Rod Liddle

Why we have to stand by the foul, brutal Saudis

In an ideal world both sides in the Sunni-Shia war would lose, with heavy injuries, but we do not want a Saudi Spring

Why we have to stand by the foul, brutal Saudis
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The Saudis have got the new year off to a busy start, haven’t they? The authorities executed 47 people, including a rather grim-looking Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr — leading Shia cleric and children’s party balloon sculptor (giraffes a speciality). OK, I made that last bit up. He was just a heavily bearded religious agitator and probably not much fun at parties. He’s dead now. In time I will overcome my grief and rebuild.

As a consequence, Shia Iran has severed diplomatic links with the Sunni House of Saud and the usual furious and violent massed protests — which characterise both branches of the Religion of Peace™ — have taken place in Tehran. Screaming hordes waving placards saying stuff like ‘Down With Britain!’ and ‘America — The Great Satan.’ You’d think they’d have bothered to make new placards instead of just using the ones they usually use. They might have at least crossed out ‘Britain’ and written ‘Saudi Arabia’ above it in biro. But anyway, embassies were ransacked and the devil was invoked, as he always is on these occasions. His Infernal Majesty must find the Middle East as wearying as the rest of us.

I assume we were cited because we are Saudi allies, and because we are all-purpose affluent infidels. What-ever, Saudi Arabia’s singularly unpleasant Gulf-state allies have also shrieked abuse at Iran and some, like Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, have cut diplomatic ties. There has been unrest too in Saudi Arabia’s minority Shia strongholds. I suspect that these outpourings of anger will end in tears before bedtime — plus, further down the road, a bit of judicious decapitating. And all this before the Christmas trees have been taken down!

I knew it was going to happen. Shortly after Christmas Day I caught the tail end of a discussion on BBC Radio 4 in which a bunch of the corporation’s most gilded correspondents predicted what was going to occur in the year ahead. In amongst the predictions of the Earth burning to a crisp as a consequence of global warming and the poor dying everywhere because the West is rich, white and evil, some woman posited that, on a brighter note, Iran and Saudi Arabia would come together and heal the great rift between the Sunni and Shia faiths and the Religion of Peace™ would be even more peaceable than it is at the moment, if that scenario is even faintly possible to imagine.

‘Aha,’ I thought immediately, ‘it’s war, then.’ I admit I didn’t expect it all to kick off almost immediately after the silly woman had finished her sentence, but the principle holds true — whatever a western liberal tells you about the world of Islam, you can be assured that it is utterly wrong on every count. The invasion of Iraq (all they want is a nice secular democracy), the Arab Spring (all they want is a nice secular democracy), the bombing of Gaddafi’s Libya (all they want, etc), the support for Syrian rebels (all they want, etc.), Palestinian elections — liberals demonstrably wrong, every time, on every issue, without fail. It is only a matter of time before some well-meaning white liberal halfwit tells us that the murders and beheadings and reprisals and the setting fire to stuff which will undoubtedly result from this current contretemps between Iran and Saudi Arabia is ‘nothing to do with Islam’. And that will be the final triumph of patent absurdity for the liberal elite’s favourite canard.

Who to support in this crucial battle between the Sunni majority and the Shia recusants? It is, for the neutral observer, rather like a Premier League fixture between Chelsea and Manchester City: you just hope that somehow both manage to lose heavily, and with many injuries incurred. And that’s the most likely outcome, luckily.

To extend the footballing metaphor still further, Islam does occasionally remind me of some of the supporters of my own team, Millwall. At an FA Cup semi-final a few years back, Millwall fans were disconsolate to find that the supporters of Wigan Athletic had no desire to go ‘toe to toe’ with them. So instead the Millwall contingent kicked the hell out of each other, the Downham lot versus the Bromley lot. So it is with Islam: if there isn’t a proper infidel around to persecute, a sort of half-infidel will do — all based on a schism which occurred at the Battle of Siffin almost fourteen hundred years ago.

But we do have a dog in the fight, for good or ill. As the liberals would aver, the House of Saud is indeed foul, corrupt, authoritarian, medieval and brutal. But it is also markedly much, much less of all those things than any government which might conceivably replace it. In Saudi Arabia, the rulers are exponentially more liberal than the population — and also rather more pro-western. Further, the country is in for a rough year. A primitive desert satrapy which lucked out on oil deposits, rather than by innovation or actually making anything, the Saudis will suffer enormously as a consequence of the precipitous fall in oil prices. Already, the hitherto mollycoddled and subsidised locals are seeing their enormous benefits pared back; it is only comparative affluence which has allowed the Saudi royals to remain in situ, and it is only because they have remained in situ that we have an ally in that godforsaken region.

We don’t want trouble in Saudi Arabia. Contra the agonising of the western liberals, we really do not want a Saudi Spring, ghastly though the regime undoubtedly is. For all that there is a growing secular and (as was always the case) well educated middle class in Iran, when push comes to shove it is still the ayatollahs who wield the popular power. Our bread is buttered on the Saudi side, for now.