Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia: The Shape of a Client Feudalism

Article excerpt

Saudi Arabia: The Shape of a Client Feudalism, by Geoff Simons. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998. xvi + 415 pages. $35.

Reviewed by Kamran M. Dadkhah

The main thesis of this book is that Saudi Arabia is a despotic country that not only denies its people freedom and human rights but also resorts to torture, as well as ill treatment of women and support for terrorism. Yet, the West, far from condemning this appalling record, has a cozy relationship with the Saudi government. The reason is that Saudi Arabia has oil that it exports to the West, and petrodollars that it spends on weapons produced in the West (p. x).

After the reader is presented with this initial outline of Simons' argument, s/he might expect to learn why Saudi Arabia, and the relationship between the latter and the West, has developed in this manner and what the practical alternatives might be. Assuming that the status quo is morally objectionable, what are some policy choices open to the West? Is a more democratic government in Saudi Arabia possible? How should a transformation such as this be realized, gradually or through revolution? What would be the pros and cons of each game plan?

Mr. Simons, however, has a different idea. His book, in essence, is a series of diatribes against Saudi Arabia, Islam, and anything and anyone unfortunate enough to associate with them. The vitriolic attacks continue for 300 pages, and the reader who survives the ordeal comes out of it feeling sorry for Saudi Arabia.

The author has scoured texts, newspapers, and other sources; whatever he has found to defame the double demons of Saudi Arabia and Islam, he has included in this book. He is an equal opportunity exploiter of sources, who apparently does not care who has said what and why. Indeed, in some cases, Simons does not even bother to cite his source. In certain instances, statements cited are so incredulous that he feels obliged to offer some defense. For instance, he claims that "wealthy Saudis can arrange for children to be plucked off the streets in order to steal their bodily organs" (p. 4). According to the author, the source for this assertion is the book Princess by Jean Sasson (as usual, no page number is given), and he adds that "I have no other documentation to support this charge but Sasson is reliable in other details" (p. 363). Saudis' misdeeds don't end here. Simons even frowns upon the Saudi government's building of mosques and support for Islamic schools around the world (pp.14-15).

The author is particularly critical of Islam, and his criticism, at times, takes the tone of a raving fanatic. For example, he cites the following incident in a "grim catalogue of Hajj disasters." On August 1980, a "Pakistani airliner flying out of Jeddah catches fire when a pilgrim on board lights a stove to brew tea; crash landing kills 301" (p. …