with a truly represntative cross-section of the country (to include those of the Shia faith) and map out just such a transformatin. In the end it will be significantly cheaper, less violent, and more effective than simply continuing to swat at the symptoms.

Some would call this apeasement. As I have stated before, a government cannot apease its own populace. Apeasement is when a government makes concessions against the interests of their populace in favor of the interests of the government of another. Meeting the true needs of the populace is a core task for government.

As to Miguel, I appreciate your post, and know that most Americans feel this way. We are so full of our own narrative and our own "rightness" that any who attack us must therefore be "wrong." I would argue that their actions were wrong, but that when looked at objectively their cause is just and the actions understandable. We have far more incommon with the Saudi fighters that waged the attackes of 9/11 and streamed through Syria into Iraq, etc, than we do with the Saudi Royals. We have allowed our foreign policy to slip to where we have become the protector and the enabler of despots, and that is a role that has greater consequences in today's globalized world than it had in centuries past. We must evolve in our apporaches, and get more in touch with our roots as a nation to shape a more effective foreign policy.

Currently we send the military around the globe to manage the products of friction of this obsolete family of foreign policy. Better we adjust the policy and reduce the friction so that we can get our military back to deterring major threats and preparing for waging war.

As to "sacrilege", perhaps. But sometims you have to drop an F-Bomb in church to wake up the sacrimonious. Religion is merely a tool of ideology to rally the masses, it is used because it works. It is not an end to itself. Look at the debates todate between the Palins and Becks who argue "we are a christian nation" and the liberals who want to strip all religion from our government. We used a Christian line of ideology in our insurgency; but I believe the founding fathers would have held that while yes, they were men of christian faith, that they stood for the principle that no government should dictate what faith any man should have. In other words, our movement wasn't about christianity, and the movements in the Middle East today are not about Islam. They are about politics and ending governmental oppression as perceived by the populace.

Miguel Angel Guardia (not verified)

Mon, 06/14/2010 - 11:31am

That was me posting at 1028 hrs. Not sure why the post went "Anonymous" even though I filled in the header.

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 06/14/2010 - 11:28am

COL Jones writes:
Fatawa > Decree
Saudi > British
Terrorist > Rebel
Terrorism > Rebellion
Muslim > Christian
Middle East > American Colonies
Council > Parliment

Now read it from the perspective of if you are a loyalist in 1776..."

I have to disagree with this analogy. Sacrilege! I say with regards to 1776. In the case of terrorism. There is a small band trying to replace an oppressive regime with an even more oppressive regime (this is the Camus model). Not only that, these terrorists would like the new oppressive regime to be based on a religion. That is quite the opposite of what 1776 was about.

Fatwa or not, KSA started taking severe anti-terrorist measures several years ago. The fatwa is late, but DOES give some internal legitimacy (at least in their eyes) to the "quiet" methods KSA has been employing to rid themselves of home-grown terrorists. I feel safer when on travel to KSA now than what I ever have been.

Meanwhile, we continue to let "our" terrorists lawyer-up. Explain to me please why KSM is still alive (?).

Bill C. (not verified)

Mon, 06/14/2010 - 9:55am

COL Jones:

For what reason do you believe that the insurgents in Saudi Arabia -- and elsewhere in the Middle East/Muslim World -- desire to overthrow the current regimes?

a. Is it because these regimes, with the assistance of the United States and others, ARE moving to transform and modernize their nations and societies? (The proclamations of Al Qaeda and others would seem to point in this direction.)

b. Or is it because (as you seem to imply) that these nations ARE NOT moving quickly enough to transform and modernize their societies and regimes (and are receiving US and other foreign assistance in this effort)?

In this regard, which entity (those that oppose transformation/modernization -- or -- those that wish this process to occur much more rapidly); which of these entities do you believe is being oppressed by their governments and the United States?

If the symptoms (the insurgencies, rebellions, etc) are rooted in, based on and caused by Item "a" above -- rather than Item "b" -- does this change how you believe that we, and the governments that we support, should proceed?

