Generations of American children, and even some terminably naive adults, have been beguiled by “The Arabian Nights” tales (sometimes “1001 Nights”). These are the stories of Aladdin, Ali Baba, and Sinbad the Sailor — tales that have passed into Western folklore.
The basic story is about King Shahryar who had been off on a long trip (and he didn’t even have to deal with the long lines at the airports). When he returned home, he discovered that his wife had been regularly unfaithful (as opposed to being only occasionally unfaithful). This is something that happens even to non-royalty, and is the other half of all traveling-salesman and farmer’s-daughter jokes. If the average husband discovered this turn of events when he came home, he would call a lawyer. If it happened to a Jewish husband, he would call his mother. Being a King, old Shahryar did something that even a Jewish husband would not have done. He was so angry about the double-cross his wife pulled on him he beheaded her.
To avoid getting into that predicament again he married and beheaded a new wife each day until he just about ran out of candidates. His vizar (“consigliere,” if he were Italian) had a daughter, Shahrazad, who was given in marriage to the King. She didn’t want to lose her head over the situation, so she devised a scheme. Each evening, before they went to bed, she told him a new story (Jewish women have been doing this for hundreds of years, but it usually begins with “Dear, I have a splitting headache tonight”) that so beguiled him he put off executing her day after day after day until, after 1000 nights went by, he finally abandoned his homicidal plan.
RECENTLY, A NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS tale has unfolded that’s even better (and less believable) than the original. Journalist Michael Isikoff, with the obvious aid of frustrated investigators, was able to piece together a remarkable story.
It seems one Omar al-Bayoumi, a Saudi citizen illegally in this country, had settled in San Diego. One day, in early 2000, while hanging out at the airport, he overheard two men speaking in whatever language Saudis speak, and introduced himself. It turned out that the two men, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, were Al Qaeda terrorists who, a year and a half later, would hijack American Airlines flight 77 and crash it into the Pentagon. Al Bayoumi took the two men back to town from the airport and immediately threw them a party. He then obtained an apartment for them, guaranteed the lease, and paid $1,500 for the first two months of their rent. He also helped them open a bank account, obtain Social Security cards and arranged for them to take flying lessons in Florida. Apparently, terrorists enjoy better benefits than they would have had if they were members of the Teamsters union.
Bayoumi, aside from his philanthropic work and his pickups at the airport, is a curious character. He told people he was getting a doctorate at San Diego State — although the school never heard of him. He also claimed to be a pilot for the Saudi national airline. He did, however, work for Dallah Avco, an aviation company that dealt extensively with the Saudi Ministry of Defense and Aviation. The head of this department is Prince Sultan, the father of Prince Bandar — the current Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Now the story gets more interesting.
Lo and behold, two months after bringing home these characters he met at the airport, al-Bayoumi started receiving $2,000 per month delivered in cashier’s checks. Investigators traced the place of purchase of these checks to Washington’s Riggs Bank. The purchaser: none other than Princess Haifa bin Faisal, the late Saudi King Faisal’s daughter but of even more significance, the wife of Prince Bandar. That’s right, the same Prince Bandar who is the Saudi ambassador to the United States. The checks traveled a circuitous route from the bank. First they were sent to a third party, a woman named Majeda Ibrahin Dweikat, who turned them over to al-Bayoumi’s wife. It also turns out that Dweikat’s husband, Osama Basnan, had also received money — a $15,000 check — from Prince Bandar.
On hearing the news about 9/11, Basnan, who was acknowledged to be an Al Qaeda sympathizer living in England, celebrated the tragedy and spoke about “What a wonderful glorious day it had been.” Meanwhile, Al-Bayoumi, apparently for reasons of health — not enough sunlight in jail — fled to Europe. He was arrested in London and ultimately released, but while he was detained, Scotland Yard ripped up the floor boards of his house and discovered phone records reflecting calls to two diplomats at the Saudi Embassy in Washington. Perhaps it is an old Saudi custom to use the space under the floor boards as a filing cabinet.
When the Princess was confronted with her role in supplying funds for the terrorists, she gave two excuses. One: she and her husband liked to help out Saudis who were in America and needed money, and two: as a basic proposition, she would never do anything to help terrorists because they murdered her own father. Either excuse is less convincing than any of the original Arabian Nights tales.
If all a Saudi in America has to do if he wants or needs money is to call the Prince and ask for a hand out, Bloomingdale’s would sell out all their bed sheets and burkas in ten minutes. While it is true that her father may have been killed by terrorists, that does not prove anything. Maybe she didn’t like her father. Maybe she paid these monies as extortion so that she herself would not also be bumped off. Maybe she paid to keep her enemies near her. But significantly, she never explained why she had to go out and buy relatively anonymous cashier’s checks in order to deliver the money. Didn’t she ever hear of checkbooks? Would it not have been easier for her to simply write a check rather than go to a bank and buy a cashier’s check.
Our experience has been that people — at least those who know how to sign their names — and who have sufficient funds in the bank, will only obtain a cashier’s check or a post office money order if they don’t want money to be traced back to themselves. This all sounds more like money laundering than charity.
IN ANY OTHER CIRCUMSTANCE, the characters in the Princess Bandar’s fairy tale would rightfully only be the subject of ridicule, or the opening monologue on Jay Leno’s show. But there is something more serious reflected. Our government apparently feels that it has to tilt towards the Saudis obviously because of our dependence upon Arabian oil. Myopically, our government chooses to overlook some obvious facts concerning the Saudis, such as that 15 of the 19 terrorists who attacked the U.S. on September 11 were Saudis; that bin Laden himself is a Saudi citizen; and that a majority of the gangsters enjoying our hospitality in the pens at Guantanamo Bay are Saudis. The Saudis not only celebrated when we were attacked but they continue to fund Wahhabism — militant Islamist fundamentalism — as well as terrorist training schools around the world.
A couple of months ago the Rand Corporation, a respected independent think tank, rendered an opinion to the Pentagon:
“The Saudis are active at every level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadre to foot-soldier, from ideologist to cheerleaders…Saudi Arabia supports our enemies and attacks our allies.”
Certainly, the responsible leaders of our government must see Saudi Arabia for what it is: a repressive, autocratic state unfriendly and hostile to the United States — indeed hostile to the principles of Western civilization itself. It represents a culture devoted more to the Koran’s teaching — “Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them” — than to developing a reasonable relationship with the West.
It is true that the Saudis control 25% of the world’s oil reserves and presently supply us with 15 % of our oil. However, there is every reason to anticipate that we will, as a practical proposition, be in a position to assert sensible and moral positions in dealing with the Saudis in the near future.
The President seeks to improve domestic production and increase our natural reserves of oil. Alaskan drilling should open up and Russian oil will soon become available to us at competitive prices.
When you tell a child a fairy tale, the child’s utter belief in sheer nonsense is cute. When you tell an adult a fairy tale and he believes it, somebody should start thinking of calling for the funny farm wagon.
Isn’t it time we told the Saudis that we have had enough of their fairy tales? That we are not prepared to exchange the blood of Americans, Israelis or any democratic allies, or our national honor, for Saudi oil.