I was very anxious to read Yaroslav Trofimov’s THE SIEGE OF MECCA, published by Doubleday, especially in the wake of last year’s release of the film CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR. With the annual commemorations of the horrible events of 9-11 fresh in our memory, I suggest readers to check out Trofimov’s as it shows how both hawks and progressive doves started making mistakes in the Middle East in 1979 in ways that affect the world we live in immensely today.
In contrast to Trofimov’s THE SIEGE OF MECCA, CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR has been an important movie production. Nonetheless, a well made film of the non-fiction work, THE SIEGE OF MECCA, is also warranted.
When the film, CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR, was in the cinema in Kuwait last year it stayed only one or two weeks. I liked the film as a primer to U.S. of the 1980s from a neo-liberal perspective, but I felt that that film had been greatly underdeveloped in terms of making it clear that even prior to the invasion of Afghanistan on Christmas 1979, Saudi Arabia and the USA had been interested in supporting military opponents to the Soviet backed puppet regime in Afghanistan.
Moreover, the CHARLIE WILSON film, didn’t reveal that important Saudi Arabian funding—from both private and government sources—was being sent in great portions to support Afghani opposition to the Soviet Embassy by early 1980. Moreover, revolutionary furvor and trained fighters were being encouraged to go to Pakistan and Afghanistan to support the training of those opposing the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
Finally, the fact is, from the very first weeks after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Saudi Arabian leadership and non-governmental religious organizations were consciously already trying to redirect anti-Saud family hostilities in the Saudi Kingdom into that particular foreign conflict with the Soviet Union. In Yaroslav Trofimov’s THE SIEGE OF MECCA, the author clears the murky waters of recent history of the mysterious Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In doing sell he is able to dispel some of both neo-con and neo-liberal propaganda (and misinterpretations of 1980 and 1990) which have adversely affected U.S. policy in the region. In short, in this very readable work, the historical narration of Saudi Arabia and its relationship to the West are greatly demystified.NOVEMBER 20, 1979 to 9-11-01
Five weeks prior to the Soviet takeover of Afghanistan on Christmas Day 1979, the only known siege of Mecca in over 1000 years occurred. According to Trofimov’s fairly important research in THE SIEGE OF MECCA, this singular takeover of Islam’s holiest shrine, the Grand Mosque, had been carried out with relative ease.
Trofimov narrates how an anti-Saud, pro-Islamic revivalism led to a millennialist movement under messianic leadership. This anti-western movement had been allowed to fester in Saudi Arabia for decades while the Saudi secret police and others had focused fully on playing the Cold War game of blaming most of the bad in the Kingdom’s world on either the USA or the Soviet Union. (NOTE: Dear Americans and Russians, do we really want to return to that Cold Warrior nightmare?)
In fact, the main leadership of the millennialist group in Saudi Arabia had been arrested in 1978. However, after a little torture and mistreatment in jail, both the religious establishment of Saudi Arabia (under Wahabi-oriented Ulema leadership) and secret police decided to free the whole lot.
In short, all the main people in power at that time felt that the Cold War and Israel were absolutely the ONLY political games in town that could threaten the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They were greatly mistaken.
Just as in the days before the 9-11 massacres in the USA in 2001, whereby the American intelligence and military establishments failed to rise to the challenge in any timely fashion to facts on the ground, the Saudi Kingdom in 1979 had its head in the sand and was totally unready & unqualified to fight the wrong wars for the next years and decades to come.
Trofimov notes that it wasn’t until 2004 that Saudi Arabian leadership even began publically to admit that its decade’s long support for jihadism to redirect the energies of anti-Saudi regime activities (since 1979) had been a magnificent and dangerous folly. The Kingdom still keeps its own people and neighboring Arab lands in the dark as to what happened in Mecca and the Kingdom in November and December of year 1400 on the Islamic Calendar.JUHAYMAN AND A MAHDI (SUNNI MESSIAH)
November 20, 1979 on the Islamic Calendar marked the end of the Islamic New Year’s celebration of the faith’s 1400th year.
In the weeks before this date, Juhayman bin Seif al Uteybi, the movement’s chief leader, former national guardsmen, and architect of the uprising at Mecca’s Grand Mosque, led his men into the main plaza and announce that the long awaited Sunni Mahdi or messiah had returned.
In the months and weeks leading to the takeover of Islam’s most holy site, Juhayman had been preaching that the return of the Mahdi was near. In fact, the pilgrims at Mecca that particular Hajj had been buzzing with the possibility that at the turn of the Islamic century they might see the Mahdi.
Juhayman and his compatriots, upon taking over the mosque with thousands of captives on hand, took to the Grand Mosque’s microphone and preached that the arrival of the Mahdi had occurred . A new age had dawned.
The twenty-something year-old Mahdi, Mohammed Abdullah Al-Qahtani, finally stepped to the microphone and forever the modern world (according to Trofimov’s narration) was irreversibly tilted.