Bob's World

Mon, 06/14/2010 - 3:24am


There are also certain governments that have no "governmental" interests, but merely the personal interests of a small ruling segment of that society.

The violent aspect of that populace is the mere tip of the iceberg of the larger dissention that cuts across their society.

If the Saudi's choose to brutally suppress internal opposition to their reign, that's on them. It will ultimately end poorly for them if they refuse to evolve.

If the US chooses to continue to support such regimes in such oppressive endeavors, then that's on us; and similarly will not end well for us. It led to the attacks of 9/11 and is bleeding our national treasure and influence in a misguided war to attack the symptoms of the problem rather than address the cure. Those efforts are not working. It may be time to try a new approach.

The key to COIN is not to simply grant the desires of every opposition group that comes along, but rather to understand that those groups exist for a reason and to use their very presence as a metric that tells the government they need to adjust. If you want to label these groups "terrorists" and eradicate them, fine. That's a technique. But if you want also to have stability you must also make adjustments to how you govern, for the sake of the whole, not just yourself or the opposition either one.

Bill C. (not verified)

Mon, 06/14/2010 - 12:45am

COL Jones:

In nations and societies in which:

a. Certain segments of the population support their government's view that they must slowly and carefully transform their societies,

b. Certain segments of the population believe that this transformation and modernization process should occur immediately or at least much more rapidly,

c. And certain segments of the population, who feel threatened by even the slightest attempt at modernization/transformation, believe that transformation should occur, but only in the opposite direction (for example: backwards -- as per Al Qaeda and/or the Taliban).

Each of these segments of the population perceive of "Good Governance" as efforts made by the government in their own individual behalf -- and perceive of "Poor Governance" as government decisions made that do not support their own particular view.

In delicate circumstances such as these, which segment of the population does the government declare to be "the oppressed" or go to support? (Understanding, as it should, that whichever individual segment of the population it decides to support, the other two segments of the populace can perceive of this as "Poor Governance" and, therefore, may rebel.)

Or should a government make its decisions (for example the issuance of the fatwa) based on -- not which segment(s) of the population might feel oppressed (two out of three regardless in my, arguably, representative case above) -- but rather on what is perceived to be in the best interests of the nation and the society as a whole?

Bob's World

Sun, 06/13/2010 - 12:16pm

Tragic. Ignorant. Dangerous.

These are but few of the words that ran through my mind as I read this piece. Is it possible that over 8 years into this we have come so far, and yet in many ways have actually regressed in our understanding of the problem????

This Fatwa can only make Saudi Arabia less stable; and our support of the Saudis in the execution of this Fatwa can only lead to enhanced determination on the part of those Saudis who dare to challenge the despostism of their government to bring even greater acts of foreign terror to the shores and interests of the U.S. Sadly, I am neither "impressed" nor "surprised" that the author was able to find "senior US military commanders and intelligence officers" who were both impressed and surprised by this fatwa.

I ask thinking readers to perform the following three simple tasks, then to please add their comments. This is an issue and perspective that cuts to the heart of what the "War on Terrorism" is all about:

1. Read this article in whole.

2. Read the "Jones Insurgency Model" published here last month.

3. Read the article again, but with the following words replaced as follows:

Fatawa > Decree
Saudi > British
Terrorist > Rebel
Terrorism > Rebellion
Muslim > Christian
Middle East > American Colonies
Council > Parliment

Now read it from the perspective of if you are a loyalist in 1776.

This relationship, our understanding of this relationship, our ability to effectively evolve this relationship is without a doubt in my mind, the Decisive Point for what we call the War on Terrorism. The turning point for peace and stability in our time is when we both understand, and effectively act on that undersanding.

De Oppresso Liber

(Oh, and pause and think for a moment as to just who is oppressed in Saudi Arabia and many other Middle Eastern countries by governments who draw their legitimacy and ability to act with impunity toward their own populaces and often their neighbors from Western powers. We are tarnishing this fine motto with our dated foreign policy)