New York Times | Death in Riyadh
Death in Riyadh
New York Times | Editorial
The deadly suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia serve as a reminder — if anyone needed it — that the threat of terrorism out of the Middle East is still very much with us.
The attacks, which seem to have killed at least 20 people, were aimed at several compounds that house Westerners working in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Within the walls of the compounds, non-Muslims are able to replicate something akin to the lifestyles they had back home. American expatriates see them as a means of maintaining their own cultural preferences, for free mixing of the sexes and the availability of alcohol and uncensored movies, within the strict Wahhabi religious dictates of Saudi society. But Islamic fundamentalists have always been affronted by the enclaves, and for terrorists, the compounds serve as a handy symbol of the modern Western culture they despise. Attacking them also ensures intense publicity.
The Saudi government, which relies on foreign workers to support key parts of its economy, understands that it must move quickly to root out the people who strove to make a political point by plotting yet another murderous attack. That is the obvious first step. The second must be internal reforms that will reduce the population of unemployed, angry, disenfranchised young people who connect the United States with a government that ignores their problems.
The Bush administration is already embarked on a plan to take American troops out of Saudi Arabia. That is a smart idea that will eliminate one target of fundamentalist ire, put our soldiers where they can be more easily protected and give the Saudi royal family an opening to begin making political and economic concessions to its restless people. Nothing that happened this week should deter the administration from pursuing that plan.
Many in the Western world will always view the tragedy of Sept. 11 as being about America, but to the people who carried it out, the terrorist attack was as much about Saudi Arabia. The United States is a supporting player in the terrorists' own internal political drama, which centers on fundamentalist religion, a grandiose vision of their own role in world affairs and an anger at the Saudi government's alliance with non-Muslim Western nations.
The Bush administration hopes to replace that story with a new one, involving democracy, economic opportunity and liberty. It would begin with a new era in Iraq, the road to peace in Israel and increasing democratization in other Arab nations. Right now, with chaos in Baghdad and foot-dragging by Israel, that path looks treacherous. But it is the best current chance for a way out, toward a future in which suicide attacks on innocent civilians will be understood by Muslims around the world not as a form of political protest, but as utter insanity.
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